Friday, June 22, 2012

Upcoming Elections - July 1st!

No, not the U.S. election brought to you by Obamney Inc.  I refer to the elections in my current locale of Mexico. Having arrived here two and a half weeks ago, I came just in time for the election frenzy to be reaching its fever pitch in anticipation of the imminent vote el primer de Julio.

The most interesting thing to an extranjera (you know, a "fur-inner"--taking their jobs--oh wait, did I get that backwards?) such as myself is of course the squadrons of teenagers that are deployed at intersections throughout the city to wear t-shirts, wave signs, shout, rally, and motivate on behalf of a candidate. Nice part-time gig for the kids, and visual saturation for the politicos. We see the most people out there for two of the Queretaro mayor (I think) candidates. We also see loads of signs and rallies for the national presidential candidates, plus lots of district representatives and whatnot. Apparently PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto  is way in the lead and extremely likely to win the presidency. I've heard that he will be able to lessen the drug-related violence, and that some people think he will do it by "cutting a deal" with the cartels.*

There are actually other things that happen at crosswalks as well. There are advertisements, windshield-wiper sellers, jugglers, and the even the occasional child performing cartwheels and handstands while the adult guardian-like-figure collects coins. (I was thinking I could start up such a little side business myself! No?)  Basically, stopping at busy intersections in central Queretaro is far more entertaining than doing so in most other cities in which I've lived.

Anyway, back to the political candidates: they also have billboards and signs around the city with their slogans and campaign promises, and I've noticed something about the specificity of the campaign promises, namely, that it exists. When is the last time you heard a specific campaign promise in the U.S.? Maybe Obama's pledge to close Guantanamo -- which he hasn't done. U.S. politicians don't make a whole lot of specific comments, that I can see. They just blather on about things like "restoring America" or "hope" or "change" or who the hell knows what Dubya blathered on about.  But here, the signs actually talk about their various promises, like potable water, or city-wide internet, or "36 new recreational parks."  Thirty-six! It's so specific! As if someone actually has a specific plan about something to do. What a concept!  Obama, Romney, Johnson, Stein, I dare you to try it!

*I personally envision a future in which the U.S. and Mexico's "deal" is an end to the profitability of cartels by ending the Prohibition, and I hope that future comes soon! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dial 'M' for Manual

Recently, I agreed to come to Mexico without knowing that once I got here I would have to drive a car with a manual transmission, aka a stick shift, in order to fulfill the duties I had promised to fulfill while here (notably left out of the pre-arrival instructions, I might add). I am of the opinion that it is difficult for someone who has driven many, many, many automatic transmission cars to unlearn two decades of habits, i.e., driving without having to worry about a !@#%* clutch and without thinking about in which @$%&*! gear the car finds itself.

Now, it is not strictly true that I have "never driven a stick." Back in the day, I had three and a half experiences behind the wheels of not-automatic-transmission cars. Click here for more on that history. But it is certainly true that I did not know how to drive a stick. Fast forward to Mexico, where I quickly learned how very little understanding the clutch-down-gas-up-clutch-up-gas-down idea in theory actually helps one know how to deal with this beast. I was a wee bit skeptical about Brian's assurance that he could teach anyone to drive a stick in a day. (Why must we put numbers on these things? How about a week of lessons? A month? )  But time was ticking and the Boss Men were all like, "Hasn't she learned to drive that thing yet?" after exactly twenty minutes of my rambling around in circles ovals in a quiet, cobblestone-y bit of Queretaro. Fun fact: we saw a student driver in an actual Escuela de Manejar (Driving School) car go by on the same oval. But with less stopping and starting. At least we knew we had instinctively picked a good spot, but I was not picking this up and couldn't even get up to third/the speed I thought was required for third, and did I mention that I stalled a lot? I wasn't entirely sure how to stop any other way.

That was a Saturday. On Tuesday, we headed to a different cobblestone neighborhood, with longer streets, more turns, and fewer people. Maybe this physical change of setting worked, or maybe it was the Beck Weathers (Left for Dead) (as in, on Everest) refrain running through my head: "I was in deep shit, and the cavalry wasn't coming" but one way or another under driving coach Brian's instructive guidance I started doing things like stopping, starting from a stopped position, driving in third, and I even turned around once. But I still had, you know, fears. And I stalled. That pesky clutch! Why do I have to press it down so much? And why couldn't I appreciate the virtues of neutral, as preached by my driving coach? These were the existential quandaries with which I was presented. At any rate, we had actual progress, which we reported to the Boss Men.

Then came Thursday. I had the car to myself while I waited for Brian and one of the Boss Men to come out of a place of business, and they suggested I drive the car around the parking lot and the totally empty wide street in front of it. I did, but the chugging in second made no sense to me. And then I had to reverse into a parking spot, and I couldn't, and then I saw a nice man getting his briefcase out of his car, and, you know, sometimes I have these moments where I am overwhelmed by humanity and I want to express my intense compassion and good will to all humankind and this man was just going to work in Mexico and somehow watching him made me realize that I was a horrible idiot because aren't we all lucky to even have jobs? and livelihoods? and limbs, come to think of it?  And I could have real problems, such as being beheaded by a drug cartel or something, and here I was lamenting my stupid stick shift(less) fate and that just made me even more upset, because recognizing idiocy, while important, is not always helpful and productive.

The Boss Man recognized my fragile state and said that they could pay for an actual Escuela de Manejar for me (I had wished out loud for this solution days before, I would like on the record...I mean, the Boss Men are the ones who needed me to drive, after all) but then when he called a few schools and got the prices he wondered about me trying one more lesson with Brian instead, which we had planned to do anyway, Brian and me, and so on Friday it was back to the cobblestones, only this time I was also allowed to drive on the real pavement street (in fourth!) and I also learned to shift into neutral when slowing/rolling, and I tackled speed bumps. No, actually, that's really important because there are tons of speed bumps in Queretaro, like on random busy wide fast city streets.  Anyway, after that lesson and bit of progress I decided to drive the car back to the Boss Men on the freeway's frontage road (which here in Mexico is more like two lanes of the highway off to the right and separated by a median, but with pull-outs to shopping centers, and a slightly slower speed of traffic). Only Brian somehow convinced me to get on the actual highway highway, probably by shouting (but in a friendly way), "Get on the highway!" to which I replied, "I don't want to!" to which he replied "Do it anyway!" and in the heat of the moment I did, which was my baptism by fire. Fire and fifth gear.

Really, things went fine, and I even managed to pull out of a stuck right exiting lane back into the traffic and also to do my first traffic circles and basically to just astound myself that I had in fact progressed to actual driving of this thing. Now, this week, I have begun driving without the coach, much to the happiness of all parties involved, I suppose.

I have had to explain to some of our fellow English teacher peeps around these parts, many of whom are from England, exactly why I don't didn't drive a manual transmission already. Oh, those wacky Europeans. Don't they know that in MURRica, we have loads of automatic transmissions? Why, the only people who buy stick shifts, in my perception, are just -- what would you say? -- gearheads. People who are just really into, well, cars, and that is so not me. My idea of buying a car is: "Is it blue? Four doors? Bumper to bumper warranty? Where do I sign?"  I suppose also there are the totally flashy sports car people--aren't those usually stick shifts so they can rev the engine a lot? Or people who reallllly want to save $2000 off the MSRP, although I would personally sacrifice power windows over automatic transmission.  But never ever ever in the U.S. would you find a company car that multiple co-workers will have to drive, or a rental car, or any kind of general, shared vehicle that is not an automatic.

I have several friends who say now and who have said in years past that driving a stick shift is more "fun" "interesting" "exciting" etc.  They say that driving an automatic is "boring" and that there is "nothing to do with your hands." Well, except for the one hand that we hope is on the steering wheel, presumably. I have never had that problem. First and foremost, there's this little thing called a radio, but besides that I don't generally spend my driving time looking for something to "do" with my various body parts. Driving time is thinking time!

The way I see it, I just don't understand why anyone bothers with a manual transmission now that the automatic transmission has been invented. I mean, it's like the rotary phone. First, that was what we had, and it didn't seem cumbersome, but now it is antiquated. Rotary phones still have their place (like prop departments) and manual transmissions still have their place (race tracks, I suppose) but for anyone to just go out and buy one for their daily use seems silly. It seems like those early push button phones, not cordless but the ones that still rested in a cradle and all, that had an option to switch between "dial" and "pulse" when calling a number. Remember those? Like, the "pulse" would mimic the lengthy rotary sound after each button push. There was absolutely no reason for this, that I can see, other than to placate the people clinging to a bygone area.

But now I am one of you people, at least out of necessity, along for the ride.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Three and a Half Man(ual)

My first ever moment "driving" a stick shift was on the way back from Vegas to Provo freshman year of college with (one of my many friends named) Amy and another girl in the backseat who was equally automatic. Amy -- who had stayed up the entire night before or something while us normal people slept -- was soooo-falling-asleep-tired that she decided to force me into the driving role. She was that tired that she was willing to entrust me with her car; "I'll shift you up to fifth gear and then you just roll down the highway" was the theory, and so that's what we did--we rolled along the on-ramp while she shifted for me and said "OK, clutch, gas" etc. and then I was at 75 mph on the interstate all the way to Provo-ish, where I exited and promptly stalled and then she took back over after napping for several hours. I really have no memory of the mechanics of this event but looking back I am certainly glad there was no errant deer bounding across the highway for which I would have to brake.

Then there was the time I was an intern at Marketplace in L.A. and overly confident in that 21-year-old way and it was a hectic day and no interns had their cars there and the host and producers really, really, really wanted  one of us to go fetch them (and us) lunch, and no one drove a stick and my vague, "I sat in my friend's car once" coupled with my undeniable intelligence got me elected. I still remember Eve handing me her keys and saying, "You can do it. I have faith in you." Why? I was clever, sure, but this is a skill that really needs to be learned. I took my theory and managed to make it from the research annex to Taco Bell (?) and back while only stalling about twenty times. Eve, apparently, had the "easiest clutch in the world." The fact that I made it back is nothing short of miraculous, in my opinion, but the Marketplace staff was fed and I foolishly thought that I sort of kind of knew how to drive a stick. Then, I house-and-cat-sat for Eve a few months later and her We(st)Ho(llywood) street had alternate side parking and during her time out of town I had to move her car across the street one night for the next day's street cleaning and I just simply couldn't do it. I tried, but something about the slow speed and turning the car around just didn't gibe like accelerating through the USC neighborhood had, even with her "easiest clutch in the world." I eventually called my friend Samara to come over and move the car for me, seriously. What a nice friend. I think I offered to buy her a coffee or something in return.

Carl, another  L.A. friend, swore he could teach me to drive a stick. He had what I believe was called a "CRX." (Recall that I know/care nothing about cars.) We got in and he told me, from the passenger side, "If you can learn to drive my clutch you can learn to drive any car at all!" This did not sound promising; I'd rather get back to the "easiest clutch in the world." Needless to say, we got about half a driving lesson in. Three and a half, and done.

Fast forward to Mexico. You can see why I might be a teensy weensy bit skeptical about Brian's assurance that he could teach anyone to drive a stick in a day. (Why must we put numbers on these things? How about a week of lessons? A month? )  But learn I must, which led to my new stick-shift driving self.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

South of the Border

And so Linda Without Borders has arrived in Mexico.

Perhaps it was destined to happen; after all, I was raised in a state famously obsessed with border issues, and that particular border happens to be a Mexico one. Yes, a line drawn in the sand indicating where some folks think the Mexicans should halt -- although that land they are trying to "defend" was actually Mexico longer than it has been Arizona, but who's counting?  The indigenous peoples, you say?  Oh, aren't you quaint.

Anyway, selfish Europe-derived settlers aside, here we are. At the moment we are in Queretaro. The city of Queretaro, emphasis on the second syllable, is in the state of Queretaro, and it has about a million people and a whooooole lot of big businesses, factories, and international companies. It also has a lot of English language schools. Coincidence? You decide. Regardless, there are definitely English teaching gigs to be had here, and here we are!

When I galavanted off to Korea, the first things people tended to think of were M*A*S*H, kimchi, and the so-called threat of North Korea randomly invading. When I galavant off to Mexico, what do people think of? It seems there are two thoughts that pop into most minds, either:

1.)Ahhhh, I remember my luxurious vacation in Cabo/Cancun/Puerto Vallarta/Mazatlan (or, back in the Love Boat days, Acapulco).
2.)Isn't everyone there getting murdered by drug cartels? 

Well, so far I have neither gone to a beach nor seen a drug killing, but I will be sure to keep you posted. Mexico is a large country with a lot going on, and it's good to remember that there are different parts of it. There is also soooooooo much to see and do that I am overwhelmed even trying to decide where and when and how to plan my excursions and journeys and overnight adventures.

I had a layover in Mexico City once as well as one in Monterrey, but I didn't get to do anything in either city, so my only real Mexico trips in the past have been in the northern border cities. This time, I am in the central/south central part and am ready to explore.

What's your favorite thing to do in Mexico? Besides eat, duh. I have been doing plenty of that, don't you worry. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Most triumphant!

Today I found in my mother's closet a box of various things from my formative years, items such as my high school calculus textbook, scented candles (what female college student doesn't have a candle obsession in her first apartment or two?), an old mousepad, etc. Amid all these things lay a buried treasure. That's right, I found my Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure movie poster.

OK, well, maybe just the poster is not *that* exciting, although it does make me nostalgic. I remember it was on my wall for years and even made the journey to college with me to hang on my dorm wall, because that's how totally excellent I thought (and still think) that movie is.But being the budding occasional collage artist that I was, I had some things attached to said poster. For one thing, there is the big "Coming Soon at AMC Metro Village" sticker. many movies did we see at Metro Village, back in the day?  My second home. Also? The ticket stub! A relic!  The actual ticket stub from my excellent adventure seeing Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  The date was 02/18/89. The price, impressively, was $2.75.  Please note that this was at 7:40 PM on SAT, back in the days when I was actually willing to go to a movie with lots of other people around me. $2.75!! However, there is a "CH" by the price, so maybe $2.75 was the youngsters' price. Isn't that fun to remember? 

Bill and Ted, dude!  And the great thing, obviously, about seeing it at Metro Center was that it was partially filmed IN METRO CENTER MALL!  I do believe that we in the audience cheered when that part came on the screen. Genghis Khan wreaking havoc on the sporting goods store and whatnot.

I totally love Bill and Ted forever and always!