Thursday, July 19, 2012

+52 (442) I-N-F-L-A-T-E

I have had a flat tire while driving exactly twice in my life, and both times have been in the last two months. That's not the weirdest part, though! I will now tell you the weirdest part.  Keep in mind that I mean while I, myself, was driving, as opposed to other times when I was a back seat child passenger on a road trip or whatever. No, I mean flat tires with me behind the wheel: two, and here's what's weird.

First, in May, Brian went to Mexico. I was still in Phoenix for two more weeks. On my last Thursday in Phoenix, there I was scooting along the 101 when I heard a really loud noise which I thought was the engine dying, turned off the radio, pulled off the (luckily close) exit, and only then realized I had a flat tire that was flopping and grinding along. Luckily, I had joined Triple-A upon my acquisition of said car after returning from Korea to the U.S., and I called them to come help me out. While I waited in the hot, dark desert night on the side of the freeway in lonely 7th St/Loop 101 north Phoenix, I received a text message from Brian from a new phone number: "This is my Mexican phone!"  To which I of course replied something along the lines of "Can't talk right now, stranded by the highway with a flat waiting for triple-A."

Fast forward to July. I'm in Mexico, and as you will recall from recent blog posts, I have been forced here to learn to drive a stick shift (wheeeee!) and I perform this task for five round-trips per week. And wouldn't you know it? On Monday afternoon, almost back from that day's duties, as we crawled along in stop-and-go (mostly stop) highway traffic (I stayed in 1st gear! that's how much "stop" there was), the driver in the car to our right suddenly waved until he got our attention, then did the whole pointing down to the ground below your car thing while mouthing something unintelligible, which is the universal symbol of "You've got a flat tire!"

But here's what's so weird: I just got my Mexican cell phone number that day! Finally. Isn't that bizarre-o?!?!?! The only two days ever that Brian and I have ever got our Mexican cell phones are also the only two days ever that I have ever been driving and got flat tires.

What does it all mean?!

Friday, July 13, 2012

My landlocked travels

"The sky pours out biblical rain
then days so still the beauty gives you pain
The heat waves kills the green
and she remains unseen...."
                    --- indigo girls, 'she's saving me'

I am familiar with rainy seasons. Tropical rain, desert monsoons, four straight days of drizzle in central Korea, the daily afternoon shower in the Caribbean....and as luck would have it, we arrived in Querétaro pretty much just in time for rainy season. Two months, I'm promised, of rain. Lots of rain. Let me tell you a few things about the rain in Querétaro:
  1. It can be astonishing. This morning (happy Friday the 13th!) the rainfall has been so hard and steady for so many hours in a row that I'm a little worried about why Noah didn't contact me. Also, I'd be perfectly happy to leave these !#%&* cockroaches off the ark this time.
  2. I have to drive in it, once every week or so, and this wouldn't suck nearly as much if a.) the drivers on the highway didn't insist on still careening around in their fast, aggressive Mexican highway fashion, complete with rumbling 18-wheelers and cars whipping around the curves and b.)I wasn't just three weeks in to my whole driving-a-stick-shift stop-and-go thing and c.)we had anything resembling decent windshield wipers on the car. You know, like maybe more than two speed settings. Or maybe if one of them didn't have a flapping piece of rubber peeling off of it. Stuff like that. 
  3. It's so - patchy! (despite being a deluge) The weather in the hills ten minutes away can be different from the weather down in the city. As those hills are part of my commute, it fascinates me to feel the ten-degree difference in temperature and the huge shift in a matter of minutes. In the city itself, you can often walk in sunshine, then feel the sprinkle while still feeling sun on your face, and you can watch the clouds shifting above you and see the patch of blue sky a few hundred yards ahead. (Note: today's downpour is not one of those sprinkle days.)
OK, well, since I haven't washed away yet, I'm off to continue the productivity of my Friday the 13th. My apologies for actually writing an entire blog post about weather. But what a great soundtrack I have for it in Become You!

"Headed back to the flatlands, 
and you're headed up to the hills-
rain brings you home middle of July..."

                               --indigo girls, 'nuevas senoritas'

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

When in the course of Queretaro events...

As my mom reminded me today, the old joke goes: "Do they have a 4th of July in [Mexico]?"  Ha, ha. If you don't know the answer, um...I can't really help you. But seriously, today was actually a good day, the lack of fireworks notwithstanding. Irony alert: after years of holidays in Arizona and California on which many illegal fireworks were heard to be launched in random city neighborhoods, including the occasional Mexican holiday and thus, presumably, the occasional launching of fireworks by Mexicans/Mexican-UnitedStatesians/people celebrating Mexican something or other, I find myself IN Mexico on my homeland's holiday without a firework to be found.

A fellow United Statesian teacher here in Queretaro hosted a lovely afternoon barbecue to celebrate the ol' U.S.A. independence. The majority of the guests were teachers of business English, and our schedule is basically this: teach corporate classes in the morning (beginning of their workday) and then have a long break and then teach corporate classes in the evening (end of their workday). That long break in the middle? Is long enough for a 4th of July barbecue! Said barbecue included four of us red-white-and-blue-lovin' peeps, a few Mexican friends, our friend from Argentina, and even an Englishman for good measure.

We had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, Coca-Cola and Coors Light in the fridge (plus some Mexican beer if you didn't want to stoop to Coors Light, you commie swine), and baseball games on the computer, including the Nationals and the Phillies, such appropriate Independence Day cities. A good time was had, even if I had to leave and go do English teacher things, although I must add that my students and I had a great discussion about the 4th of July, holidays, Mexican Independence Day in September, and perhaps most importantly the vast amount of food and tequila to be consumed on that upcoming day.

In a further tribute to the greatness of 'MURRica (ahem), I would like to report the following exchange from my morning beginning-ish level corporate English class on the topic of Difficult Colleagues:

Me: (having discussed various "difficult" characteristics and listed them on the board) Do you know anyone like that, who blames others for their problems?
Students: No, not here. At my other company, yes! Not here.
Me: (starting to fish for "politicians") Well, what about in the outside world? Can you think of a famous type of person who often blames others for their problems...?
Student: Britney Spears!
Me: Well, yes. I see what you mean. A celebrity might blame others for her problems. Can we think of another...?
Student: Lindsay Lohan!

I mean, you really have to hand it to them. They got the concept and ran with it.

All righty then, I'm off to pursue some happiness.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Monday Madness in Mexico

Tomorrow is the four-week anniversary of my arrival in Queretaro. To recap, here are some things I have done in that time:
  •  Learned to drive a stick shift
  •  Found a book group
  • Bought and read a book in Spanish - my first Vargas Llosa! 
  • Eaten a lot of tacos. 
  • And tamales. 
  • And enchiladas. Especially the local dish, enchiladas queretanas
  • Sung karaoke (duh) (although, this was actually kind of a fail in that we went super late after the evening was kind of already over and I was out of cash and in fact super exhausted and I kind of need to redo my Mexican karaoke inauguration)
  • Stood at the very table where the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed
  • Graded tests
And, you know, lots of other stuff besides. Not to mention my Spanish speaking! It's fun to speak a little español again.

There was something weird about today, though. I don't know what it was -- a post-election hangover? That would be ironic what with the election day dry laws and all. A full moon? Maybe. But there was just something about Queretaro this evening. First of all, on my (forced, stick shift) drive back from my last duty of the day there was no traffic. There is always at least one time I must slow to a crawl, but not today. I stayed in fourth gear through the police checkpoint! THAT is how little traffic there was! (Why, yes, there IS a police checkpoint on our evening drive returning to Queretaro proper, but it's just a little official one and so far -- and please join me in knocking on some serious wood here -- we have always been waved through and/or they are already looking in the back of someone else's vehicle, usually a truck or U-Haul-type thing.)  Anyway, where was I? Right, today was weird! First there was the whole fewer-cars-on-the-highway thing, and then there were fewer cars in my Queretaro streets too, and I was wondering if people took the day after the elections off, or something.

Then as I was about to arrive back at the Institute, the destination for the car and myself, I came across the remains of a pretty nasty car accident -- you know, loads of police cars, a small crowd, people with furrowed brows, and a car totally crunched under the back of a bus. No vehicle occupants in sight, having already been taken off, alive I hope. So, after being traumatized by that accident right by the school, Brian and I got home and at the intersection by our place a street was blocked off by police, who were shooing cars left and right and not letting them pass, and I could only see that there were more police cars behind them, and I couldn't tell if someone got shot or something exploded or what. Then, Brian was about to head to his weekly soccer game with other Institute peeps but his ride called to cancel so he was going to drive by himself, and we decided (roundaboutly) that I would also go along and be a soccer spectator, partly for companionship and partly because I had been idly meaning to go see the weekly soccer gig at some point (even though they won't let girls play) but mostly because seriously I was like, with all these random acts of police around Queretaro tonight you're going to probably get stuck in some roadblock somewhere and need my Spanish. Ha ha, but we saw several more cops in our 'hood on our way to the game, including an 18-wheeler randomly pulled over on our busy road and stuff like that. I'm convinced something big and bizarre was happening and the police were hot on someone's trail.

OK, cheap thrills, cheap thrills, I know. It's actually been an interesting day even without the weirdness because it was interesting to discuss the results of the presidential election with people, particularly the predicted (enabled?) election of Enrique Peña Nieto as president over Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador and Josefina Vázquez Mota. (Here's a sketch of the basic people and results, very basic, if you'd like to learn a bit. But it's just one prism through which to view the situation, and some people I've talked to would tell the story differently.)

Anyway, as usual time is flying but I am happy every day to be surrounded by so much delicious food.  I realized that I've been going about this all wrong -- clearly I should have been teaching one year in Asia, then hanging out in Mexico for a few months eating, then another year in Asia, etc. My timing has been off. If only I'd hit on that perfect plan sooner!  Yum.