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2/15/19 – 2/25/19
Mexico City is a marvel of the human propensity to congregate and build stuff out of rocks. It is also a testament to the horrors of sprawl such as pollution and the erosion of one’s soul and life energy in constant bumper to bumper traffic. The city center is the most beautiful slice of urban development that I have ever seen. And as much as can be said about the architecture; the blood, the sangre of it all, is the people. They’re everywhere. Going to work. Coming from work. Directing traffic. Selling tortillas and knockoff watches or sunglasses. They’re wearing animal skulls on their heads and performing indigenous purification ceremonies which include wafting fronds of smoking herbs over new age hippy white girls that hand over twenty pesos in exchange for the feeling that this strange force they refer to as “The Universe” somehow cares for them, nurtures them, and provides a safe haven to which they can “put it all out there.” Some of them are just standing there. Others sitting in protest or sleeping off a long night of recreational drug abuse. They’re sitting in pews reciting little prayers in hopes for better things in the next life. Construction workers are inexplicably shoveling one pile of sand into another while whistling at beautiful girls walking by on their way to being late to work. Some used to guard parking lots before the grocery store hired actual guards; they had nowhere to go though so now they just stand there arms folded wearing little orange vests and people keep giving them tips because they don’t know what else to do.
We wander in and out of churches and historic government buildings and museums. There is a connection to and value for art in Mexico that doesn’t exist in America. Up until 2018, the five hundred peso note featured the mug shots of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The detailed stones in the sidewalks. Carved wooden doors. Colors. They never miss an opportunity to apply pastels.
In addition to Francisco, we had three connections in the city that we planned to meet up with.
On Friday night we get together with Luis of The Four Lubricantes and his special lady friend Xochi. We drink Mexican craft beer and Luis orders guacamole with chapulines on top.
“Crickets!” I exclaim. “They’re the future of protein.”
I’d never tried them and was pleased to find that my taste buds aligned with my beliefs that the path sustainable sustenance was paved with this crunchy maestro of the night.
The next day Soph and I are picked up by Edmundo, father of our neighbor Pamela in Detroit, and driven to Teotihuacan after a taco breakfast. Along the way we pass a group of fifty cyclists. We wander up and down a few pyramids, take some pictures, and contemplate that there may have been a human sacrifice in the exact location where a man was now picking his nose. After this we had dinner and went back to Edmundo’s home, where Pamela had grown up. We drank tequila and I coaxed stories from Pamela’s childhood out of her father and relayed these along with family pictures back to her in Detroit. After a driving tour of the city we were dropped off at our door step.
Sunday was spent with Luis and Xochi exploring a few climbing areas around the city.
Back in Arizona I had gone down a social media rabbit hole from my past and noticed that a woman named Megan that I had gone to middle school with was living in Mexico City. I contacted her for some thoughts on the country. She had a strange way of offering advice. At some point I had asked about good areas to stay while there and was sent an article about gentrification with no explanation other than the instructions “Read this.” Ever the gadfly I point out that the author admonishes the relocation of working class folks for the new wave of hipster programmers while simultaneously lauding the artisanal coffeehouse across the street from his apartment and relishing in getting his shoes shined.
After some bantering about this we agree to grab drinks and catch up. We talk a bit about Mexico, but the conversation quickly moves to the fact that no matter how much you want to deny it as a traveler, there will always be a soft spot in your heart for Michigan. We had several shots of pechuga. As far as I have gathered this is a mezcal that somehow involves a turkey breast. She returns after smoking a cigarette and almost knocks a table over.
“Sorry, I generally live my life like I’m at a Bob Seger concert.” I understand this fully and we discuss The Mitten’s rich culture of drinking canned beer on lakes while listening to Tom Petty.
“You just don’t get pontoons in Mexico and even if you did you’re probably not going to want to jump off of one.”
It is rare that you meet people from The Great Lakes State in this lifestyle. It is a difficult place to escape. Three sides flanked by water and Ohio providing the illusion that there is nothing but corn and incest to the South. Living in such isolation, we are remarkably simple and familiar to one another yet so alien to outsiders with our January shorts and hoodies, well done steaks, cornhole, pop, ICP, love of Up North, and unshakeable faith that “what this town really needs is a good coney joint.”
A highly overlooked aspect of cycle touring and cycling in general is the maintenance of one’s own bike. It is easy to view this as a chore when your knuckles crack open and piss blood all over the spokes after slipping with the tire levers. But if you approach the machine for what it is, the nexus of modern and primitive engineering and the vehicle on which you experience life, maintenance becomes synergistic. You can wait for things to break, and in some situations this is the right thing to do. If you are never going to be more than a few miles from home, the cost of regularly replacing a chain will far surpass that of simply waiting for it to snap and replacing the entire drive train at once. But if you need to rely on your bike to carry you over the Andes or the salt flats of Bolivia, then it is best to make a ritual of inspecting it.
For me, the best way to do this is to occasionally give it a detailed cleaning by hand. Wipe it all down with a clean rag. Look at each part as you polish it and inspect for wear and damage. As I was doing this the next morning I noticed that there was a crack in my wheel. We had originally planned on leaving the next morning, but I knew this was something that would take more time to sort out. I didn’t’ mind. There was so much to see and do. I had been looking for an excuse to spend a few extra days and now I had it.
Like what we're doing here? Tell a friend or throw us some bread. It keeps tires on the bikes and food in our bellies!
jajajaja. To be clear for your READERS: I do believe the mention of the shoe shiner goes to show how many people are making money in CDMX, which is the informal economy. Not to mention if the way you have to make money in the Roma is by shining shoes, you certainly are one of the majority have nots. Anywho, I’m not into ICP, but I will raise you a Strohs anyway and attempt to walk a straight line. I haven’t had luck finding your hat. But it’s kinda cool to know it’s being worn by a random in Mexico City, no? Saludos y con cuidado. – Megan
The fact of the matter is that you know who ICP is, and for this you are certainly from the mitten. They’re really not my can of Strohs either.
The funny thing about that hat landing in CDMX is that it has a Clarkston Union logo on it and there is a former Union employee running a taco shop there and using that same logo. I miss that hat. If you ever see it I would love to be reunited with it.