I really must have ticked off Montezuma…or Quetzalcoatl…or the universe in general…because I think I might have the worst driving karma in Mexico.
No, not accidents. Nothing that banal. But I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately, and every trip seems to end poorly.
There was the play date that ended with thirty minutes of wandering the mall parking lot only to realize that we were on the wrong level, followed by another wasted thirty minutes as the GPS navigated me around and around the mall parking lot instead of home. There was another play date where I drove up and down the same street for 45 minutes looking for a park that supposedly existed but that I never found. There was our first night out without babysitters when we attempted to head to a party just 10 minutes up the road, following the host’s directions–and an hour later, after circling a field of horses, a jam-packed stadium, and winding up on dirt streets, we had to call for sentinels to literally stand at the corner and flag us in. And then there was this morning’s trip to the airport to drop Heather off, where every possible path was blocked off–for a road that seemed to have collapsed, for the weekly via recreativa, and others for inexplicable reasons.
Annoying, yes. But nothing as bad as driving through la tormente.
Yesterday afternoon, we went to Tlaqueplaque. It was a lovely excursion. That is, until it started raining.
It’s the rainy season here, and almost every evening, the rains come. Usually, we are at home, where we close our windows and enjoy the sounds and smells of what feels like a brief and refreshing rain. Nothing compared to Indian monsoons or Midwestern summer thunderstorms. Or so we thought.
Last night around 7pm, as we were helping Anna shake her booty to Mexican ska in Tlaquepaque’s zocalo, it started to rain. At first, just a light drizzle–so like everyone else, we kept dancing, the few raindrops more refreshing than anything else. Then the sporadic raindrop turned into a light but steady patter, and the crowd gathered under the zocalo’s tent–from which Anna escaped. So while the drizzle turned to rain, Heather and I stood sheltered while laughing at Fresh’s wild baby chase. Once it was actually raining, we decided to head to the car. We walked four blocks under colonades and awnings, oblivious to the fact that the rain had switched from pleasant to annoying–strong enough to get you wet, but still not a storm.
Then, the deluge.
The rain picked up force, turning into a full-fledged downpour. By the time we were all loaded and buckled into the car, we were soaked–and a small river was gathering force in the gutters of Tlaqueplaque’s streets. Still, though, this was no stronger than thunderstorms I’ve driven through at home, so on we went. After one right turn, windshield wipers were flying to keep up with the pace of the rain, and I started to worry about visibility. Another right turn, and the drains coming out of each building were shooting out waterfalls of sewage, dumping them into cobbled streets that were quickly turning into very deep puddles. But we pressed on, following a line of traffic away from Tlaqueplaque. By the time we got to the main street, however, those puddles had turned to rivers, complete with currents, eddies, dams, and rapids. My heart dropped at the first main intersection. We could follow the GPS’s directions down an empty downhill alley into a neighborhood I didn’t know, or we could follow the route I knew, visibly flooded, but with a whole line of traffic making its way through the waves.
We turned onto the big road.
Right into a river.
Where we sat for an hour.
As waterlogged cars stalled. As the lanes opposite us crept up to thigh-level. As drivers gave up and pushed or drove their cars up onto the sidewalk. As homeowners on the street frantically swept water out of their entryways. As lightning struck so close that the whole neighborhood shook. As buses drove over foot-high medians to try to unstick themselves from the traffic and the flood. As sewers started erupting into geysers in the middle of the street. As moto drivers in head-to-toe rain gear flew through the street sending spray seven-feet-high into the air. As poor bastards with dead cars pushed them upstream, against the current on the deep side of the street, soaking from head-to-toe. As salon goers waited as long as they could before they simply donned an umbrella, took off their shoes, and went for a virtual swim to get home. As ladies in stiletto heels and yellow rain coats held on tight while their dates navigated them on motorcycles along the sidewalks.
For an hour (1:02, to be exact), we sat in the car without moving more than six inches, in the shallowest part of the street, perfectly safe, but stuck. We laughed, we marveled, we prayed to the bathroom gods that they would spare us, and we thanked the baby gods that Anna was sound asleep.
And then the rains abated, and the streets quickly drained. Soon, cars started moving back upstream of their own volition, and our side of the road started creeping forward. But the pace was so slow that we knew something was up. After all, as we had sat in the car for the past hour, we’d watched the intersection just two blocks ahead seemingly drown cars–water up to the hood. It, too, had drained rapidly when the rain stopped, but we imagined that there was either a gridlock of dead cars or a multi-car accident holding up the traffic now eager to move.
There was a lake in the middle of the street holding up the traffic. I kid you not: A lake. My heart sunk. Everything I ever learned about driving screamed, “Do not go! Danger! Danger!” But cars smaller than ours, older than ours, weaker than ours, were barreling through the lake…and making it to the other side unscathed. So with a deep breath, I hit the gas, slow and steady. The water lapping at our doors reminded us that this was no puddle. The wake shooting out from every car reminded us that this was no joke.
We made it across. With a few cheers, big sighs of relief, and some hysterical giggles, we were back on a dry road where traffic was moving. We started sharing our “We survived that!” stories and agreeing that the delay was for the best–Anna fell asleep, we probably missed the flooding in our own neighborhood, I had yet to have a pregnant bladder emergency, and Heather even got a wacky Mexican adventure thrown into her weekend.
For about ten minutes, we drove on, happy and deluded, thinking we had survived the storm and the flood and were home free. We even laughed at all the dead cars on the shoulder, commenting that it looked like a war zone or the aftermath of a natural disaster. We started planning our flood playlist, with “How High is the Water, Mama?” and “When the Levees Broke” at the top of the set.
Then, the traffic stopped. Again.
I assumed it was the pinche GPS’s fault, navigating us through downtown during el grito instead of directing us back to the highway. I started cursing the GPS. My bladder started announcing its presence. Heather got quiet. After another half-hour of sitting and creeping passed, I was on the verge of a temper tantrum. First we drive through a flood, now we’re stuck in traffic. And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, it started raining again. Hard. And we moved further up the road, where I realized that this wasn’t holiday traffic.
This was another pinche flood. This one, virtually impassable. Cars had given up: Pulled up onto the median, lights off, calling it a night. Driving up into the high-ground parking lots of car dealerships. Putting on flashers in the right lane, the highest part of the road. Even ambulances, with lights flashing, sat stalled. Because if you didn’t choose one of these options, the fate that awaited you appeared to be the same as what had befallen the white Pontiac and little red hatchback drifting in the middle of the street, water past their tailpipes, lapping at the bottom of their doors, and splashing up onto their hoods.
Here was the problem: We were stuck in traffic, in the left lane, where the water was getting deeper, pinned in by trucks and stalled cars and drivers who’d given up. We couldn’t move. I opened the door to see just how high the water was, and my heart sunk. I started imagining every worst case scenario: Roads collapsing. Spending the night in the car with no food or water. Having to abandon our precious Subaru el segundo for the night and hike five miles home in the rain. Peeing my pants all over the car. Lord knows what else. But we were stuck. I took every inch I could get as cars pulled off the road and semi-trucks decided to go for it; somehow I made it off the road into the parking lot of a closed VW dealership. Where after almost three hours of “driving” in what was supposed to be a twenty-minute trip, I gave up and made Ross take the reigns, his margaritas surely digested by now. Where I decided to beg the cleaning lady in the dealership to let this pregnant lady use her restroom. And where I met a tapatio family who insisted that they had never seen anything like this in their life. Guadalajara had never flooded like this–the floods stretched all the way to downtown. Over and over, the grandmother kept telling me, never in her life had the rains and floods been this bad.
Cold comfort for a car of gringos, including this pregnant lady who was trying to figure out how many size 4 diapers it would take to get her through the night.
And then the street started clearing out–not of water but of cars. Ross decided that if cars in worse shape than ours were going to make a break for it, so was he. We followed a pick up about a half-mile up the road to an intersection, where we realized that the cars who’d cleared out had no intention of continuing on; they were giving up, just up the road, on higher ground.
And then: A motorbike. Right through the most flooded intersection of all. Then an SUV. And then, finally, a tiny little tin toy of a taxi–made it through. Past the geyser of sewage and through the whitewater rapids and unfathomable depths of this street. In Mexico’s second-biggest city. Just 4.4 miles from our house.
And so, Ross went for it. On the other side of the intersection, dry ground. And just like that, three and a half hours after we piled into our car, soaking and laughing and exhausted, we were finally on our way home. Laughing as we passed the minor floods in the rest of the city, thanking the universe for not making us spend the night in the car (and getting me closer to a bathroom), cheering with each mile we got closer to home, and wondering how a short storm that was truly not as powerful as the thunderstorms that regularly wrack Wisconsin could produce such havoc. Where were we?!
It’s easy to forget that we are living in a developing country.
Until it rains.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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