CHAPTER 1 A Brief Report on All That Is Wrong with US Air Travel Based on My Trip from Boston to Veracruz
Nothing really new here. Anyone who travels by air could tell about the same story. You can skip Chapter 1 if you want and go directly to Chapter 2.
It started like a perfectly normal day for traveling. No bad weather, at least not in Boston. But the United Airlines plane from Boston to Houston was about 45 minutes late arriving in Boston. This didn't bother me a whole lot because I had a four hour plus layover in Houston and anything (safe) that would cut into that was fine with me (though not with people who'd miss their flights). We made good time down towards Houston and the pilot announced that we'd not only be touching down but actually pulling into the gate in 45 minutes -- having made up much of the delay.
Then his voice, doleful now, said, "Sorry folks, they've completel shut down the Houston airport due to storms. We have to detour to New Orleans. This was no short-term delay. An hour each way to and from Houston, delays in New Orleans because SOMEHOW we kept having to wait: for the fuel truck, for the fueling, for our place in the take-off line, for our place in the take off line AGAIN. Maybe four hours later we arrived in Houston. Luckily, lo and behold, I had just enough time to make the flight to Veracruz. I ran to the little train to terminal B, ran from the train station to the gate. The door for my flight was SLAMMED SHUT.
Good luck again. I had not missed my flight! The plane had not yet arrived. When would it arrive I asked the attendant. "Who knows?" She said. "Not too long, though. Don't go too far." I bought an absolutely terrible squashed-into-plastic-wrap turkey and cheese sandwich with a tiny packet of mustard. So maybe half an hour later, the plane arrived, disgorged its passengers, and we got on. And the plane backed out of the gate, and backed up and backed up and backed up and backed up, and then drove forward not to the runway but to the gate again. It did this twice. "Sorry folks," said the captain. "Something is overheating to the point of burning. We have to call an engineer.
So we ended up being REALLY late to Veracruz. (Though I have to say, coming in to the city was beautiful. Under the clouds ribbons of fog draped over the sparkly lights of the city.) The plane was SO late that the shuttle to Xalapa that usually waits didn't wait. It was after midnight. (And I have to mention -- nah, don't have to, but want to, that the flight attendant on the Houston-Veracruz link had the shrillest, loudest ugliest voice I have ever heard coming from a flight attendant or many other people and she didn't speak a word of Spanish and got impatient with people who didn't speak English, and on the other hand, she only had immigration forms in Spanish which she couldn't help English speakers with! AND there was nothing but the tattered air safety cards that offered anything bilingual.)
ANYWAY, since I'd missed the shuttle a very nice mother and son gave me a ride to the main Veracruz bus terminal. Unfortunately, I had also just missed the last express bus from Veracruz to Xalapa. The NEXT bus was a local that you had to wait for out on the street which got to Xalapa at 4:00 in the morning and there were no other buses after that to Xalapa until the morning. So I acted with my usual common sense and decided to take a taxi (well I reasoned that a hotel room and a taxi to the bus station and the bus fare would be even more expensive if safer).
CHAPTER 2 A Middle-of-the-Night Taxi Ride from Veracruz to Xalapa
I asked the last remaining ticket agent if there were authorized cabs. "Right there," she said indicating a line of them on the street in front of the bus station. They all had the same company name so I took her word for it. When I said I wanted to go to Xalapa, only one driver showed any interest. "How much," I asked. "800 pesos," he said, or roughly $60.00 US. I looked him over quickly. At least he was a bit smaller than I am and didn't appear to be carrying any weapons. We lugged my baggage over to his cab and I got in the back seat. "Momentito," said a man on the curb. "You will need fresh air." He opened the door and turned down the window and held out his and for a tip. "Naah," I said and the taxi driver drove off, brakes(or something) squealing. "You will take me to Xalapa, right?" I asked hopefully and naively. "I promise," he said. "I never break my promises." "And I'll be safe with you?" "Of course." He immediately drove off the main road. "So where are we going?" I want to buy a soda. It's a long trip. Would you like a bottle of water?" We drove to a store which appeared all locked up, but amazingly, a man opened the door with a bottle of water for me and a coke for him. "How much," I asked. "Nada. You will pay me enough."
And still we didn't head back to the highway. "Now where?" I asked. "I have to buy gas, check the oil, he said. He drove a curleque route and paused in front of a very fancy house. "My house," he said. "Oh," I said. "Very impressive." He laughed. "Just kidding." "You're sure you're taking me to Xalapa?" "Very," he said. "Here is the Pemex." It was a smallish Pemex which indeed seemed to cater to taxi drivers, a number of whom were pulled into it checking oil, tires, gas, etc.
We did actually head onto the highway at that point, the taxi groaning and squeaking and going pretty fast. We started to talk in a more relaxed way. He'd worked in the States for 15 years and had had to come back. I asked if he spoke English. "Not really. No one spoke it at all when I was in the southern states, and my jefe in California spoke Spanish to us." He loved California and I wondered why he'd left. I gather he was caught in a sweep of illegal immigrants. As we slowed to go through Cardel, he asked if I would sit up front just so we wouldn't have to shout at each other to carry on a conversation. He pulled off the road and I climbed in next to him.
He turned out to be totally courteous and careful and told me about his life in the US. For ten years he had been on a team of sorts made up of migrants who, under the direction of a very strict boss, worked their way from Florida to North Carolina month by month harvesting. They lived in bunk houses. They could be sent home for being found drunk or for "being with a woman." He told me that mostly they didn't want to go to the towns anyway because some shopkeepers wouldn't serve or sell to them and lots of people called them names. All the people on his team were married and sent the money they got home to their families.
Finally he got fed up and somehow made his way to the wine country of California where he spent the next five years with a jefe, an American vintner, who treated his workers well. He clearly cared for this man and said he was the one who showed him that there were indeed good gringos.
His trip to California, or maybe his trip up from Mexico, took him through Arizona. The highway we were on was completely dark and almost completely without traffic. Sometimes dark cliffs loomed on either side of the road. "Like Arizona," he said. "It reminds me how scared I was."
I wanted to be sure we'd take the cuota. "Of course," he told me. "The free road is dangerous at night." "Potholes," I asked, knowing that wasn't the reason. "No. Big dark cars with scary people in them," he said, and we both laughed nervously.
The trip went fast. He asked me lots of questions and I did the same. I had told him I had just come from visiting family in Boston. "Why do you live here if you could live in Boston?" I told him I knew it was very hard here for poor people, but for people like my husband and me who were neither rich nor poor, it was much more interesting than life in the US for retired folks like us. There was a life to live here. And in the US it was easy to become isolated or to move into a place where there were only old people. And I told him I found Mexico endlessly interesting. "How," he wanted to know. "actually, I told him, one of the things I like best is that it reminds me of how it was when I grew up in the Bronx: people living right next to each other, little stores on the streets which always seemed busy, neighbors you knew. People weren't necessarily nice," I told him, "But they were always involved with each other. And you could smell cooking and a lot of other stuff walking down the street. "But your family is in Boston." "And Oakland, and St. Louis and Spain," I said. "All over the place." For him, Mexico and family was everything, though he would go back to northern California to work again and send money home if he could only go legally and return regularly. But that is virtually impossible, even for people who haven't a black mark against them for being deported.
One thing bothered him, just a little thing, he said. "Why do Americans like dogs so much? I know they are smart: they're smarter than people. They trick you into giving them food by acting like they care for you, but if you can't give them food, they're gone: they forget all about you."
I told him we have four dogs and that we kid ourselves that they all really care about us.
When we arrived at the outskirts of Xalapa he confessed he didn't really know how to get to CAXA, the bus terminal, that he hadn't been to Xalapa since before he left for the US.So I told him to go up to Avenida 15 de Noviembre, where the sculpture that looked tome like a giant Christmas tree was and turn left. When he saw the sculpture, he laughed. "An upside down tree," he said. "And to me it is pretty ugly. Why do they make stuff like that?"
We made our way to CAXA and lo and behold and miraculously, there was Jim, still waiting for me, though on the verge of going home. We were both exceedingly relieved to see each other. It made the cabdriver smile. I paid him and tipped him much more than Jim thought I should but both the driver and I felt like we'd made friends with each other.
So should you take a taxi from Veracruz to Xalapa in the middle of the night? You're going to have to decide that for yourself. And if you do decide to, make sure to take the Cuotas.