We were loaded with advice and provisions when we pulled out of Yuma, Ariz. and headed for the Mexican border. Don't try to drive more than 200 miles a day, our friends had said. Don't drive at night. Put your watch on your right arm; otherwise somebody will grab it when you make a hand signal. Take your hubcaps off and get a lock on your gas cap. Don't drink the water, and try to avoid eating the food. I wondered if it was O.K. if we breathed the air. My head was reeling with these admonitions, and my car handled soggy and soft from the overload. Two big jugs of water were perched upright on the rear seat like obedient children, held firmly in place by seat belts. Thank you, Ralph Nader. Around the jugs were stacks of foodstuffs: soft drinks, Spam, canned vegetables, graham crackers, 40% Bran Flakes, potato chips, snacks and goodies that could be trusted. There were two first-aid kits plus a snakebite kit with a suction bulb; there were extra fan belts and sparkplugs for the car, six cans of motor oil, a box of signal flares and a jerrican of gasoline; an extra spare tire (a spare spare) was lashed to the roof rack. If we had had a few mattresses draped over the sides of the car and three or four kids sucking on bottles we would have looked exactly like the dust jacket of The Grapes of Wrath.
"What are you supposed to be," a wise-guy friend had asked as we slid away from the curb with all the grace of a hippopotamus in the eighth month of a difficult pregnancy, "the American contribution to Mexico's cultural year, or what?"
"Maybe he was right," I said to my wife as we negotiated south Yuma and waddled down a dusty detour toward the border. "Maybe we overdid it."
"Don't give me that 'we' stuff," my wife said. "You're the one that said driving in Mexico was different from driving anyplace else in the world. You're the one that said we had to be completely sufficient unto ourselves, prepared for every eventuality, ready to...."
"Yeah," I said, "but I didn't mean we had to load up the car with pemmican and jerky."
"Never mind," I said. My wife was after Zane Grey's time.
The border is only a short haul from Yuma, and the day was hot, and the road was dusty and potholed, and soon I was lost and annoyed and delivering one of those long social commentaries that my wife has come to know and enjoy so much. "Damned Mexicans!" I said. "All that phony publicity about how their roads have improved and you can drive to the Olympics without any trouble. All that horseradish! Look at this! We haven't gone two miles and we're lost already. Now what's the name of this cross street? No sign, right? Yeah, I knew it. Incredible! Amazing! No street signs! How the hell are you supposed to know where you are? Damned backward country. They're in the Dark Ages. Bunch of burro riders. Aw, the hell with it! We're not going. This is a stupid idea. No, the hell with it. I'm turning the damn car around and we're going back to the United States!"
"Sweetheart," my wife said gently, "we're in the United States."
"What?" I said. "What?"
"We're still in Arizona."
She was right. Just below Yuma, a series of right-angle corrugated farm roads led one slowly and painfully toward the border. "I knew that!" I said. "What I meant was these roads are just like Mexico!"
"Sure you did," my wife said. "So let's give the Mexicans one more chance."
We had deferred breakfast and lunch in favor of an authentic Mexican meal, and now we were both weakened with hunger. Visions of hot tamales ("Are there any cold tamales?" my wise-guy friend had asked) and chiles rellenos and guacamole salad danced before our eyes. "Frijoles," I said. "My kingdom for a dish of frijoles." My wife has always said that my idea of heaven would be a pool hall that served frijoles, Mexico's refried beans.
Crossing the border into the dusty little town of San Luis was a snap; it took 10 minutes from start to finish, and the Mexican officials that everybody had told us would have to be bribed didn't have to be bribed at all, just smiled at by my wife. We entered the first restaurant in sight at a trot and grabbed up a pair of heavy menus. "Familiar dinner No. 1" consisted of "wonton soup, barbecued pork, pork chop suey, spareribs" and assorted other Oriental delicacies. "Familiar dinner No. 2" was "sguabs (sic) featured with pineapple," etc. The restaurant also served "fried fresk shrimp," "Filete mignon," "Nueva York cut steak" and "tenderlin steak," as well as "breaded tenderlin steak." We ate Chinese style, at $4.50 each, and thanked our stars that we were in an inexpensive country.
We headed southeast across a countryside so dry that you could almost hear it crackle. Tall and stately saguaro cacti dominated the landscape of basic brown. The saguaros near the road (Mexican National Highway No. 2) were brown and lifeless and bulletholed, like the ones near the roads in Arizona. White poppies and purple unidentifiables covered the desert floor, and here and there were specimens of a strange half-cactus half-tree, lacking bark and leaves, with gnarled and twisted branches reaching toward the sky like the fingers of the dead. Nothing changed for 200 miles. The man at the quarantine station said, "You spik Sponnish?"
"No." I said.
"¬øDonde va?" he said. "Where do you go?"
"Ooooooh bonito," he said. "Beautiful. Why do you go there?"
"Somebody in my office got the idea we should drive the road before the Olympics, find out what it'll be like for all the American drivers going down in September."
"For the what?"
"For the Olympics."
"Oh, sí," the inspector said, "I heard about that." He slapped the back of the car as one would slap the rump of a pony to tell him to be off. We drove till dark and found ourselves still an hour away from our first night's stopping place: the little town of Santa Ana in the desert state of Sonora. Everyone we had talked to—the Triple-A lady, the Mexican insurance agent, the American border officials—had warned us not to drive in Mexico after dark. "Sheer suicide," the insurance man had said. "If you don't hit a cow, you'll hit an unlighted car." But we were only 50 miles from Santa Ana, and we had a choice between sleeping on the desert floor and using up our snakebite kit on the first night out or proceeding through the black Mexican night to Santa Ana. We proceeded, at a speed of about 30 mph.
Soon the lights of Santa Ana appeared ahead and, as we tooled into the outskirts of town, we came to the edge of a river about 50 yards in width. There was no bridge, so far as I could see, and no ferry. Mexican National Highway No. 2 went to the water's edge and quit. The water bubbled and gurgled, and little flecks of secondhand light glittered from the crests of the rapids. A Mexican walked up to the car and beckoned us to drive on into the river. "Not me, Buster," I said, and nervously handed him a pack of cigarettes purchased for just such an emergency, when the goodwill of the peasantry would be sorely needed. I looked again, but the river was still there. The Mexican had begun to talk haltingly. "You go wife first," he seemed to be saying, "and then you know something." Gradually he gave me to understand that anybody with any sense at all would send the wife on ahead. If she sank, the river was unsafe for the car. Just then an old pickup truck bearing Mexican license plates and no running lights came bumping down the road and plunged into the river without slowing down. I jumped behind the wheel and followed, and we drove into Santa Ana in triumph, with river water streaming from the trunk. Our first day's drive in the strange land was a success. "Tomorrow you ride with your shoes off," I said giddily to my wife. "There might be more rivers."
We drove for a total of eight days in Mexico, anticipating the thousands of Americans who will pile into their cars in September and October and head for the Olympic Games, the first time since 1932 that this feat has been possible by automobile. We took the western route into Mexico City, the same route that Californians will have to take, and returned to the U.S. via the eastern route, through Monterrey to the southern tip of Texas, to find out what the drive will be like for Americans from points east of El Paso. We found out, all right. The drive will be an adventure. Something different will happen each day. You will want to abandon the trip and turn back at least 100 times. And another 100 times on the second day, and the third. If you persist in driving like a gringo, a norteamericano, you had better have plenty of insurance and a clear conscience. Perhaps, like the man from Berwyn, Ill., you will top a slight rise and slam into a burro and wipe out your new car. Or, like the man from McAllen, Texas, you will break up your car against a wandering cow. Or, like the three priests from Colorado, you might crack up against the back of an unlighted truck at night. The Mexican highways are a barrel of fun, a laugh riot—if you live. And even if you live, you can find yourself in plenty of trouble over nothing. An American photographer was a passenger in a car that swerved to miss a horse and plowed into a tree; when the photographer awoke after two days of unconsciousness he found himself in a hospital under armed guard. Another American was engaged in an accident with a politician from Querétaro and was held by the police for a week, while his wife went back into the U.S. to get the money to buy the politico a new Ford Galaxie. Mexico has the Napoleonic Code; you're guilty until proved innocent, and sometimes even then. Killing a pedestrian is an automatic case of homicide; you find yourself immediately in jail trying to prove that you did not run down the victim intentionally or carelessly.
To be sure, not one American in 100 finds himself involved with the Mexican law, but the possibility is always there, and it keeps one on the defensive and continually flits around the back of one's consciousness. Take the matter of the dove. We were spinning along south of Hermosillo toward one of the dozens of roadside inspection stations that are the most prominent feature of Mexico's campaign to cut down on narcotics transport in the Olympic year. For North Americans, these stops are mere formalities, and usually one is waved on with a cavalier gesture or questioned briefly by smiling officials who quickly say, "Awkay, dawkay, you can gaw!"
We had been running at about 75 mph on a straight stretch of highway marked for 62, and we had driven through an arrant flock of doves and heard the sickening thump of one of them careening into the roof line of the car and going to his maker in a puff of little gray feathers. Minutes later we were pulling into the check station and handing the official our car papers. He accepted the papers indifferently and pointed to the roof rack. "La paloma," he said.
"Comment?" I said. People in uniform always fluster me. He beckoned me to take a look, and I got out.
"La paloma" he said. I saw the dove jammed between the roof rack and the roof. His little head hung at a bizarre angle. A tiny streak of blood was on his beak. His eyes were flat and dry.
"Sí," I said. "La paloma."
A Mexican highway policeman (Polícia Federal de Caminos) sauntered over like Marlon Brando and joined our friendly discussion group. "La paloma," he said, pointing to the bird.
"Sí" I said.
"Muerta," he said.
"Sí," I said. What else could I say? He had stated the facts with admirable clarity: the victim was a dove and he was undeniably, irrevocably dead. I had killed him, unintentionally, of course, but it was an open-and-shut case of dove slaughter.
"You drive fost?" the highway cop said.
"No," I said. "Of course not. Not at all. I am a slow driver."
"Then how you keel la paloma?"
"I don't know," I said. "I guess I just caught up with him." Now isn't that a hell of an answer, I said to myself. I should get 10 years in the federal penitentiary just for that stupid answer.
The men in uniform circled slowly around the car, their faces in deep thought. Probably figuring out the charge, I said to myself. At the very least they would get me for hunting without a license, or out of season.
Finally the other official handed back the car papers. "Awkay, dawkay," he said, "you can gaw."
The highway cop got in a parting shot. "You keep driving that slow," he said, "and you weel have cow on the roof."
"Sí" I said. "Buenas noches." It was 11 o'clock in the morning.
Thereafter, speed was on my mind every second. Speed has to be on your mind every second when you drive in Mexico. From the border, the run to Mexico City takes a minimum of four days from the western entrances or two from the eastern, but only if you snap right along at normal U.S. cruising speeds of 60 and 70. If you obey the posted Mexican speed limits to the letter, it will take you almost as long as Cortes to get to the capital city. We found speed limits of 37 mph on straightaway stretches of desert road. We drove through school zones marked for 6 mph. "I love kids, too," my wife said, "but this is ridiculous!" The entire town of Guaymas is zoned for 18 mph, which doesn't seem too slow until you try to drive through the entire town of Guaymas at that speed.
The point is, you have to break the laws. The Mexican mind understands this. The Mexican mind also understands that the speed laws are almost 100% unenforced. The worst that can happen is that a local cop will stop you and you will have to pay something between $1 and $4 on the spot. This is his mordida, his bite, and it is the way he supplements his meager salary. You Chicagoans will understand. It is wise to save your righteous indignation for the United States; if you indignantly refuse to pay a mordida, the chances are you will go to jail while the cop searches out a judge, who might be a week or two away on a traveling circuit.
It is the nature of the Mexican highways, rather than the speed cops, that governs one's speed. At any second a farm animal might blunder across the road; there is no national fencing law in Mexico. Slow and unlighted vehicles abound. Overloaded trucks wind up mountain passes at two and three miles an hour, leaving long smoke screens in their wakes. And pixieish drivers, suffering from the dread "Rodriguez effect," are to be found on every stretch of road.
The Rodriguez effect, named for the famous road racers, brought the concept of speed to a country that needed speed as the British needed the hoof-and-mouth disease. We first encountered the Rodriguez effect in the jungle country near Tepic, where lizards as big as dachshunds poke their heads out of the undergrowth and stick out their forked tongues at you as you drive by. We came up behind a pair of Mexicans in an old clunk doing about 35 mph, and without even thinking I swung out to pass. A minute later all I could see in the rearview mirror was a floppy mustache and 1,000 candlepower of gritted teeth. The Mexican tailgated me for about five minutes and then came hurtling around my car on a blind curve, fenders flapping, smoke pouring from his exhaust like the battleship Missouri and steam flowing from his exposed radiator cap. Having passed, he slowed down to his customary 35 mph and gave me the pleasure of following him across about three miles of kinky mountain road while he fumigated the countryside with his exhaust.
Not a second before the secondary symptoms of asphyxiation set in, we saw the driver stick out his arm in the traditional signal for a left turn. Then he slowed and made a sharp right onto a dirt road. As we passed he gave us a crisp little salute: one hot driver to another. It was the same salute that von Richthofen used to give to the men of the Lafayette Escadrille.
No one should go into the interior of Mexico without some sort of road log or tip sheet on motel and hotel accommodations, road conditions, best routes, local customs and such matters, and ours was provided by our friendly insurance man, Dan Sanborn of McAllen, Texas, who prides himself on having logged every mile of paved Mexican road and gives the logs gratis to his customers. The only trouble is that no road log, whether it be Dan Sanborn's excellent ones or the AAA's or whosoever's, can give you the true feeling and flavor of any given stretch of road in Mexico. For proof, I offer a typical segment of a Sanborn log (this one on the road from Morelia to Toluca):
"120½ Down thru community of San Agustín.
121½ Right and up thru more pines.
123 Now out of the pines and thru some nice ranching country.
124½ Pass side road (left) to El Oro and thru village of Villa Victoria. Then ahead on straight up-and-down road.
130 Old Hacienda La Esperanza up at right.
135¼ Note famed mountain Nevado de Toluca (15,000 feet) ahead in distance—an ex-volcano.
136 Village of Tabernillas over to right.
142½ Curve left thru village of El Yukon, then right.
149 Curve left past another side road (right) to Valle de Bravo—45 miles.
149½ Village of San Luis Mextepec and pass side road (right) to Zinacantepec.
150+ Stop here for customs check—will ask to see your car permit."
Now see how that log contrasts with a realistic log made up by my wife and me as we drove south of Culiacàn one morning:
"1½ Pass through village of Duranguito avoiding east end of westbound mule jutting across place where center stripe would be if road had a center stripe.
1¾ Swerve car violently to avoid drop-off at right. Avoid swerving too far to other side of road: pothole.
2 Slow to 35 mph out of respect for and fear about roadside cross designating fatal accident at this spot.
2½ Slow more to avoid truck parked on highway while driver takes stroll into woods.
3 Resume normal speed as roadside cross fades from memory.
4½ Slow for hole in road. There are holes in all Mexican roads, but this is really a hole.
5½ Resume normal speed.
6 Slow as horse crosses road ahead.
6¼ Slam on brakes as horse decides didn't want to cross road in first place.
7 Resume normal speed.
7¼ Slow for chicken crossing the road.
7½ Resume normal speed but keep eye on bicyclist on left side of road who will swerve toward car as you pass."
And so it goes: every mile an adventure. The belly-bloated bodies of cattle that have passed away unexpectedly lie in ditches along the road like huge russet balloons. Vultures pick at them (this is the best place in the world to be a vulture), and hawks dip in for a share. Coyotes tear off steaks and chops, overeat and are turned themselves into buzzard fare by speeding cars. The monstrous ravens and red-beaked vultures can almost always be trusted to fly off the road just before you reach them. Almost always. I knew of a man who liked to see how close he could come to buzzards before they flapped away. One day he drove at 70 mph toward a vulture gorged with rattlesnake meat and wiped out the windshield of his Cadillac Eldorado.
"That is exactly why the Mexican highway police do not have to enforce the speed laws," says Carlos Gutierrez V., president of Continental Tours, a Mexico City travel agency. "The laws are enforced by nature. If you speed in Mexico, sooner or later you will be in trouble."
Veteran Mexico hands have worked out a set of informal rules for approaching roadside animals. "There are key things to remember," says a travel-wise American. "Like the fact that cattle lie on the highways at night to soak up the heat of the asphalt. And the fact that pigs are nimble, as nimble as lambs if they choose to be."
"A pig can give your car a harder time than a cow," says Carlos Gutierrez V. "A cow will just stop you cold—bang! crash! and it's over—but a pig is a bag of grease, and that low mass has a tendency to roll your car over. And the pig is more unpredictable. But remember this whenever you approach any animal on the highway: if he has his head down, you have a few seconds. By the time he lifts his head and decides to walk in front of your car, you can slow down or swerve. But if the animal has his head up, look out! He can move into you in a second, and that may be just what's on his mind."
And what do you do if you hit an animal? "You drive away as fast as you can," says an American expatriate living in Monterrey. "Technically, the farmer is wrong and you're in the clear, but all kinds of things can happen. A friend of mine ran over a goat and reported it to the farmer. The farmer wanted 100 pesos, about $8. My friend said, 'Why, your damned goat had no right to be on the highway!' The Mexican said, 'Why not? Where were you going?' My friend said, 'To San Luis Potosí". 'So was my goat!' the Mexican said, and my friend finally paid off."
A Mexican police official had the last word on the subject of cattle and American drivers: "I understand natural selection and the Mendelian laws, se√±or, and this subject puzzles me greatly. The stupid cows are getting killed off one by one, and you would think they would breed up a new species that would not step in front of cars. The same with North Americans. The dumb ones kill themselves off. And yet there are always more. God seems to make an infinite supply of dumb gringos and stupid cows!"
The norteamericano should be aware that accommodations vary. We stayed at highway motels that looked like discarded sets from Bonnie and Clyde and at others that were lavish by any standards. But the service is always unpredictable and so are the facilities. We enjoyed the Tres Ríos Motel in Culiacàn, with its beautiful gardens, its immaculate dining room and its soft beds, but we showered under ice water. "We weel hov the hot water in 10 meenutes," the girl at the desk said. She kept saying it all night. We were also puzzled by the admonition on the back of the door: "Visitors of opposite sex to that of room occupants are not permitted in the guest's room after 10 p.m."
"Where will I go?" my wife said.
We were even more puzzled by the sign in the motel Camino Real at Guadalajara, a plush $20-a-day facility that can match the best motels in the United States. "The hotel is not responsible," the sign said, "for the values left in the room."
At the Camino Real, I enjoyed a heart-to-heart talk with one of the locals about the coming Olympic Games. "What about the Olympics?" I said.
"What about the Olympics?"
"Is everybody excited about the Olympics?" I asked.
"Everybody is excited about the Olympics," he said.
"What are they saying about it?" I asked.
"They are saying about it," he said.
I began to smell a ratón. "Excuse me," I said. "Do you speak English?"
"No," he said. "No hablo."
I was reminded of this man later when a sarape peddler approached our car at a gas station near Mexico City. "Tell me," I said, "what do you think about the Olympics?"
"Oleempeeks?" he said. "What ees Oleempeeks? You wan' buy sarape?"
The simple unvarnished truth is that the average Mexican is utterly bored by the subject of the Olympic Games. He is not going to make any money from the event, nor see it, nor contribute anything toward its occurrence. He has nothing to contribute and little interest in the individual contests of the Games. But if you want to get your ears talked right off your head, mention another coming international event to the average Mexican: World Cup soccer in 1970, to be played in the giant Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. "That is just the way it is," a sophisticated Mexican explained. "Every one of my countrymen plays f√∫tbol, but very few vault the pole."
As the time of the Olympics approaches, Mexicans seem to be converging on the nation's gas stations, there to lie in wait for the fat-cat gringos the way Billy the Kid used to lie in wait for the midnight rattler out of Durango. This is the closest the average Mexican will come to making money off the Games, and it is sad to report that there are certain service stations along the main highways that are staffed with brigands who would do credit to a Willie Sutton. They will pump rotgut gasoline into your car from a pump painted the bright yellow reserved for the best Mexican gasoline: Pemex-100. And you will not know about the switch until you get 20 miles down the road and the engine starts complaining. They will shortchange you and convert your dollars to pesos at an outlandish (and illegal) rate. If you ask them to check the oil, they will push the dipstick an inch short of all the way in, and "fill" your crankcase from empty cans. They will neglect to turn the handle backward on the gas pump, and before they put a drop in your tank you will owe for six gallons. There is one station in Culiacàn that specializes in this technique, and I fell for it. A pretty dark-skinned girl in tail-twitcher slacks engaged me in conversation about checking the oil while one of the bandits began pumping gas. Our tank has a capacity of 16 gallons and it had not been empty when we stopped, but the pump rang up a total of 18 gallons. We paid for it. At El Gallo gasolinera south of Hermosillo, the attendant shortchanged me by 10 pesos, and when I demanded the difference he smiled wanly and handed over the missing note, tucked into the palm of his hand. His manner said that it was all a game, and why get excited? You don't get excited. But you pay attention and take Dan Sanborn's advice: "Watch everything that goes on in a Mexican gas station, and don't let them work on both ends of your car at the same time."
Happily, Mexico's gas-station grifters are not representative of the people as a whole, and the government has done an efficient job of cutting down on the traditional hustlers and cons in this Olympic year. "The American who goes down there expecting to get robbed or cheated any minute is no longer reacting realistically," says border insurance man Colbert Glenn, "and furthermore he's not going to enjoy all the wonderful things that Mexico has to offer."
"But there is a certain kind of American who takes the attitude that everyone is out to get him," says old Mexico traveler Hector Villarreal, "and, boy, how the Mexicans hate that attitude!" The ugly American seems to abound in Mexico, perhaps because the traditionally low Mexican prices attract a traditionally low type of tourist.
"The Americans are always the loudest ones in any restaurant or public place down here," says an expatriate, "and you get so sick and tired of them looking down on the Mexican from the great imperious height of their wisdom, asking questions like, 'How much is that in real money?' and 'What the hell's the matter? Doesn't anybody speak English around here?' People like that should be sentenced to spend the rest of their lives ordering dinner in Spanish in Decatur, Illinois!"
Just when you think you have learned something about getting around in Mexico, you reach the limits of Mexico City and discover that you are a hopeless nincompoop. Nothing in your driving experience will prepare you for Mexico City. "Never again will any man discover a place like this," one of Cortes' soldiers said as he gazed down on the place for the first time, and you will have exactly the same feeling. Mexico City has seven million citizens, making it the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, and sometimes it seems that Mexico City also has seven million streets, no two of them parallel, lighted or marked. You must enter Mexico City with a map at the ready, and not a mere map of the major streets alone but maps showing each section of town in microscopic detail. Otherwise, like Mrs. Bernard Diederich of the Lomas section of Mexico City, you may head some morning for the supermarket, get in the wrong lane on the Periférico (belt highway) and take 2½ hours to find your way back.
If your first arrival in Mexico City is at night, you will wish you were dead. We plowed into town at about 8 p.m. and spent one hour getting into the middle of the city on the Reforma—the Broadway of Mexico City—in the most ferocious dog-eat-dog traffic jam I have seen since the start of the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Having made our way to the middle of the city, we then took a solid two hours to get to our midtown motel. (Later retracing our route on a detailed map, we discovered that we had passed within two blocks of our motel at least a dozen times before finding the exact combination of one-way streets, multiple right turns and violations of the law necessary to reach it.)
Mexico City drivers have the arrogance of the Germans, the slapdash nonchalance of the Italians, the piqued pride of the French, the bumbleheadedness of the English and sometimes the high skill of the Japanese drivers. They zip in and out of the six lanes of the Reforma like race drivers, cutting you off, tailgating you and then holding up their clenched fingers at you as they go by (this is an obscene gesture in Mexico City and no further details may be provided). "They'll bully you to death," says an American who now lives in Mexico City, "and the only way to handle them is to bully them back. If you hesitate, you're through. You've got to have guts. Close your eyes and step on the gas, the way they do."
Compounding the problem of finding one's way in Mexico City is that old bugaboo: Mexican pride. "There is not a single living Mexican who will admit he doesn't know where someplace is," says Bernard Diederich. "They'll always give you instructions if you ask, and once in a while they'll be right."
The mind boggles at what this frantically crowded city will look like at Olympic time. For three or four years now Mexico City has been the toughest ticket in the hemisphere for the tourist. "Mexico did not have the big budgets for travel advertising," explains Carlos Gutierrez V., "and the word got out slowly. But about 1963 or 1964 everyone suddenly discovered Mexico, and the city has been full ever since."
Mexico City stays perpetually behind the boom. Seven major hotels are being built, but only three of them will be ready by Olympic time; one suspects that the World Cup in 1970 is the real incentive. A subway is being dug under the middle of the town (with the assistance of the French), but it, too, will be unfinished by the time of the Olympics. There are varying theories on what will happen when tens of thousands of track and field fans converge on the already bursting city. "Chaos is what will happen!" says one Mexican official who, like almost all Mexican officials, declines to be identified. "Look out my window at the Reforma. It is chaos this morning, is it not? Imagine it at Olympic time!"
Mexican Olympic officials have already planned to turn back all North American drivers who show up at the border without confirmed Mexico City reservations and Olympic tickets. "And still they will come," says a harassed Olympic planner. "They will claim that they are driving down to Veracruz for a little vacation, and once they cross the border they'll head right for the Olympics. I feel sorry for them. There will be no place for them to stay. Every hotel in town has been booked for months."
Carlos Gutierrez V. takes a more optimistic approach. "You have to understand Mexico," he says. "We kid about you people from the United States, but deep in our hearts we like you very much. Now here is what will happen when your cars start arriving in Mexico City for the Olympics and the people have no place to stay. They will encounter instant hospitality. The people of Mexico City will open their doors to them. In fact, I will make a prediction. The impulsive North Americans who jump in their cars and drive down to the Olympics at the last minute will be the ones who enjoy the Olympics the most!"
"Yes," echoed Dan Sanborn from his offices in McAllen, Texas, "but they'd better be able to roll with the punches. Any old ladies better stay home!"
If you decide to be one of the adventurers who drive to the Games, listen to a final word of caution: Mexico City urchins, who used to be merely larcenous, have now turned enterprising. One of the street-corner services they provide is to repaint your car while you shop at the supermarket. They spray the paint from Flit guns, and they can make a 1957 Chevrolet look like a 1958 model in about 15 minutes. So be careful when a boy walks up and mutters something that sounds like, "Wash your car?" or "Watch your car?" He might be saying, "Paint your car?" There are some tragic stories about brand-new 1968 American Belchfires that got turned from beige to purple while the owners shopped for cornflakes.
We are back home now, and our friends say that purple isn't so bad, once you get used to it.