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Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Living here, I have learned to be alert. Each lesson where I have not done that has been costly. We were held up at knife point a couple of years ago, maybe more. You can read about it in The Knives of Mexico in this blog. In that case, a young man ran up the stairs past us—203 to our house from the old city center—twice, and the last time planted himself in front of us, brandishing his knife, a few yard from our garden gate. The missed clue? The lack of awareness? No one runs up the stairs in this city. Unless they’re high on something and/or have robbery on their mind.

At the beach a year ago, staying in a converted trailer, I followed the landlord’s advice and did not turn on the air conditioning. Instead, I kept a window opened (with screen) and turned on the fan. At 07:45 the next morning, I was aware that a man was standing a foot from where I slept. He darted out with my iPhone, a book, my one pair of trousers and other items that came to a tidy sum. I ran after him, without success. I had my money and credit cards in plain sight, tucked into a small Indian-woven purse. He missed it for some reason, or I’d have really been jodido. The lesson: keep windows locked and the air conditioner on, regardless of what any landlord says. He had taken off the screen and come in the window under the cover of the noise from the fan.

Yesterday, a Saturday, I started home wearing my expensive Ridge Runner’s 25 LLBean day pack. Nothing wrong with that, except that it signals you have enough money for that and for what’s probably inside it. I fell in behind a woman in her thirties. She was wearing medium-length high heels and very short black shorts barely covered by a black skirt, with black straps crisscrossing her mostly bare back. Every once in a while, she would reach back and adjust her shorts to a more modest length. Mexican women dress carefully and rarely, if ever, adjust as they walk along. There was something not ordinary about her and her progress through my neighborhood. Plus, I had never seen her before.

At the first alley, a good-sized man came up behind her. He was leering at her, which was also out of the ordinary. How do I know that? Because one notices those thing. We got to the stairs where I have to begin climbing. She turned into the darkness there—there was plenty of daylight left. The stairs are always in shadow. Something I have never done before: I sat down on a low wall on the other side of the road and waited, to spare her me climbing up behind her, if she was so worried about her modesty.

The man had not followed her. She had distracted me from thinking about him. I only knew this in retrospect. After a while, I started up the stairs. At the top, at the level of the higher road, there was no sign of her. Which seemed a little odd. So I started up the next flights of stairs. Half way up, I decided not to rest. The same man was coming up behind me, and I had already decided there was something making me uncomfortable with that. After all, where had he been before? Why was he still around? Why hadn’t he climbed up behind her, or continued on the road below?

At the very top, I sat down on a low wall, as if taking in the extraordinary view of the various church towers, the university and the rich cluster of old colonial buildings in the city center. And I watched the approaching man. Ten feet away, he glanced at me three times, and looked away. Out of the ordinary. Ordinary would have been holding my gaze long enough after the second glance to add a greeting. That is how it works here. But he looked away each time, his face in neutral. Then he sat down on the opposite low wall and looked at his phone.

But my wife and I had been stalked before by a couple of thugs in Guadalajara, and that was what they did: keep referring to their phones. To show their disinterest. Plus, what was keeping him there? There is ordinary behavior, which includes sitting for some reason. You’re old, your children are tired, you’re tired from lugging a heavy bag of groceries up to your house, you’re making a call, or you’re visiting with someone. But no one sits without one of these reasons. I could also tell he wasn’t delighting in the view and wasn’t reading anything on his phone. He and his face were blank, empty of activity. And I wasn’t going to let him get me isolated from that public spot, where five narrow alleys came together, six, if you include the stairs. So, I got up and went back down the stairs, as if, as a tourist, I had taken in the sight and was now retracing my steps. Which I did, all the way down to the center of the city, where I hailed a taxi and went up the side of the canyon and home that way.

I looked back a few times to see if he was following me. But he wasn’t. And today I climbed home, taking a different path, just to throw off anyone bothering to be watching for me.

These things happen here every once in a while. A social predator or two roll in to town and try their luck. That was what the knife holdup was. A chance spotting by someone passing through in a car, who got out and ran up after us. In this case, this series of little things out of the ordinary, is probably a one-off occasion. But I am still curious to know whether the man in this story was working together with the woman so concerned  by the length of her shorts and so successful in distracting me from the man who was tracking me.

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Recently, I had my first Uber taxi experience, as well as my first experience of police corruption in Mexico city.

We had to get to the Mexico City airport. Our AirBnB host sang Uber’s praises. He would pay the taxi through his account. I would reimburse him in pesos. We would only need to call about six minutes before an Uber came. The driver would be dressed in jacket and tie, we would know all about him before he arrived since he had been thoroughly screened by the company, we would see his photo and know the license number of his car. We would each get a free bottle of water.

We waited at the corner of Motolinía and Avenida Francisco Madero. Various taxis slowed, offering rides. We waved them on. That may have been the tip off. Finally, Luis came, in a little red car, clean, new, and with the right license number. We loaded our luggage. Luis asked what terminal. We didn’t know. I got out the piece of paper with the flight information. There was no mention of the terminal. Our host looked it up in a flash with his smart phone. Terminal 1. A good minute had gone by. We got in the car. A Transit Police pulled in in front of us with his motorcycle, boxing us in. He came to the driver’s window. We had, he said, committed an infraction and weren’t going anywhere. Our host, a rational man, began to protest. What did he mean, we had just stopped to load baggage, that’s what you do when you’re going to the airport. The policeman said we would have to wait until his commanding officer got there. Out of thin air, a Transit Police pickup pulled up next to us. A female officer got out of the passenger seat and turned to the pickup’s bed. There she had a whole tangle of wheel boots, linked by cables, to incapacitate the Uber taxi. I got out. I told her we were on our way to the airport, we had a flight to catch, clearly we were tourists. She ignored me. Our host ran down to the middle of the next block, up-traffic, to consult with other police who had gathered there with their squad cars. I could see about three different flashing police lights. I assumed their activity had to do with ours, and it looked menacing. Our host ran back. He opened the truck of the Uber.

“There, look at the bags,” he said to the woman. “See, they’re going to the airport.”

The female officer ignored him and began to fumble with her nest of cables and wheel boots.

Our host looked at me. “Get in the car!”

I opened the door. Our driver—quiet the whole time—had been saying something to the motorcycle officer. He turned back toward me and commanded, “Get in!”

He started the car and began to back away from the motorcycle that blocked us. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He pulled out and gunned it. D. turned around to wave good-bye to our host. I turned too and could see he was still arguing with the police.

“What happened?” I asked our driver.

“I told him he would have to pay for the flights if you missed them.”

After a pause, I asked, “Did they know you were going to pick us up?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So the police are with the taxi drivers and anti-Uber?”

He nodded, yes, that’s what was happening.

He held up a small bottle of water. Would I like one? I said I would. D. thanked him and said no.

While I drank my free water, I contemplated what seemed like a  dark alliance between the police and the spread of normal taxis. I didn’t understand it, especially since, according to Luis our driver, Uber paid the same amount of taxes as the regular taxis: 2%! and that, like everything else, it had to do with mafias of control and was, of course, a kind of anarchic harassment. It turns out, however, that the matter is much more complicated and that Uber actually casts a long shadow, and that our host was wrong and the Transit police, right. For an intelligent discussion, scroll down to the Laura Flanders interview with a representative of non-Uber taxi drivers in an American city. I find her remarks very persuasive: http://www.telesurtv.net/…/Mexico-City-Set-to-Regulate…

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