Sunday, November 9, 2008

Yesterday's Train: "Mexican Time" Revisited

My mother was a fanatic for being on time. Each time she had an appointment with the doctor, for instance, she would drag me with her and we would arrive 30 minutes early. To this day, I have friends who said "I'm coming right over. I'm on my way now", and 10 years later I am still waiting for them! Many of us have joked about "Chicano Time", which holds that Chicanos are never on time for anything! The same holds true for our brothers on the other side of the border.
Some years ago, my wife and I went to Oaxaca on the bus. We had a splendid time there visiting galleries, buying handcrafts and enjoying the Mercados. When it was time to leave we decided to make the trip back to Mexico City by train. Knowing the ropes, I went early to the train station to purchase the tickets for departure that afternoon. However, when I made my way to the ticket booth, the agent told me he could not sell me the tickets at that time and that I would have to come back to purchase them that afternoon. I went back to the hotel, and my wife and I packed our bags and sat out in the plaza to enjoy the last of our stay watching people, kids playing and the vendors. An hour before departure, we took a cab to the station, I bought our tickets, and settled in to wait for the train. When the train did not arrive on time, I inquired and was told it would be about two hours late, so we opted to drag our bags back to the hotel and kill some more time. About an hour and a half later we headed for the station again, and when we arrived, we saw the train slowly pulling out of station! We ran after it, hoping to jump on, but a conductor yelled out that the train was just pulling forward, and that it would back up to the loading dock. Exhausted, we lugged our bags back to the loading dock and waited and sure enough the train returned. When we approached the conductor, I gave him our tickets and he stared at them for an unreasonable amount of time. "Oh, shit", I thought to myself, "now what?" He began to shake his head and finally said: "There was an accident on the tracks a few miles back, and your train is about two hours late. You will have to wait for it. You cannot get on this one." Dejected, we took our baggage and waited. A couple of hours later we saw our train approaching. As it slowed to the loading gate, we picked up our luggage and prepared to board. Again, we approached the conductor showed him our tickets and again he scoured them for a long time. "O.K. go ahead and board", he said. We took our seats and were anxious to get on the road. A few minutes later, another ticket taker approached and asked to see our tickets. To this point I had been a relatively polite American but now I was starting to get pissed. He shook his head, looked at the conductor and they both shook their heads! "I am sorry Senor, but these tickets are no good for this train. Because of the accident, your train has been delayed and it is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. This is yesterday's train, so you must get off and wait for yours." Yesterday's train? I could not believe my ears. Worse, the train was half-empty! At this point my face reddened and I looked him in the eye and told him I refused to get off. He glared at me for a moment, then walked away. The trip back to Mexico City was otherwise uneventful.

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