In Love with the Metro

Posted: 02/10/2012 in Development, Mexico, Personal, Uncategorized

Since the first day I arrived, I’ve wanted to write about the Mexico City Metro. Despite what Mexicans will tell you, it’s not the biggest or the most crowded in the world, but it is massive and it boggles my mind that something so big, moving so many people every minute, works so well. The major streets above ground are almost always coagulated with cars, angry drivers punching their horns and fumes and exhaust hanging in a cloud low over the city until washed to the ground by a rainstorm. Pedestrians and vendors weave in the gaps between bumpers and motorcycles speed through red lights. Topside, it’s frequently chaos. Underground, somehow, even with almost 1.5 billion rides annually, all is order.

It costs 3 Pesos (or $0.23) to ride no matter how many stops you go or how many connections you change.

It’s also truly the best people watching available.

I love the Metro in the morning, even when it’s so crowded that the mass of people almost picks you up off the platform and presses you into the car. In the morning, everyone is subdued and sleepy. Business men read their newspapers. Women apply their makeup. During our week-long strategic planning conference in December, I did a 45-minute commute on the Metro in the mornings and afternoons and couldn’t stop thinking of the human dynamic, of sharing such a small space with so many strangers –the anonymity and intimacy of it all.

I also love that you can buy almost anything on the Metro that’s for sale for 5 or 10 Pesos –vendors roam the cars all day long selling items that are sometimes seasonal (cough drops, cookbooks) sometimes practical (gum, chap-stick, a wide variety of snacks). There are often ripped CDs of ranchero or techno or American pop songs which are blasted through speakers taped to batteries and stuffed into the vendor’s backpack. There are flashlights, barrettes, key chains,  coloring books, Sudoku, repair manuals, wooden cooking spoons, political pamphlets, and school supplies.

Live Music on the Metro

There is often entertainment on the Metro. The one-man-band approach is popular. Most troubling, I once saw a man whose act involved doing shirtless somersaults across a cloth filled with broken glass shards. This intersection of spectacle and desperation is something I also think about a lot.

The Metro is a portrait of the city. The metro is filled with people. It is filled with Mexicans who are endlessly diverse. Among them are those who have experienced some obvious physical loss or trauma. It is also common to see people who are sightless making their way through the train jingling a cup with coins singing some low and mournful religious song. People with gangrene limbs beg at the bottom of the stairs leading out of the station. I’ve ridden trains with the occasional youth whose mind and limbs are so evidently wasted by inhalants, probably paint-thinner or glue. I find myself reflexively breathing in gratitude that in this moment I am physically whole.


  1. julie says:

    Two thoughts came to me as I read this entry:

    1) We in the USA need many good public transportation systems. On vacations I have ridden the metro of Washington DC, Boston and London, England and I find it a much better system than being on crowded, angry, dangerous, polluting highways.
    2) Whitney Houston just died and her untimely death most likely was because of her drug and alcohol abuse. I am so blessed that I can neither imagine a life so awful that I must escape it nor one so dull that artificial highs must be bought to live it.

  2. Kamila says:

    Your entry brought back memories of the Prague Metro, such a part of my life for the 3 years I lived there. Prague — well, the entire Czech Republic — has such an amazing public transportation system, you can easily get anywhere and never miss having a car. I knew that the city had become mine once I learned the routes of over a dozen lines by heart and knew to break into a run when I spotted the one I needed a block away. All I needed were the key to my apartment, my public transport pass, a bit of cash, and my mobile phone, and I could go anywhere. I also managed to read many books thanks to the time spent waiting and riding. I enjoyed the people watching on the metro, the trams, and the buses, but I always felt overwhelmed taking everyone in. I was often relieved once I got home and could leave everyone’s unspoken stories behind me in the street.

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