Living in Mexico: Car Ownership Nightmares


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I got an email the other day from a reader who bawled me out for my complaining and whining ways. He pointed out that all I do is cry and b**ch about everything. Well, I wasn’t hurt or miffed because the truth is that is exactly what I do—cry and b**ch about everything. It has become my trademark and who am I to mess with trademarks.

The subject of my screed today is: Living in Guanajuato, Mexico: The Car Nightmare.

The main attraction my wife and I had to this place was it was predominately a pedestrian town. Just how many towns in America can you say that about these days? What immediately caught our attention was that we could dump the gas-guzzling, environment-destroying car and walk in this town. The infrastructure is such that you could live the rest of your life here and never have to drive a car again.

This was four years ago.

Now, to my utter disgusted dismay, an explosion in car ownership has occurred in Guanajuato in the four years we’ve lived here. It is as though the cars here bred like rabbits and mass reproduced themselves. It is horrible. I’ve been on such a complaining rampage about this that I’ve begun asking the locals as well as the longtime expats some questions.

I’ve been told by Mexican nationals and American expats alike that, as few as ten years ago, hardly anyone had cars in this town. People rightly took buses or cabs or, God forbid, actually walked to places they needed to be. I know some Americans in the U. S. who live less than 1000 yards from their workplace and will get into their car to drive to work. We noticed four years ago in our pre-expat visit that the majority of people in Guanajuato were fit compared to the majority of obese people in the United States. The reason, I am convinced, is people in Guanajuato walked everywhere. Americans drive their cars everywhere, including to the “all-you- can-eat buffets” that are so prevalent.

The current obesity figures show about 25% of Mexicans suffer from obesity compared to more than 67% of Americans. That 25% Mexican obesity rate has happened in the last few years with the explosion of car ownership. So, why in cities in Mexico like Guanajuato where, honestly, you do not need a car, do so many people own them anyway? Why has the car ownership explosion happened and why does it continue to grow at an alarming rate?

In a word: Convenience. Mexicans have bought into the car manufactures’ propaganda that unless you have a car, you really haven’t made it in life. You must own a car, for “convenience” and to show off to your car-less neighbors. This is Americanization at its best. Mexicans, who live and work in a town in which driving a car is not necessary, have been brainwashed into believing that one really has moved up in the world if one has a car for “convenience” sake.

Americans have been so hoodwinked into believing this they would not be caught dead without owning and driving a car. American expats routinely will go through the gates of hell to bring their cars into Mexico. I know of a guy so hypnotized with this idea that he was trying to figure out how to get his car into Bolivia. Imagine the pathological obsession involved here. He was so possessed by his car that he was trying to bring it, no matter the expense, to La Paz where he was going to live.

Am I wrong, but isn’t this a bit over the top?

In Guanajuato, here is how the “convenience of car ownership” works:

This town’s infrastructure was designed hundreds of years ago for burros and pedestrian traffic. The streets are narrow in the extreme, the buildings closer together than you can imagine, and yet they are full of exhaust-belching buses, cabs, and cars filled with one passenger only—the driver.

Mexicans, just like their American counterparts, are driving cars with just one person! You rarely see a car with more than just the driver. Sometimes you do, but mostly you see some Mexican in a giant American-made SUV driving alone along a street not made for car traffic. To hell with destroying the environment and to hell with destroying the lining of your children’s lungs. “Oh boy, I have arrived in the world, as evidenced by this huge expensive American-made automobile that I don’t need. ”

A casual observer will see hordes of pedestrians who have to wear filter masks while walking down the street. And why is that? Cars. This town is basically a small ravine with the town built in the valley of the ravine and the houses up the sides of the mountains. It looks much like a giant banana-split bowl that has been twisted into an “S. ”

The car exhaust cannot escape the ravine. Therefore, it is making its citizens sick—very sick. Yet, as the financial welfare of Mexican families improves, the first thing they buy is a car!

Another casual observation will reveal that the “convenience of car ownership” in this town equals having to sit in massive traffic jams and being unable to move. I mean to tell you that I have out-walked buses, cabs, and friends in cars who have to sit in traffic jams. I can reach the same destination as a car driver in less time by getting off my butt and walking. But, these Mexicans and the Americans who have deluded them with the desire to own a car will continue to drive them.

You might make note that Mexicans seem totally surprised that a “traffic jam” was a part of the deal that comes with car ownership. They will lay on the horn in an instant while an ancient, crippled, blind woman tries to board a taxi or bus. See what car ownership does to you?

Some notable exceptions are people like one of my wife’s ESL students. She works in Leon, Guanajuato, and has to have a car to get to her job. However, once she is back in town, the car is parked and not moved until needed again to get to work. She and her family walk everywhere in Guanajuato. They do not use the car. The result is these folks are super fit and do not have to join health clubs and drink Slim Fast shakes to lose weight.

This is the traditional Mexican way.



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