At a Crossroads

It has been an interesting couple of weeks. As I “celebrate” eight months as a Mexican resident and six months as an English teacher, I also ponder a darker reality – I don’t know if I’m gonna make it down here.

I was mugged on Friday. At gunpoint, and literally just steps from my front door. It was a long day – three classes spread throughout the morning and afternoon, a trip to the mall to buy myself a new suit – much-needed, as six months of commuting by Mexico City public transport can really put your wardrobe through the ringer – and an early evening showing of “The Hangover Part 3.” I was in the mood for a laugh and the movie mostly fit the bill – especially the mid-credits “coda.”

It was 9:30 pm when it happened. There were still a good number of people out-and-about in my middle-class neighborhood of Letran Valle. The neighborhood Oxxo (mini-mart) had its usual long line of TGIF celebrants buying beer; the nearby taquería was bustling. My street, lined with trees and a mix of single-family and apartment-style dwellings, is just four blocks down from the Oxxo, and it was perfectly quiet that night. Too quiet, as it turned out.

I was literally steps from my front door when a motorcycle pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of me. There were two cabrones on it, both wearing hoodies. The one in the rear hopped off the bike somewhat awkwardly, as if he was drunk. My first thought was that he lived in the building and his buddy was dropping him off after a round at the nearest pulquería. But when I tried to pass them I was pushed back against the wall, and when I looked up and was face-to-face with the barrel of a gun, I knew the shit was real.

It was over in seconds. My assailants said four words. “Bag. Phone. Computer. Wallet.” I don’t know if they both had guns or if was just the one who dismounted the bike that was carrying, but it doesn’t matter. They motioned for me to walk away. I complied, and when I finally looked back, they were gone.

This is how bad shit goes down IRL. There are no Jason Bourne-style heroics. As lively as this neighborhood can sometimes be, there were no witnesses. The cops who regularly patrol these streets were MIA. Even the omnipresent tamal bicycle vendor had gone home. A minivan pulled up to one of the neighboring residences and the driver gave me a suspicious look as I was standing on the sidewalk, damn near hyperventilating. “Ladrones!” I exclaimed. “Thieves!” He gave me a puzzled look and then pulled into his garage, blissfully ignorant. Fuck you.

I normally keep my keys in my laptop bag but had actually taken them out as I neared my building. This worked in my favor, as the muggers were not interested in my keys and I was able to get inside. I could only think of one person to call: Pamela. What I needed most from her was a favor: to email my boss that I would be unable to teach class the next morning as I had no money. Technically I had a large bill stashed in a drawer, as I’m normally smart enough not to carry all my cash around with me at once…but I had neither coins nor metro passes (gone with the wind, both!), and in my experience buses take exact change only and metro ticket vendors never have change for large bills.

I got hold of Pamela as she was leaving the cinema with her BFF, Gisele. The two lovely ladies went above and beyond, driving over here to drop off a spare laptop (on which this blog entry was typed) and to make sure I was okay. If this seems like standard-order girlfriend support and a trivial detail, it isn’t – Pamela and I had broken up earlier this same week following a heated argument just one week prior – the kind of nasty fight in which things are said by both parties that can never be unsaid.

Before Pamela arrived, I located the one business card of my boss that wasn’t stolen along with everything else. I got through to my boss, who promptly agreed to come over with a bit of emergency cash, enough to get me through the weekend. This was not necessary but was much appreciated, and enabled me to make it to work this morning. So, thanks Pamela for coming over, thanks Gisele for driving, and thanks Diane for being such a cool boss!

Everyone parted ways and I logged on to my temporary replacement computer to change all my passwords; I was exhausted and figured that canceling my credit cards could wait a day. (One of the cards was damn near maxed out anyway – a nice F.U. to the muggers if they felt like hitting up their favorite casino, let’s say, on Scott’s dime. Ha!) I did manage to add the requisite woe-is-me post to Facebook before going to bed. The reactions and shows of support by friends have been nothing short of astonishing. I am…verklempt.

At its best, social media is about so much more than just reconnecting with high school classmates or being able leer at pics of your secret or not-so-secret crush as you ponder his or her relationship status. At its best, social media is about bringing people together for a common purpose. My blog is no great shakes, but many people in my weird circle of Facebook friends seem to enjoy reading it, and a few of them have even shared it with their own circle of friends. Dozens of friends have reached out to me tonight over FB. Some offered moral support, several offered financial support, one or two offered to ship me used cellphones, and yes, a few offered a different kind of support – a your-mother-was-right chastising. Fair enough. I am still humbled by the general outpouring of sympathy.

What to do Next

Although this kind of armed assault can happen to anyone at anytime, it is difficult to deny that – even for such a hearty supporter of Mexico City as me – the likelihood of something like this happening in most Latin American capitals is greater than in most other cities of similar size. I doubt something like this has ever occurred in, say, Iceland.

Should I move? My friend Steve teases me from time to time that – given my low salary, my relationship struggles, and now this – I should just hang up my hat and head home. Not that I could find a job that pays a livable wage in LA – with thousands more eligible workers than available positions – or where my parents live in Eastern Tennessee – a small town of 20,000 people an hour’s drive from the closest big city.

Should I stay, but relocate to a different neighborhood? This seems like a better option. Frightening thing is, my current neighborhood is part of a jurisdictional delegación that is ranked the safest in all of Mexico City. My sister suggested that I was an obvious target – a gringo in a suit and carrying a laptop bag – and that the thieves probably “saw me around” and knew, roughly where I lived. How is that for fucking scary?!

It really is hard to know what to do sometimes. I must confess, Steve’s perspective has much validity and my sister – conspiracy theorist though she can sometimes be – possesses more street smarts than I’ve ever had, making her observation worth considering. Then again, this is my first bad experience in eight months of residency and 11 previous years of regular visits. It could be just a freak, isolated incident. Earlier this week I had a heart-to-heart with my boss about my future here – namely that I love what I do but can’t afford to live here anymore. (Mexico City yearns to be as cosmopolitan as any city in Western Europe, and prices in the trendier neighborhoods are rising accordingly.) GringoPotpourri certainly isn’t turning a profit.

The boss and I talked about ways to slowly boost my income – but of course this is Mexico and everything happens poco a poco, little by little. She owes me nothing – I mostly knew what I was getting myself into financially when I came down here, and my monetary situation shouldn’t be her problem anyway. Still…she and others have encouraged me to stay, and any outpourings of financial support by friends following my mugging have, I think, been of the here-you-go-now-don’t-give-up-on-Mexico-City variety. That being said, what if this happens again? There are no-go barrios down here that boast (as if this is something to brag about) an average weekly body count of twelve.

I knew that I was a potential target by carrying my obvious laptop bag. It was on my to-do list to buy a smaller Netbook, something that I could slide into a padded slipcase and then stash into an ordinary-looking backpack. But I didn’t have the money and the purchase of a newer, smaller computer was still a couple months away from happening. On days when I wasn’t planning on using the computer I would leave the laptop bag at home and bring a small backpack instead, usually containing my workbooks, Spanish phrasebook (they got that too, the fuckers), and little else. To make the situation even more bizarre, my lesson plan for one of my classes this past Friday included an audio section that required the computer…but the student for whom the audio lesson was intended arrived late and I never did pull out the computer. What a waste! To make events more bizarre still, I withdrew money to pay my rent the next day and stashed it in my computer bag, where I thought it would be safe. Seriously, FML.

Thanks again, friends and Loyal Readers, for your outpourings of support. I love you all. These last two weeks have been absolutely surreal, however, with Friday night being downright scary.  It appears that I am at a crossroads. What would you do if you were me?

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food and culture all while weathering the challenges of life in a city with over 20 million people. Life's unpredictable journey has since brought him to Tennessee, where he is close to family and to the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, top ten lists, and travel in general.

13 thoughts on “At a Crossroads”

  1. Thanks for sharing the story. My main piece of advise here is to wait at least a few weeks to a month before making any major life decisions about staying or leaving. The experience is fresh and you’re obviously still in a heightened emotional state. I think it’s always a bad idea to make any big decision when you’re in such a mindset. When the dust settles a bit, you’ll be able to make a decision from a place of reason.

    All in all, I wouldn’t let that one robbery make you leave if you otherwise enjoy living there. Just to put it in perspective, Washington DC and New Orleans, and I’m sure the south side of Chicago have higher murder rates per capita than Mexico City(from what I’ve read). And as mentioned, what happened to you happened right in the affluent L.A. suburb you used to live in. Now if it happens again in 2 weeks, then maybe it’s time to consider a change of scenery. But for now, it just sounds like a rare but unfortunate incident. You’ll recover from it and it’ll just be another life story you’ll be telling your friends about one day over a beer. Everything they took is easily replaceable, even though it sucks. You have your life on the other hand.

    As for the financial situation, I wish I could offer advice there, but I don’t know what to say. English teaching jobs in Latin America just don’t pay well anywhere. If you love teaching English, maybe you can consider Japan, China or Korea where you actually make decent money doing it. If those are places you’d would want to live. And violent crime isn’t much an issue there. Given how long you’ve been out of the workforce, it doesn’t sound like there’s much for you in the USA other than going back to school or getting some entry-level job. Plus there just isn’t much to come back to here anyway. I dream of leaving this place every day. I just need to get to a point where I can sustain some sort of work that I can do online remotely. And then I’m outta here. So if I were you, I’d just stay down there as long as you financially can. Maybe try and learn some skill to get extra money on the side, or start an online business or something.

    Good luck whatever you decide!

    1. Also, I have a buddy who used to teach English in Chile, and now he is teaching ESL students in L.A. with his experience. I don’t know what he makes, but he seems to be thriving. If you want, I can put you in touch with him and see if he knows of any opportunities to teach English to ESL students state-side.

    2. Good thoughts, Chris. I was mugged once before – in Brazil in 2002 – but was able to escape from that situation because the muggers were just kids with rocks. I shook that one off and was relaxing on the beach before the day was through. This time I was affected more not just because of what was stolen – mostly replaceable, to be certain – but also because it wasn’t the best of weeks even without the incident in question.

      Thanks for reading and caring. 🙂

  2. Take some time. Get back into your routine and life so that your mind and body start to remember that they don’t have to live in fear mode. You may have a little PTSD going on–hypervigilance and stuff that keeps you up at night. With each day that will get easier. I experienced some of that after the fire I was in in Seattle. With every new day that passes, your mind and body will start to remember what is normal.

    Personally, I see you working and living abroad. We’ve all talked about that being our dream forever! 🙂 But things can change–we can change our minds. I never thought I’d move back to the midwest but I just took a long hard look at my life in Seattle and realized it was crap. Many people thought my life seemed pretty cool–maybe I started to believe that. Working insane hours 7 days a week; making great money but having it all pissed away on exorbitant rent to live in a good area. I think that’s what they call a zero sum game. I had completely stopped asking myself what it is that actually makes me happy. And boom–there it was. I knew what I wanted and I set things in motion. Within 4 months, I had a new life and I don’t regret anything.

    So it’s time for a pros and cons list for you. A life’s checklist, if you will (and I know you will). 🙂 Make a big list. What are your options? Stay where you live doing the same work. Stay where you live, change your job. Change where you live, keep your job. Move to another foreign country, find same type of work. Move to another foreign country, find new type of work. Move back to states, find same type of work. Move back to states, find new type of work. Assign each one points based on feasibility: cost, level of energy, potential for happiness. Why did you move to Mexico? What did it represent to you? Why did you leave LA? Was it home, or do you want a new home? I did this one when I turned 40. I set out a list of questions: When I was 10, what did I think my life would be like at 40? When I was 20? It was a fun exercise. It showed me that I’d aced many of those dreams; that many fell off the list and didn’t matter to me anymore; and that many things had been replaced by new goals and wishlists–and that all of that was A-OK with me.

    I think one of the most important questions in that exercise though was “What was the happiest I’ve never been in my life?” It turns out there were many times I had been happy, so I wrote out all of those things. Where I’d been in the world at the time; who I was with; where was I working; which pieces exactly made me feel good/successful/content? Those all became part of a new roadmap.

    Write that stuff down. Think about the answers. Be honest with yourself–you’re the only one who will ever see it. The answers will start to bubble up and make themselves known.

    As Chris said above, you don’t have to rush this decision. Sit back. Take some time to get centered. What is your absolute favorite thing to do/see in Mexico City? I say do that thing this weekend. Just go be in that place and do that thing. Go up to the castle and look across that whole city. Ask yourself, “So self: Whattya think? What next?” If the answer doesn’t come right away, that’s fine. It will come to you eventually. And we’re all here for you. 🙂

    1. Your roadmap advice is great and I’m actually going to do this for myself as well as I’m in a bit of a life quandary myself.

    2. Great advice Srta. Snaggler!

      I noticed in your roadmap exercise you included “level of energy” as one of the ranking qualifiers. I think it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle and is why not just myself but a lot of people don’t try harder to change their lives – sometimes it just feels downright exhausting! Anyway, yes, that would be one of the things I’d consider.

      I think I’ll put the remaining pieces back together this week and will try and approach the whole thing from a fresh, non-jaded perspective. I do love this amazing city; maybe that’s why I’m so floored by what happened.

      Or something like that. 😉 Now time for work.

      1. You can do it, Gringo. People like you don’t just fold up. The answer will come to you, and soon–so will the details of the plan.

  3. You are getting some really good advice here Snakess – I even re-read Jules’s post a couple times as I think there’s a little bit of that we can all take to heart!

    I think that above all as others have said, don’t rush to a decision. I know my mind swings all over the place sometimes after just a normal “bad day,” I can’t even imagine what it would do if I was mugged at gunpoint!

    Sadly – so much of safety is serendipity and luck these days. True, like Chris said, there are certainly some places that are simply more dangerous than others – the S. and W. side of Chicago are hellholes at this point where you almost KNOW something will happen if you go to the wrong gang turf. That said – I remember my 2nd apartment in Chicago where I was awoken to gunfire in the alley, and when I ran to the window (perhaps stupidly) to see what was happening, I witnessed a kid get shot in the back, and his assailants drive off (luckily only to be caught moments later). That said – it changed Chicago for me a bit – long term even. No longer was Lincoln Square the cool “changing” neighborhood where you could get some better value on a place to live and some good German food – I had to recognize the reality that it was ringed by gangs in Albany Park and such was the choice of living there. I watched my Dad’s neighborhood in Marquette Park go from being a bastion of safety and community on the SW side, to having the gangs of Englewood flood in and turn it into a hellhole. These things absolutely have an effect on you – there’s no way around it.

    That said – what I’ve realized more and more as I grow older is that for me at least life is cutting off the stupid outliers of danger, but beyond that, living in as broad of a swath as possible – to ensure I’m living for the moment and not being so damn conservative that nothing interesting ever happens.

    You’ve already taken the huge and awesome step of trying something WAY out of your comfort zone out – living in another country – and let alone that, the chaotic city of Mexico City! I know it’s easy to say for me sitting here, not there, but don’t give up yet. Cut off the outliers a bit, do some things to increase your safety that you might not otherwise have thought really necessary – but stick it out a bit more. We’re here to help – be some at least literary support, and more if you need it!

    What do you need that would help down there? I might have a laptop I could offer up – out of town at the moment, so it would be a little bit, but let me know, k? What type of phones are common down there? I have a GSM capable SIM card Samsung that works if you need it. Just let us know what would help most.

    Thinking of you this holiday


    1. Thanks so much Alex for your thoughtful words. Once again, I really am wowed by everyone’s sympathy. Maybe I shouldn’t be; I try to surround myself with the right group of people.

      I had never heard about your Lincoln Square experience in Chicago. Whatever happened to the kid who was shot? I haven’t been to Chitown for a couple years now and it’s one of the only U.S. cities I’d be interested in returning to, but yes, I’ve heard the crime rate there is rising and I s’pose that’s why the rents are so high in the “safer” neighborhoods of Streeterville, Lakeview, etc.

      I cancelled my cell phone but am still waiting to see if I can get my phone replaced for free. Once I have an answer I’ll get back to you and others who have offered replacement phones. At least I have a landline phone in my apartment. 🙂

      Thanks again and happy Fourth of July!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: