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’m not sure 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 three 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. 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), 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. I guess I’m at a crossroads. What would you do if you were me?