WHO IS MARIO?
Outside of the customs cubicle, inside the front sliding doors to the Leon Airport in Mexico, my driver held an overhead cardboard sign with my last name hand printed on it: CAMPBELL.
I followed him outside where he placed my two travel bags in the trunk of the white Lexus. While I watched the thirty-something man I’d decided he was a typical Mexican hombre physically resembling José Doroteo Agango Arámbula—better known as Pancho Villa. The resemblance from the stature to the mustache and hairline but without the double row bandoleer strapped across his torso—seemed a gimmick to me, a game that said the Mexican Revolution was still alive, yet Pancho Villa was killed on July 20, 1923 while driving his Dodge automobile.
My driver in his classical white dress shirt, brown slacks and matching leather shoes, motioned for me to sit in the front seat with him.
“¿Habla usted inglés?” Do you speak English?
“Sólo si usted me desea también.” Only if you want me to.
He started the Lexus and slowly drove through the airport parking lot, exited and swiftly accelerated on the freeway, edging between cars that shouldn’t be allowed to throttle faster than a rocket.
I looked through the window and made a decision as to whether to ignore Pancho and watch the scenery or to start a conversation and watch the scenery during the two hour drive north to San Miguel.
“What’s your name?”
“Mario Andretti.” His laughter filled the air and the car jumped forward.
When he looked at me I laughed and our relationship was established. Comedy is a global connection between culture and I now felt I was part Mexican.
“When I was an infant,” Mario said in English with a thick yet smooth Mexican accent, “my mother said I was a mover and shaker on the tricycle. I rode it fasten than my older three brothers and four sisters.”
“Do your family members speak English?”
“Only me,” he said. “At thirteen I got a job milking goats to help support the family. All of us worked the goats. At sixteen my mother said I looked tired and I had to learn to speak English for a good paying job in my future.”
“Is that job this one?”
“No,” he eyed the speeding traffic surrounding us. “I worked for the U.S. consulate for two years as an interpreter, after six years of learning to speak English.”
“Who taught you to speak English?”
“At sixteen I started taking a class one and one half hours a week. I had to milk goats ten hours a day for six days a week, except for Wednesdays for one and one half hours. Can you imagine learning to speak English with thirty other kids in one class for one and one half hours a week, while milking goats for fifty-eight and one half hours?”
“That’s almost impossible,” I said.
“I learned one word at a time. The first English word I’d learned was red; rojo. I learned to translate colors first then second I learned to translate objects like fork and spoon; el tenedor y saca con cuchara. The teacher made me stand in front of the class and try to pronounce the words I’d learned. I turned rojo como un tomate; red as a tomato. Can you imagine that?”
I looked out the car window at a roadside billboard that advertised the San Miguel Wal-Mart shopping center.
“Why didn’t your brothers and sisters learn to speak English?”
“They weren’t interested. We worked milking goats to support the family. My father was always depressed about having so many kids. I learned to speak English because of my mother, but my family didn’t care. I have one older and one younger brother in the U.S. illegally. They work construction jobs somewhere in Nebraska. They’ve been gone five years now. They wanted me to sneak across the border with them because I spoke English and that would make the transition easier for them. By that time I had two kids of my own and I’d worry too much about my parents.”
“What is your job now?”
“I’m a tour guide and a driver for this company.” Mario took an exit off the freeway onto a two-lane road and immediately passed an eighteen wheeler. I white-knuckled the dashboard. We barely escaped a head-on collision with a Chevy Blazer. “After I left the U.S. Embassy job I worked as an administrative assistant for the city of San Miguel. Office work was boring.”
“Do you have to drive so fast?” I relaxed back into my seat.
“I took a driver job after that and loved meeting people from all over the world. They came here like tuna in the sea. The tips were great and the salary was good. But now nothing is good.”
Mario put the pedal to the metal, whipped into the on-coming lane and passed two old faded red Ford trucks filled with corn on the cob. I took a deep breath and focused on the bouncing corn in back of the trucks.
“What do you think about the United States?”
“The States’ economy has ruined our economy. Of course, our economy has always been ruined. Do you like corn? This is corn country. I buy my corn from the farm just ahead. We make our own tortillas and tamales. We have to make do with what we can get.”
“Do you own a car?” I said.
“I own a dodge. That’s what we call our legs. That’s our mode of transportation.”
“Pancho Villa owned a Dodge.”
“It’s on display in the Pancho Villa Chihuahua Museum,” Mario said.
I didn’t want to offend Mario by telling him I thought he resembled Pancho Villa so I quieted that notion. On-coming traffic was minimal and Mario kept passing any car and truck slower than his.
“Where were you born?”
“I was born in San Miguel and my parents were born in San Miguel.”
“When I mention San Miguel to people should I say San Miguel de Allende or just San Miguel?”
“There are many San Miguel’s in Mexico. This one you add de Allende to the end to distinguish it from the other San Miguel’s.”
“Why do you call your legs Dodge?”
“That’s what Pancho Villa was killed in.”
“Why don’t you call your legs Ford or Chevy?”
“My great-great grandfather José Doroteo Agango Arámbula wasn’t killed in a Ford or Chevy.”
“Pancho Villa was your great-great grandfather?” I needed a margarita.
“Si. His last few years after the revolution were good. My grand parents migrated to San Miguel de Allende from Chihuahua and worked at the dairy goat farm. Could you imagine going from fighting in the revolution to milking goats?”
“That sounds relaxing,” I said. “Do you celebrate Pancho Villa?”
“We do what we can. Starting January 2010 Año de la Patria begins. It’s the Year of the Nation. All year Mexico will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican revolution. My great-great grandfather and Pascual Orozco led the first insurrectionist attack in 1910.”“Are you a revolutionist, Mario?”“Aren’t we all, my friend, Mr. Campbell?”
“Can you imagine that?” I said, and we both belly-laughed.
“How is the economy in the U.S.?”
“It’s ruined like here in Mexico. The stock market, insurance companies and corporate industry executives are high-rollers—with loaded dice—cheating the people and government.”
“You just described Mexico.”
Mario whipped a right turn. The backside of a huge building blinded our view: Wal-Mart. He slowed down for a thick speed bump across the street and plunged off the edge of the black asphalt onto a dirt road. A few dilapidated adobe building spotted the landscape. A huge dairy factory came into view. Pedestrians appeared out of nowhere, crossing the street between heavy traffic of old Chevy and Ford trucks, rusted Hondas and Toyotas. The end of the freeway turned into a Mexican urbanised hotbed of local businesses, slow moving traffic and older citizens giving the right-of-way to vehicles.
“What’s with the Wal-Mart in San Miguel?”
Mario’s face cringed. “Big business you know, nothing can stop big businesses killing the family trade. I think it will be a novelty for locals. They go there once and don’t return. Besides, everything for sale in Wal-Mart is made in China. Can you imagine Mexicans buying things made in China? I don’t see a statue of the Buddha in any Mexican’s home.”
We drove up a narrow alleyway. The street turned from dirt to riverbed cobblestones. At the end of the lane we plunged into a busy intersection. Horns honked, a traffic cop blew his whistle haphazardly while standing on the edge of the sidewalk. Cars had the right-of-way where stop signs and stop lights were unnecessary. Everybody knew their place in the scheme of daily life.
Mario clipped another right turn and drove up and down a dozen short blocks that were cobble filled with tall, randomly placed speed bumps. He stopped the Lexus in front of Casa X, my home for the next six days.
“Tell me about the Mexican drug trafficking and cartels.”
His eyebrows rose when he looked at me. “There’s nothing to tell, Mr. Campbell. As you know drug trafficking and cartels are all over the world. Because we share borders your government is obsessed with the activity. CNN focuses on it because it attracts high ratings. Drug cartels kill each other to stop competition. Their armies kill each other. They leave us small people alone. You are safe in San Miguel. No drugs no crime. We take care of each other. If you need anything call my office.”
Mario to me was somebody, not just a Mexican—he was a social and ethical responsible Mexican citizen. We got out of the car, retrieved my bags and he walked me to the door of my temporary home and handed me the keys. We shook hands and I handed him a 200 peso bill.
“Thank you my friend. I accept this money with respect, knowing you came to visit my small town to attend your son’s wedding. But while you’re here absorb my old culture. Enjoy the food and drink only bottled water. Whatever you do don’t use ice cubes in your drinks, and when you’re in restaurants ask your waiter if the vegetables and water were sterilized. Take a taxi whenever possible, the fees are cheap. But if you walk you’ll regret it because the cobblestone streets will ruin your feet. There are no homeless people in San Miguel and few beggars. We take care of our own.”
“Thank you, Mario, for all the information and the education. Our cultures really share many forgotten ethics. Can I pass the word that you are the great-great grandson of José Doroteo Agango Arámbula, better know as Pancho Villa?”
“That would be my pleasure if you informed the world, Mr. Campbell. Can you imagine that? And, don’t forget to tell everyone that I drive a dodge.”
Mario eased into the driver’s seat of the Lexus closed the door and glided up the alleyway. I watched with a smile knowing that Mario, whoever he is now, was comfortable in his culture since the days of Pancho Villa’s time, and that the Mexican revolution was now a state of mind.