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For All Nails, pt. 85:  Mobile Locos

Excerpt from _The Real Mexico_, by Franklin Genovese

Number one tip for driving in Mexico:  don't.  The problem is that
just isn't possible outside Mexico City and some parts of Puerto
Hancock, and it isn't all that good an idea in those two cities
either.  [1]  Train from the airport?  Bus?  What's that?  Both Puerto
Hancock and Mexico City have rail lines out to John Hancock and Andrew
Jackson fields, but they're more modern art than useful transit.
Visiting the USM without renting a loke is the equivalent of
deliberately paralyzing your left leg before visiting Paris.  You can
do it, but why?

Mexico has the best roads in the world.  The best.  Unfortunately,
most of the drivers on those incredible Mexican roads are, well,
Mexican.  I arrived on a Sunday.  That meant that the traffic was
light enough to appreciate the real beauty of Mexican driving.
Imagine a game of pinball, except the balls turn at will and seem to
want to hit the paddles.

Right outside the airport I saw a housewife speed up, dart across
_five lanes_ of traffic and dive into an exit.  Her children were
playing in the back of the vehicle.  I was shocked.  Sure, I could
imagine that sort of driving from a teenaged male in a twelve-cyliner
Conquistador, but this was a mother with her offspring _in the car_!
Admittedly, the car was about the size of your typical New York
apartment, but still.

I thought was prepared.  After all, nobody in North America really
obeys the speed limit.  [3]   We're North Americans!  A free people in
a free country!  Whereas Mexico is a rigidly regimented military
dictatorship, where everyone is drafted into the Army at the age of
eighteen.  You expect order.  From the air, as your airmobile descends
into JHF, you see what looks like order, a rigid grid of streets
extending endlessly outwards from downtown, clusters of rascallos
dotting the basin, and a net of well-designed stopless uniting it all.
 [3b]  It doesn't prepare you for what you find the minute you pull
out onto the road.

Random lane changing.  Passing on the left.  Rolling stops.  Amber
light?  Speed up -- it'll turn red soon!  There seem to be two rules
to driving in the USM.  Rule 1:  show no fear. Rule 2:  try not to
deliberately commit suicide, unless that conflicts with rule number 1.

Mexicans appear to have never heard of a signal light.  What's a
signal light?  Oh, that little lever on the left side of the steering
column has a function?

The horn, on the other hand, Mexicans consider the horn very useful.
They use it to signal lane changes, turns, deceleration, acceleration,
and general annoyance.  They also use it to brake, turn, start, and
change gears.  It seems to boil down to the following: only honk when
someone does something unexpected, unless you expected it, in which
case you should honk to show appreciation.

Note that I haven't mentioned the mental state in which too many
Mexicans are on the road.  I don't mean anger or stress, although
there is plenty of both.  I mean the hazy cloud of mota that so often
seems stronger and thicker than the exhaust fumes.  In theory, driving
while intoxicated is against the law.  In practice, driving while
intoxicated is against the law.  The fines are horribly steep.  And
the law is enforced.  The problem is that every testosterone-laden
young man considers it a badge of honor to toke up and drive without
getting caught.  The result is that every Monday you've got road crews
out on every stopless repairing bent guardrails and replacing
knocked-over streetlights.  I suppose it does wonders for the
unemployment rate.

I must say that Mexican roads are incredibly well-planned.  The
entrance ramps are long enough to allow even the most underpowered
North American import to accelerate up to 70 --- that's right,
_seventy_ --- miles an hour before needing to merge into traffic.  The
lanes are broad enough for trucks the size of Massachusetts.  The
shoulders are broad.  The signage is wonderful.  You almost never need
to consult a map.  It is as impressive from the ground as from the
air.

Of course, all those features are absolutely necessary to prevent
mayhem.  You need lanes that wide, to give drunk drivers enough space
to properly weave.  You need great signage, because taking your eyes
off the road for one second means sudden death.  You need long
entrance ramps, because traffic in Mexico moves at two speeds:
completely stopped, or way too fast.  And you need wide shoulders, to
accommodate the metals piles that closely resemble crunched-up pieces
of paper littering the sides of every Mexican road.

Mexicans love to claim that their country has far fewer locomobile
accidents than North America.  Mexicans are also apparently blind.
Which may explain their driving.

Mexican driving is terrifying not only because Mexicans drive like
terrors, but because Mexicans drive terrors.  [2a]  You don't have to
be here long to believe, really believe the Mexican government's
protestations that the reason North American lokes don't sell in this
country is simply because nobody will buy them.  In fact, a visitor
quickly notes that Mexicans not only refuse to buy North American
imports, but won't even buy the models their own lokemakers export to
the Confederation.  They're simply too small.

Mexicans buy cars that are about six blocks long and have the turn
radius of the HMS Leviathan.  At first I was nervous about driving one
of these monsters, a dusty Galloway Guardian, the smallest car on the
lot.  (Not quite true --- but the smallest car was a two-seat Toledo
roadster that cost far more than I could possibly justify to the
accountants back in New York.)  I returned it the next day.  It was
too frightening.  I'm not sure the other drivers on the road would
have even noticed running me over.

The intercity roads appear less frightening than the cities, but
that's an illusion.  Never less than two lanes each way, and usually
three, they have no speed limits.  None.  Go as fast as you like.
Which explains the one-loke wrecks that occasionally dot the side of
the road, as if a car was speeding along and suddenly spontaneously
jumped up in the air and exploded.  More likely, the driver's
intelligence suddenly and spontaneously jumped out of his brain and
exploded.  When I was a teenager we used to suffer those kind of
Driving Without Intelligence incidents back in Georgia, when our
brains would suddenly cease functioning and cause the car to end up in
a tree.  Strangely enough, those DWIs seemed to be associated with the
consumption of an entire eight-pack of Lawton and an unsuccessful
attempt to convince our girlfriends to engage in acts which will not
be mentioned because they are still illegal in most of the Southern
Confederation.

Such acts are not, however, illegal in California.  In fact, trapped
in traffic, I once saw a couple engaging in acts that I truly did not
think were possible for anyone other than a professional gymnast.
Sadly, an accurate description of what I saw would make it illegal to
distribute this book in Georgia, either Vandalia, both Carolinas,
Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island,
Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

Speaking of traffic, you haven't seen a traffic jam until you've been
trapped on the upper deck of the Playa Hermosa Locopista in rush hour,
right where it intersects the San Pedro.  Ten lanes of traffic on each
deck, an incredible bowl of spaghetti larger than Manhattan, a true
miracle of modern engineering—and not a loke moving.

You would think that an average velocity of five miles an hour would
prevent accidents.  You would also be suffering from a lack of
imagination.  When travelling rapidly, Mexican drivers are limited by
the inexorable laws of physics from executing certain manuevers.  (At
least not without causing the loke to spontaneously leap into the air
and explode.)  When crawling through traffic, such limits fail to
apply.  I now understand why the rental company required me to
purchase collision insurance.  I am also very glad that I rented the
Behemoth instead of the Galloway Guardian.

Tempers flare.  Horns honk.  Fists wave.  A Mexican traffic jam is far
more frightening than a mob.  The French monarchy would have collapsed
in 1789 had a traffic jam stormed the Bastille instead of mob.

By the way, did you know that it's legal to carry a firearm in your
loke in the state of California?  Giant lokes with gunracks and armed
drivers.  Think about it.  No wonder Mexico rarely bothers to mobilize
its army along the border.  Monticello's rush hour traffic alone could
overwhelm the entire Southern Vandalia militia.  All it needs is a
leader.  Be afraid, be very afraid.

Becoming a pedestrian in Mexico does nothing to lower the visitor's
stress level.  First, in most parts of the country, you feel like an
extraterrestrial merely for trying to walk.  In fact, the police
stopped and questioned me for strolling in San Fernando, a suburb of
Puerto Hancock.  Lest you think Santa Monica is out of the ordinary,
the same thing happened in Chihuahua City, and again in the Mexico
City suburb of Chalco.  Of course, no one was driving in Chalco
either, but that's another story.

I talked with a San Fernando police officer.  San Fernando is an
endlessly sprawling mass of single family homes, low-slung apartment
buildings, and shopping "centros" --- a far different phenomenon than
our own shopping "centers," and see Chapter Four --- by far the
ugliest architecture you've ever seen.  [3a]  The police station is in
a temporary modular building put up during the Global War and
periodically renovated afterwards.  When I asked about the ugliness of
the architecture, someone said, "Why make 'em pretty if a terremoto is
just gonna come along y knock 'em down anyway?"

The officer laughed when I asked about walking.  The man shuffled over
to a file cabinet and pulled out some statistics.  "Here," he said,
"Here's why the patrullas kept stopping you.  You know what the single
biggest source of road fatalities is in this city?  Drunken walking."
[4]

Drunken walking.  That is to say, anyone walking any distance in San
Fernando is likely to be inebriated, or becannabiated, and is
therefore likely to wander out into one of the city's wide boulevards
and be run down by a speeding loke.  You arrest them to avoid the
cleanup costs.

North American drivers, given Mexico's infrastructure, would be in
paradise.  Parking is a constitutional right.  Signs make sense
without a decoder ring, and are plainly visible.  The acceleration
lane is an innovation desperately needed back home.  [6]   Mexicans,
on the other hand, would do quite well with North America's road net,
so badly designed that following the rules is impossible.  Sadly, as
with so much else, history dealt our two nations bad hands:  they got
the half of the continent with the good roads.

[1]  Puerto Hancock's growth started fifty years before OTL's Los
Angeles.  The city more resembles Chicago—if you can imagine a
Chicagoland with a metro population north of 20 million
people—than Los Angeles.  Which really means that it resembles
Los Angeles, except there is a seventy-year old metro and commuter
rail system that only a small fraction of the population ever uses,
downtown (approximately the location of downtown Long Beach in OTL) is
filled with 80-story skyscrapers, and Southern California's beaches
are lined with high-rises.  After all, the history of American urban
development between 1945 and 1990 is an attempt to make everywhere
look just like L.A.  Chicago, Los Angeles, on a sunny spring day in
the suburbs can you really tell the difference?

[2]  A "stopless" is an urban limited-access highway in the CNA.  In
the USM, they are called "locopistas."  "Supercalzadas" are inter-city
roads, the equivalent of the "interstate," although in some states the
term is also used for urban freeways.

[2a]  The word "terror" derives from "terramobile," which is the FANTL
word for a tank.

[3]  The CNA federal government mandated speed limits of 50 miles an
hour as an oil conservation measure during the Global War.  They have
never been lifted.  Gasoline is cheap, very cheap, on world markets,
but the CNA is gravely concerned with energy independence.

[3b]  A "rascallo," sometimes called just a "rask," is an
Anglicization of the Mexican "rascacielo," or skyscraper.  FANTL North
Americans seem to delight in adopting Spanish words and utterly
mangling them.

[3a]  An OTL American wouldn't think that San Fernando is overly ugly,
although they wouldn't be particularly impressed with its
architectural esthetics.  An OTL Mexican also wouldn't consider the
city particularly unattractive, although they would note that it's
zoning laws were surprisingly well-enforced and made ample provision
for parking.  Mr. Genovese, however, comes from a nation with a much
more snob ... er, honed sense of esthetics than our own U.S. of A.

[4]  In OTL, this happens to be true in Bronx County, New York.

[6]  In North America, the few urban freeways that exist tend to
resemble the Henry Hudson Parkway in OTL New York.  Mwa-hah.