Just a Photo

Here’s a completely random picture I took a few weeks ago.

 

Grrrr!

Grrrr!

 

 

San Francisco, CA

The Commute Home

Mexico City has an unfortunate and well-deserved reputation for automobile traffic.  My normal commute home is a well-planned route designed to avoid the worst of the traffic; I take a bus from ITAM, which braves city streets and the freeway (and traffic) for about a mile to metro Barranca del Muerto, from which I take the train four stops against rush hour traffic to Tacubaya, and then walk about 20 minutes to my house.  There’s a closer metro station (Patriotísmo), but I like the walk, which is down José Martí… I posted a few pictures of it last week.

The real problem with traffic in México, D.F., is that it can make travel times very uncertain — one never knows where and when to expect traffic.  While my commute avoids the worst spots, it still has it’s own potential for delay.  For example, the route the bus will take to the metro station varies from day to day, as the driver tries to figure out how to avoid the worst of the roving traffic jams.  Once we’re at the metro, it’s not uncommon for the train to be a few minutes late… which, in a system that pushes 4 million passengers a day, is a big deal.  Even though Barranca del Muerto is the first station on the line and even though it’s reverse-commute, I sometimes need to wait for a few trains to pass before I can find one with room to board.  (On the way to ITAM, I need to make sure to arrive early so as to get to the bus on time!)  Of course, I also pass a whole slew of cantinas on the walk home.  I haven’t yet taken a detour to grab a mid-commute cerveza, but I’m sure it will happen!  

And, then, of course, sometimes we get stuck in traffic in front of ITAM.  The front entrance to ITAM, which is where I catch my bus, is an intersection with four roads that come together.  The Instituto employs several security guards that often stop traffic so that the buses can come and go on their hourly schedule.  One evening last week, all fours roads were full of cars coming in… but no one was going out.  As you can see from the hastily shot photo (through the bus window), it was a real fracaso.  Two cops were trying to untangle a knot of cars to let the buses out.  The cops eventually had to run two blocks down to stop more cars from coming it.  One intersection, twelve cars (as shown, but in truth many more), two cops, and two buses… needless to say, it took me longer than usual to get home.

 

...cars were coming in, but no one was going out!

...cars were coming in, but no one was going out!

 

 

San Francisco, CA

Fried Bread Breakfast

Every morning on my way to ITAM I pass a set of food stalls in front of the entrance to the Barranca del Muerto metro station.  A common item at many of these stands are tamales — not just the normal steamed variety, but fried in a bowl of hot, smoking grease.  These tamales, which are made of ground corn and are filled with green or red salsa or mole, already have a soft, crumbly, doughy consistency before they’re dumped in the hot oil.  And after?  Well, they’re basically fried bread!

There is nothing like the smell of deep fried tamales in the morning.

There is nothing like the smell of deep fried tamales in the morning.

 

San Francisco, CA

Wake Turbulence Epilogue

In the news today, Communication and Transportation Secretary Luis Téllez again discussed possible discrepancies with the certification of the pilot of the doomed flight two weeks ago in Mexico city.  (The first instance is mentioned in this past post on the cockpit voice tapes.)

To this point, I’ve tried to refrain from giving my own personal opinion on what the cause was, though I have strictly maintained that wake turbulence could have been a major factor.  That said, the significance of Téllez’s comments are hard to misinterpret: he is finding fault with both the pilot and the mechanism by which pilots gain and maintain their certification.  Recall the strange comments (see this past post on Mexican unions) made by the ASPA and SNCTA spokesmen just days after the accident… I wonder what ASPA has to say about wake turbulence and the possibility of pilot error now?  (You can draw your own conclusions!)

For more on my opinion regarding the possibility of wake turbulence, read through some of the past posts on the accident, many of which discuss it (especially the one on the unions).

 

I was not in Mexico City when Téllez was making today’s comments, having just hopped a flight home to San Francisco for the Thanksgiving holiday.  However, in a strange and bizarre coincidence, as we came in to land at SFO, on final approach and perhaps 1000 feet above the ground, the plane was shaken by two jarring and turbulent shocks…. and which immediately brought to mind the recent accident.  In our case, we were flying an Airbus 320, and the result of the shocks was, for the most part, lateral motion and a slight drop in altitude.  Of course, the pilots quickly recovered and we landed without further incident.  But, as we pulled up the the gate, the pursor (main flight attendant) came on the PA and announced:

“For those of you wondering what that large bump was right before landing, the pilot called to notify us that it was caused by the [Boeing] 747 in front of us.”

Some things you can’t make up.

 

San Francisco, CA

Inflación

Although the world-wide economic woes are dampening much of the holiday (and consumer) spirit back home, they’ve put me in a strange place….  For the farther the Dow Jones drops, the better the dollar-to-peso exchange rate (Yahoo! finance) becomes.  A rate that started at 10 pesos : 1 dollar, rose to 12.5, and is now pushing 14.  Each time there’s bad news back home, I take a look at the exchange rate and it gets… well… that much better.

Of course, the corresponding fear is that the more the peso drops, the more likely we are to see inflation here.  Though, I think Mexico’s export-oriented economy, which has already developed national substitutes for international products and has placed price controls on key price drivers like gasoline and corn, is not likely to see huge price increases on many products.  For what it’s worth, I did a little remembering and have the following price comparisons from two years ago (peso at 11:1), when I was also working here in Mexico City.  (Note, between the time I arrived in September (peso @ 10:1) and today (peso @ 13.7:1) there has not been a notable increase in prices.)

  • tasty street quesadilla: was 6-10 pesos (2006), is 8-12 pesos (2008)
  • 16 oz. bottle of diet coke: was 7.5-8 pesos (2006), is 8-9 pesos (2008)
  • 750mL bottle of my favorite tequila: was 850 pesos (2006), is 1050 pesos (2008) (same store comparison)
  • strawberry and crema paleta (popsicle) at a Michoacana: was 10 pesos (2006), is 12 pesos (2008)
  • 3kg of laundry; washed, dried, folded, and with any necessary sewing repairs: was 48 pesos (2006), is 54 pesos (2008) (same lavanderia comparison)  Note: my impression is that the 48 was about average in 2006 and that 54 is relatively cheap in 2008.

Hmmmmmmm…. well, if the Dow falls any farther, I think I’m buying more tequila!

 

México, D.F.

Save me Jeebus?

On a recent morning, not too long ago, I came across a church processional.  At the front of the parade, were two men lighting off fireworks every minute or so.  The fireworks were small rockets attached to the end of a short stick; they’d light the fuse, and hold the stick up with their hands, pointing the rocket towards the sky.  The rocket would shoot up about 70 feet or so and then explode with a tremendous ‘BANG!’.  The body of the parade had four men carrying a religious icon (a statue of a saint) and about 10-12 women dressed in ornately decorated outfits and dancing to the occasional music of a small brass band.  It felt like a thoroughly authentic “Mexican” moment… but what struck me most, among the dozen or so photographs I took, was the following image:

Look closely!

Look closely!

Yes, it’s what it looks like.  (Click on the image to view a larger version.)

 

México, D.F.

In Pictures: Escandón Street Scenes

The neighborhood in Mexico City in which I live is called Colonia Escandón.  Escandón is just south of La Condesa, one of the more touristy and affluent districts of the city, and just west of Avenida de los Insurgentes Sur, reportedly the longest avenue in the world.  Escandón is a mix of both blue and white collar, families and retirees, and apartments and busy storefronts… all of which give the neighborhood a livelihood and bustle uncommon to the poshier and more expensive areas just to the north.  Although it has it’s share of vehicular traffic, the streets in Escandón are also covered by a green canopy, green awnings, and their share of green bugs….  I consider myself fortunate to have found a place to live here.

 

 

Colonia Escandón, México, D.F.

Part Time Job

For the last week, one of the (many) pharmacies by my house has been advertising.  A man, presumably, dressed inside a cartoonish pharmacist costume, has stood out in front.  Two large speakers are built into the back of the costume and the guy stands there, bobbing up and down, to a rhythmic and repetitive “doot doot doot.”  It’s not plugged in, so he must carry a battery with him, too.  The costume’s movement was so mechanical (literally a bob up and down), at first I thought it was a machine.  I mean, who would wear a heavy, hot costume like that?!?   But then I saw some lady step out of a car and give the costume a peck on the cheek, a traditional Mexican greeting.

An advertisement for the pharmacy

An advertisement for the pharmacy

 

México, D.F.

Turbulence & a Learjet

Earlier today, the Secretary of Communication and Transportation Luis Téllez held a press conference to discuss the analysis of the cockpit voice recorder from the first of the black boxes. 

The results of the analysis seem to indicate that turbulence, likely caused by the preceding Boeing 767, was the cause of the accident.  In particular, the transcription shows the pilot referring to turbulence in the seconds before the disaster.

Piloto: Órale la turbulencia de éste
Copiloto: Ay guey
Piloto: Ay cabrón

basically…
Pilot: Hey, there’s some turbulence
Copilot: Oh boy
Pilot: Uh-oh

Of course, that’s not the full story… in his statement, the Secretary states that the pilots may not have been qualified to fly the plane and that the audio tape indicates that the pilot was unfamiliar with both the terrain of the flight path as well as the aircraft’s electronic flight instruments.  At the time of the accident, the Learjet was only 4.15 miles behind the Boeing… as the pilots had taken more than a minute to heed air traffic control’s request to slow down.  And to put you conspiracy theorists to rest: there is no sign of an explosion — ASA Director, Gilberto López Meyer.

Could turbulence be to blame?  Wake turbulence creates a highly localized but very severe vortex (see post on the unions) that, in theory, could have trailed the 767 by several miles.  The Learjet, which was on approach to the airport, only 1000 meters (or so) off the ground, and was already at or near minimum airspeed could have had trouble had it hit such a vortex.   And to quote a friend of mine: “These planes aren’t meant to fly upside-down.”

 

México, D.F.

The Mexican Government Reacts to the Crash

The black boxes from the Learjet arrived back in Mexico this morning.  El Universal reports that Communication and Transportation Secretary Luis Téllez will examine the contents sometime tomorrow (Friday), so I assume that we’ll have an announcement shortly thereafter.  In the mean time, I wanted to continue my running commentary on the reaction to the crash, this time looking at the Mexican government and the Calderón administration. 

Initially, President Felipe Calderón seemed quite shaken by the events of the disaster.  Of course, it’s important to consider the gravity of the event; Calderón lost one of his strongest allies in government to what, at the time, seemed like a likely assassination.  The drug cartels that were hypothesized to be a possible cause have been the cause of significant violence in Mexico over the past few years and a major focus of Calderón’s administration, affecting both domestic and foreign policy.  Mouriño’s death likely caused Calderón to examine thoughts of how the presidency and his actions have affected his own mortality… frankly, I’d be quite shaken, too.

Following the disaster, Calderón and his administration took several steps to show both strength and control.  Initially after the accident, Calderón appealed for calm and patience, and expressed the need to not jump to conclusions about the cause of the crash.  Many in the public deeply suspected foul play, a hypothesis given credence by a plethora of articles in the local media.

Following this claim, Calderón made good on his promise by:

In my opinion, the actions taken by Calderón indicate several key ideas.  First, he wanted to take control and ensure order of the investigation; thereby stemming the possibility of rampant rumors of the assassinations and corruption that have been plaguing the country.  Second, he brought in many experts, both local and foreign; not only does this help ensure that officials identify the correct cause of the accident, but it provides support to whatever conclusion is reached in both the eyes of the media and the general public.  And, as if on cue, U.S. Ambassador Garza recently reiterated that there is no sign of sabotage… I can’t believe that Garza would make these comments without Calderón’s ok.

The need for such support seems clear following the controversy that erupted during the week regarding leadership of the PAN political party.  As I understand, Mexican political parties, even more than those in the U.S., are themselves conglomerates and factionalized.  On Monday, Calderon plead for an end to the “pettiness” within the party and said that the replacement for Mouriño would be chosen based on his party loyalty.  I was originally confused by much of this (I guess this is what happens when you get your news from the papers!)… but on Tuesday allegations surfaced that elements within the party had previously sought to remove Mouriño.  This “shadow” group even had a name… “El Yunque” (the anvil).  It’s not clear to me whether Manuel Espino (former PAN leader) was the origin of these rumors or was merely grabbed by the media for his reaction, but suffice it to say, politics being what they are, I’m sure that Espino didn’t hide from the spotlight.  And, today, Espino made public comments denying that he was behind any of the strife.  Does it really matter (to Espino)?

I’ll try to talk to a few experts on Mexican politics to gain additional perspective.

 

México, D.F.

 


Update: following the comments made by Garza, a number of Senators (in each of the 3 main political parties in México) spoke out against him.