From my window seat on a United Airlines flight, I watched clouds widen to reveal black sprawling mountains as Central Mexico grew closer. The skies were blue over the vast and seemingly untouched earth. We merged closer and closer to the city, and the mountains became blanketed in colorful buildings made of cement and random materials residents hoped would make a good roof — at least for a while. We circled in preparation to land, and looking out the window, I could not fathom how vast mountains and open space could become so enraptured by civilization and people and makeshift homes and streets lined with prostitutes, taquerias, homeless dogs and roadside boxing schools.
We landed. I unbuckled my seatbelt. Took in my first breath of non-cabin air that shocked my senses as my taste buds and lungs filled with thick, gassy Mexico City air. I said goodbye to the J.Crew catalog couple with their three beautiful (and restless) daughters and their nanny who used our row as the children’s section of the plane.
I didn’t have to go too far in the Mexico City airport before I found Susy waving to me somewhere in the baggage claim. They flew out of Long Beach —me out of Sacramento — and they arrived an hour before I did. I was thankful I wasn’t alone in the city I’d been warned so much about.
Rodrigo, who is married to my friend Sheryl, picked us up. He met us at the gate with his big smile and welcoming hugs.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes in the car to experience what it’s like to drive in Mexico. There is no easing on the break or the gas pedals. You punch it. You have to or you will be rear-ended, honked at or yelled at. You move or you lose. Mexico made me appreciate little things in the states, like lines on every road. As we drove to see my friends at home, I stared out the window to hear the loudness of the highway, and to see the graffiti murals on the buildings and the entire families riding helmet-less on motorcycles.
On our first night in the city, we loaded into the car and took a little nighttime tour — also mainly because it’s not safe to really walk around most neighborhoods. I got a glimpse into Centro after dark, an understanding for Mexico’s love for neon lighting and a sad realization that ‘$5 hooker’ is not just something people joke about. These are a few pictures I snapped from the backseat, when it was okay to have the window rolled down.