Travel

No Filter December – Day 29: The Rules

My friends in Mexico live in a community with a security gate.  Apparently most of their neighbors are also Americans, and although part of the charm of the place for me has been that friendly neighborhood dogs roam the streets and take themselves down to the beach whenever they feel like it, someone in the community must have become uptight about it, because signs have been posted all over the complex.

And really, since English is not the guy’s first language, he did a pretty good job, all things considered.

I went ahead and laughed at it, at length, anyway.  I have a feeling that parts of it will be quoted among my family for years to come. Especially Rule Number Three, aka “The Unfinished Rule.” It should come in handy whenever I feel chaos ensuing.

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Rules To Live By

 

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No Filter December – Day 27: Driving Tips For Mexico

I have ranted on this blog in the past about how much I hate four-way stop signs, but I found I actually don’t mind them in Mexico.  Down there, everyone works together and you all get through the intersection, and if someone pushed in a little ahead of you when it was technically your turn, it’s not all that bad, because at least they do it quickly, and with sure intention, so that there is no question in your mind that you have to stop and wait a bit.  And they tend to get out of your way with equal alacrity.

There is this one intersection in Rosarito that almost defies description, but I’m going to try anyway. Or perhaps I will draw a diagram.

Here’s how it looks on the map:

Mcdonalds Rosarito intersection

The top orange line on the right is a freeway off ramp, and the bottom orange line is a freeway on ramp.  The white road between them goes over a bridge that starts right about where the ramps begin. The yellow lines on the left show the main road through town.  Doesn’t look so bad, right?  Except for one thing.  If you are coming off the freeway on that top orange line, but you want to go across the bridge (and it seems that a large percentage of the traffic does want to do that particular maneuver),  you have to pull a U turn across the white street.  Okay, so that’s not so bad either, especially when you consider that the west-bound traffic on that white street has a stop sign right there.

Except that this seems to be one of the busiest intersections in Rosarito. Not only are people coming off the freeway and wanting to U-turn to cross the bridge, but some of them also want to go to the McDonalds across the street.

Plus there are people coming out of McDonalds who want to go across the bridge.

Plus, let us not forget that freeway on ramp at the bottom, and some people coming east from the main road want to get on the freeway.

Also, some of the people coming across the bridge, who have stopped at the stop sign, also want to either get on the freeway or go to McDonalds, so some of them are turning left there.

And to make matters more fun, a large amount of people are coming off the main road and going across the bridge, and at the other end of the bridge there is an equally busy intersection that often gets gridlocked.

All this means that this intersection is almost always choked with cars, and that much of the time traffic is backed up across the bridge.  So if you are coming off the freeway, you don’t just have to make a U Turn.  You have to make a U turn while pushing your way into traffic that is backed up while not blocking the people who have stopped at the stop sign.

And you also don’t want to accidentally get on the on ramp instead of the bridge because then you will find yourself the other end of town, at the off ramp that empties directly into the parking lot of a very popular Pemex gas station.

Mcdonalds Rosarito intersection satellite2At any rate, the satellite picture on Mapquest shows the mayhem a little more accurately, although this was obviously not taken during rush hour.  Notice there are no sidewalks or crosswalks.  More than once I have seen pedestrians crossing this road.  Not at the intersection, though, but kind of in the middle between the intersection and the bridge, i.e. the absolute worst place to put your body in front of a moving vehicle because the driver is already distracted with trying not to hit the cars coming at him from five different directions.

Just to make it more fun, when you get to the other side of the bridge, if you want to turn right, you have to be aware of an off ramp coming up alongside the bridge on the right.  You can’t actually SEE it, because it’s lower than the road, but there could be a car coming up that way, so you have to do your best, before you cut over to the right turn lane, to catch a glimpse of something in that direction so you don’t crash into them as they merge onto the main road.  This is why it’s always good to have a passenger with you when you drive in Mexico.

Within a few hours of arriving there my first time driving in Mexico, I had to face this intersection – the hard way, being one of the U-turners.  I should also mention it was the evening rush hour.  And dark.

It was surprisingly easy, because as I said before, everyone worked together. As long as you don’t dither, and take your turn the second it opens up, you do just fine.  I find this far preferable to the waving-on wars that happen in intersections up in the States.

Come to think of it, while this U-turn intersection actually seems to work in Mexico, I’m pretty sure it would result in some shootings if it were up in L.A.

At any rate, after my two days of driving across the border, I came up with this:

Mexico 2013 Ems Camera 403Driving Rules For Mexico

1) Drive slower than you think you should.  You never know when a car, pedestrian or dog will appear in front of your car.  Or a pot hole.

2) If you think it’s your turn, go. You’ll figure out it really wasn’t your turn if you find someone else in your way, and you can always stop then. If you hang about too long trying to figure out if it’s your turn, though, you’ll mess up the whole flow of traffic.

3) Always take a passenger.  This gives you someone to talk to during slow traffic, as well as equipping your vehicle with another pair of eyes.

4) If someone honks you, they are not upset.  They are just saying, “Hey, I’m over here, don’t hit me.”  There is a good chance they are breaking traffic laws at the time, hence the need to get your attention.

5) Stop signs are a good idea, but no one really takes them all that seriously.

  • Corollary A) If the paint has washed off the stop sign, you really shouldn’t have to stop there.
  • Corollary B) On the other hand, it’s a good idea to treat every intersection like there is a stop sign, just in case someone else is not taking them seriously coming the other way.

6) Traffic lights are also suggestions, but it’s usually a good idea to agree with them.

Mexico 2013 Ems Camera 3597) If armed men in fatigues or uniforms tell you to stop so they can look in your vehicle, it’s a good idea to comply.

Corollary A) Don’t take pictures of them.

8) Develop an innate sense of the width of your vehicle ahead of time. You will use this information often.

9) If too many pedestrians are clogging the crosswalk and taking their time to get across, just start easing forward to encourage them to hurry up, especially if they are students.  They need to develop a healthy fear of moving vehicles.

10) If you need to back out into traffic, just go.  Nobody wants to hit you.  They’ll stop.

11) Don’t worry about doing the right thing. You can’t really do the wrong thing.  We’re all making it up as we go.

Come to think of it, that last one is a good rule of thumb for life.

Categories: Around Town, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Filter December – Day 23: Driven To Distraction

I must admit I was nervous about driving in Mexico when I went last week, but quickly discovered that it wasn’t all that bad.  Because as crazy as some of the intersections get, and as optional some of the stop signs seem to be, it all somehow works out.

After a few days of coping with Rosarito traffic, I returned to the States, and it was on my way out that I almost got in an accident.

Just as I approached the border, the lane I was in unexpectedly turned into an offramp that would take me back to the road to Rosarito, so I had to quickly slow down and cut over a lane.  Unfortunately, someone was at that moment parked horizontally across that lane, waiting for traffic to clear so that he could shoot over to the offramp.  I checked the mirror and started to drive around him on the right, when all of a sudden someone was honking me, loudly and long.  My daughter told me there was someone trying to cut around me from behind.  I stopped and let him go first, and as he drove past us I looked at him. He was a very harried-looking overweight American with a very sour expression on his face.  He looked exactly like a character in a movie about a grumpy middle-manager.

I was a little shaken and upset at first, as I maneuvered into line in the lane next to him.  We had reached the point where the border lines began, so I knew there would be no going anywhere fast for the next hour or so. I tried to catch the man’s eye so I could wave and say sorry, but he just looked away. A few minutes later, the car in front of him didn’t pull up right away when the line moved forward a few feet.  The man laid into his horn with the same gusto he had honked me.  It was so ridiculous to honk when you’re going to be sitting in line for the next hour, I burst out laughing.  What exactly did the man think he would gain by moving up those few feet right away instead of waiting a few seconds?

039While he was busy honking in the left lane, I was quickly working my way across the lanes to try to get into one of the right lanes. I had discovered on my last trip that the right lanes at the San Ysidro crossing open up two or three times down the road into multiple lanes, so they go much faster than the two left-hand lanes, which only split once at the very end.  If you don’t get into the right hand lanes right away, however, you lose your opportunity to change lanes, as the space between the lanes is filled with vendors and their carts all the way to the border. Within a few minutes, I was 5 or 6 cars ahead of the man.  Again I heard the angry honking.

“Oh no,” moaned the 12 year old.  “Is he going to keep that up all the way to the border?  For the next hour or two?”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “We’ll soon be out of earshot. We can just use his honking as a gauge of how far ahead we’re getting in this lane than if we’d stayed in that lane.”

Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we couldn’t hear him any more.  He had honked at least twice more before he faded into the distance, however.

All I could do was shake my head and think, “That poor man.” His honking was making no difference to his wait time. It was only fueling his frustration.  Suddenly all the stress of the incident with him, which I had realized by then was simply his preponderance for horn-blowing and not actually a near-miss, melted away. I sat back and enjoyed the wait, watching the vendors and talking with the kids.

036The vendors have a tough job, standing in the sun all day, threading between constantly moving cars, but many of them (the successful ones, as it turns out) maintain good humor.  One vendor walked in front of my van just as traffic started to move, so he quickened his pace and crossed himself with a twinkle in his eye.  They don’t let the grumpiness of the drivers get to them.  They hawk their wares, exchange pleasantries with each other and help each other out when needed.  Smiles sell more goods, and the ones who have found a way to smile sincerely sell the most.

Something clicked into place in my head that day. How many times do I get upset about circumstances outside of my control, fuming and ranting and raving about it?  It makes no difference.  Even if there is a point where my words might change the situation, those words need to be calm and reasonable, not ranting and raving.  I can be saddened by a situation, but working myself up about it — following the excitement plan, as a friend of mine calls it — does nothing but raise my blood pressure.  It’s not good for me.  It’s not good for my kids. And it does nothing for the situation.

I came back to the States and jumped headlong into Christmas shopping and traffic jams and harried people and long lines, but somehow the lesson I learned at the border stayed with me.  I keep finding myself pausing in the middle of chaos and smiling, appreciating details, giving away small kindnesses, stopping to have conversations and putting people above things.  Just as I duck under large breaking waves in the ocean, I have been submerging myself under the Christmas frenzy and letting it wash over me instead of knocking me down.

Because the circumstances come and go, and stuff is just stuff, but people are forever.

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Categories: Around Town, Christmas, Family, Los Angeles, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No Filter December- Day 19: Vamos a la Playa, oh, oh, oh my goodness, what IS that?

162The sunset and views at the beach along Rosarito, BC, Mexico, are beautiful.

The sand, however, is suspiciously black.  And not in an exotic, lava-rock type way, but in a “oh, look, there’s the Pemex Refinery and isn’t that an oil tanker out there in the water?” kind of way.

So while the effect of the oil on the sand is rather striking, photographically speaking, it also kind of makes you go, “Hmmmm.”

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