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Living in a foreign country is a great adventure, which was a big part of what drew me to live in Mexico City in the first place. I’d been traveling for a long time, and it seemed like a great place to make a temporary home. Full of art and artists, a vibrant cosmopolitan megalopolis, Mexico City is home to more than 22 million people, and it has the public transportation system to match.
Mexico City’s metro system is infamous. Some love it, some hate it. I use it regularly, and it gets me everywhere I need to go. It’s efficient(ish) and cheap. However, the surreal experience I had last week was a bit more adventure than even I had been bargaining for.
The Mexican metro is notoriously crowded. I’ve had friends tell me they’d wait for three or four train cars to pass by before even attempting to board, and some don’t even bother trying to ride at rush hour or if it’s raining, when the stations flood and everything goes haywire. Before moving to the city, a friend recounted the story of her friend who would get boxed out of the metro completely in the busy mornings on her way to work; there’s a general attitude of, if you look like you can afford not to take it, don’t. I blend in well enough, and I was feeling a bit overconfident in my public transportation prowess. I figured if I could handle the craziness of the metro in Delhi, there was no reason not to use it in Mexico City.
It was a day like any other; I had spent it moving into a new apartment, so maybe I was a little bit more tired than usual, but not by any means exhausted. I got on the metro bus at Nuevo Leon in the Roma Sur neighborhood, and I was on my way to a class that I give in Del Valle, about six or seven stops away. On a normal day, it takes me about half an hour, but it depends on the weather and how bad the traffic is that day.
An express bus passed through the station with hardly any passengers, since it would only be going to the Colonia del Valle stop, three stops short of where I needed to get off the bus. I figured I might as well enjoy the spacious bus for the time that I could, then I’d change buses or get a taxi once I got to Colonia del Valle.
Now, before I continue, I should contextualize the metro bus system of Mexico City. Basically, there are two bus lanes in the center of the main streets — one going in each direction. Only metro buses are allowed to drive in these lanes, so they don’t get slowed down by the heavy car traffic in the surrounding lanes. The bus stations are elevated platforms, much like a train platform, located right in the center meridian of the street.
When we finally pulled into the terminal station on the express bus, the platform was full of people waiting to board the next bus. I was ready to get off the metro bus, but I faced a wall of women (Mexico has female-only cars where I typically ride when I’m alone) who were waiting to get on. No one wanted to budge an inch, as everyone had been waiting and working hard to earn a position near enough to the doors. Their reluctance to make a space for people to exist is entirely understandable, but in this situation it took a dangerous turn.
The women ahead of me pushed their way through the crowd and onto the platform, but behind me was an abuelita and a young girl whose backpack had gotten trapped in the door as it slammed shut. From my secure spot on the platform, I could see her predicament all too clearly.
I turned around and instinctively tried to help her unjam the backpack before the bus drove away. Perhaps it was my awkward position of half-turning-around-while-tugging-on-backpack, maybe it was the fact that we were jammed onto that platform so tightly, but the last straw of this precarious twister position was the bus lurching forward and tugging me right along with it.
I went down — fast. Replaying that moment now, I see it in slow motion, my vision crystal clear from the adrenaline coursing through me. I see the horror flashing across the faces of the women crowded above me as I slipped down, backwards into the crack between the moving bus and the three-foot-high cement wall of the bus station. I remember arms being extended, but it was too late. I couldn’t find anything to grasp onto, and I found myself under the bus, its back wheels approaching fast.
The whole thing must have lasted 20 seconds; maybe only 10. The fact that the bus didn’t crush me under its wheel must have meant that the driver reacted nearly instantaneously, saving my life. I imagine the women must have been screaming at him to stop, but in that moment, I was deaf to their cries. Everything was abruptly silent in the shock of that moment.
It was my amazingly good fortune to have been toward the front of the bus, because when the women started yelling to the bus driver, he was able to hear them immediately and reacted quickly. Now the arms did reach me, hoisting me out of my precarious position and back onto the safety of the platform. I was shaken and bruised, but able to walk away from the incident essentially unscathed. I gave the police a report of the accident, assured the bus driver that I was fine, and went on to catch a cab and make it to my class, arriving there just 15 minutes late.
This brush with my own mortality made me immediately realize that I am far from invincible. Life is so precious, and I resolved to be more careful with mine. Yet risk is inevitable, and living a risk-free life is both an impossibility and an illusion. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are, and sometimes it doesn’t even matter how careful you are.
Living in Mexico, I'm often asked by my friends and family about security. How do you stay safe? Sure, I’ve gotten things stolen from me before, but statistically, the greatest risk most of us face is that of getting run over by a car, which can happen anywhere in the world. The reality is that things do happen, all the time. We don’t know where danger may await us, and oftentimes it’s far out of our control.
There’s no use living in fear, so after my class that night, I got right back on the metro bus to take me home. I was shaking internally, but I was going to have to face these fears. So perhaps the most surprising thing of all was to fall under a moving bus and then to get over it.
My accident has not radically changed my life in Mexico City; I still ride the metro bus nearly every day. While riding just the other day, in fact, I was distracted by my phone ringing. I nearly lost my balance answering it when an older woman reached out, held onto my arm, and, smiling, said to me, “Yo te agarro.” I got you.