When I first moved to DF, I had no idea how to get around. That is, until I found peseros. What is a pesero, you ask? Peseros are rickety buses that drive everywhere.They manage to support 60% of the transportation here in Mexico City and they’re quite an experience. After just a few short months of commuting on these little death machines, I was transformed from an overly frightened, idiot foreigner to a privy, street-smart voyager of the car-clogged roads of Distrito Federal. This miraculous transformation was not a painless one, however. It took getting lost numerous times, irritating a span of drivers and passengers alike, and surviving a couple close calls. With time I accumulated my own personal guide for pesero survival, my own rules of the road. Here they are:
Rule # 1: Jump on.
Okay, step out to the curb of any busy road. Wait for a pesero—you’ll know a pesero mainly by the neon-colored cardboard signs in the windshield. Peseros come in different sizes, so this is the best way to differentiate peseros from the many other vehicles in traffic. When you see one of these donning a neon sign, hail it over. Peseros will make insanely dangerous maneuvers (gliding across several lanes of a packed freeway to get to you, for example), so it’s best to hop on as quickly as possible or the pesero might speed away with one of your legs hanging out. You’ll get the hang of it.
Now that you have boarded more or less in one piece, it’s time to pay up. A pesero ride will almost never exceed ten pesos in DF, so if the driver asks for something higher, you should call him out on his bullshit. I recommend a good, angry NO MAMES GUEY! That seems to be the local go-to phrase.
Rule # 2: Find optimal seating.
Now you must find a seat. This can be tricky. You can’t spend too much time choosing a place because the handrails always seem to be tenuously attached. If you have ever wondered how a handrail was able to impale famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo through her back and out her vagina, that’s how.
Each commuter has their own personal sweet spot on a pesero. For me the optimal place to sit is right next to the window. Here I’ll be less likely forced to offer my seat to an older woman. Also from this spot I can adjust the window to get some desperately needed fresh air on those occasions when everyone’s packed in there like a tin of sardines and I feel like I might pass out. A window can be a lifesaver, but only if it isn’t jammed, which it often is.
Rule # 3: Learn the hierarchy.
In the pesero hierarchy, the driver is king, obviously. Pesero drivers, also known as microbuseros, range the gamut of Mexican dudes. You get nice guys, mean guys, old guys, regular working types, or the more frightening gangster types. Sometimes—many times—the driver is quite young—like still-in-his-teens young—which can make many trips pee-in-your-pants scary.
Pesero drivers do take one thing very seriously. Their pesero might have seats falling apart, but somehow they always manage to have a killer sound system. The very best thing is when you board a pesero and the driver is blaring diehard Mexican love ballads with no hint of shame on his face that his music might be more appropriate for heartbroken schoolgirls. These men are fascinating to me. I’ve seen these men get on their knees, eyes tearing up declaring their love to their novias, the same guys who five minutes ago might have cat called you with obscene gestures on the street. You have to see it to believe it, or just date one like I did.
Rule # 4: Observe general safety precautions.
Microbuseros are notoriously insane drivers. Adding to the terror of embarking on one of these coffin-on-wheels is that there are dozens of these maniacs swarming each stop at any given time. This is because they’re privately owned. There’s a reason passengers frequently call out, “Somos personas, no borregos!” to the drivers (Incidentally, I know of some sheep and goats in the San Francisco Bay Area who get the royal treatment in comparison). As in any private market, the peseros have to compete to pick up clients. So they’re constantly trying to pass each other, playing a game of road-rage leap frog.
Microbuseros will also try to squeeze through tiny gaps in traffic. When two peseros try to do the same maneuver at once, you’re in for a pretty lethal game of chicken. I’ve been in peseros watching as their paths converge together, only inches separating them. I have looked over to the other pesero at the mortal fear on the faces of its passengers, even the color of their irises. At the absolute last moment before total carnage, the driver will always stomp on the brakes, throwing half of us passengers across the cabin. The rule here? Learn how to pray.
The second close call was actually one that I observed. It was another passenger, an older gentleman. He looked tired, worn out, and plopped down into a seat. Within a few minutes his head sagged forward. He was out. Suddenly, the pesero driver, having lost a game of chicken, slammed his brakes. We all grabbed something to brace ourselves, except for the unfortunate man. Completely limp, he flew forward and slammed into the seat in front him, face-first. I made a mental note: never sleep on a pesero.
My final close call taught me the downside of being a cheapskate. I was in a peserito. I decided not to pay the usual eight fifty they charge going in that direction since the opposite direction only charged seven pesos for the same distance. This driver had a rope-and-pulley system that he used to pull the door closed behind passengers getting out. He must have seen that I jipped him at the last moment and yanked the door closed before I was fully exited. The heavy metal door crashed against my hip and practically broke me in half. Lightning bolts shooting up and down my side, I stumbled out into the street with the damned pesero driving away in a cloud of smoke. I decided right then and there to never dupe a driver again.
One might wonder how peseros even exist when they’re so uncomfortable and dangerous, when they cause so much traffic, when they’re a major source of smog in one of the world’s most polluted cities. You’d think that in a metropolis as big as DF, the transportation thing would be taken care of. Yet this thrown-together harem skarum economy continues to trek on. How else would millions of people get in and out of this beehive of a city every day? You have to learn to surrender to the masses and go with the flow. Sure, it’s chaos, but it’s a beautifully orchestrated one. I have accepted it, I have embraced it; I think I have even found the comfort, that cradle, in it.