As I walk up to the unmarked stop in front of the OXXO (Mexico’s version of 7-11), I can tell by the already long line that it’s going to be a full bus. It’s either this or a two-hundred peso cab ride, though, so I dig out eight pesos for the fare and roll past the line of drunk gringos and Patas Saladas, finally setting up camp at the end of the queue next to the old man selling cacahuates to the tourists from a beat up card table.
It’s the same scene every night. The cast may change, but this prelude to the first act of the public transportation play we are all part of is nearly identical. Characters are introduced, the mood is set, and when the doors open to the accompanying roar of an aged diesel engine and a cloud of smoke, the play begins.
Tonight’s cast features a large group of tired Mexicans on their way home from a long day of serving tourists in one capacity or another, a gaggle of Canadians fresh from watching a hockey game at Steve’s Bar, several baby boomers in Maui Jim sunglasses and Tommy Bahama shirts, living out their Margaritaville fantasies one binge at a time, and a couple of nervous looking Americanos who quickly take the handicapped seats at the front of the bus and crane their necks to see past the driver for the whole ride so they don’t miss their stop and end up in Boca de Tomatlan for the night, by accident.
As I suspected, it’s a crowded bus, but I manage to swing into the window seat that is perched atop the rear wheel well and requires you to sit with your knees in your chest while you absorb the shock of every pothole and speed bump on the half hour journey. Beats standing, though, and my feet are already thanking me for the respite.
After I settle in, the seatmate lottery gets underway and I draw a drunk woman from Calgary as my neighbor in claustrophobia. She seems baffled by the lack of leg room and asks me if these seats are for “kids or midgets or something?”. I try to explain the wheel well concept, but she’s already getting up to move, so I abandon my spiel and say a prayer of thanks for her exit. A few seconds later, the woman from Calgary is replaced by a young, Mexican mother, carrying her sleeping infant in her arms. “Buenas noches.” she says with a polite smile. I return the greeting. She looks tired.
When everyone is settled, we ease onto the two laner that leads down the coast and for the next fifteen minutes, we bump along, stopping at every resort and condo complex to drop off the noisy, inebriated tourists until, eventually, the bus empties out and the only people that remain are me and a handful of locals.
As we pull out from the last major hotel, leaving behind the remainder of the Canadians, the bus gets quiet and I feel a warm weight start to push against my arm. When I look over, I discover that the young woman next to me has fallen asleep, relaxed her arms, and her baby’s head is now resting against me.
I hadn’t noticed much about the little boy when they got on because he was completely swaddled in his blanket, but now I can see his seraphic, sleeping face, peeking out from under jet black bangs and I can feel a small, sentimental pain begin to form in the center of my chest. I slip my hand under the boy’s head to support it and just watch him breathe for the next few miles while his mother sleeps.
God knows how to pick her moments.
Eventually, as we approach my stop, I wake the mother and she looks up at me, embarrassed by the situation. “Esta bien. Esta bien…” I say, smiling and trying to be reassuring in a language not my own. “Su hijo es muy guapo.” I say as I get up and move toward the door. “Que pases buena noche”. “Buena noche” she says, as I slip down the stairs and into the darkness.
Making my way up the road, past the tiendas and the stray dogs to my little house on the hill, I’m thinking about signs. I’m thinking about the visceral quality that some simple things can possess. I’m thinking about how fast something can change your outlook on the experience you’re having. I’m thinking about the weight of that little boy’s head in my hand.
It’s one of those scenes that feels significant, but I’m not entirely sure what the message is. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe the universe is just poking me so I stay awake…keeping me from taking small miracles for granted. Not everything has to be soul shattering in order to have meaning. Some things are just reminders to stay present to your experience so you don’t miss the things that matter…like sleeping babies on the night bus to Mismaloya.