Ah, the Mexico City Metro. The stories we share.
I wasn’t born there. I moved to the City of Palaces well into my 20s. Many others have ridden these trains for decades, to the point of a subway being either another ordinary thing or one of the unsung wonders of the City.1 I’ve always been in the latter group.
My affection towards the Mexico City metro is, of course, deeply connected to my affection towards the City itself. I was just a small kid when my mom and aunt took us to a concert, by none other than the National Symphonic, right in the middle of Chapultepec Forest. Ever since then, I’ve always seen the City as a cave of wonders, always having some sort of treasure.
Over the years, I went on to more frequent trips. The bus trip was short—about an hour and half, shorter than many peoples’ daily commute—and the major bus stations are directly connected to the Metro network. This allowed me to visit family and friends, apply for the oldest University in North America, have my first real stereotypical college party, book shopping runs… Always something new.
But the City and its metro were just a means to a specific end, they weren’t part of my daily life. True, I never had to deal with the morning rush, weather-based delays, potentially drunken football2 fans, or even lonely stations. But this also meant that the City/Metro still had some of its smallest, most intimate and precious moments still hidden. As one of my Twitter-friends said one day:
People living outside Mexico City, where there’s no subway: how do you even meet your girlfriends?
Years later I ended up living there. Not for a few days, or on vacation. The City and its transport became my daily, «9 to 5 with weekends off» routine. It was, like any other adventure, both exciting and scary: being dropped in a city with 20 million other inhabitants was a trial. I had to learn to live here, as quickly as my schedule allowed.
The metro was key in this. Having fixed and very predictable routes made for an excellent tool for exploration: whenever I wanted to go somewhere all I needed was the closest station and maybe the area map present somewhere near the ticket booth.
But nothing could accelerate learning past a certain point. Learning to live in this City was a slow process and so was using its transport. I needed to know not only major streets, boroughs and neighborhoods—which is always a given in any new city—but the logic behind the metro being built in the way and direction it was. In one particularly embarrassing moment, I did a 2-hour commute with 2 line transfers for a trip that could easily be achieved in about 20 minutes in a single bus ride. This City would teach me to actually learn its ins and outs and not just rely on superficial knowledge to get around.
Once I got used to it, the next phase happened passively. The map and its key points were slowly ingrained in my head, just like the dos and don’ts of the living concrete jungle around me. Instead of consulting a map, I would know, for instance, that a) my workplace was in the westernmost line of the network, b) that my client’s office was in the south, c) that the easiest metro trip would take me about an hour and half, and d) the actually fastest route would need me an Ecobici trip before hopping on to the trains.
No more looking at maps, no more wondering whether I should take the train to or from, say, Observatorio station. Now I had learned to quickly recognize the signs, project my trip onto them and see whether I should take this door or the next one. This had the multiple advantage of making my own trips shorter, of not interfering in others’ paths and minimizing the risk of being targeted by pick pockets.
In time, the metro and its City had transformed me. The old Andy who used to worry about buses stopping at 8 PM would now go for a late dinner with drinks, confident that there’s trains until midnight. My hunting grounds expanded, my outings became more daring and I would even work all-nighters for Wikimania 2015 on Thursdays, knowing well how to get to my day job on time and get some shut-eye before everyone else got it.
The metro has seen me drunk, worried, excited, hurried, asleep, horny, hungry, weak and strong. It’s taken me to the posh streets of Condesa and the dangerous streets of Peralvillo. More than any other place, it’s seen the best and worst of me. The museum will always be a happy memory, and the old “Chinese Palace” movie theater will always be a bad one; but the metro encompasses all.
I wasn’t born here, I had to learn to use the metro. But I chose to live here, I chose to ride these tracks. I made my adult, independent life here. I made this City mine and this City made me hers. And the metro lay, hidden beneath the skyscrapers, sculptures, parks, scum and rats, as a fair but harsh reminder of our shared Home that we call Mexico City.
Inspired by a particular ReQuest: «Andycyca: tell me about your favorite station on the Mexico City Metro». While writing the proper answer (which will come later) I stumbled upon this idea of mine that has been making the rounds in my head and drafts for a while now. It was about time I got it out of my system.
My anecdotal experience is that the former group is made up mostly of people who have never lived anywhere else and people who cannot imagine their lives without a car of their own.
The latter group, I find, has lots of people who have lived without such a versatile transport system. Yeah, there’s lots of things wrong with the Mexico City metro, but boy it’s amazing to have reliable, cheap and well-connected transport for about 19 hours a day.
«Soccer» for some of you.