I ran straight up the mountain today, shredding my lungs for fifteen minutes until I reached the top. I don’t think I’ve recovered from my 800 meter repeat workout on Sunday morning after a late night out in the city. I played a different mental game on each lap of the 850m track and I started tasting iron in my mouth after the third. Today as I was running back home through the traffic and smog, I saw an old man running towards me in short shorts and a blue running tank. As we passed each other he nodded and pointed at me and I replied with a thumbs-up. I don’t remember the last time I gave someone a thumbs up, but it was the right thing to do. It hasn’t here rained for the last three days, and the dusty dirty air makes it feel like I’m sucking down an exhaust pipe when I run or walk home on the busy street that runs in front of my apartment.
I’ve spent the past two weeks trying to learn this city and develop a mental map of where I live. Two weekends ago I jumped on the metrobus in front of my house and rode it until I felt like I was getting close to the center of the city. I got off the bus, asked where I could catch the subway, and then started off in that direction. I was almost immediately approached by a small older man carrying a plastic bag. He said that he heard me ask for directions and that he’d walk with me if I wanted because he was going in the same direction. We had been walking together for a couple of minutes before he started to tell me his story. He said that he had come to Mexico City from his home in Silao because he had heard that his father was missing from the elderly home that he was living in. He said he was robbed of all his belongings his first night in the city and had been living at the bus station ever since. He said that he was walking to send a telegram to his family so they would come and get him, and he said that he was eating when he could. I told him that it just so happened that I had recently got back from Silao, and his face lit up and he asked me about the giant Jesus on the mountain behind the city. I told him I visited the Jesus but I didn’t go to mass and he seemed happy.
We were at the end of the boulevard and he turned to shake my hand, saying goodbye and that he was headed off to the right. He told me that if I took a left I would hit the subway in a few blocks. Then he just walked away. I took a few steps towards the subway and then I stopped turned around and ran back towards the old man who wasn’t that far away yet. I handed him 20 pesos and said good luck, and he thanked me and walked away. Almost immediately I found myself hoping that he didn’t just fleece me, and figured that either his was a deeply sad and disturbing story, or he was the best con artist I’ve ever met. It didn’t take me more than a block to change my mind and hope that he’d been scamming the shit out of me.
I spent the rest of the day walking through wide city streets lined by huge colonial buildings, leaning on metal railings in hot subway cars, and trying to keep my feet as the metro-buses jerked their way through traffic. Everywhere I went was crammed with people. But it was beautiful. I wandered into churches, courtyards, plazas, through markets, and in and out of cafes and restaurants. I’m sure that I could spend every weekend here in Mexico trying to discover this city, and I would only be able to cover a small fraction over my nine months. It seems like around every corner there’s a shop with tacos and tamales and at every bus stop there’s another heartbreakingly beautiful girl. There’s a lot that I can’t stand in this city, and I know that I wouldn’t want to live here for much longer than I’ve signed up for, but when I was sitting in a church in Coyoacan and looking up at the history of Jesus’s life painted in murals, I was happy with where I found myself.