Friday, November 16, 2007

Business and Buses

As a native English speaker I was offered a job teaching for a company called ProEnglish in Guadalajara during the interview itself, not a week after I arrived. Industries with business ties abroad hire teachers to visit their companies to give small classes, normally before or after the workday. Among other benefits—a decent salary for Mexico, plus payment of transportation fees outside of the city—the position has allowed me to become one with public transportation.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the crack of dawn—the only time I ever put a scarf around my neck—I walk four blocks south to Washington, a few streets away from the looming Corona factory, and catch the 622 which makes a convenient loop west, sails north around the Minerva glorieta, and drops me a hop away from Nike’s administrative offices. There I instruct a peppy accounting executive from Chihuahua who begins every sentence with “Teecher!” and makes conversation at 8 a.m. (in any language) half enjoyable. She loves watching the slow-paced instructional DVDs that mimic American sitcoms, and makes me repeat a phrase ten times, noting it diligently in her idiom ledger.

“I talk HER out of it. I talk MY SON out of being a musician. SHE talked me outofit outofit outofit outofit.”

To reach Boehringer Ingelheim, a German pharmaceutical lab with a plant in the dismal industrial zone, I walk eight or ten blocks down to Independencia (which saves me a four and a half peso bus ride), and grab the 62A or 54, either route usually steered by kamikaze chofers who jet through tunnels and around cars a tenth their size like nobody’s business. They stop on a dime, the back door swings open while still in motion slamming hard into the side of the bus (Gabe, who in general disdains public transportation, said the bus door slamming is one of his favorite sounds; I prefer a screen door), and propel me down to the sidewalk, the sudden inertia stunning.

I teach the human resources director at Boehringer, a sweet, bright-faced woman who speaks English well and often walks me to the cafeteria and offers a strawberry popsicle, by far the most delightful fare of Mexican cuisine, surpassed only by pan dulce and tacos de pastor.

My saving grace is the least desired destination for traveling English teachers living in Guadalajara: El Salto, a town miles outside the city close to the airport, nestled in the surrounding dusty hills. The ride is 45-minutes on a gentle chartered bus that goes around Tlaquepaque and stops infrequently. I use the time to prepare for the class or listen to music; the air is fresh outside the city and feels divine on my cheeks. The mountains and housing developments roll by the highway, and the bus inches through small intermediate towns, clusters of poor roads and junkyards.

Because of the space many companies have plants out in the valley: IBM, Urrea (a Mexican tool manufacturer), Nassa (animal feed, I believe), and Wal-Mart’s distribution warehouse, whose loading docks stretch for miles. I stop at DSM, which manufactures nutritional supplements (animal and human) for Nestle and other food processing giants. The bus leaves me at a stoplight where the highway divides and I walk about a kilometer down DSM’s service road, flanked by electric fences and grazing cattle.

At the entry point I exchange my driver’s license for a visitor’s tag and sign the registry, and from there walk to a meeting room outside the plant’s storage facilities. I teach a group of four or five men, lab technicians with horrible social skills who supervise bi-monthly plant audits by their Swiss administrators. They are neither excited by the audits nor the English-language skills they must employ for them, so I generally spend the two hours trying to make them laugh.

One of the more garrulous technicians drives me to my bus stop after the night’s lesson, a man who, when asked to provide an example using the past conditional, once said that he met his beautiful wife as a result of sleeping in on the day of the entry exam for the prestigious university he wanted to attend, instead relegated to the lesser technical institute she attended (“If I had not overslept, I would have never...”).

I wait on the edge of the road next to a hotdog stand, flipping pesos in my palm until the yellow bus pulls up.

Coming back down the hills, Guadalajara at night is an infinity of lights and highways that flood the bus’s windows. Sometimes I can see tiny bursts of red and orange fireworks like little pinpricks in the dark sky, miles away across the expanse.

The bus is tired at this point in the night. The chofer keeps the interior lamp off unless someone boards the vehicle, and usually plays talk radio. I watch the sparkling city and rest against the window; I’m usually last off, and walk the eight or ten blocks back home down Niños Heroes, a boulevard choked with exhaust and home appliance shops. The Super Gigante grocery is the light at the end of the tunnel: a block later I turn down Bélgica, smeared with fallen oranges bulldozed by car tires, and walk up the stairs of my apartment building for supper.