I was reminded of this man later when a sarape peddler approached our car at a gas station near Mexico City. "Tell me," I said, "what do you think about the Olympics?"
"Oleempeeks?" he said. "What ees Oleempeeks? You wan' buy sarape?"
The simple unvarnished truth is that the average Mexican is utterly bored by the subject of the Olympic Games. He is not going to make any money from the event, nor see it, nor contribute anything toward its occurrence. He has nothing to contribute and little interest in the individual contests of the Games. But if you want to get your ears talked right off your head, mention another coming international event to the average Mexican: World Cup soccer in 1970, to be played in the giant Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. "That is just the way it is," a sophisticated Mexican explained. "Every one of my countrymen plays f�tbol, but very few vault the pole."
As the time of the Olympics approaches, Mexicans seem to be converging on the nation's gas stations, there to lie in wait for the fat-cat gringos the way Billy the Kid used to lie in wait for the midnight rattler out of Durango. This is the closest the average Mexican will come to making money off the Games, and it is sad to report that there are certain service stations along the main highways that are staffed with brigands who would do credit to a Willie Sutton. They will pump rotgut gasoline into your car from a pump painted the bright yellow reserved for the best Mexican gasoline: Pemex-100. And you will not know about the switch until you get 20 miles down the road and the engine starts complaining. They will shortchange you and convert your dollars to pesos at an outlandish (and illegal) rate. If you ask them to check the oil, they will push the dipstick an inch short of all the way in, and "fill" your crankcase from empty cans. They will neglect to turn the handle backward on the gas pump, and before they put a drop in your tank you will owe for six gallons. There is one station in Culiac�n that specializes in this technique, and I fell for it. A pretty dark-skinned girl in tail-twitcher slacks engaged me in conversation about checking the oil while one of the bandits began pumping gas. Our tank has a capacity of 16 gallons and it had not been empty when we stopped, but the pump rang up a total of 18 gallons. We paid for it. At El Gallo gasolinera south of Hermosillo, the attendant shortchanged me by 10 pesos, and when I demanded the difference he smiled wanly and handed over the missing note, tucked into the palm of his hand. His manner said that it was all a game, and why get excited? You don't get excited. But you pay attention and take Dan Sanborn's advice: "Watch everything that goes on in a Mexican gas station, and don't let them work on both ends of your car at the same time."
Happily, Mexico's gas-station grifters are not representative of the people as a whole, and the government has done an efficient job of cutting down on the traditional hustlers and cons in this Olympic year. "The American who goes down there expecting to get robbed or cheated any minute is no longer reacting realistically," says border insurance man Colbert Glenn, "and furthermore he's not going to enjoy all the wonderful things that Mexico has to offer."
"But there is a certain kind of American who takes the attitude that everyone is out to get him," says old Mexico traveler Hector Villarreal, "and, boy, how the Mexicans hate that attitude!" The ugly American seems to abound in Mexico, perhaps because the traditionally low Mexican prices attract a traditionally low type of tourist.
"The Americans are always the loudest ones in any restaurant or public place down here," says an expatriate, "and you get so sick and tired of them looking down on the Mexican from the great imperious height of their wisdom, asking questions like, 'How much is that in real money?' and 'What the hell's the matter? Doesn't anybody speak English around here?' People like that should be sentenced to spend the rest of their lives ordering dinner in Spanish in Decatur, Illinois!"
Just when you think you have learned something about getting around in Mexico, you reach the limits of Mexico City and discover that you are a hopeless nincompoop. Nothing in your driving experience will prepare you for Mexico City. "Never again will any man discover a place like this," one of Cortes' soldiers said as he gazed down on the place for the first time, and you will have exactly the same feeling. Mexico City has seven million citizens, making it the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world, and sometimes it seems that Mexico City also has seven million streets, no two of them parallel, lighted or marked. You must enter Mexico City with a map at the ready, and not a mere map of the major streets alone but maps showing each section of town in microscopic detail. Otherwise, like Mrs. Bernard Diederich of the Lomas section of Mexico City, you may head some morning for the supermarket, get in the wrong lane on the Perif�rico (belt highway) and take 2� hours to find your way back.
If your first arrival in Mexico City is at night, you will wish you were dead. We plowed into town at about 8 p.m. and spent one hour getting into the middle of the city on the Reforma—the Broadway of Mexico City—in the most ferocious dog-eat-dog traffic jam I have seen since the start of the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Having made our way to the middle of the city, we then took a solid two hours to get to our midtown motel. (Later retracing our route on a detailed map, we discovered that we had passed within two blocks of our motel at least a dozen times before finding the exact combination of one-way streets, multiple right turns and violations of the law necessary to reach it.)
Mexico City drivers have the arrogance of the Germans, the slapdash nonchalance of the Italians, the piqued pride of the French, the bumbleheadedness of the English and sometimes the high skill of the Japanese drivers. They zip in and out of the six lanes of the Reforma like race drivers, cutting you off, tailgating you and then holding up their clenched fingers at you as they go by (this is an obscene gesture in Mexico City and no further details may be provided). "They'll bully you to death," says an American who now lives in Mexico City, "and the only way to handle them is to bully them back. If you hesitate, you're through. You've got to have guts. Close your eyes and step on the gas, the way they do."