Compounding the problem of finding one's way in Mexico City is that old bugaboo: Mexican pride. "There is not a single living Mexican who will admit he doesn't know where someplace is," says Bernard Diederich. "They'll always give you instructions if you ask, and once in a while they'll be right."
The mind boggles at what this frantically crowded city will look like at Olympic time. For three or four years now Mexico City has been the toughest ticket in the hemisphere for the tourist. " Mexico did not have the big budgets for travel advertising," explains Carlos Gutierrez V., "and the word got out slowly. But about 1963 or 1964 everyone suddenly discovered Mexico, and the city has been full ever since."
Mexico City stays perpetually behind the boom. Seven major hotels are being built, but only three of them will be ready by Olympic time; one suspects that the World Cup in 1970 is the real incentive. A subway is being dug under the middle of the town (with the assistance of the French), but it, too, will be unfinished by the time of the Olympics. There are varying theories on what will happen when tens of thousands of track and field fans converge on the already bursting city. "Chaos is what will happen!" says one Mexican official who, like almost all Mexican officials, declines to be identified. "Look out my window at the Reforma. It is chaos this morning, is it not? Imagine it at Olympic time!"
Mexican Olympic officials have already planned to turn back all North American drivers who show up at the border without confirmed Mexico City reservations and Olympic tickets. "And still they will come," says a harassed Olympic planner. "They will claim that they are driving down to Veracruz for a little vacation, and once they cross the border they'll head right for the Olympics. I feel sorry for them. There will be no place for them to stay. Every hotel in town has been booked for months."
Carlos Gutierrez V. takes a more optimistic approach. "You have to understand Mexico," he says. "We kid about you people from the United States, but deep in our hearts we like you very much. Now here is what will happen when your cars start arriving in Mexico City for the Olympics and the people have no place to stay. They will encounter instant hospitality. The people of Mexico City will open their doors to them. In fact, I will make a prediction. The impulsive North Americans who jump in their cars and drive down to the Olympics at the last minute will be the ones who enjoy the Olympics the most!"
"Yes," echoed Dan Sanborn from his offices in McAllen, Texas, "but they'd better be able to roll with the punches. Any old ladies better stay home!"
If you decide to be one of the adventurers who drive to the Games, listen to a final word of caution: Mexico City urchins, who used to be merely larcenous, have now turned enterprising. One of the street-corner services they provide is to repaint your car while you shop at the supermarket. They spray the paint from Flit guns, and they can make a 1957 Chevrolet look like a 1958 model in about 15 minutes. So be careful when a boy walks up and mutters something that sounds like, "Wash your car?" or "Watch your car?" He might be saying, "Paint your car?" There are some tragic stories about brand-new 1968 American Belchfires that got turned from beige to purple while the owners shopped for cornflakes.
We are back home now, and our friends say that purple isn't so bad, once you get used to it.