If you drive east on the road from our apartment you'll soon hit a busy intersection. Four to five rows of traffic cross over another four to five rows with left turns here, and right turns there, and a melee of what is usually orderly chaos. During rush hour, a traffic cop stands at one corner and monitors the lights in an attempt to keep traffic flowing smoothly. Recently a nearby primary road was closed for construction, so that's added to the heavy traffic here. And a fancy new technological plaza on the southwest corner is in the final stages of construction which has added to the congestion all summer.
In the midst of the cars, bikes and motorcycles wend vendors and beggars of all stripes. During the early morning hours a man in a red jumpsuit limps along the center strip of the south side hawking the daily news. He's followed most afternoons by a worn, quiet woman who always wears a solid-colored long-sleeve top and a full-length skirt, her rusty hair caught up in a ponytail that's stuffed through the back of a baseball cap. In one arm she carries a big clear bag full of small sacks of sunflower seeds, candies, and Japones (peanuts in a crunchy salty-sweet carb shell). In her other hand she holds a green hand-marked sign, "Semillas, $5" (seeds, five pesos). Sometimes the vendors sell cotton candy, sometimes model kits of the Eiffel Tower. Before Independence Day on September 16 there were a slew of miniature Mexican flags and other green, white and red paraphernalia.
Some vendors provide a service. You see a lot of folks with a squirt bottle in hand in which is soapy water. With a quick eye they catch you unaware and squirt it over your windshield, then take a little squeegee and deftly wipe the suds and dirt away--for a few pesos, of course. Others might want to give you a swift car-dusting with a soft pad. Some simply hand you a flyer advertising new businesses or housing developments.
And then there are those who have nothing to offer, but would like something from you. The beggars tend to walk quietly, stepping up to your window with a polite bow, hands pressed together before them. They have little but a rolled rug at their sides, held in place with a strap over one shoulder. The other day a young boy in a white buttoned shirt trotted down the line of cars his forefinger held up and a call coming from him that I couldn't hear. To the side of the road on a bench sat two haggard women and a younger girl. I assume he was with them. As the light turned and our cars moved forward I glanced back, hoping to see the boy had jumped back up on the curb. The adults who navigate the cars are betters skilled at judging the lights. They know not to trust the drivers to watch out for them.
Hanging from a telephone pole on the southwest corner is a white bike, its front wheel missing. Over it is attached a forlorn wooden sign with "Cuidado" written on it and a drawing of a bike. I learned the meaning of "cuidado" very soon after coming: "Have care; be careful." It's a sober sign, and yet more often then not, one of the vendors has slung his bag over the place where the missing wheel was once attached. It has become a convenient holding rack.
Life and death collide at the intersection.