I saw the ground staff pull the bearded stranger out of another queue and direct him to my bus. ‘Direct,’ he said to the stranger. ‘No stops to Los Piramides’. The stranger looked at me as I started the engine. ‘Los Piramides?’. I nodded and began to reverse out of the bay in Mexico City’s Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte. 45 minutes to the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan.
About four hours later I was driving the route back and the stranger got on at Teotihuacan. He slumped in the chair just behind me. I could see in the mirror that he was a bit red-faced: it’s a very hot day and climbing those ancient step pyramids is hard work for those not used to this altitude. I sat there idling until Maria had done her work. She came on board and left packages of sweets and biscuits, stapled together, next to every passenger. The stranger looked puzzled. As she came back up the corridor she either collected the packages or ten pesos from those who wanted to eat on the journey. I kept the engine idling. Miguel came on and walked down the corridor selling bottles of water.
I put the bus in gear. Next stop: the bus station in the town of San Juan de Teotihuacan itself. A few passengers got on, and then the officers. Heavy boots, dark uniforms, sullen expressions. The stranger looked nervous. One walked down the corridor with a video camera held above his head, filming everyone on the bus. The other walked grimly behind, making fierce eye contact with each passenger, asking only one for his identity papers.
I started her up. Next stop, the corner of Camino Real San Juan, before we turned onto the 1320, the main road back to Mexico City. I hooted and Pedro downed the rest of his drink and hurried aboard. When we were on the motorway he leaned against the seat back of the row opposite the stranger and took his guitar out of his bag. The stranger looked interested. Pedro began to sing. The stranger looked resigned. Pedro is a good guitar player but he lost his voice at least a decade ago. He played some tuneful love songs, croaking the words all we Mexicans know. He got off at the tollgate to rapturous applause and jingling a respectable haul of coins in his bag.
That was it: straight back to the terminal. In Mexico, the bearded stranger was realising, a bus isn’t just for travel, it’s part of our daily life.