The first thing you notice about Mexico City is the traffic.
The world’s 5th largest city, packed with 21 million people in the metro area, and all of them seem to be in their cars… headed to exactly where you are going… at the same, damn, time.
But the commute to the office was nearly 2 hours each way.
So, I spent a lot of time in the car.
The company doesn’t recommend we take street cabs for safety reasons, so we usually arrange transportation from the hotel. My chariot for the week was a 1989, rust-brown, GMC van.
My driver was Benjamin Santiago Hernandez.
Benjamin’s face was worn. His hair was full and big, and grey… like a talk show host that didn’t quite make it… Long lines of experience ran across his forehead…. wrinkles of wisdom crisscrossed beneath his eyes.
His face was orange, but not from a tanning bed. He must’ve grown up on the countryside, and worked with his hands. I guessed he had a hard life… one that made him doubtful and disbelieving.
As Benjamin took my bag and greeted me, we shared a few lines of conversation in Spanish. We talked about the traffic and the weather. And my work… el tráfico y el tiempo y mi trabajo… I figured he didn’t speak English.
He just didn’t look like he did.
After a minute or two, Benjamin asked me where I was from. (This is always a tricky question because technically, I suppose I’m from Cincinnati, since I’ve lived there for 8.5 years now… but whenever I’m in foreign lands, my mind reverts to Home…)
“Soy de Texas,” I said.
“Oh, Texas! Great! That means you’re part Mexican, because Texas was a part of Mexico until 1836, and today Mexicans make up more than 30% of Texas’ population.”
Ok, clearly, Benjamin spoke English.
Over the next three days, I spent my congested commutes learning about everything from Toltec traditions and Olmec religions, to the geology of volcanoes (Mexico has 43 of them, 2 active) and the history of tequila.
Forget tour guide, Benjamin was a living, breathing Almanac.
Benjamin started every story by saying, “Well, here it is…” LOL… That inner talk show host was alive and well.
He doused every answer with anticipation and built every sentence a showcase… like he was sharing a special secret or unveiling a private punchline.
On my last day in Mexico, he convinced me to take the day off and take a trip out to Teotihuacán, ‘The Place of the Gods.’ Teotihuacán is 2000 years old. It holds centuries of memories, teachings, and prayers… He told me I needed to see its pyramids before I left, because who knew when I’d come back…?
When beauty and knowledge are within reach, you have to grab them… Embrace them.
It was a great experience. In Teotihuacán, I polished obsidian from nearby volcanoes, learned to make paper out of agave plants, and spent twice my airfare on some local souvenirs.
I topped off the afternoon by climbing the 250 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, the 3rd largest pyramid in the world… It’s always peaceful when you’re closer to the clouds.
It had rained all week, but that day was beautiful. That day was perfect.
Benjamin’s face was worn. Long lines of experience ran across his forehead…. wrinkles of wisdom crisscrossed beneath his eyes… He had a big, big smile… one that reminded you of the little things… one that helped you laugh at yourself.
He spoke English eloquently, and often.
At the airport, we said our goodbyes, and Benjamin told me simply, “Don’t worry too much. Just follow your heart… Vaya con dios.”
Never discount anybody. Never overlook anyone. Everyone we meet is important, and every interaction has potential… People can surprise us when we let them…
A single word can change your mood… A simple conversation can change your life.
Gracias por todo, Benjamin.