How To Survive The Suicide Lane

by Victor David Sandiego | Published: Feb 01, 2023

When I first crossed the border between the United States and Mexico in 2011, driving a Toyota Matrix, I was startled by how the semi trucks, coming from the opposite direction on a two lane highway, crossed into the middle of the road to get around a slower moving vehicle. There was enough space on the shoulder to avoid a head on collision (I’m here, aren’t I?), but I didn’t know at the time that “sharing” the middle of the road was an accepted practice.

These days, I do the same thing. When I travel the highway between Dolores Hidalgo and San Diego de La Unión, I pass tractors and slow moving truck junkers by straddling the no-man’s zone between one side of the highway and the other. Oncoming traffic moves over. I know the drill and so do they.

When I was a kid, the shared middle was called the “suicide lane”. But at least it was an actual lane, not just a cultural agreement. California, where I grew up, abandoned suicide lanes at some point as too dangerous, yet when I crossed the border between the United States and Mexico in 2011, I was sufficiently naïve in the driving ways of the world outside of the U.S. to understand that the whole world didn’t have the same traffic expectations as me.

I have lived in Mexico for over twelve years. Certainly long enough to have become acclimated. Occasionally, I get a twinge of strangeness, but I hardly think of Mexico as odd any longer. It’s just the way it is. I suppose I’ve gone native these days. In my book, it’s either that or you run back to the border screaming.

In the spirit of Christmas, I recently gave three cops money to say thanks for their vigilance during the year. I would never in a quadrillion million years attempt the same in the states; they’d be all over me with fucking punk and bribery charges before I could say politician.

Of course I’m not. A bribable politician, I mean. I’m just a guy driving on the sidewalk (hey, only two wheels, it's okay) to let a bus by. You do what you have to do. And yes, I am in agreement: a one way street is just a suggestion. I buy exposed raw meat with flies resting on it and shrug: the frying pan will kill whatever they left behind. I step over stray dog crap on the sidewalk and only think about how the poor leftover canines, abandoned or lost, don’t have enough to eat. [I've adopted several street dogs, but that's another story.]

There’s more. Lots more that seemed really strange twelve years ago. Today, I barely bat an eye.

People, livestock, and carts in the street. Hey, the road's not just for cars. You need to relax and let them pass. It does no good to get upset. Besides, you ever ram a cow with a car? The cow wins.

Roof dogs. They bark all night but I remember the words of a Mexican friend of mine who asked: Why do you listen?

The idea that time definitions are flexible. When somebody tells you they'll do something tomorrow, it really means in some indefinite future, if at all. Now means possibly in a while. Right now means probably in a while.

Information. If someone in the bank or an office tells you of a policy you wish were different, just come back the next day and ask someone else. You usually get a different answer. Same idea with asking directions on the street. People want to help and don’t like to say that they don’t know. You learn to distinguish between guesswork and certainty. Either way, it’s thank you and onward. You can always ask someone else.

All of this adds up to one thing: acceptance. There are so many cultural differences between Mexico and the United States that it would be a Herculean task to mention them all, even if I didn’t still reside in a state of ignorance regarding many of them. I have learned to accept and to trust that what might be different or unusual for me is a normal way of life for everybody around me.

Acceptance and trust are key. Without them, you either need to live in a closed island community of ex-pats (not why I came here), or live in a constant state of frustration when people shake their heads at your insistence that something ought to be handled another way. I’ve seen that latter type and they don’t seem happy.

As for me, I go with the flow and as a result have come to appreciate that despite cultural differences, we all want a lot of the same things. If I must take a detour to get there, that’s okay. I’ll enjoy the scenery along the way.

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