Upon Having Returned from Mexico

One of the great things about going to Monterrey, Mexico is that it is not a tourist destination. It is a growing city in the desert, with what looked to me like good infrastructure and sprouting towers and housing developments all over. One of the most exclusive neighborhoods in all of Latin America is named after the Apostle Peter and is found in Monterrey. The city has quite a few universities and is an industrial center, besides having a medical reputation. The airport, for all that, is not a rambling, bewildering beast. Business travel, private, and chartered flights is probably all. I noticed American businessmen, laborers in the back of the plane, and well-to-do Mexican families mostly, all compliant in masks.

It was a surprise to me how many people comply with the masks in the USA. It is irrational, and yet it is insisted upon. You have to be tested and demonstrate a negative result to get onto a plane coming back. So they test you, they verify, they know you are negative and in the announcement that tells you they still want you to wear the mask they tell you they still don’t care. You can hear them say they don’t care about your test and your vaccine. And they still require you wear the mask because they are required to require it. It is the most irrational thing of the whole irrational business: even if you test negative, even if you have the vaccine, wear a mask.

I realized on the flight out that enforcement still depends on a few certain types specifically, and generally on the public conventions of behavior. And so, the flight back was much more enjoyable and mask free. Most decent people don’t want to be singled out, but most decent people don’t want to enforce it. Which leads me to this conclusion, if you are mentally prepared for the few (in my case, one) who enforce it rudely (there will always be such people in the coming together of crowds), you are prepared to buck the propaganda.

Zooming out from just the face-barrier, it all makes sense. This is the society that can be oppressed by slogans, that is farcically reduced to negotiating with perverts about pronouns and designations, that reminds me of the early days of blogging when tone was all and argument not as highly disputed or valued. It is Hanlon’s razor (so much wiser that Ockham’s): there is no conspiracy, rather there is incompetence behind it: posers and opportunists are being empowered. Decency exists to make it difficult for such to get ahead. It exists to put more barriers and blocks in their way. But at the moment decency is not serving that purpose. It is a means without an end, and it has been coopted to other ends, it seems to me.

Could it be that it is airline travel that has reduced us? In Atlanta, Delta’s hub I understand, we had a close connection. We scrambled to our gate and were in the line to board upon arrival. Everybody was seated, everything was stowed, the security video played, and then the co-pilot told us it would be another while before we left because we were still waiting for our captain who was taking half an hour to traverse an airport we had gotten through in fifteen minutes. It ended up being an hour and a half before a pilot was located on a flight coming from Cancun, landed, got through customs, and boarded the plane where we were all still waiting for him. It is a complex thing to run an airline: so many people, so much luggage, so many airplanes, so much crew, not to mention the regulations under which they groan. No doubt from time to time it happens that a flight is scheduled without the one most crucial person for it all. Nobody complained; we sat meekly in our facemasks waiting, getting all the entertainment out of Delta’s limited, corporate options.

Thus occupied, we were given our customs form to fill out. The thing about the Mexican form we filled is that upon arrival many of us had to be sent to the side to finish filling them in. The Mexican customs form has a top part, and then it tells you the middle is for official use. What is not as obvious is that there is still another section you fill out at the bottom of the form. The layout is that way because the bottom part detaches, and you need to keep it to get back out of the country: it is your visa. (I wish that the officials managing the lines at customs would check on that instead of being there mostly to enforce the ban of cellphone usage; which made me wonder what eventuality has cell-phone usage in the past occasioned). While we were waiting for our designated pilot to straggle over to our fueled-up and packed-up plane, we were also given a health declaration. (When my neighbor asked the flight-attendant for a pen, it appeared that this also was not a service Delta provided.) This piece of paper was later seen waved at officials in Mexico by various passengers at several of the progressive stages of customs, immigration, and baggage claim. It appears the only planned destination this important formulary had was that which mine reached later in the day: the garbage. I think the affinities between the Mexican bureaucracy and the people running Delta are quite striking.

Life can be difficult in the desert, but it can also be pleasant if you can coordinate the necessary power and the water supply. Malls are thriving in Monterrey. They are enormous and growing, every locale filled, every escalator clogged as people are carried to the level of consumption to which they have attained. Because in Monterrey the full range of consumption is available—you can buy a handful of chilies on the street for a dollar or get that expensive pre-digested coffee you hear about all the time at an upscale grocery store. You can ride in a bus with no air-conditioning or in the comfort of a Tesla; from rattletrap to latest tech; Monterrey has gamut, we might say. It is a technological hub.

In the biggest mall a security guard did a double take when we walked by. Perhaps he was checking to see if I had a legitimate reason not to wear the mask: eating, drinking, the below-the-nose alternative, or just being an intimidating person. None of the above fit my description; I just had freedom. He didn’t say anything till we had passed him, so I didn’t have an exchange with him about science or freedom or coherence. But he called out afterward, faintly, so that for a while I complied. Perhaps he was just surprised. They take your temperature when you enter most places (the more informal, the fewer the protocols), they wrap the waiters up in facemasks and shields, and they make you sanitize the soles of your shoes as you go in. At one point in the past year’s coronavirus contortions, they stopped my parents from going to their usual grocery store because of their age. Too old and vulnerable. How are they supposed to get their groceries? They had to switch tactics. They have a place, no kidding, actually called S-Mart there (you would think that alone would be enough to make it a tourist destination but does anybody know that they have such a location?). And so S-Mart for a little while got their business, but not (alas!) their loyalty.

The good news is that however broadly you can enforce irrational conformity, and whatever its damaging results in the long run, you can only enforce it so much. There are natural limits to it all. Delta used to love to fly, it no longer shows. And if you want to see what it will look like if we continue on as we meekly do, you can probably get an idea by going to Monterrey. What I can’t guarantee is that we will have an S-Mart.

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