Moms are still moms on Mother's Day. And dads are still dads on Father's Day. Teachers still teach on Día del Maestro (that's Teacher's Day, which is celebrated here in Mexico on May 15). Secretaries chug away on Secretary's Day. So why to taxi drivers get a day off on Día del Taxista, or Taxi Driver's Day, celebrated this past Wednesday?
Let me rephrase: It's not that they got the day off work, per se. It's just that they, um, don't work. And that makes getting around even a small town like Huajuapan pretty tough, seeing as how nobody has cars and how many of us work on top of a mountain and all. I live in the valley, and hoofing it up to the university takes the better part of an hour. But in a taxi, it's an easy, sweat-free ten minutes.
I usually have no trouble getting around via the collective taxis that will take folks up and down the mountain all day for the rock-bottom rate of four pesos (three cents USD). There are taxis patrolling the streets every morning when I want to go up to work, honking and flagging and clammoring for my business. The same holds true when I leave work in the evenings, though I usually choose to enjoy the mountain sunset by walking home.
Now there is some trickiness at lunchtime, when seemingly 1,500 university students, plus the teachers that teach 'em, all descend on the taxi stand at exactly the same time, each vying to get down the mountain to eat or run errands. And there's a high school up the road with another couple hundred kids that adds to the problem. But, even with that, transportation is usually pretty do-able.
At lunchtime, all 1,500 of us were left stranded while the taxi drivers were downtown celebrating their Taxi Drivers Day. There was the decorating of the taxis. Then there was a taxi parade. And a special taxi mass at the church. Not that any of us got to witness these things, seeing as how we were all stuck on top of a mountain.
Now, I'm not complaining. Everyone needs a day off now and again. Everyone needs to feel proud of their work. If anything, Taxi Driver's Day is a reminder of just how much we depend on these folks. An 80s hair band put it best: "Don't know what you got 'til it's gone."
But there was a compounding factor on Wednesday: A hugely-hyped Mexico-versus-United States soccer match took care of what shred of civil order was left in Huajuapan. When I finally made my way down the mountain (thanks to a friend who had the foresight to drive to work) and we navigated our way through the confusion of balloons and flowers and taxis that clogged the main streets, I walked down my block to a scene that was equal parts ghost town and chaos.
Businesses, usually open for lunchtime customers, were closed and barred. The din of cheering and "¡GOOOOOOOOOOOL!" could be heard from inside these establishments, coming from what were likely groups of men crowded around foil-covered-rabbit-earred televisions, downing inapporpriate amounts of canned beer, seeing as how it was 3pm on a work day.
The few businesses that were still open had propped small, fuzzy televisions at the entrances, broadcasting the game and drawing large crowds of men, women and children that spilled over the sidewalk into the street. At one locale, an enterprising local had taken advantage of the situation, hawking ice cream to the sweaty masses.
By about 5pm, the USA's defeat and the end of the match left much of Huajuapan clamoring to celebrate Mexico's victory, looking for, uh, taxis to take them to their favorite watering holes. Come quitting time at the university, the combination of soccer game revelry and Taxi Drivers Day would have left us all stuck -- again -- save for some smart folks who rigged up their pick-up trucks to serve as ad-hoc taxis.
I chuckled as I walked down the mountain, as trucks with loads of uniformed high school students whizzed by me, their cargo crammed into the back like cattle. My university students whistled and waved at me from the back of their shuttle-trucks when they passed.
I guess I could pursue a back-up career as a taxi driver if this English teaching gig doesn't work out. At four pesos a head, I'd pay off a pickup truck pretty quickly. And it wouldn't be so bad to get my own parade every once in a while.