I don’t often ride local buses, but I’ve discovered that it’s a great way to gain new insights on life in Mexico.
Since I don’t have to concentrate on avoiding a multitude of driving hazards, I can enjoy the luxury of observing sights, sounds and human behavior in my surroundings.
A recent sojourn from Chapala to Ajijic sparked reflection on how ingenious Mexican folks are at finding ways to eke out a living when formal nine-to-five employment is scarce or undesirable. This line of thought was inspired after two young lads dressed in matching fuchsia shirts boarded the bus. One carried an electric guitar, the other a shoe box size portable amplifier.
Wedging themselves against the seats, they stood in the aisle and began belting out lively Norteño tunes. They flashed engaging smiles as I pulled out my camera to snap off photos of the rolling concert. Of course, most of the shots came out hopelessly blurred due to constant shaking as the bus bumped along the highway.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen roving troubadours jump on a bus to sing for their supper, but the use of an electric instrument put a novel twist on the experience. The flashy duo was still crooning away when I offered a coin as I neared my destination.
A few days later I ran across the same fellows waiting at the bus stop across from the Chapala plaza, giving me chance to engage them in a quick chat and get their business card … just in case I want to book them for a private gig. Oswaldo Olivares and Angel Coronado told me they have played together for seven years, calling themselves Grupo Norteño Únicos Parientes.
They come out from metro Guadalajara frequently, finding that passengers on Chapala area bus lines are fairly generous tippers. “Many people give us five to ten pesos,” Oswaldo says. “We take home 400 pesos each during an average run out here. On really good days we have picked up as much as 1,500 pesos over five hours.”
Like the itinerant musicians, thousands, probably millions of people in this country have a knack for inventing freelance jobs.
There are the housewives who set up tables at their doorsteps to sell sweet and salty treats, fresh fruits and liquid refreshments to passersby. And whole families who run curbside cenadurias (after-dark diners) where hungry neighbors congregate to fed on pozole, tacos, enchiladas, sopes and tostadas.
Sit down for a spell at city hall and you’ll see peddlers pop into government offices to hawk all sorts of goods. There’s the kid who picks up change selling chewing gum and candy to officials. Various individuals troop from door-to-door offering home baked goodies and carry-out from restaurants or the local market. Smartly dressed ladies visit the secretaries to take catalogues orders for shoes, clothing, jewelry and fashion accessories, sold on weekly installment payment plans.
Out on the street you find wandering vendors selling bags of produce collected from their home gardens, men pushing carts loaded with barrels of home-made ice cream, the guy who drives a wheel barrow holding a tub of sweet potatoes and pumpkin cooked in brown sugar syrup. There are car washers who guide you in and out of parking spaces, street corner acrobats and fire-swallowers.
These may be tough ways to make a buck, but you can’t help applaud the humble people who apply genius, initiative free spirits to self-employment.