I met Tony in the TAPO bus station in Mexico City (there are four large bus stations in town). I was waiting for my bus to Oaxaca, which was scheduled to leave at 6:30 p.m. and didn’t arrive until about 1 a.m. ($388 Mexican pesos, which at 13 pesos to the dollar, was about $30 dollars U.S.). When Heidi looked up the bus schedules that morning, I was aiming for a bus that left at 4 p.m., but by the time I got to the station at 2 or so, that bus was completely sold out.
Tony had been in the station since 7 a.m. for his 13-hour bus ride back to his hometown of Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital town of the southernmost Mexican state of Chiapas. His bus didn’t leave until 7 p.m., so he was going to do a smooth twelve hours in the station and then another thirteen on the road. He said that Christmas traffic was to blame and I didn’t doubt him, given the crowd at the station.
He spoke excellent English. For a number of years, he lived in San Luis Obispo, California, doing various jobs. When I sat down on the floor next to him, he immediately struck up a conversation on a variety of topics. In this situations, there are really only two possibilities – the person striking up a conversation is so boring or annoying that you have to make an excuse to get up and leave or they are interesting enough to make you want to talk to them for a couple hours.
One makes this decision in less than two minutes. Tony was definitely the later.
Tony had crossed the border a number of times, both legally and illegally. Before 9/11, he said he talked his way over the border at a crossing from Tijuana. The border agent stopped him at the crossing and asked for his passport. He spoke fine English, so he told the agent that he’d just been in Tijuana for a friend’s bachelor party the night before and that someone stole his wallet, so he didn’t have any ID. The border agent took Tony to see his supervisor, who was a blond haired, blue-eyed, attractive woman in her late 20s. Tony apparently flirted his way over the border. Whether true or not, I thought the spirit was admirable.
Dating was a subject he had some opinions on. It seemed that Tony was an equal opportunity dater. While in the U.S., he had a German girlfriend, one from London, and an Italian one. I asked if he’d had an American girlfriend, but he said ‘foreign’ women liked him more.
He had moved back to his hometown of Tuxtla a couple of years ago and was living with his girlfriend from Honduras (his luck with foreigners continued). They had just found out a couple of weeks ago that she was pregnant. He was quite excited about the whole thing, but he was a bit nervous that he hasn’t met her parents yet.
He had been in Mexico City finalizing details of his second job, which was as a regional manager of some fast-food restaurants all around Chiapas. The prospect of making some reasonable money was exciting to him – he was saving up some money, so that he could buy some nice gifts for his girlfriend’s family before he went to meet them for the first time. His other job was as a recruiter to the local university.
He wants to go to law school in the near future (he appeared to be in his mid-20s), because he ‘wanted to make a difference.’ I may be slightly jaded about my profession, but I certainly admired his desire. He said the law school program was five years and that he could do it during the day, while keeping his manager job at night. The degree program was a combination of your undergraduate degree and your law degree. You could go on past that to get your Doctorate of Laws, which is actually what all of us lawyers in the States have (J.D. degree, or Juris Doctor).
As a side note, I had heard this Doctorate of Laws stuff a few years back, when I was visiting Germany. Apparently they have the same sort of split law degree education that Mexico has. Because I was a Doctor of Laws, they viewed me as some sort of impressive person. Occasionally when I mentioned to Germans that I was a lawyer, they asked if I had gotten my doctorate – as all of us U.S. lawyers had, of course I said yes. It didn’t mean much to me, but when I’m in Germany, I do want to be referred to as “Herr Doctor Hodson.” I take the respect any way I can get it.
In any case, back to Tony. He originally wanted to be a policeman, but after talking to a couple of his cousins, who were Federalies, he decided on law school. Apparently when he told his cousins that he wanted to be a cop in order to make a positive difference, they were less than impressed. They replied that he wasn’t willing to be a dirty cop, he’d probably be dead in a few years. Pretty much everyone who I talked to in Mexico felt that same way about the police. They were everywhere – I’d literally never seen more cops or cop cars in my life, anywhere – but there is still a huge crime problem all through Mexico.
When I asked Heidi about the strange dichotomy of seeing police everywhere and still having a very high crime rate, she replied, “most of the time, the cops are the ones causing the crime.”
Tony also liked to talk politics. He educated me a little bit about Mexican politics – he liked the new President, but there were already frequent rumors that he was being paid off by the big narco-criminals. He was also shocked that the U.S. had elected a black President over a white woman, Hillary, and a white man, McCain. The people he talked to in his hometown thought that it said a lot of good things about the States, that we’d been willing to elect a black man President. Can’t say that I disagree with him on that.
All of this conversation wouldn’t probably have meant too much to me, except that Tony went above and beyond in the middle of all this chatter. It was still a couple hours until my bus arrived and he asked if I had reserved a hotel room in Oaxaca for the night. I told him that I hadn’t yet, but I was going to go to the bus station’s internet café and see what options were out there for me, since I was going to arrive so late.
So I went to look up various hotels on the internet, sent some emails to some of them asking about rooms, and wrote down 5-6 telephone numbers to call, although I didn’t have a cell phone. While I sat there for an hour or so looking stuff up online, no hotel replied to my email, so I tried calling a couple of the hotels that had toll-free (800) numbers on pay phones. Even with my very, very rudimentary Spanish, I understood that they were booked and I didn’t know enough Spanish to ask for other hotel suggestions.
I went back to where Tony was waiting and asked him a favor: would be mind calling a few of the non-(800) numbers on his cell phone and ask them room availability for the night? He immediately said, “no problem,” and started dialing. He got me a room on his third call. He thought I was paying too much for the room (about $60 U.S.), but I told him it was fine, I just needed to make sure I arrived in the middle of the night with a place to stay.
I thanked him over and over and offered to buy him dinner for his favor, but he’d eaten while I was at the internet café. He said that he didn’t believe in karma per se, but that he thought there was no good reason to not be helpful to someone that needed some help.
It is really refreshing to meet truly nice people that are being good for no particular reason. I’ll never see Tony again in my life – we didn’t even exchange email addresses – but I’ll remember his as the first act of random kindness on my journey.
One of my friends wrote about change from the inside out not long ago — hope that meeting Tony changed me a bit for the better.