COLUMN: Motoring in the land of mariachi music

I’m guessing the lack of windows may have been a cost-cutting measure, if not a sensible nod to the tropical climate.

Quick… what do cars, pneumonia and Mexico have in common?

Blanking on this one?

Pass the peyote buttons.

No seriously, there’s a thread here, although you’d have to go to Mazatlan to understand it.

And then you’d need to be up for one of the more wacky taxi rides you’ve experienced.

Allow me to explain…

The now-traditional annual father/daughter expedition, which has taken the gal and me down the west coast of this continent over the past several years, saw the pin poked into a map of Mexico this time.

Sun and surf during the first week of spring break seemed a stellar idea.

And thus, carrying an appropriate measure of guilt in leaving mom at home, off we set.

In the first moments of a stroll down a main road sidewalk in Mazatlan, the unique taxis are obvious.

They look like golf carts, with attitude.

All of them are white, windowless except for the driver’s windshield, and sport only a frilly canvas top for a roof.

Faced with long shipping delays to get auto parts from other manufacturers back in the ’60s,  a local family struck upon the idea of importing VW engines and chassis parts, and putting fiberglass bodies on them.

I’m guessing the lack of windows may have been a cost-cutting measure, if not a sensible nod to the tropical climate.

Nevertheless, the irked drivers of conventional car taxis warned tourists that they’d get pneumonia if they rode around in the airy bugmobiles.

And hence, the label “pulmonia” – pneumonia in Spanish – stuck to the little cars, literally. They all carry the name on a side panel, along with their cab number.

Making these oversized soup cans with wheels even more fun is the music.

Mazatlan is a mecca for boom boxes. Explore the shops surrounding the downtown market, and you’re assailed by music from all directions – at mega volume.

And the drivers of the pulmonias are not to be outdone. Most of them carry a sound system that would make Motley Crue jealous, jammed into the front passenger footwell, or bolted into the little back cargo area.

Imagine whipping along in traffic with a dozen other mobile boom boxes, all thumping out their own brand of tunes, from mariachi bands, to reggae, to Led Zeppelin, to 1980s disco. Much to my dismay, we managed to find ourselves with a driver who had a thing for the BeeGees. “Shoot me,” said my teen. “No, me first,” I answered.

With the greatest of respect to those who have mariachi music in their blood or background, I now understand why tequila is so prominent in Mexico.

Anyway, as you might guess, the mechanical soundness of these tourist-toting sewing machines runs the gamut from polished and purring, to gritty and grinding.

One of our drivers monitored his fuel consumption not via a functioning gauge, but on gut feeling, which was a bit off that day. We sat and waited on some nameless sidestreet while he and his five-year-old son, who was riding shotgun, walked up the road to get some gasoline in a plastic bottle.

And the driving? Exhilarating was a good word for us. Cheerfully coronary-inducing would be more fitting for others.

How they manage to dart in and out of  heavy traffic, with scant inches between bumpers and fenders, and not become scrap metal, is really quite awe-inspiring.

Here’s something else interesting about Mazatlan. Opposed to other worlds of madcap motoring, say Rome, for instance, vehicle horns are not directly connected to the accelerator. Drivers in Maz may be mildly maniacal, but they’re mellow maniacs, rarely ever yelling, gesturing rudely, or blowing their horns.

B.C. road-ragers could learn something from these folks.

Roll down the windows, turn up the music, and relax!

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