On Saturday, we set an alarm for 7 AM to get up and go for a short run before the hoards arrived. (We don't try this on weekdays because we'd have to get up too fucking early.) I was surprised at the empty streets and was actually able to enjoy being outside for the first time since last Sunday.
Encouraged by the evening and early morning forays, I determined to revisit my aborted mission to replenish our supply of coffee beans.
Yeah, I know. Coffee is not essential to my actual survival. But it's more important to me than almost every other substance. I guess if it came down to life or death, I'd prioritize drinking water or some source of calories. But let me put it this way...I'd go without wine before I'd go without good coffee.
Since the bars closed on Thursday, I've been thinking that the coffee shops could be next. Motivated by livid daydreams of Mexican grocery store coffee or Nescafe, I set off. Since taxis are no doubt coated in spittle and the Subway is out of question, I planned on walking the 2.8 kilometers to the source.
I'd been to the hipster coffee shop neighborhood in December, and I was pretty sure I could find it again. Poodles had shown me on a map, and I'd looked it up again myself. So I resolved not to use my phone until I actually needed it.
At first, my chances of maintaining my distance looked auspicious. The neighborhood seemed quieter, and I was able to make it seven or eight blocks without getting too close to anyone.
I've got an excellent sense of direction. Usually. But Mexico City, in all its muddled Byzantine glory, is an exception to that rule. It doesn't help that I'm cocky about my ability to navigate by sight and always think I'll be able to figure it out. To make a long story short, I wandered off track and found myself on a busy six-lane street.
The corners were choked with taquerias, ladies frying gorditas, and juice stands; the air was smoky and made my mouth water. Strung along the hot, dirty thoroughfare, the neighborhood seemed funkier than Poodles's lower middle class block. Old men were selling used clothes and broken toys on the sidewalks and junkies of unknown denominations were skulking in the eaves. Most people ignored me and went about their business, but I noticed I was getting a few speculative looks--that particular brand of male gaze that is simultaneously predatory and unwelcoming.
I figured I was just unusually sensitive because being around so many people was freaking me out. Or that's what I told myself as I made myself even more of a mark by taking out my phone and pulling up Google maps. Which is when I discovered that my phone was out of credit.
By the time I found a mini mart where I could buy more phone credit, I had walked several kilometers out of my way. I was sweaty, short of breath, and imagining all the little sticky nodes of covid-19 floating through the air and clinging to my skin and hair.
My actual home is in a remote area and I've noticed that I sometimes develop a sort of low level agoraphobia. I get anxious about dealing with civilization, crowds of people, fluorescent lights and canned music. It manifests as indecisiveness and a kind of breathless abandon.
Typically, I only have this problem if I'm alone and it's been a while since I was in a town. After a few days of traveling and spending time in cities, I get used to the commotion, and the nasty feeling goes away.
Right now, I'm four months into a trip and I've been around people the entire time, so I was surprised when the agoraphobic feeling suddenly came pulsing back with a crazy vengeance. My heart was pounding and every person I saw seemed like a menace. I clutched my hand sanitizer with a wild look in my eye, and the guy behind the counter clearly thought I was crazy.
(If this sounds like an overreaction, it totally is. I think I'm being waaay paranoid and I've been mostly hiding inside for two weeks, which is probably overkill since the quantity of confirmed cases here is still really low. But the more I read about it, I'm actually pretty worried about getting covid-19, mainly because I am prone to serious respiratory infections and generally have a weak-ass immune system. I don't want to end up in a Mexican hospital or, for that matter, an American hospital that I absolutely can't afford.)
I cleared out of the mini mart at a frenzied clip and tried to find a deserted street, but instead accidentally ran into an outdoor food market. After backtracking to avoid the plague-carrying eaters and the delicious smell of carnitas, I finally found my way to Roma and calmed the fuck down.
Now I was on a wide, gracious boulevard with a walking park as a median strip. As I'd imagined, this more affluent area seemed less populated. Mostly just hipsters out walking their dogs, though some sidewalk cafes were still doing brisk business. I don't spend much time in Roma, so if it was hard to say if it was markedly quieter than usual. But it certainly felt like a respite to me.
I walked around fountains in little squares below blossoming jacaranda trees. I saw two friends laughing over lunch at a cute cafe. I passed a promising bookstore and was suddenly overcome with longing for the not-so-distant past. A wistful envy of the people who were going about their lives, eating brunch and browsing in bookstores. Instead of, like, on a sweaty sprint to hoard coffee for the apocalypse.
At some point, I realized that my janky Mexican phone (or possibly janky Mexican Google) had completely misdirected me and I had walked another two kilometers out of my way. But by then I was more footsore than frantic, which was an improvement.
As for signs of the times? A bearded man and a girl in nerd glasses were selling handmade hand-sanitizer in front of a fancy lunch place. And...the coffee shop was closed.
Naturally, I did not give up. Naturally. Wearily, I hunted down another hipster coffee roaster that was on my radar. I'd been to Quentin (because of course it is called Quentin) before, and the shop had been full of people, but now it was empty. The barista wore a black t-shirt and looked bored until I started piling bags of exorbitantly expensive coffee on the counter while brandishing my hand sanitizer. Then he looked a little scared.
On the way home, my phone again misdirected me and sent me ten blocks out of my way. The final distance? Eight miles.
Anyway, if I end up with a deadly virus because I'm picky about coffee, just remember it was my own damned fault.