September 17, 2008. Guadalajara, Mexico. Day Four, Destiny.

Static. The alarm clock made its presence known by sputtering out distorted voices and wihte noise at well beyond the acceptable decibel level of the human ear. It was 6:00 a.m., Central Time and today was my first day to venture out to the IBM site for work. I went to bed relatively early the night before so I was feeling extremely rested and relaxed. I turned the alarm clock off and thought about what my day would be like.

The desert was beautiful. The sun was still low on the horizon and it cast long shadows before the sand dunes as I sat atop my trusty steed. I wanted to take my shirt off and wear it on my head like they do in the movies, but as I reached back to pull it over my head I was unable to feel the fabric between my fingers. Oh well, no matter: As I watched the rhythmic moveements of the muscles in the back of my horse’s neck I caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my right eye; something fast. There was a gigantic camel spider, and it was running full speed towards me. Before I had time to react it was already leaping through the air, screeching like a pterodactyl. I reached across and unsheathed the machete from the left side of my saddle. In a single motion I brought the blade across my body and down in a path that would intercept the creature. Suddenly I found myself staring at the belly of the beast as it hung, suspended in mid-air, my blade cleaving its body in two. The faint red glow emanating from its thorax read 8:00.

I leapt out of bed and shook the dream from my thoughts. It was now 8 a.m., although luckily the alarm clock was set 15 minutes fast, so I was not yet late. Speaking with the local engineers the evening prior, I learned that most people arrive on-site between 8:30 and 9:15; which gave me just enough time to throw on some clothes and head downstairs to grab a taxi, conveniently waiting in front of the hotel. The man who greeted me inside the taxi asked where I was going in English, so without hesitation I said “IBM”. His response was an expression of pain and confusion on his face as he turned away from me. There was a long moment of silence while I looked around for a seatbelt, he soon turned around to face me and said, “¿A donde?”. So his knowledge of English was a trick… I had to recall the Spanish alphabet as I slowly spelled out, “E, Bay, Emmay”, which he understood and off we went. I still couldn’t find a seatbelt…

My first taxi ride in Mexico was from the airport to the hotel. It was rather late at night and there were very few cars on the road. This, however, was an entirely different experience. As we emerged from the hotel block we immediately came to an abrupt stop amidst heavy congestion. The main road’s four lanes were at a stand still with bumper to bumper traffic, and the service roads on either side were in the same condition. Since I had only been awake for approximately twenty minutes I was way too tired to pay attention to what was happening outside of the taxi, all I knew was that there were many many abrupt stops and swerving in and out of lanes. My eyes may have been closed, or I may have been in a deep haze and not noticed the taxi driver’s style of driving, because honestly I don’t remember thinking anything out of the ordinary.

40 minutes later we made a left turn over two lanes of highway traffic and entered the IBM/Foxconn/Sanmina-SCI/Hitachi technology campus. As we pulled up to the guard gate, the men checking badges motioned to see mine. Oh dear. I frantically searched my laptop bag, as that would be the most logical of places for me to have stored it. It wasn’t there. I was horrified as I realized that in my rush to get out the door of the hotel, I forgot to look for my badge. The taxi driver was directed to the visitor’s center, where I needed to get out and sort out this situation. So to the desk I proceeded, where I was met by two employees. One female, and one male. Neither of whom spoke English, and neither of whom could understand the preposterous Spanglish phrases that were spewing from my mouth. I felt like just going home and laying in bed for the rest of the day, as I felt utterly helpless.

Suddenly a golden ray of hope shone upon me as I heard, “Do you need some help?” asked of me in a Spanish accent. I looked to my left and lo and behold, my ticket inside was standing next to me. Now in retrospect, I have no idea how I would have gotten into IBM on that day without forgetting my badge, as I would never have met this man, who not only got me past the visitor’s desk, but also took me to the security center to get a badge and subsequently through the catacombs of the building to the offices where my IBM contact was located, acting as my personal translator the entire way. It was hard to stop thanking him the entire way, as I was dumbfounded at my lack of preparation on my part; yet I was also amazed at my good fortune.

Once I was safely inside the IBM office area, I settled into my desk located in a long, winding continuous cube of 10 occupants, which we will refer to as a cube-snake. As if that weren’t enough people to share a single space with, the “front wall” of the cube isn’t even at chin-height, so you effectively share your cube-snake with the next cube-snake of residents, with your new best friend sitting across from you and staring into your soul. I found that putting my laptop in the corner of my desk allows me to avoid staring directly into the eyes of the person in front of me; however in doing so I gain two additional sideways glancing friends, always using their periphery vision to make sure you aren’t concealing any weapons and in the process of launching an offensive. Boy am I glad this isn’t my permanent work environment…

I ate lunch that day with a number of local employees that were a healthy mix of engineers from IBM, Sanmina-SCI, and Foxconn. They spoke completely in Spanish, were extremely vulgar, and full of jokes. We laughed almost the entire time, and my Spanish comprehension steadily grew. Furhter more, something dawned on me this first day, which explained a big mystery. Up until this point I had been eating my lunches around noon, and always found that no matter what establishment I went to, they were always completely empty. I was always utterly alone as I ate. While I may have known this as a boy, I had completely forgotten that in the Spanish culture they eat later than those of us from the United States (usually between 1 and 2 p.m.). In the very least I could declare one mystery solved… Even though I still can’t figure out why people love to make out everywhere, although I have yet to see any IBM employees gratuitously making out on-site.

What I have discovered since this first day has been that eating later in the day is actually quite advantageous. Not only do you come back to work with only 3 hours ahead of you instead of 4, but you also seem to want to eat less when it comes around to be dinner time, thereby making the potential for eating something light like a salad even greater!

After my first day of work, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I got a healthy reminder-dose of Spanish, got boat loads of work done, met new friends, and learned a lot in the process. When it came time to leave, I had my IBM contact take me to the reception area so that the receptionist could call for a taxi on my behalf, which only took about ten minutes to arrive. I opened the door, sat down, and told the driver to take me to Hotel Presidente. This car did not have any seatbelts in the rear, just like the taxi from that morning, but I was not concerned as I didn’t know what I was really in for. I have the feeling that if I would have relayed the information to the taxi driver of this being my first “official” taxi ride between IBM and the Hotel, he would have turned around to face me, emitted a deep, brooding laugh and then peeled out, fishtailing into two cars in the process.

As we left the IBM campus I knew something was awry. The driver’s knowledge of how to drive a stick shift seemed limited, as the car jerked to and fro. As he steadied our bearing down the highway I peered through the front windshield, to bear witness to the six lanes of barely moving traffic ahead. The strange part however was that I didn’t see anywhere for the highway to split from three lanes to six. As we got closer, not only did the driver not care to slow down in the slightest, but I realized that the six lanes of traffic were in fact still three marked lanes, with the cars packed so tightly together that they created their own fourth lane. Where did the other two lanes come from you may ask? Well that’s simple math children, as four lanes, plus two shoulders equals six lanes of usuable space. Why let that crumbling edge of the road go to waste? I fully appreciate the fact that they are getting the most out of their tax dollars. So much so, that the next time I’m in the States and see one of those “Your tax dollars at work” signs on the highway I’m going to do donuts around it and then dig it up and mount it to my hood. If my tax dollars were used to buy that sign I think that I should own it as well as use it as a battering ram to teach cars how to drive faster.

We were well into the thick of this mess, which you could call highway grid lock, when the driver started demonstrating what I like to call the four-way merge law. Apparently, in Mexico the law is that when you are going to merge into another lane, regardless of on which side it is relative to your vehicle, and regardless of how fast you are traveling, you must only use your four way flashers to signal the merge. Any use of a single turn signal is considered weak and gutless. I guess I should have paid more attention before when I was riding in taxis so that this law didn’t surprise me in the manner that it did. Now let’s clear this up before anybody tries to complain: the driver was using his turn signal as we traversed and exited the IBM parking lot, so they were fully operational as we got onto the highway. This is just the law. I also began to notice that as other cars came within inches of running us off the road, they too were using their four-way flashers instead of turn signals. Nice.

Further pushing my mind into the realms of terror and shock, I found that it is completely common place to lacksidaisically drift half-way into adjacent lanes of traffic when there is an unoccupied space. Not only does this declare you as victor of two lanes at once, but it also give you twice as many opportunities to use your four-way flashers, thereby proving exaclty how gutsy you are. Any vehicle over ten feet long is also considered to be not deserving of occupying an entire lane all to itself. If a bus or tractor-trailer is mid-merge, and has yet to occupy the entirety of its recently chosen lane, it is considered good form to block the merge process by forcing at least half of your vehicle’s volume into the unoccupied section of its lane. Anything less is considered to be proof of no skillz. The final law that I was given the honor of bearing witness to was the full-speed law. This law states that at any point when you are not completely stopped, you must travel at that which is considered to be full speed for your vehicle. After starting and before stopping you have exactly five seconds to get from zero to maximum speed or vice-versa. The quicker that this transition between full-speed and zero can be performed, the easier it is to prove your worth as a driver.

One final note about seat belts. While the backseats may lack the devices, the front seats retain their straps of safety. It has thus been rather common place for the taxi driver to only put their selt belt on after exiting the highway and entering the slower-moving, denser city streets. This is possibly to avoid getting eaten by dinoaurs, because when you wear your seatbelt it is a well known fact that they cannot see you. So after forty minutes of white-knuckle, teeth clenching, four-way merging, full-speed stopping and starting travel I was rather spent. I kindly paid the driver and headed back to my room. Once my body tremors had subsided and I was able to breath normally, I changed out of work clothes, put on some gym shorts and headed to the Olympus Club gimnasio. I was fully prepared to do a long and relaxing work out, which I typically like to begin by doing 30 minutes of cardio. Unfortuntaely for me, somebody else in the gym had an entirely different idea.

I was keeping to myself doing my cardio and watching CNN as a young fellow entered the gym. He looked to be in his mid to late twenties, and he was carrying a clipboard and a Nalgene bottle full of an unknown liquid. Now I’ve seen people like this before at ever single gym that I’ve stepped foot into, so I paid him no mind. With my ninja senses I observed him retrieve three sets of dumbbells, and subsequently reposition a weight bench into the exact middle of the open floor area. He then proceeded to commence his strenuous workout. He picked up his first set of dumbbells to do curls, and immediately started grunting. Actually, he wasn’t grunting he was moaning. In fact, moaning doesn’t even describe the noises that he was making. This was obnoxious, loud grunt/scream/moan/crying. I wish I could have recorded this guy. I mean, every single rep from his first to his last in each and every set was just ridiculous. No matter what he was doing, he kept making this terrible noise. I could not take being anywhere near this guy, who was also by the way completely in love with himself and would stand in fromt of the mirror after every set to flex. Twenty minutes into my workout and I had to leave because I just couldn’t take it. I returned to my quarters to unwind by watching some riveting Golden, only to find a true gem being played. 007: You Only Live Twice. Fantastic way to spend the evening I’d say.