When driving in Mexico, you will encounter el tope. It’s a speed bump that is very unique to Mexico. They come in all shapes and sizes. They actually resemble a speed hump, but they’re actually taller and wider so it takes longer to drive over them. My cousin Mara’s neighborhood has so many topes, that she calls it Topelandia. In America, we also have speed bumps or speed humps. Usually their existence is often linked to petitions. About half of all Americans will petition to have speed humps placed in their residential neighborhoods in order to slow down traffic and make the streets safer for their children. After the construction of said speed bumps, the other half of the residents will petition to have those speed humps removed in order to speed up traffic. Besides, parents should be watching their children so they don’t play in the streets! You either love them or you hate them. I mean the speed humps, not the children.

Most of the time the topes are clearly visible and you must slow down before approaching them to avoid totaling your car. Occasionally, you don’t see one because it hasn’t been painted and you drive over it too fast. Your car bottoms out and all your passengers hit their heads on the car roof. It happens to the best of Mexican drivers every so often. It even happened to me. Everyone complains about the topes, but they’re there here to stay. You just have to accept them. Driving over topes would make great astronaut training. The only place they don’t have them is on the toll roads that lead to America, otherwise no one would pay to use these toll roads that closely resemble American highways. Without those topes, Mexican drivers would drive even more recklessly, if you can even imagine that! I absolutely hated driving over them. The topes, not the Mexican drivers. But I did have a few close calls. With Mexican drivers.

When I was younger, I never slowed down when driving over speed bumps or speed humps. In fact, if I drove over them at regular speed, the speed bumps felt less bumpy the faster you went over them. And they never damaged any of my cars, all of which I drove until they were totaled in accidents, none of which were my fault–I swear. I remember always driving full-speed ahead over the fourteen railroad tracks at 55th Street and St. Louis Avenue on Chicago’s south side and feeling less jolts than when I drove over the tracks slowly. I don’t know who said you should slow down over tracks, speed bumps, or speed humps. You should go over them as fast as possible to feel less bumps. That’s why cars have shock absorbers! I now have a car, a 2005 Pontiac Vibe, with a wheelbase so short that I can ride over speed humps or topes without actually having to slow down! It’s actually kind of thrilling! You go up and down rather quickly, much like an amusement park ride!


My Mexican Passport

When I was a boy, my mother took us all the way to Mexico City by train from Chicago in 1965. We took one train to St. Louis where we spent the night sleeping on wooden benches until our next train departed for Laredo, Texas. In Laredo, we boarded a train toward Mexico City.

What I remember most about this visit to Mexico was my uncle’s fascination with American culture, particularly how important brushing one’s teeth was. He wanted to know what kind of toothpaste I used, what kind of toothbrush, how many times a day I brushed my teeth. He asked many other questions about our life in the U.S., but nothing mattered more to him than American dental hygiene!

Anyway, when we were packing to return to Chicago, my mother announced that my uncle was coming back with us. All he packed was a small handbag that was very light. When the train arrived in Laredo, my uncle showed his documents to the authorities and slipped them some money. Everything was fine until we arrived in St. Louis. Some important-looking people boarded the train and questioned my uncle who presented them with his documents. The authorities then asked my uncle to go with them. I never saw my uncle in the U.S. again. I remember carrying his little handbag home and wondering what my uncle had packed since it was so light.

When we got home, my mother took the handbag for safekeeping. I was never to touch it or look in it. We would give it to my uncle when he would finally arrive in Chicago. Every now and then when I would snoop around in my mother’s bedroom closet, I would see my uncle’s handbag, but I would never open it. One day, I couldn’t resist the temptation anymore. So I looked in the bag. All my uncle had packed for his trip to America was a toothbrush and toothpaste!