#070: Short Changed in Mexico CityTak's dispatch released on 12 July 2016

Mexico City Airport Landscape

The green light fires and you are on your way past the customs officials in the Mexico City airport. After withdrawing from the ATM, you locate a small convenience store and buy a water to break your larger bills into smaller ones, aware that you will most likely need those to purchase your bus ticket.

The electronic doors slide open, exposing you to the humid air and sound of heavy rain. “Taxi! Taxi!” clashes with your ear as you walk past the taxis in an effort to locate the M3 Metrobus to bring you downtown. You find the ticket machine hiding just beyond those taxis. The machine wants 40 Mexican Pesos (“MXN”), or a little over $2USD. You have the exact change due to your cunning water purchase but the machine is not accepting bills. You only have bills.

You wander back inside the airport and head to the Starbucks to convert the bills to coins. The cashier asks her co-worker who then involve their manager. It is causing commotion, for small change. You just want some coins. Finally, after a bunch of discussion, they motion it cannot be done.

The Carl’s Jr fast food restaurant located next door beckons. You go through the same process except this time the cashier, after closely inspecting the bills, opens the register and hands you a large pile of coins, 40 pesos worth.

Now back outside at the ticket machine, the process of inserting the newfound coins begins: 10 pesos, 12 pesos, 17 pesos, 30 pesos and finally 38 pesos. You are out of pesos. The machine wants 40 pesos. You are supposed to have 40 pesos. The Carl’s Jr. exchange shorted you two pesos, no bus ticket.

Typically this is the point where you hit the return change button, and figure out a way to get the two pesos in coins, but, boldly stated on a sign is that the machine does not return change. Based on the low volume of people using this machine—you haven’t seen anyone around it yet—you think you could walk back to the Carl’s Junior and explain the shortfall or buy something else and get more coins. However, that plan is quickly thwarted by the blinking warning that the transaction will expire in 10 seconds unless you hit a button.

So there you are, standing in a darkened concrete prison hitting a button every 30 seconds to continue the transaction, keeping your 38 pesos from being devoured and sending you back through the change and coin adventure. The only thing that can make this worse would be the M3 Metrobus pulling up.

Your eyes dart around for a possible solution and you realize that the easiest solution—given the machines location between a car park and the terminal—may be to turn into a beggar. It is, somewhat disconcerting to beg for money. Exponentially worse feeling is arriving from a developed “first-world” country where the average disposable income is more than 400% more and asking for money from someone who is probably just scraping by.

“Cambio, cambio por favor,” you announce in your terrible Spanish to a man walking to the car park. He pauses as you quickly hit the Spanish button on the bus ticket machine and point at the 40MXN fare vs the 38MXN deposited. You make the “I have no money” motion while he is probably thinking you own a jet, three yachts and a palace in Miami. Can he spare the two pesos or .10USD equivalent? He inspects the machine as if it is the problem, mutters something and shrugs. “Gracias,” you announce and shrug back as if the problem is overly complex. While this is all going on you keep hitting the “continue transaction” button which continues to pop up.

A middle-aged woman dressed in work attire, probably hourly, is walking towards the airport. “Cambio,” you note and go through the motions. The “expiring transaction” warning again pops up; you hit the button to continue. After some back and forth, she digs into her purse and pulls out the two pesos. “Gracias, mucho gracias,” you announce hoping she can understand your gibberish. The caution sign is blinking again as you throw in the two peso coin. Nearly simultaneously, you dig out your wallet grasping for the lone dollar of US currency. But she has already turned and is scurrying towards the terminal.

“Pardon!” you exclaim, poorly translating obscure English into bad Spanish via bad French. You fight a sinking feeling as she disappears. It seems often that the countries with less wealth have more.

The mostly empty bus pulls out of the airport with the rain drops streaming across the windows, obscuring the view.

Welcome to Mexico City.

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Internationally-published photographer with a passion for creative food, fine products, unique cultures and underground music. Twitter / Instagram / Email

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