Address Unknown

I’ve never had much of a sense of direction. If I walk into a room and turn around three times, I have trouble finding the door. I attribute this to the fact that I grew up in Chicago. It has relatively flat terrain and all the streets are laid out in a simple north, south, east, west grid pattern. The address numbers all increase going in each direction from two cross streets in the center of downtown. If your address is 4400 north, you are 44 blocks north of that central intersection. You don’t need much of a sense of direction to navigate the city.

I assumed this system was used everywhere. But then I visited my brother who’d moved to Roswell, Georgia. There was no grid pattern. The winding streets just followed the contours of the hills, valleys and meandering streams. I continually got lost just driving a couple of miles to the local shopping center. I bought a pocket compass so I could at least tell what direction I was driving. If you’re considering doing the same, don’t bother. Inside a car, the compass needle always points toward the engine.

Worse yet, many streets in Roswell had similar names in different locations. My brother found that out the hard way when he came home one day and found a 15-man roofing crew tearing the shingles off his house. He lived at 900 Hunter Hill Road. The roofing crew was supposed to be working at 900 Hunter Hill Trail, less than a mile away. That poor roofer wound up having to give my brother a $14,000 roof for free.

I never gave much thought to the address system down here in Mexico. But for the past few months, I’ve noticed that the mailman seems to have trouble delivering my phone bill. Twice now, I didn’t receive the bill on time, and had my phone service cut off. A month after I paid each overdue bill, I received two phone bills rubber banded together. One had been postmarked from the previous month, but never got to my house. I suspect it had been delivered to the wrong house and sent back to Telmex. They just waited until the next billing cycle to send me both bills.

Then, a few days ago, I was invited to visit a friend in Riberas del Pilar. The address number was 84. I figured the easiest way to be sure I could find her house was to drive to the westernmost end of her street and proceed eastward until I saw her address. But as I drove up her street, I noticed there was neither rhyme nor reason to the address numbers. I eventually stumbled upon number 84. But the next house down was 516. Then came 240, followed by 74. Do you suppose she ever receives her phone bills?

It suddenly dawned on me that I had never bothered to check the addresses on my own street in San Antonio Tlayacapan. Turns out, it also has some peculiarities. On my side of the street, the northernmost address is 246. The numbers gradually increase until they reach my house in the middle of the block. But then, for some unknown reason, they decrease until, surprise-surprise, there is another 246 at the south end of the same block. Roofers beware!

I realized that most of us down here describe locations using nearby landmarks rather than addresses. Gas stations, supermarkets, golf courses, and popular restaurants work well for this purpose. If your friends are religious people, churches are excellent landmarks to find your house. Specially in Riberas del Pilar, which seems to have more churches per capita than any place on the planet. You don’t even need to know the denomination of the church. One friend told me she lived across the street from the Anglican Church. Or was it the Episcopal Church? Or the Unitarian Church? Doesn’t matter – take your pick. They are all in the same building, with the same address. In fact, even the amateur theater group Bare Stage now shares that same building.

Catholic Churches are handy landmarks for finding city halls, but they are not particularly helpful for finding your friends’ houses. That’s because most of your friends know better than to live near one. There are too many ringing bells and exploding skyrockets, especially during the nine-day religious festivals, of which there are many. Even if you could stand it, your dog would run away and voluntarily check himself in to an animal shelter, miles away, in a Protestant neighborhood.

I’ve noticed that most businesses down here don’t even bother putting their addresses on their billboards and advertising banners. They know that most people down here just use landmarks. For example, if you were looking for the HSBC Bank, I’d tell you there’s one across from Walmart. If you don’t know where Walmart is, I’d tell you it is south of the intersection of the Carretera (main highway) and the Libramiento (bypass). If you don’t know where that intersection is, I’d tell you to just look for the most recently overturned dump truck whose brakes had failed coming down the Libramiento, and couldn’t make the 90 degree turn onto the Carretera.

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Larry Kolczak
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