The other day we were passing the Mexican naval base just north of town, and a half-ton truck was pulling out of the gate. The big open cargo box was empty except for two marines in battle dress standing with their rifles at port arms looking over the top of the cab.
It reminded me how often I've wondered why I see so many Mexican men standing in the backs of cruising camionetas (pickup trucks), even when there's plenty of room to sit down.
I asked Norma, who cooks for us a couple of times a week and sometimes helps us over cultural speed bumps like this one. Her instant reply was that Mexican men ride standing up because nobody tells them they can't.
But she couldn't say why they would need to be told, considering that it's more comfortable and a lot less hair raising to lower your center of gravity on roads that are cobbled, rutted, potholed or punctuated by actual speed bumps. Most streets here are at least one of the above.
Norma assures me she never rides standing up, and she's pretty sure it's against the law, but the police never say anything.
Well, why would they? The police themselves are the biggest offenders. Their trucks prowl the streets of Vallarta bristling with heavily armed officers glowering in every direction. Some of their vehicles are even designed to facilitate standing passengers with a padded grab-bar frame over the truck bed to reduce the chance of personnel attrition on sharp turns.
Thinking about these municipal squads and the marines mentioned above, I'm at a loss to imagine how a man struggling to stay upright in a moving vehicle can maintain a true state of readiness for anything that could require the use of a long gun. He won't hit what he's aiming at, and he's a fine target himself.
I suppose there's the intimidation factor to consider. A pickup truckload of tough looking hombres waving automatic weapons is a bowel-watering sight if you're not the one who called them.
On the other hand, I had to chuckle when we drove to Morelia last year and spotted a flying convoy of black-clad federales on the toll road in black trucks, each with two commandos looking over the cab. Balaclavas protected their faces against the gale-force slipstream. At that speed, they posed a threat to flying insects but not much else. How often did they have to stop to clean their sunglasses?
So here's my theory. This is a country where nearly everybody, including Norma, seems to have a rancho and where the respectful way to address a man is still "caballero," which translates among other ways as "horseman."
Standing on a pickup truck bed, one makes eye contact with the pedestrian world at approximately the same lofty angle as one would on horseback. To the cultural descendants of the conquistadores what could seem more natural?
Make sense? Probably not, but it's what I'm going to believe until somebody tells me I can't.