Today I had an interview with The News, Mexico City’s only English language newspaper. I decided to take my recording equipment and camera on this trip into the city. I tried to hold my little digital recorder, which is about the size of my outstreched hand, inconspicuously. I got a few stares, but those who did turned their attention elsewhere pretty quickly. I saw my Micheal Jackson vendor again, only today he was selling the best in reggeton. I have to say the metro ride this time was a little dull. That’s what happens when you come prepared.
But “the experience” of the day came on my way back .
Just outside the entrance to the Chapultepec metro, the sidewalk is lined with tent vendors. Among the vendors, I heard a man with a trumpet-like voice making bets as a group of people huddled around him. He had a small high table set up and on top of it he was switching around three black bottle caps. Underneath one of these bottle caps was a tiny spikey red ball, maybe a candy. Interesting, I thought. Good sound.
I pulled out my recorder, got up next to him, and pushed record. Within 5 seconds a chubby woman with a tough face and a younger man wearing a baseball cap shoved their way in front of me. “Esta grabando” I heard them say to each other. “She’s recording.” They muttered other things I couldn’t make out. I moved over a couple steps and kept recording. The woman and man moved to block me again. It was clear they were protecting the guy with the bottle caps. I decided not to make a scene and simply continue recording.
But I was asking for trouble. They noticed I hadn’t stopped. All of a sudden the woman throws her arm up in the air and shouts out something to the bottle cap man, knocking my recorder out of my hand. It flew above my head and landed with a terrible crash on the concrete behind me. #$%^&!! When I turned I saw the batteries had fallen out and back flap had come loose. #%&* !! Again, as is usually my nature I remained far too calm. I picked up my bruised recorder, turned to the woman and said, “Senora, you should be more careful.”
Dumb response, I would think later on the metro. But in that moment I had no clue who those people were and what they were capable of. And I didn’t want to test things any further by challenging them. I hung around for about a minute longer and then decided, okay it’s time to go. And as I turned to go, another man, this one taller and somewhat meaner looking with an open cell phone in his hand tells me, “Don’t be recording.” I paid no attention and walked past him.
More than upset, or frightened, I felt a little sad and disappointed. I had just finished a great weekend in the city. People have been incredibly kind and generous. Now this? Que mala onda. I thought to myself, I should have told that woman, “Look, if you don’t want me to record, why don’t you just tell me.” Later when I told the story to my host family, the father gave a wry chuckle and said, “That’s the city for you. You should of told them you were from the New York Times and collecting the unique sounds of the city.” Maybe he was right. But at the moment, the last thing I wanted to do was point out that I was a foreigner.
And worst of all, the recording didn’t survive the crash.