I’m currently sitting on the 23rd floor of the Hilton Mexico City Reforma. The city stretches out in front of me as far as the eye can see, its sloping buildings and sputtering sidewalks slowly sinking into the marshy earth. The Torre Latinoamericana pinpricks the low-hanging clouds, looking like a Mexican Empire State Building. I call it the Mexpire State Building, but my girlfriend Ashley replies, “I think you’ve still got some work to do on that one.”
She’s probably right.
After planning and running a mayoral campaign from February to November, I desperately needed a vacation. So Ashley and I booked a trip to The City of Palaces hoping to find … well, we weren’t exactly sure. We were both physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted from the campaign grind, and the idea of having a vast city — that might be heading towards its summit instead of barreling down hill — to explore sounded incredibly appealing.
You read that right: Mexico City is moving on up. Long associated with horrible traffic, abysmal smog and violent kidnappings, Mexico City is actually moving towards becoming a world-class city, achieving the kind of renown it hasn’t enjoyed since the days of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Creative young expats are moving here because it’s supremely affordable. Artists, writers, performers and designers are trickling in from all over the Americas because rent is cheap and the scene is burgeoning. Plus the food is off the hook. From street tacos to high-end French bistros, the ingredients are fresh and the flavors are brilliant. Ideas like farm-to-table and organic produce are percolating, and wonderful culinary mashups are opening next to little mom-and-pop tacos spots.
That’s not to say everything in this city of more than 20 million people is perfect — far from it. There are a lot of really fucked up things about Mexico City. The sidewalks often look like they’ve been bombarded with cannonballs, the police seek any reason to extort you, muggings are not uncommon, drinking tap water could hospitalize you, there’s immense poverty, the entire government is utterly corrupt … the list goes on.
But it’s a wonderful time to be here, especially as an American. The dollar-to-peso ratio is 1:16 at the moment. “This is what it must feel like to be rich,” Ashley mentioned as we spent the equivalent of $36 on six glasses of very fine mescal. And then the little girl selling flowers at midnight came up to us and our conversation quickly switched to being about privilege and how nothing we ever did caused us to be born in the United States.
Mexico City opens your mind and breaks your heart at the same time.
It’s almost hard to imagine that all of this is happening only a three-and-a-half hour flight from SFO. At $350 for a round-trip, nonstop flight, it’s easier and cheaper to get to Mexico City than it is to get to New York. And so we’re here, on the 23rd floor of the lovely Hilton Mexico City Reforma, gazing out at the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Hemiciclo a Juarez as the sunset lights the clouds on fire. It’s nice to be away from San Francisco for a little bit to be reminded how good we really have it, while at the same time realizing how much better we can be.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.