Bullfights Out. Ferdinand In.

No more bullfights in Spain, reports the media. Is the majestic fighting bull now on the endangered species list, or has the Spanish government realized that Ferdinand the Bull was right to be smelling pretty flowers instead of goring the guy waving a red cape at him? Fight fans will find that it doesn't really matter if, henceforth, the bull ring is empty every Sunday because riding in a Mexican taxi amounts to the same thing. Even Hemingway would have to agree.

Hemingway said there are two types of spectators at a bullfight: those who identify with the bull, and those who identify with the matador.

When a bull is properly lined up for the kill, it is called the "Moment of Truth," the most difficult and dangerous moment in bullfighting. The matador utilizes all his skill and courage in selecting and executing his choice, the most common method being "A Un Tiempo," in which both bull and man move toward each other to meet somewhere in between. Hemingway probably experienced this in a Mexican taxi. Let me explain why I believe this.

The day I rode in a Mexican taxi, I identified with the driver, Jésus. His weapon was neither sword nor muleta, but a 1962 Dodge. It was a four-door 330 model Dart with a 318 cubic-inch V-8 engine. That is what it did have -- soon I will tell you what it did not have.

Jésus had painted his taxi a Day-Glo yellow, so vibrant a shade as to make Sponge Bob Square Pants turn green with envy. He named it Ferdinando after Ferdinand, the gentle bull who enjoys nothing more than smelling flowers in the fields and jousting with bees. Disney even made a movie about this peaceful creature.

Ferdinando the Taxi's hand-bent antenna waved sportily in the breeze, a souvenir left by crooks who ripped off the radio in 1975. By the late 80's, both wipers had eventually decomposed. In order to avoid the dangers of an accident during rainy season, Jésus was forced to hang out Ferdinando's window wildly swiping at the windshield with a big red rag, and mastering one-kneed steering.

Jésus, a skinny, opinionated man, did not trust any other driver on the road, muttering "They are out to make my wife a widow and my children orphans." He claimed that Ferdinando was the "cleanest taxi in all of Mexico. The Senora she will find no gum stuck on the seats or beer cans on the floor."

Jésus deftly steered Ferdinando down a narrow one-way street until suddenly confronted by another vintage taxi. Bumper to bumper, we could proceed no further.

Red tassels strung along the periphery of the other taxi's pockmarked windshield quivered with indignation at our challenge for right-of-way. Colorful mini lights, the kind usually strung on Christmas trees but in this instance installed around the windows, began flashing on and off. A warning.

Neither quivering tassels nor flashing lights intimidated Jésus, however, and we just sat, waiting. From the back seat, an itchy one, I observed a newly determined set to Jésus' bony shoulders. Was this to be the infamous "Mexican Standoff?"

At last, Jésus shouted to the other driver, a glaring fat man with a Pancho Sanchez mustache, to back up, but Pancho simply shrugged, settled greasily into his seat, and waited. So Jésus also shrugged, and waited. In time, Jésus began to stroke his talisman, a Don Quixoté icon dangling from the rear view mirror. Obviously a signal of some kind, the other driver did the same with a Scapular hanging from his mirror. Mutual glaring followed this ritual. Apprehensive of the immediate future, I was prevented from leaving for the safety of a doorway by the taxi's lack of inside handles.

Having given what he felt was fair warning with his Quixoté talisman, Jésus abruptly shifted into spastic reverse, one of Ferdinando's four gears, the others being Wheeze, Lurch, and Gallop. Jésus enthusiastically shouted, as he finished reversing and began revving the engine, "Do not be afraid Senora, victory will be ours!"

By then, we had backed away a considerable distance from the other taxi whose front was snorting smoke out of each glass nostril. Both drivers slammed feet on accelerators and hands on horns simultaneously, and raged onward. Jésus waved his red rag out the window in a one-armed, mad version of a matador's red cape. The taxis careened recklessly over potholes and rocks, sparks flying off their oily bellies.

Nanoseconds before colliding, the other cab veered sharply to the right, scraping itself between a building and us. I could hear some of the Day-Glo grinding off Ferdinando as I attempted to extricate myself from between the two front seats where velocity had hurled me.

Pancho regarded Jésus with great respect, then reversed and backed out of the narrow street, leaving us free to continue our journey, shaken but alive. It's an amazing thing to be part of a mano a mano, even if it's only a cabo a cabo.

I still think Jésus should have been awarded the tail lights.

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