Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

ATTN: A full-length book collection of travel writing by Han Vance is to be published in 2018.

Magical Mexico – originally for

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in the Federal District of Mexico, DF, for short. Think of our DC, meets NYC.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining always, yet against a red background of worsening drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but generally felt fairly safe.

Mexico City boasts more density than New York City while it is vaster than North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, with the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a tangy margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all this was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls, which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.

The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memories flood through me, of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love. The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches, the taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pink, hot pink, red, orange all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in DF, where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (steak sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffiti-splashed Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.

Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of DF are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me as he introduced himself and his less than pleased date, while we charged down the cobblestone street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the sky from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open-air restaurant. The Mexican night air felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of DF, which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious creatures called coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other as they exited our view, the magic of Mexico plainly evident to us.


(Photo by: Han Vance)

The day I moved from Marietta proper to the more distant suburbs, a punk rocker juvenile delinquent named Chris Damico was building a small wooden skateboard ramp in the street that led to my new culdesac. Though I had never ridden a skate ramp before, I’d picked up street skating about a year earlier as the sport hit a second wave of major national popularity in the mid 1980s.

It was the heat of a Southern summer, and most of my like-aged friends were living closer to the Marietta Square. I was living way out in the vast stretching sprawl of what had been previously rural, then exurban, and finally suburban Cobb County, in what was then known to be the fastest-growing civilization in the history of mankind: greater metropolitan Atlanta.

My siblings were a good bit younger than I, and I found myself with no one cool to regularly hang out with when I was not at work as a fine-dining busboy at The Planter’s restaurant. By mid-summer, my friend Doug got a Chevy Nova and was the first to get a license. He started picking me up, and I was back hanging with my old crew of friends. Before that, I skated with Damico everyday.

We grew apart, Damico and I, but we talked from time to time. Then when I was a senior, his mom moved out of the school district, and he talked my brothers and folks into letting him ride out the school year living with us. I thought it was a terrible idea, but the decision was made before I had any input. He bunked with my brothers.

For the first time, we became truly close friends. My epic high school career was winding down, so we decided to have a huge graduation party as a last hurrah. We set a date and gathered friends from neighboring schools, like Dave Weiss, at my house for a meeting and told them to tell their friends and friends of friends from many of the schools across the county.

A week before the party my parents went out of town for one night, so we threw an impromptu gathering. Hundreds of kids from my school showed up and lined my entire street with cars and trash. I paid my brothers to clean up the mess after, but I was immensely worried. We didn’t have access to enough space for the coming big graduation party, and my folks’ plans to go out of town again were suddenly cancelled. We were screwed.

My mom and stepdad’s yard at the time led to a stretch of woods that eventually led to fields behind a huge western store called Horsetown. Damico came up with the idea to rent these fields, and in a meeting in which the outcome still baffles me to this day they agreed to lease us the property for a night. We paid them a small amount of money and assured them it would be a calm affair.

As the day approached, I distributed flyers amongst the upperclassmen at my school listing my address as the location for an “Adult Graduation Party.” A teacher found one and said I could not go on with the plan, but I scoffingly told him I was eighteen and the party was the day after school ended. It was out of his jurisdiction.

My friend Todd Smalley’s band the Wild Onions agreed to play the event, and I made him promise not to reveal the real location of the party to anyone at our school. He kept my secret at Lassiter; meanwhile we called our party planning colleagues and told them to tell everyone to be at my house by 5:00 p.m.

We hung a sign on my basketball goal on the day of the fest that said: “Go To HORSETOWN.” We were there well off the street and obscured from visibility with the rock band playing as the thousands and thousands of kids began to show up. As the sun set, the traffic continued to stream into the fields. We positioned paid parking attendants in the drive to charge admission for vehicles and made hundreds of dollars over the field rental. Interestingly, Damico and I both later worked for years in the management of the parking industry.

Of course, the cops came that night. We heard it told that for a few hours they could not find the exact party location. When they did attempt to bust the party, it still went on for over an hour as they simply directed traffic out while making very few arrests for underage drinking. When the crowd finally started to thin, we grabbed as many cute girls as would follow us and led them back through the woods to the relative safety of my house.

For weeks after, we were the reigning stars of the county. I began to commonly hear the term “Hanfest” and wondered who’d coined it. About a month later, I was hanging out with my artist friend Mike Tom. He told me he’d hand-painted a sign at the entrance of the Horsetown fields that said: “HANFESTIVAL.”

Hawaii (we ascended)

Sweet dream songbirds sing me awake, as the sheer joy of realization dawns. We are here, perched in the suite of an open window resort atop the Kona coffee region of Big Island Hawaii. The busy tourist port of Kailua Kona visible to me as I stand, yet so far from our reality.


Only yesterday, my true love and I landed in the tiny Kona Airport, invigorated but exhausted from our far journey from the World’s Busiest Airport in Atlanta. We’d had an early dinner in the Jetson’s-like Encounter restaurant at LAX, where the fresh Cali cuisine was only a tease for the bounty which awaited us many miles across the Pacific. Plane two seemed to soar forever.

The rental car ride revealed a bleak black frontier of lava burnt earth. After stopping in Kona for a quick glance at the ocean and an adult refreshment, we ascended.

Up On Ponce (C) 2013 HV:

Up On Ponce:

Mammas Are Chocolate Milk

Cheap American Swill

Is The High Life

And Thomas Cheshire

Will Always Be A Hero

Races, Classes, Demographics

Whites, Blacks, Hispanics

Neon-Lit Classics

Against An Old Marquis

And Just Me, See

Boozers, Cruisers And Stone Cold Losers

Atlanta, Georgia ~ Deep South

Plus, That Damn 2 Bus

Where They Ripped The Pioneer Heart

Out Of Our Fair City

Divided We Ain’t, Y’all


We All Do, Hear-I

Talkin’ ‘Bout Love

And A Revolution

Watch Wheels Spin Round

I Skyscrape Devotion

Center Of Town

Transportation Hangover (in Greater Metro Atlanta)

Transportation Hangover:

The T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax) failed to pass across the 10-county greater metro Atlanta region on July 31st. Though it is nearly impossible to deny that Atlanta’s ability to attract new business and commerce is hampered by traffic congestion, the voices of contention around the project list were too loud for the survival of the tax. T-SPLOST was the first vote on a comprehensive regional transit plan in recent history, the only near parallel at any point since 285 was built being the vote whether or not to expand MARTA to outlying suburban counties, which too failed. The Chambers of Commerce in Dallas, Charlotte, Nashville, Orlando, etc. have fresh fuel for fire when negatively recruiting against sprawling, disconnected Atlanta for conventions, students, creative industries and rust belt big business relocations.

The leadership of Georgia may be able to cobble together a statewide transportation referendum for 2014, although nothing in the voting data signifies that it would have much chance to pass. Localizing efforts to increase mobility options is the only viable direction for citizens seeking progress, but the dollars and cents necessary to fulfill any plan is where reality meets the road.

The Atlanta BeltLine’s development will continue incrementally, but the mass transit component of the BeltLine does not currently have adequate funding in place. Regional GRTA busses may meet the scrap heap due to funding reality. MARTA continues to be the largest transit system in any American state not to receive any state funding, and only the residents of Fulton and Dekalb counties will continue to pay a sales tax so that the entire region may benefit economically from our city having a relatively large mass transit rail system. Modern streetcars will eventually connect two of our major downtown tourist attractions, but they won’t be connecting to anything else. And federal transportation funding does not flow to states that show a lack of direction.

A commuter tax collected at the border of 285, scrapping plans for an utterly unnecessary Atlanta Falcons outdoor football stadium, a much stronger managed campaign and a vote in Dekalb and Fulton alone to fund needed city transportation projects…ideas are free. The only good that came out of all of this is it that it did get some Atlantans thinking.

VANCE for Atlanta INtown Paper

Links to my transportation and greenspace articles for Atlanta INtown paper:

1. Profile of Atlanta BeltLine volunteer and activist, Angel Poventud:

Hero of The BeltLine: Angel Poventud’s ongoing mission

2. Profile of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. CEO and President, Brian Leary:

Behind the BeltLine: CEO Brian Leary

3. Profile of the visionary behind the belt line concept for Atlanta, Ryan Gravel:

Catching up with BeltLine visionary Ryan Gravel

4. Park Pride Parks and Greenspace Conference (Transportation Theme):

Parks and transit in bloom at Park Pride Conference

5. The Transportation Initiative for Greater Metro Atlanta:

Transit tax vote set for July 31

“Certain beauty to that”

After my shaded Druid Hills, I walked through Candler Park itself and the neighborhood of the same name, under intermittent sunshine, toward the train station. I saw some old wooden furniture left out for the taking or the trash. “Certain beauty to that,” I had said aloud, as I contemplated the impending summer in the South.


The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

What The BeltLine

Brings To Mind

Is Integration

Segregation In ATL

Is History, Ancient

And Reality, Present

The Interconnection

Of Distinct Urban Neighborhoods

Makes A Good

City, A Great City

The Perimeter Highway

285, Created The Hive

The Boom Of Growth

That Equated To My Atlanta

Once Being Dubbed:

The Fastest Growing

Civilization In

The History Of Mankind

A Wall Exists, Un-great


Outside The Perimeter Versus

Inside The Perimeter. State Versus City

Everything Out Is Suburb, Exurb

Everything In Is In-town

Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead

Remain Three Jewels

Running Up Peachtree

Peachtree Intersects

With Ponce, Representing

Another Wall

Dividing Blacks And Whites

Refuse Flows Downstream

So As In Many Cities

Landlocked Old Atlanta

Was Divided, Still Is Some

Whites North Of Ponce

Blacks South Of Ponce

Streets Change Names

There, Socioeconomics

Here Sits The Quagmire

The City Too Busy To Hate

Has Poor Infrastructure

And Some Of The Most

Stagnating Traffic

In This Great Nation

End The Racial Division

Women And Men In Full

Great Atlantans All

Must Lead Us Out Together

Of This Heart Of Darkness

Rise To The Greatest Greatness

We Can Be A Paris

A Vancouver, An NYC

Or A Birmingham

The Choice Is Obvious

Drop What Divides Us

Build The Beautiful BeltLine

Connect The Conscious Citizenry

Educate The Less Conscious

We Are Better Than

Our Current State

That’s What’s So Great

And Always Was

About Atlanta

A City Built On An Idea

That Idea Being

Movement Of The People

As Those Rocket Ship Buildings

Suggest – Striving, Ascending

Being All We Can Be

The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

(Photo by: Han Vance)

One of my favorite spots

(Hanish inside Anish Kapoor piece at High Museum of Art in Atlanta)

Atop The 17th Bridge

Facing South On

A Rush Hour Friday


And I Just Counted

Twenty Lanes Of Traffic

Below Me

I’m Up Above It

Walking In Rockports

With Sneaker Inserts

Never Tell Me This

City Can’t Or Ain’t

Because I Will And Do

And So Does This

Butterfly Becoming

More Than A Rap Song

About Getting Money

More Than A Punchline

For Soft-Thought Yankees

To Spew

This Town Has As Much

Energy, Almost As Much

Energy…As Me