Puercito—“Little Piggy”— slams his hooves, striving for traction on the inclined pavement. This bridge clears the black, odorous waters of the once-majestic Rio Churubusco. Mingo slaps the reins, yells commands, and eases the horse-drawn cart into a line of commuter traffic. Morning light projects the swaying shadow of Puercito’s head onto the side of a packed collectivo as he hauls in a breath. Expressionless morning stares from the bus.
With the switch to green, Mingo deftly steers into the right lane and whips through the intersection. He hits full gallop as he passes a police checkpoint, immune to the endless slams of the rickety metal cart into the infinite holes of the road.
Nezahualcóyotyl was once the endpoint of the infinite Mexico City. Now, it is a bridge between the hyper-modern realities of the downtown and the endangered farmland on its periphery. A place where residents complain of power outages, still-broken roads, and irregular services. Where the archetypal horse and rider can still outpace bureaucracy’s trucks.
As the city built itself around Neza, garbage services were among those that did not follow. Ten years ago, Mingo joined up with a few men with horses. Under power lines on the edge of the Rio Churubusco, near a pile of dead dogs and next to a bristly, illegal recycling crew, Mingo’s workers organizes a truck to wait for them. They each pay 60 pesos (USD 5) to the trucker, who in turn pays to get into a government dump nearby. They also pay a man 150 pesos (USD 12) to guard the lot and feed for the horses. Seven days a week, the 20 or so men at this lot follow this routine.
“Nah, there’s no fixed price.” Mingo speaks gruffly of his salary, but always with a smile. He adjusts Puercito’s saddle.
Slamming a bell to announce his daily route to pick up household and storefront garbage. Mingo scientifically separates anything that can be sold to his networks of recyclers or second-handers into the giant burlap sacks slung off the cart’s side.
A few regulars ask Mingo how he is. One gives him clothes to sell they have left aside. Another has saved chunks of metal from a renovation. An old woman asks him how his wife is, and when they finish chatting I ask her why she uses Mingo and not the city garbage.
“Fucking government,” she laughs with a dismissive wave. “They never come… Anyways, I just like the horses.”
Mingo pockets 10 pesos (USD 0.80) from her, and about five (USD 0.40) from the average stop. Between the donations and the recycling, he nets around 400 pesos (USD 30) a day, six times Mexico’s official minimum wage and about double that of a municipal cop.
Under a tree, Mingo looks up from the two papers he reads during midmorning break and points at Puercito eating a pile of carrots and tortillas.
“He hates carrying it. But he loves eating. Es muy simple.”