During my recent trip to Mexico City I mentioned the House of Tiles, the colonial mansion in the heart of the city which is today the flagship of the Sanborns chain of restaurants and stores. I will never forget an incident which happened there many, many years ago when I took a group of my high school students to Mexico for the first time.
It was April of 1985. A couple years before I had been transferred from the junior high to the high school. I decided to organize a student trip to Mexico over Easter vacation, something which, as far as I know, had never been done in my school district before. Twelve of my first year Spanish students signed up for the trip. They were all good kids, and I could not have asked for a nicer group of students to travel with.
Our trip began in Mexico City. We had finished a morning tour of the sights on the Zócalo, the main plaza in the heart of the colonial center. We had the afternoon free, and it was time for lunch. I told my group that if they wanted a menu that included some American food they could eat at Sanborns, or we could go to a nearby restaurant, Café Tacuba, for traditional Mexican food. Half of the students opted for Sanborns, and half of them chose Café Tacuba. So I dropped part of my group off at Sanborns, and told them they I would come back for them after lunch. I suppose I was a bit naïve leaving half of my students by themselves. But this was an era before Mexico had any reputation (deserved or not) as being dangerous, and, besides, what could happen to them at Sanborns?
My part of the group went on to Café Tacuba, and we had what turned out to be a very long, leisurely lunch. We then returned to Sanborns. We looked for my students in the main dining room, at the lunch counter, in the store and in the souvenir section. There was no sign of them! I figured that they had grown tired of waiting for us and had taken a taxi back to the hotel.
We returned to our hotel which was located in the touristy Zona Rosa neighborhood. There was no sign of them at the hotel either. "OK," I told myself, "they probably went out shopping." By late afternoon I started to panic.
I finally received a phone from one of my missing students. "Señor, where were you?" he said.
"The question is," I said, "where are you?!"
"We're standing outside of Sanborns." After loitering around in Sanborns waiting for us, they were starting to get suspicious looks from the employees. So they went outside to wait. However they were standing outside the rear entrance. I had gone in through the front entrance, and had missed them completely. For several hours they had waited, and stood through an afternoon rain shower. There was a pay phone there, but they couldn't figure out how to use it. Finally, some kind soul, working in an office across the street, saw the students huddled on the sidewalk, and went to see if he could be of assistance. He showed them how to use the phone so that they could call the hotel.
I rushed out of the hotel, grabbed a taxi, and went to retrieve my students. By the time we had returned to the hotel, we had missed dinner and had to hurry to get ready for a performance of the Ballet Folklórico that evening.
Fortunately, the rest of the trip went smoothly, and we all had a great time. Needless to say, my students never forgot Sanborns, and neither will I.
Here's a picture I found of our group at Chapultepec Park...