It's completely dark as I walk along the Merced's southern perimeter. A drunk with a beer in his hands approaches and begins talking and shaking my hand.

"I'm a fish seller and I'm drunk because I worked so hard all day," he slurs. Before he can continue, another drunk comes up with a scowl on his face.

"What are you doing here?" he demands of me. "I've been seeing you walking around here all day. What are you doing here?"

Before I can extricate myself, yet a third man approaches, also a little drunk, but for the most part coherent. I fear that the three men, at a given signal, plan to mug me, so I break from their encirclement; as I'm making for the middle of the unloading zone, I'm relieved to see that only the last man is in pursuit. In the zone's center, where I have maximum visibility because of light issuing from the dozens of naked lightbulbs in comedores around the perimeter, I stop and let the man catch me. It turns out that all he wants is to talk.

He talks endlessly, not letting me excuse myself. Without making a scene by pushing him away physically, all I can do is to stand in the darkness as a very cold rain begins to fall, and listen. As he rambles on I peer through the Merced's open doors for what will be the last time. Merchants there are tying down their tarpaulins; in the comedores along the perimeter everyone is working hard. At last the blaring Conchamaca Cream advertisements have been replaced by laughter from the comedor area, and cheerful cumbia music.

"Bob Dylan," the man says, thumping me in the chest and fogging me with tequila breath. "You know Bob Dylan, right? I tell you, he came to Mexico, and you know why? He and I ate peyote together. Peyote! Good Mexican plant! Only grown in a little place down in Oaxaca I know about. It doesn't make you hallucinate, just helps you see things as they really are. Bob Dylan! Our Mexican plants aren't like yours. Our plants let you see! Using our plants is like conducting a religious ceremony, a mass... !"

The drunk's unexpected reference to a mass stuns me with insight. For, it occurs to me that at this very moment here at the Merced, a kind of mass is indeed taking place. It is a mass in which hard-working, tired vendors and customers are taking part.

For, apart from all the dreams, hopes, and illusions we humans are subject to, there remains the fundamental truth that each of us shares a condition with all other humans, and indeed with all other of the Earth's living things; and that is, that, to survive, we must take into our bodies a rich assortment of nutrients. We must eat and drink wholesome foods.

Therefore, among the mere handful of human activities about which there can be no doubt as to their appropriateness and necessity, there is the mercado's mass-like coming together in one place to exchange food. And it is further worth celebrating that this inescapable chore can be accompanied by laughter and music, in a workplace riotously alive with extravagant colors, odors, sounds, and every hue of humanity.