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This And That

Larry Landwehr

Sometimes life in Mexico gets so surreal that you think you're living in a theme park. There's this guy who periodically comes around dressed up in an Aztec costume - feathers sprouting from a headdress, a colorful robe, a drum, a flute, and rattles on his legs. He bangs the drum and plays the flute as he slowly dances down the street.

You wouldn't believe that one man could make so much noise. You can hear him from blocks away. The noise slowly gets louder and louder until it becomes a deafening racket right in front of your house where, of course, the Aztec pauses for a moment. The idea is that you are supposed to give money to the Aztec in appreciation for his one-man parade. Or maybe it's to encourage him to move on down the street to your neighbor's house. Whatever the reason, I've seen people give him money. Mexico can be strange.

Speaking of strange, our relationship with our car shop is not normal. After a rocky couple of months trying to get the White Bullet fixed, they have finally come around. We think the reason for this is Sam's knowledge of the Mexican legal system. There is an organization called Profeco ( Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor) that has the power to shut down businesses. If you have a problem with a bad repair job, Profeco can have another shop do the repairs and charge the first shop with the cost. Businesses fear these guys.

Since Sam let the garage know that we know about Profeco, they have really cleaned up their act. They have given us a loaner car while they are repairing the White Bullet. In fact, they now want us to write two letters - one of complaint and one of praise. They plan on using the complaint one to fire the employee who had been dealing with us, and they plan on using the praise one to solidify the position of the person who has done the most to help us. So now we may be involved with the internal politics of our car repair company! Never a dull moment in Mexico.

Yesterday, after trying to pick up our loaner car (which wasn't available), Mary and I went with Sam to a Brazilian style restaurant. They weren't open yet, but Sam has brought so many people to the restaurant that they opened up just for us.

We started out with some salads, but reserved most of our eating capacity for meat. When it came, we ate until we couldn't eat anymore. The chef brought skewer after skewer of freshly cooked meat to the table. We indicated how much of that kind of meat we wanted and he cut it off. There was prime rib, glazed rib, pork with parmesan cheese, pork loin, flank steak, and a whole skewer of chicken hearts.

The chef was actually from Brazil, which gave Mary the opportunity to show off by talking with him in Portuguese.

When we finally left the restaurant, I think we waddled out. It was a very pleasant experience.

After running a few errands, the three of us returned to the car repair place to get our loaner car, but someone who was supposed to return it hadn't done so. Mary got fixated on a big police truck that was in for repairs. She wanted that as our loaner vehicle. With that truck we would have been gods, but the manager wouldn't go for it. Then Mary told the manager to give us his car and he could use the missing loaner to get home when and if it showed up. By this time we were on a first name basis with practically everyone in the shop, so he only laughed. Finally the manager came up with an old Volkswagen as a temporary loaner car (if there is such a thing) that we could use overnight.

The Volkswagen was a one-of-a-kind. When the manager tried to adjust the seat to drive it to us, the seat came off the rails and had to be re-attached. The car had no radio. I had a heck of a time finding first gear because the manual transmission was so worn out. It died at every intersection unless I kept my foot on the gas, because the idle was set too low.

As a result I had to use my right hand to apply the emergency brake. Picture this if you will, one foot on the clutch, one foot on the gas, one hand pulling on the emergency brake, and one holding the steering wheel - all this taking place at once in a strange car with a slopped out transmission - driving in Mexican traffic during rush hour. Mary and I laughed like loons.

One thing Mary and I have noticed lately is that the cops are stopping a lot more people lately for traffic violations. We did some thinking about it and came to the conclusion that the increase in traffic tickets has to do with school starting up again. No, it isn't that the Guadalajara police are concerned about kids getting run over by cars - it's because back-to-school means back-to-school expenses. The cops need money to buy new school uniforms and book bags for their children. Therefore they stop more cars than usual.

Oh, and another thing about driving in Mexico. Sam mentioned an angle that I hadn't thought of. Since many traffic violations are "corrected on the spot", as it were, there are a lot less traffic tickets written than there are violations. That means that insurance companies have much less data to evaluate a person's driving record.

As a consequence, they are flying blind compared to US insurance companies. I'm sure they compensate by just charging higher premiums. In Mexico it all works out one way or another without the government tracking everything it can about you.

Sam is a fount of information about Mexico. I asked him why the manhole covers are made of cement.

"Is it because metal ones would get stolen?" I asked.

"Nope, it's because of the floods in the rainy season," he replied. "Metal ones would be pushed up by the water."

So that's why Guadalajara is plagued by manholes where the cement cover is either two inches above the road surface or two inches below it.

Sam also told me about something I hadn't noticed. He said that Mexico has a law that you cannot legally drive a car with dents. If a cop sees you driving such a vehicle, he will automatically assume you are fleeing a hit-and-run accident. Such cars are subject to confiscation. In addition you can be hit with a big fine. I'm sure the cops drool over such a pinch.

After Sam told me about this, Mary and I started watching cars, and sure enough, banged up cars are practically non-existent. A car may be old enough to be a former chariot for Moses, but it won't be banged up. Besides making traffic look better, I'll bet this also makes Mexicans very leery about getting into an accident. You don't have the option of receiving insurance money and continuing to drive the car. I think this is another example of a Mexican low-tech law that really works.

Since this note seems to have drifted into driving, I'll close with two observations and a short description of an encounter with Mexican cops. Observation number one is that if you see a box sticking up in the middle of the road, it probably marks a pothole or a manhole with a missing cover.

Observation number two is that if by some miracle an intersection is marked with an overhead sign indicating that you should turn to get to your destination, don't do it. Mexican signs in town come in pairs. The first one is to alert you. The second one a block down the road is where you are really supposed to turn. Ignore the fact that the signs are identical - that's just the way things are done in Mexico.

My encounter with the cops happened when I made a left hand turn where it was prohibited. I hadn't seen the small sign posted on the side of a building. As one cop started writing the ticket, I thought about offering him a bribe, but something made me hang back. Maybe it was his buddy standing a little distance away, watching us.

Since the cop spoke pretty good English, I started chattering away about how Mary and I were living in Mexico and how Mary spoke fluent Spanish and had been all over South America. All at once the cop flipped the ticket book shut on his partially completed ticket, shook hands with me, called me his amigo and told me I was free to leave.

I could hardly believe my luck. In the US, once a cop starts writing a ticket, he has to complete it - there's no stopping once he has started. I guess half filled in tickets look like someone has been bribed.

I quickly skeedadled down the road, and looking back I think I was luckier than I thought. The traffic stop had all the appearances of a sting - two cops for a routine traffic stop? And the way the cop had made it a point to tell me where I had to go to pay the fine? I just had a feeling he was fishing. Later on I told Sam about the encounter and he agreed that it would have been foolhardy to offer a bribe under such circumstances. Hey people, be careful out there.

Published or Updated on: August 1, 2001 by Larry Landwehr © 2008
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