As it happened, Diane was driving but it could have just as easily been me. She was doing 60 KPH in a 70 KPH zone…or so we thought!
Without warning, we had moved into a 40 KPH zone and the signs were really tiny. Just as we rounded a curve, we noticed several police cars parked alongside the road with flashing lights. An officer stepped into our lane and motioned us to pull over. Diane reached for her driver’s license and I retrieved the car ownership documents.
He greeted us in Spanish and asked for the expected documents. He then stated that his radar had clocked us at 60 KPH in a 40 KPH zone. He went on to state that the infraction was a “big” infraction and the fine would be about $18,000 pesos or about $160 more or less. Pretty steep but that wasn’t the worst part. He said he would retain Diane’s driver’s license and she could retrieve it when she went to pay the fine. Yes, they actually capture your driver’s license when issuing a citation to ensure payment.
This was our first experience with Mexican Police but our experiences in Ecuador and rumbles throughout the expat pages suggested that there may be room for negotiating. Diane began to ask for a warning and said she promised to be more careful. What we didn’t know at the time was that we had driven into a notorious speed trap specifically designed to generate money for the officers.
Diane didn’t have to work too hard before the officer, clearly a high ranking member of the force with numerous badges and rank markings on his uniform, suggested that there was “another way” as he put it. We could pay a reduced fine right there, alongside the highway, and he would return Diane’s driver’s license.
“How much?” I asked.
“Half” he said. “Ninety dollars American.”
Still pretty steep but we were on the right track. I opened my wallet and saw my “emergency” twenty dollar bill. It was all the cash I had on me at the time. I had deliberately avoided converting this last bill to pesos for some unknown emotional reason. Diane did not retrieve her wallet, smartly.
“I only have twenty dollars” I said as I extracted the bill showing him the now empty wallet.
He shrugged and said, “Okay”, took the bill, returned Diane’s license and we were back on the road in a moment. Ten or fifteen of those stops an hour has to put a few extra dollars into the pockets of those officers.
Some may be outraged at such a thing. Not me! This is the “normal” here.
Since that happened, I also received a parking ticket while I was inside a doctor’s office and the parking attendant took my license plate off the front of my car. Yep…stole my damned plate! For a couple of weeks, I thought someone had actually stolen my plate, not connecting the missing plate to my parking ticket. In fact, I didn’t even know my plate was missing until I was pulled over at a routine roadblock and nearly given a ticket for a missing plate. Finally, a Mexican friend told me that the police take the plates of parking violators to ensure payment of fines. Guess what? It works! Diane and I spent about two hours going through the process of paying my parking ticket and retrieving our plate and I NEVER want to get another parking ticket in Cancun…EVER!
Mexico and for that matter, Ecuador, have very different ways of dealing with law enforcement matters than does the U.S. What is strange to us is normal to those who have always lived here. The definition of normal has to be “that to which you are accustomed”. One learns a new set of “normals” as an expat. My guess is that those unable to adjust to a bunch of new “normals” will most likely be those who will struggle to adjust to a new life. Believe me, just when you think you are adjusting and have things figured out…nope! Our lives as expats have been the most interesting and invigorating chapter of our lives!
It has been a month and despite Herculean efforts by several people, we still do not have a reliable Internet connection at our condo. Now, our new “normal” includes frequent visits to Starbucks for a good Internet signal. We are still working on the Internet problem, the details of which are both boring and outrageous. I’m convinced it will happen….some day!
This morning, as I was about to blow a fuse about our Internet situation, Diane walked into the room in her bikini and said, “Let’s go to the beach.”
With a bit of effort, I completely shifted gears and for the next hour and a half we bobbed around in the warm waters of the Caribbean just a few steps from our condo remembering why we were here. I forgot about the stupid Internet problem and our recent broken pipe and associated flood. (Yes, this is our second broken pipe and flooded house since moving to Mexico. The first was in our house in Merida.) The pipe is now repaired and the flood waters have been mopped up. Internet will happen someday and we enjoyed a wonderful moment in the gorgeous, Caribbean surf together!
Neither Diane nor I are always calm and Zen-like in our expat lives. Sometimes, dealing with new processes in a foreign language gets the better of us. Luckily, when one of us is about to implode, the other will step in and provide a voice of reason or…maybe walk into the room in a bikini.
I do my best to flow with the current rather than swimming against it but I’m not always successful. I’m reminded of a story told by Richard Bach in one of my favorite books, Illusions:
Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self.
Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks at the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current was what each had learned from birth.
But one creature said at last, ‘I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.’
The other creatures laughed and said, ‘Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you shall die quicker than boredom!’
But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks.
Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.
And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, ‘See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!’
And the one carried in the current said, ‘I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.’
But they cried the more, ‘Saviour!’ all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.
— Richard Bach, from “Illusions”
Releasing one’s hold on present circumstances and trusting that life’s current will deliver them to the next success and adventure is tough to do. But for us, it’s been worth it…totally!