I really needed (okay, wanted) to buy a Día de los Muertos Lotería game. The only place I had seen one was at the Super Farmacia in Guaymas. Finding a place to park in downtown Guaymas is difficult enough, never mind that I need a spot big enough for a full-size Dodge pick up truck. So I was feeling pretty lucky when I spotted several spaces right in front of the drugstore! Unfortunately, I was driving on the opposite side of the street.
I got a little panicky. “Where in the #&!! can I turn around?” and “Oh no, someone will take my spot!” and “I’m basically driving a boat on Hot Wheel size tracks here…” The first two streets I checked were out of the question. They were both one way. The third looked promising. In fact, I was pretty sure Steve and I had turned around on that same street a week or so ago when I needed (er, wanted) a Día de los Muertos Memory card game.
As I stopped at the light, I noticed a lefthand arrow with a big red slash through it hanging right below the traffic signal. I weighed my options as I waited for the light to change. Once it did, I watched as two of the cars in front of me made left turns. Hmm. Maybe it was an old sign? Maybe it was just a suggestion? At the last minute I decided that I was going to follow the two cars that had turned in front of me. They both had Sonora plates. If I could not trust the locals, who could I trust?
Note to self: Do not trust the locals.
I made the left and had just gotten in position to negotiate the turn that would take me back in the direction of the prime parking spots I had seen, when the Policía Municipal pulled up behind me, lights flashing. My first thought is that they were stopping traffic to give me a little room to turn around. Yeah, I am a dreamer. What I thought next is not printable.
I pulled over to the side of the street, and two officers came up to my window. They explained to me what I had done; obviously they had no idea I had completely thought this turn through. I told them that I had just been following the two cars in front of me. They assured me that those cars were being stopped too. I suppressed a laugh; those drivers were long gone. I was surprisingly calm, as in less panicked than I was thinking about not being able to find a parking space!
A Municipal Police officer is one of the lowest paid employees in Mexico. Data collected from misalario.org in May of 2017, shows that an officer can expect a monthly salary of $8,106.00 pesos. That is roughly $438.16 in U.S. dollars. These guys are tasked with unarguably, one of the most difficult and potentially dangerous jobs in the country, for peanuts. As a result, there is an off the books arrangement that can, at times, be made. Rather than accept the ticket, a lawbreaker, such as myself, can offer a “mordida”, paid directly to the officer, thereby increasing his monthly salary.
On one hand, I understand this arrangement. Police officers make less per month than supermarket cashiers, restaurant cooks, and taxi drivers. A mordida puts cash money in the hands of the one who needs it most. On the other hand, we cannot expect changes to be made a bad system if we continue to circumvent legal channels.
I handed over my driver’s license. The officer did not begin writing any of my information down. It has been my experience that the police will never mention a mordida. It is up to the person receiving the ticket to bring it up. Maybe he was waiting for me to do that. Maybe he was just unsure of where to find the information he needed on an Indiana driver’s license. Whatever the delay, I waited him out because I had, by this time, decided I was going to accept the ticket. I was looking at this whole experience as something new and exciting. I could add “getting a ticket in Mexico” to my list of other Mexican firsts: open air markets, dolphins, hurricanes, and street vender churros.
Eventually, the clipboard, ticket, and my license were handed over to the second officer. I chatted with the first while we waited. He asked how long I had lived in Guaymas and complimented my Spanish. (I could not wait to share this with my Spanish teacher!) Finally, it was explained to me that I would need to pick up my license at the Police Department in a couple of hours. After I paid my fine, my license would be returned. I wavered a bit here. Did I really want to hand my license over? Would I really get it back? Eh, someone else is living at the address listed on the license anyway. I decided to just throw caution to the wind.
I waited until the officers had gotten back in their car and drove on down the road before making, what I am certain, was an illegal u-turn to head back to the main drag. Of course, my parking spots were long gone. I found another further up the block. (I had two hours to kill, the walk would be good for that.) The Super Farmacia was completely sold out of the Lotería game I wanted. Of course it was.
I showed up at the Police Department two hours later. I paid my fine. I received a 50% discount for paying within 24 hours. I think I probably set a record by paying it in two! I also noticed that included in my ticket was a donation to La Cruz Roja (Red Cross) and to DIF (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, a public institution of social assistance that focuses on strengthening and developing the welfare of families). I actually felt pretty good about that. My license was there, so that was a good thing too. And really the only negative to this whole ordeal (aside from the game being unavailable) is that I will not be able to complain about my husband’s driving- – at least for a couple of weeks.