Monday, January 13, 2014

stop -- in the name of ley

Mexican authorities -- especially, the police -- baffle me.

And I suppose that is going to be one cultural bridge too far for me to cross -- no matter how long I live here.  Let me give you an example.

On Thursday I drove to Manzanillo to replace a few of my outdated pieces of property that walked off in the early January burglary.  My list was limited.  I would replace my cordless telephone and buy a new computer monitor in the 28" to 32" range. 

Even though my printer was not taken, it died the first day I tried to print a list of the burglarized items (apparently having a greater sense of wit than I had accredited it).  And I wanted a white board and easel for my presentation this coming Thursday.

The telephone, printer, whiteboard, and easel went into my basket at Office Depot.  To my surprise, neither Sam's Club nor Office Depot had any stand-alone computer monitors.  They are apparently becoming a thing of the past -- along with Office Depot's once-vaunted customer service.  But that is a topic for another day.

So, off I headed to Melaque.  Just as I entered the coastal highway, I was stopped at a Federal Police road block.  Well, not just me.  Everyone was.

The first thing I noticed was two family vans.  The police were supervising the families as they unloaded everything.  I said to myself, this is not going to be a short stop.

The policeman who came over to my truck started right out (in very serviceable English: even though I think I am the Face of Mexico, he apparently did not share that impression) asking for my passport.  When I showed him the photo-copy I carry with me, he said he wanted to see the original.  The very same procedure I encountered two years ago on my way to San Miguel de Allende (an international journey).

I do not carry my passport with me on my trips to Manzanillo.  But I do carry my passport card.  He was satisfied with that.

He then asked for my tourist visa.  I told him I am a permanent resident, and handed him my green card.  He looked at it, and said, with that exasperated tone of authority that only mothers and policemen use, "If you had shown me that first, you wouldn't have needed to show me your passport."

Now, you are all thinking, was he stupid enough to say: "Well, if you had asked for it first, I would have given it to you first."  Even though my mama may have raised a fool, I had the good sense to merely smile. 

So far, it seemed like a regular stop.  His next question caught me off guard.  He looked at my windshield and asked what had happened to my decal.  I knew immediately what he wanted to know.  He thought I was driving a foreign-plated car, and I needed the decal on my window to show that it was in Mexico legally.

For whatever reason, probably to prove to him that I was not a tourist, I switched into Spanish.  Now, I never use Spanish when dealing with policemen who speak English for fear that I will say something I don't really mean.

And I did.  I very clearly stated: "I have Mexican silver."  Of course, I meant to say, "I have Mexican plates."  He looked confused.  Then looked down at my Jalisco plates and laughed.  Fortunately, he thought I had played my role as the northern fool, rather than the not-so-subtle-offerer-of-bribes.

He then walked over to the right hand of the truck to look at my emissions decal.  And to take a look through the window at what I had in the truck.

I was ready for his next request.  My circulation card.  The equivalent of my registration.  He pointed out that it expired on 1 January and I needed to pay my renewal fee -- something I had already planned to do this week.

During all of these exchanges, he kept glancing over my shoulder into the back of the truck.  Having taken care of his immigration and police duties, he finally dropped the other shoe.  "What is this you are carrying?"

I told him what you already know.  I had just purchased the items at Office Depot in Manzanillo.

"Do you have a receipt?"

I pulled it out of my pocket, and he checked each item as carefully as the guy at the Costco exit.  Back came the receipt.  The all-powerful hand of the law waved me on my way.

So, what was this all about?  I have no idea.  The policeman seemed to have equal interest in the customs status of my truck as he did in the possibility that I might be a very ill-disguised fence.  Of course, I looked no more suspicious than the bemused Mexican families beside the road who were airing their private goods for the world to see.

Had I been in Oregon, I might have asked what this was all about.  Well, not really, I would have been demanding a recitation from the policeman of the objective facts to establish probable cause for stopping me.

But Oregon is not Mexico.  Here, the policeman wears a mask of authority, and I imitate my Mexican neighbors by wearing a mask of compliance.  Even though we both know we are living a masquerade.

I was just one village shy of getting home when I drove past another road block.  This one was on the other side of the highway.  Manned by 20 to 30 young soldiers.  All armed with automatic rifles.

Given the choice, I will always take the federal policeman over a nervous teenager with a weapon that can make every woman in the village a widow in seconds.

The government pretended it was protecting me.  And I pretended to feel safer.

Note -- You may ask, what does that photograph have to do with this topic?  The answers is: absolutely nothing.  But you don't think I am stupid enough to snap photgraphs of the federal police and the army, do you?  Besides, I simply like the photograph.

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