Don Edwards Literary Memorial

August 20, 2008

The Mexican Driver’s License Caper

It became obvious that we were in trouble. Our Georgia driver’s licenses were about to expire, and there was no way we were able to get to the DMV in Atlanta easily or inexpensively. Besides, we were not residents of Georgia now.

We talked to our friends. They all rolled their eyeballs at our intention to get a Mexican driver’s license. No discussion, no information, nothing except eyeball rolls.

But we are experienced in the multiplicity of eccentricities of foreign countries we said to each other. We’ve lived in five, six if you count California. As you have rightly described, LeRoy, the DMV in California is strange and nefarious. They deliberately make you look as if you have been using drugs for decades. They try to make you look old. They give you tests, for God’s sake.

So we went to the police station. There was a man there with a well fed protruding stomach. His name was Alberto. Alberto is known far and wide as the gringo pescador…the foreigner fisherman. Alberto waits in his big Ford police truck, behind billboards. Remember the old cartoons in the USA where the motorcycle cop with the goggles and boots did the same thing? Alberto is the Mexican equivalent. He is probably a rich man.

His scam goes like this. You are going west on the Carratera and make a left turn into La Floresta, a nice area in Ajijic. You’ve done it hundreds of times. This time, a big Ford 150 with red and green stripes on the side flashes lights at you. You know it is a police truck. You gasp in surprise when Fat Alberto waddles up to your window. Alberto speaks English quite well. No surprise there, he learned the ropes in San Diego and besides, he spends so much time chasing down gringos, he has plenty of practice.

Alberto wants to see all your documents, drivers license, copies of your FM-3 visa, copies of ownership of your vehicle. This takes around ten minutes. He bellies up to the window finally and informs you that you made a forbidden left turn. A long argument ensues, but you know you have lost it. There is, if you look very closely, a “glorieta,” a semicircle from the lateral road on the right. By law you are supposed to make a RIGHT turn into the semicircle and wait, perpendicular to traffic until there is a sufficient break in both directions to scamper across. This could take a half hour during the middle of the day. It makes no sense, you tell him. He explains the law again. He can give you a ticket and you can stand in line in the municipal building in Chapala. They will probably charge you 1000 pesos, he explains, for such a grievous infraction. Or you can pay now.

So you pay your negotiated 200 pesos, down from five hundred with a stern warning through a half smile that says it all: “Got you again, tonto…dummy…!”

But I digress. Back in the police station in search of the procedure for obtaining a driver’s license, we ask Alberto what we must do to get one. He can hardly suppress a smile of glee. He says you must pass a written test in Spanish, take an eye test, go on an extended road test and pay the fee. You ask for the driver’s manual so that you can take the test. “Manual?” he giggles. “You want a manual?” he says. “There is no (“stinking”) manual.” I remember the bandito in The Treasure of Sierra Madre who says something similar. “Badge? You want to see my badge? I don’t need no stinking badge.” Alberto is probably thinking the same thing, and I am sure he has seen the movie. He is hugely amused. “And I will be proud to be with you during the road test.”

We thank him, and depart, telling him we will make an appointment soon. “An appointment?” he almost falls over laughing. “Sure. Good idea. Make an appointment.” He is slapping his thigh in absolute mirth.

So I went to Veronica. Veronica runs a house rental and services business here. We have used her many times for a plumber, a painter, a gardener, some electrical work. She is very reliable. I told her my sad tale of woe. She smiled sympathetically. “Maria here will go with you,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

So a week later, back to the police station we went with Maria. She is a very pretty girl around 20 years old I would guess. Alberto recognizes us immediately, comes up and shakes our hand. My other hand is firmly on my wallet. He tells us to sit down and wait our turn. Maria goes over to one of the other policemen, talks with him for a few minutes, comes back and sits with us, flashing a big smile.

Twenty minutes later we are asked to go to the side room for our picture. Ten minutes later we sign our drivers license and pay our fee. No written test, no road test, no eye test. Maria takes us back to the car. I have been here long enough to know not to ask questions. I paid Veronica 200 pesos for “services.”

So I have a Mexican drivers license. My picture looking back at me appears to be at least one hundred years old and no doubt a user of many stupefying drugs for many years. It is good through 2010. I don’t know what I will do then, since the local driver’s license scam has been terminated by the new mayor.

Too bad. It was a damn good scam, especially if your Spanish isn’t so hot, you are half blind and don’t have a clue about the subtleties of driving regulations that seem to change from village to village.

Filed under: DON POSTS — Don @ 2:42 am

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