"Mexico" Mike - Ex-media spokesman, Mexico Tourism Ministry. Named Mexico expert by NY Times, Wall Street Journal, TX Monthly, Guardian (UK), Mexico City News, Atención (San Miguel de Allende), Irish Times
Having a car accident in Mexico leads to new friendships and understanding of police, Highway Patrol and the costs of building a highway in Mexico
"Mexico" Mike Nearly Bites the Dust
My latest book was nearly published posthumously. After driving half a million miles on Mexican roads without even a fender bender, I met my Waterloo in Torreón, Coahuila. I knew drinking and driving was bad. Sleeping and driving is also a no-no. I learned a lot about how having an accident in Mexico works from my encounter with the sometimes byzantine Mexican justice system.
As my muffler got louder and louder, I got prouder and prouder. I thought it made my four-wheel drive Bronco more macho like the silver naked ladies on my hood and the fuzzy dice on my rear-view mirror. While the only danger from the last two items is killing glares from gringa feminists, a leaky muffler can literally kill.
I left Durango in the early dawn. It was cold. My heater didn't work. I bundled up in my sleeping bag with the windows up. It was just me and my new friend, carbon monoxide, tooling down the toll road.
A couple of hours later I awoke as I ran off the road, jerked to the right and slammed into the concrete dividers between the lanes. Tired of all the maneuvering, my Bronco lay down on its side to rest.
The wheels hadn't stopped spinning when the first person stopped to help me. I remember thinking, Thank God I'm in Mexico. People will stop. A bus driver came running over. A lady followed him. She was a doctor or a nurse, because she checked my pulse and looked in my eyes and ordered the driver to get some alcohol to clean a cut over my right eye. She also checked my little finger which I was sure was broken. She said I was okay and that they would tell the authorities. She offered to call someone for me. She also told me not to go anywhere. As if.
In a few minutes a pickup truck with the toll road insignia roared up, followed by an ambulance. The ambulance crew was professional and soon had my cut patched up and reassured me that I was very lucky. I didn't feel lucky. I felt stupid. After all, I was "Mexico" Mike. I wasn't supposed to have accidents. I wanted to cry. I couldn't, of course. I drove a macho truck and was in a macho country. To cry would be to lose face.
With the empathy that Mexicans have, Salvador Rojas, one of the toll road employees, he did everything he could think of to keep me from embarrassing us both. He said my possessions meant nothing. Only life mattered.
The Green Angels (who patrol major highways to help stranded motorists) stopped. Since I was far beyond stranded, they wished me well and drove on. The cops came after about 45 minutes. Salvador translated for me. Although I speak Spanish, I was still dazed and didn't want to deal with it.
The Policia Federal de Caminos (highway patrol) are an efficient lot. The policman who determined that I was a stupid driver had a briefcase from the FBI Academy in the U.S. He said he studied there a little bit, but refused to elaborate. There was no question of a bribe. He explained that if I had been a Mexican, he would have kept my driver's license and license plates. Since I was not, he returned my license and car papers. The government impounded my truck until my fine was paid. That was the beginning of the Kafka-like reasoning that controlled my next two days. Everyone assured me that I had nothing to worry about since insurance is included in the price of every toll ticket. They said this insurance would pay for the damages to the highway. The toll road employees all agreed. Everyone agreed that everything would be much brighter the next morning. (Continued on next page)