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 (Continued)
My new friends from the toll road company helped me get all my stuff out of the dead Bronco, advising me that once it went to the corralon (auto impound yard), I would never see any of it again. They were very embarrassed by this, but as typical pragmatic Mexicans, they accepted the bad and made up for it with their own goodness. A relative of mine had an accident in Oklahoma. Her possessions were strewn along the highway. While she lay in a ditch, people stopped to help all right. They stopped, grabbed what they could and took off. What wasn't taken by the jackals on the road was appropriated by the taxi driver who took them to the hospital. I wasn't quite at the advanced metaphysical level where I could be thankful for the life-lesson I was learning, but I was at least glad that I had my accident in Mexico.
Salvador gave me his home number, saying that if I needed anything, to call him. He volunteered his parents to pick me up tomorrow and drive me around. He said that if I needed to go to the hospital, the toll road insurance would pay for it. We drove this pickup truck filled with gasoline soaked materials forty miles to a hotel in Torreon.
The bellboys had to work for their tips that evening, but they did so cheerfully. One of them even remembered me from my previous visits. And how is your esposa, he asked. (Truth be told, I had stayed at that hotel several times, each time with a different esposa, but the bellman was being polite). That was a long story, so I just said, Fine, thanks. I didn't want to explain that I had lost both my truck and my true love recently.
The toll road people took me to the police station where the insurance adjuster came and I made a report. He told me to return there first thing in the morning to pay my fine. He gave me a ride to the hotel, but that was the end of his services. An adjuster makes about eighteen dollars for handling a claim, so his assistance is minimal.
That night Salvador called to see how I was. He said his parents would be by bright and early.
"8:00 O'clock," I inquired?
"That is very early. 10:00 o'clock."
Of course. Little gets done in Mexico before 10 AM. Sr. Guillermo Rojas and Sra. Maria Magdalena Rojas came by. We went to the highway patrol station. No, the cops said, one does not pay a fine here. One has to go to the Autotransportes office. It was several miles away. The nice old couple drove over there. Yes, the people at Autotransportes admitted, one could pay a fine here, but first, they needed the ticket from the highway patrol. It wasn't here, so could I please come back tomorrow. Surely it would be here then. One lesson from the whole thing is that Mexicans get the run-around from their officials just like gringos, so if you find yourself in a wating for Godot situation, don't take it personally.
The Sra. was a real go-getter. She worked for Hacienda, the Mexican equivalent of the IRS. My mother had worked for the IRS and just like the Sra., she managed to drop it into conversations. It did wonders. Well, the Autotransportes peoples said, if you went to the highway patrol office maybe you could hurry them up. Back we went. She pleaded with the officer that I was a foreigner and it was very inconvenient to keep me in Torreon another day. He said he would hurry up the officer in charge. But first, we had to go to the Autopista office and find out what damages I had caused to the highway.
"Huh?" I asked.
"Oh yes, senor, if you damage a Mexican highway, you must repair it, the cop told me. But don't worry, the toll road insurance should pay for it."
The autopista office was in Gomez Palacio, Durango, just over the state line from Torreon, which is in Coahuila. The people in the autopista office were very sorry that the accident happened and inquired about my health. They could not tell me the amount of the damages to the highway, but if I would come back later, they could give me a bill. But first, they said, I must pay my multa, or fine, at autotransportes.
Back in Coahuila., the police report had arrived. The multa was N$2300 (US$300) for damaging the highway. I was shocked. Well, the clerk informed me, if the damages to the highway were less than one thousand pesos, the fine would be dropped.
Back we went to the autopista office. Yes, they had a total of the damages to the highway and would give it to me. It was N$2300 (US$300). In the whole incident, that was the only time I lost my cool.
"You certainly think a lot of your highways," I said with a sneer.
"Si, Senor Mike, we are very proud of them." Sneers don't translate well. "They cost five million pesos a kilometer to build."
"But I only hurt a little bit of it."
"Ah, Senor Mike, our computers tell us that it costs $3,100,000 to construct one mile, or about US$413,333. Since that is US$78 a foot, we are only asking you pay for 5.11 feet of our nice new road you destroyed."
He had me there. Of course, by now it was too late to pay my fine. We called it a day. Back at my hotel, I called a lawyer. When I bought my auto insurance they had sold me something called Legal Assistance. It entitled me to the services of a lawyer without charge in the case of an auto accident. I never figured I'd need it, but I never figured I'd have an accident either. I called a toll-free number and spoke to someone in English. She told me a local lawyer would call at 7:30 PM. At 7:35 his assistant called. He told me the lawyer, Sr. -------- would come to my hotel at 10:00 PM that night. He agreed to meet me first thing the next morning.
He arrived bright and early 11:00 AM. We went to Autotransportes. We went to the Autopista office. He argued. I glared. We went to the state of Durango Autotransportes who informed us that they thought Coahuila was being outrageous. One jefe shrugged his shoulders and said, Viva Mexico. A lady official went with us to Coahuila to argue our case. Imagine a government official willing to get out of her office and go to bat for a stranger! Of course, at the Coahuila office it didn't make a hill of beans. My fine was just, they insisted. It was the toll road that was unjust. Further, if I didn't pay my fine in thirty days it would increase to a million pesos. End of case.
If the Autopista people would just relent, they could cancel my fine. Back we went to Autopista office. We paid. The lawyer argued, suggesting that they report a lower amount to help me. The jefe insisted that he could not tell a lie. End of case. By now it was too late to pay the fine, as Autotransportes had closed again.
I gave the lawyer enough pesos to pay my fine for me and boxed all my stuff to ship it by bus to Reynosa.
Here's what I learned. 1. Fix your muffler when it gets loud. 2. If you have an accident on a toll road (though this may vary depending on the operators) you are better off than you would be in the States. Save that ticket. 3. Try and get all you stuff taken to your hotel. Once it is in the corralon, it takes an act of Congress to see it again. 4. Get some sort of legal aid insurance. I used to scoff at it, but calling that lawyer first could have saved me a lot of frustration. 5. Expect to pay for damaging the roads if you hurt them. 6. Don't expect the worst. I'm sure that not every incident turns out as pleasantly as mine, but your attitude has a lot to do with it. 7. Be prepared for a lot of running around or let your lawyer do it. If I had wanted to, I could have let him act as my proxy and left the country once I had a police report that stated that my car was in the hands of the government. You will need this paper to get out of the country and not be accused of selling it in Mexico.