It’s always exciting driving to Puerto Vallarta from San Pancho. Green hills and snatches of an ocean view are a prelude to busy Bucerias. Here the road opens up to a carnival of shops, taco stands and roadside vendors who will bring cold juice in a plastic bag, fresh flowers, or a juggling act to your car window. Men and women in white uniforms collect money for the hospital, and traffic police (Transito) wave you through the intersections even though the traffic lights are working well.
Last Saturday on the way to Puerto Vallarta my car was having some issues with the transmission. Every so often I needed to push hard on the accelerator and then let it off quickly in order to change gears (advice given by Tavo, my local mechanic). Just after the SEX SHOP sign I overdid the manoeuver, causing dust to fly up, and the car sped ahead. Through the haze I saw a Transito car and a robust-looking uniformed law officer pointing a radar gun aimed for the temple of my front end. Seconds later sirens shrieked and whistles blew and my heart became a rapper’s beat box. What had I done? What should I do?
I had to pull over. In Mexico you cannot turn directly off the highway. You must first exit to a lateral lane and then you are permitted to make a turn. I was in an outer lane and there was a lot of traffic in the laterals. I checked the rearview mirror and objects did indeed seem closer than viewed as I spied a chubby officer running at quite a pace. I took a breath and charged over two lanes and attempted a smooth stop. The officer was a few blocks behind but relentless in his remarkable pursuit, which had slowed to a jog. Huffing and puffing, he reached my window and asked me, “¿Como esta usted?” “Muy bien, gracias,” I replied, with courtesy and fear. Then he asked me how old I was. This seemed like a non sequitur, but I am told it is actually a normal question recommended at police academy.
After we chatted about age, Canada, and marriage, the officer informed me that I was speeding and proceeded to write on a piece of paper. He told me it would cost me 600 pesos to pay a fine at the office and a lot of inconvenience for me if I chose this route. He scratched his head for at least 30 seconds and then mentioned that I might be able to pay him and leave. Just how much money did I have? Mmmmm . . . 20 pesos for parking at the airport. Oh no, he had a look of disgust on his face, conveying both surprise and confusion. He turned to write up the ticket. Frantically I emptied my purse and discovered another 5 pesos, which I quickly jiggled in front of him, exclaiming, “Success, more money!” And not only that, I had a full unopened can of Coke. He very reluctantly took the 25 pesos, shrugged his shoulders, dismissed me and the Coke, and began to stride towards the patrol car many blocks behind. I sat and thought about the cost of a hot and dusty jog in a heavy black uniform and began to feel entirely guilty that he had not at least made 50 pesos, when I saw him turning around. He seemed taller and less round. He walked with pride of purpose, a slow swagger, and an expression of entitlement on his face. He reached my car as I rolled down the window yet again. He avoided eye contact. He slid his arm through the window opening like a graceful bailarin (dancer) and said in a slightly nasal, almost sexy, tone, “Si, quiero Coca Cola.” With the Coke in hand he flipped the metal tab and a beautiful hissing sound escaped. It was then I heard music from distant memories: “I like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. It’s the real thing—Coke is.” I wanted to jump up and hug him as we danced away with children from different nations. With due respect I tipped my sunhat to him, slowly adjusted my mirror and window, and drove off with gladness in my heart.
The next day, a friend asked me how I managed to be pulled over on the highway. I was incredulous. “How did you know?” “Ah, this is Mexico, we don’t miss anything,” he said. “Many friends of mine passed you on their way back to San Pancho.” Hmmm,” I commented, wondering if his friends had seen the REAL thing.