January 15, 2014 —
As the lights flashed red and blue, the uniformed policìa on a motorcycle motioned to the right for us to pull over, and I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was, luckily, not driving, and so I had a perfectly framed view of the portly mustached man riding smoothly next to us.
If it hadn’t been so dark, I imagine I would have seen a grin spread across his face. He had hooked us; a group of American tourists with pockets full of cash, out late enough to shake us down. It’s our last night in Mexico, our first and only in Cancun.
We pulled to a stop on the side of the calle and, this must be a universal cop thing, waited (and waited) as the officer slowly (very slowly) made his way to the driver’s side window.
“Habla espanol?” he said to Marc, our unlucky amigo behind the wheel.
“Un poco,” Marc replied.
“Licencia y registro, por favor.” the policìa said. We were speeding, he said.
Marc handed them over without a fight and with them, it would later become clear, all of the negotiating power.
By all accounts we were ready to come home. Emily and I had had a glorious vacation in Costa Rica with friends for New Year’s, and we had then flown to Mexico to check out the site of our wedding. It’s quite lovely. (More, nay much more, on that for loyal readers to look forward to.)
We had then joined friends, Marc and Julia, in a palapa (grass roof house) that they had rented just down the road from our wedding venue, unbeknownst to us in a fortuitous coincidence.
Not so fortuitous was the fact that the move to the palapa coincided precisely with a turn in the weather. It was wet and damp, the sun staying hidden behind thick grey clouds. And while I am certain to garner no sympathy, having dodged every ounce of the cold front you at home experienced last week, there is just something extremely offensive about being on vacation when it’s raining.
The palapa had no glass, the windows covered only by mosquito nets, and so Emily and I spent the first night huddled together in a cocoon of multiple blankets. We all made the best of the weather with good meals and rounds of cards.
The second night Emily pointed out a spider at the foot of the bed. Honestly I’d never seen one quite so large. This was the kind of spider that invented arachnophobia and neither of us slept particularly well that night. We escaped (luckily) unscathed, and the next morning we drove to Cancun to a dry hotel room and a flight back to New York City the next morning.
After a deliciously touristy Italian meal, we ventured to a nearby casino for some gambling and carousing. I broke just about even after a few hours, walking away with most of the money I had coming in and feeling like a blackjack god.
We got pulled over seconds later. After beating around the bush with the policìa, we finally got to the route of the issue. Marc could pick up his license the next morning at the station. But that wasn’t going to work because he also had a flight in the morning. Hmmm… the policìa wondered. What were we going to do?
As he held Marc’s license in ransom, and since he was such an understanding guy, he offered to take “100 dollars.” He was trying to help us out, make it mas facil para nosotros. We pooled our money together and gave him his $100 payoff. He thanked us and handed Marc back his license.
The mood in the car was light. I joked about how it was worth it for the story; the adventure had been exciting and relatively safe all things considered. “It could have been much worse,” I said.
As if on cue, red and blue lights flashed again. Suddenly it was like some bizarre Mexican spinoff of the Twilight Zone (Zona Twilight?) and we replayed the same exact thing again.
“Habla espanol?” he said to Marc, our unlucky amigo behind the wheel. We were speeding and it was a real problema.
I immediately started chuckling. Marc did not. He furiously got out of the car and explained what had transpired a mere five minutes earlier down the road. The cop didn’t care. “Problema aqui,” he said simply.
This time we offered him 1,000 pesos, which is about 75 bucks, and he took it.
Who knew you could negotiate with a policìa over a shake-down?
We drove the last half a mile to our hotel room in absolute silence.