I can now add “minor criminal” to my list of Mexican achievements. Or at least scofflaw. Of course it has to do with the car, which has throughout my life been the source of minor run-ins with the law, mostly speeding, but the odd collision (none in many years now), and various parking violations. Of course, my record in Mexico had so far been pristine. Alas, I’m no longer a virgin, and I can give up all hopes of an image of my truck miraculously appearing on some campesino’s sweatshirt resulting in the establishment of an automotive shrine in my name on el Cerro de Tepeyac.
It happened Wednesday in Roma Norte, on Álvaro Obregón to be exact. After a somewhat harried drive from Tehuacán, and then a lucha libre with traffic in DF, I was understandably eager to get out of the truck and into some kind of café or restaurant. I parked and was immediately somewhat baffled by the parking meter. It’s one of those systems where you buy a ticket which you put on your dashboard. Simple enough. We have those in Boston, too. But I was somewhat foiled by the need to enter my license plate characters, since the keyboard only had numbers, and I’ve also got letters on the plate. But I put in the first three numbers and then left for lunch. Unfortunately, between lack of food, a harrying trip over the mountains from Puebla, the aforementioned lucha libre with the DF traffic, and a certain amount of emotional distraction, I basically got mixed up about exactly how much time comprised 75 minutes. You’re all probably thinking, “Duh, an hour and a quarter.” And that’d be exactly right. However, I wasn’t aided by the fact that the expiration time on the ticket printed out 18:56, which is simple enough, but military time foils me more than I’d care to admit. And my watch is set to Eastern Daylight Time, adding one more little calculation to my then-overtaxed brain.
Anyway, I left for a late lunch with a rather vague idea about when to return. During lunch, I answered the many kind comments you all left on my last post (thank you!), and somehow lost track of time.
And so, I got a parking ticket. Big deal, right? Well those of you who know DF, know that this isn’t just a matter of simply mailing a cheque some time in the next few weeks. Nope. In DF, they put a boot on your car for the first offense. So I came back to find myself “inmovilizado,” with a complex set of instructions printed on the letter-sized parking ticket.
Step 1. Find one of the listed stores or banks, and go pay the fine in cash. Easy enough, even if it’s a painful $538 pesos or $41 USD. ¡Ouch! That’s about 54 times the value of the second coin I should have dropped. Oh well.
Step 2. Call the phone number listed on the ticket and tell them that you’ve paid the fine, and where the car is. Even though I consider myself pretty fluent in Spanish, this part was the hardest. I had to navigate my way through various touch-tone options which seemed to go by pretty fast. The fact that the only public phone was right next to a pet store chock-full of yapping dogs didn’t help. When I got to a real person, I immediately pled, “I’m a foreigner. Please speak slowly.” By the way, if you don’t speak Spanish well, don’t park on the street, because if this happens to you, you’ll never get your car back.
Step 3. Wait in or by the car until the guys show up to un-boot your wheel. Show them the receipt for payment. This actually wasn’t too bad as they came in about ten minutes, though their demeanor suggested that I had committed a far more serious crime than having parked 20 minutes longer than allowed.
Step 4. Leave said parking spot at the height of Mexico City rush hour just as a torrential downpour begins. Spend the next forty minutes driving to your hotel which is eight blocks away. Try to stay calm as people behind you honk furiously, goading you to block the intersection on a yellow light.
Step 5. After your car is safely parked at the hotel, find a bar, order a double-margarita, and write a blog post to purge the horror of the experience.
And that, folks, is one of a long list of reasons why you really are much better off here without a car.