Bribe culture in action
A friend of mine, Pedro, was driving me home after taking me for breakfast. We were on Avenida Insurgentes, one of Mexicoâ€™s Cityâ€™s main traffic thoroughfares which, once you get onto, is hard to turn back on. U-turns are usually the form used by Distrito Federalâ€™s confident drivers to get back to where they came from.
Pedro decided to pull a classic DF maneuver. In order to turn round, when the traffic light in front of us turned green, he pulled into the lane of waiting cross-traffic to our right, moving over in front of the waiting cars to wait for the light to change. But before it did, both of us spotted a traffic policeman on the other side of the road. He signaled to Pedro to move on, not to make the turn and to carry on driving down Insurgentes.
To my puzzlement, Pedro ignored him, later explaining that he was planning to ignore the warden and whiz by. But, as we pulled out into the road and swung round to the left back onto Insurgentes, we came face to face with the traffic wardenâ€™s colleague, standing in the middle of the road. He pulled us over.
I tensed up. I didnâ€™t know what to expect. My companion started trying to explain that heâ€™d made the move because we were in a hurry and turning round on Insurgentes was hard. Neither of those explanations were very true, and our man here knew it. He asked to see Pedroâ€™s license.
There was a silence.
Pedro threw me a nervous glance.
He ran his hand through his hair and down his face, looking shocked.
â€œNo traigo licencio, official,â€ he murmured.
â€œI donâ€™t have a license.â€
The policemanâ€™s face lit up. His partner â€“ who Pedro had blankly ignored â€“ appeared in order to reap his revenge, jotting down the number of the license plate and the car details.
We didnâ€™t need the policeman who had stopped us to pull out his little book of rules and read us the penalties for the traffic infraction Pedro had just committed, as well as the cost of driving without a license. But he did it anyway.
â€œOffer him some money,â€ I murmured, surprising myself.
But it looked bleak. The thousands of pesos my friend was going to have to pay in fines mounted. Later, friends told me that the jotting down of details and the threat of fines is all part of the elaborate theatre of the bribe culture.
Pedro got out of the car and stood speaking conspiratorially to the policeman who was jotting down the car details, paying him the attention he should have paid him three minutes ago when he told him not to make the turn. The policeman appeared to be focused on his work and was clearly enjoying himself.
Pedro reached into his back pocket and pulled out 500 pesos. The policeman took it discreetly, tucked it under his clipboard and walked away.
As frequently is the case, I was astounded and made no secret of that as we drove away. $US50 to get yourself out of driving without a license, a serious traffic infraction and disregarding an officer. What a bargain.