Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Mexico story: Getting rear-ended and screwed on the same day

This week did not begin auspiciously. Six weeks ago we had left our motorcycle at the local hole-in-the-wall Suzuki dealer, located next to an auto electrical supply store oddly named "The Mummy," to see if they could sell it.

There were no buyers, so Monday morning we picked it up so Félix could drive it back to our house. Immediately he noticed the speedometer/odometer was not working, and a few miles down the road—fortunately in front of a gas station—the bike ran out of gas even though we had left it with a full tank.

Stew, the more suspicious of us two, immediately figured the dealer had driven the bike for weeks, used all the gas, and disconnected the odometer so we wouldn't notice.

¡Claro que sí!—Yeah, sure!—Félix replied when I passed on Stew's observation. But no big deal, he bought some gas and reconnected the odometer when he got home.

Then the day literally took a turn for the worse.

As I waited in my Ford Escape to turn a corner, a huge dump truck lightly rear-ended me causing enough damage to crease and buckle the rear gate. The nervous, apologetic young driver got off the truck and assured me his boss would pay for any damages.

¡Claro que sí!, I said before calling the police.

While Stew and I waited for the police, a small sideshow unfolded next to us in the parking lot of the Auto Zone store. An ancient VW Rabbit careened across the parking lot and over the curb before coming to a stop on a stretch of grass. The seemingly unexcited driver got out and walked into the store presumably to buy some brake-related accessory.

Twenty minutes later a dapper motorcycle cop appeared, wearing aviator glasses, skin-tight shirt and blue pants, a helmet tilted to the side just a tad, and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Erick Estrada of the old TV series CHIPs.

Erick told us to move the car and the truck across the street under a tree by the gas station to wait for the insurance agent and the owner of the truck to begin negotiations.

I said the agent would arrive in forty-five minutes. Erick let out a sarcastic snort and said, "Two hours."

In the meantime a police SUV and three more cops arrived, plus a beefy young guy wearing a greasy blue tee-shirt that barely covered his midriff. He said he represented the owner who'd arrive shortly.

¡Claro que sí!,"  I thought wearily. But looking at the bovine expression on this character's face I began to suspect this brush with Mexican traffic law was not going to end well for me.

The insurance agent arrived a half-hour later, aboard a red rattletrap car whose main features were
scratches, dents and missing trim. José Luis Valencia was his name. He seemed to be a nice guy whom I thought was on my side—until I realized otherwise.

Shortly afterward, the owner of the truck appeared, looking very much the part of a Studly González, with neatly starched shirt and jeans, a jeweled silver belt buckle the size of small saucer, a neatly trimmed moustache and jet-black hair slicked back with just a little dab of Brylcreem.

He approached us and casually apologized for the siniestro (accident) and assured us we would be paid for the damages. ¡Claro que sí!, I muttered, though coming from Smarmy Studly this latest assurance convinced me I was being greased and massaged for a major screwing.

WANTED: Señor S. González.  If you see him, please
call me immediately. 
After several minutes of hush-hush negotiations behind our car between the insurance man and Studly, with much pointing and chin-scratching, the insurance adjustor approached me and announced a "solution" too good to be true.

It was. The owner of the truck would pay the deductible on my insurance—which coincidentally came up to almost exactly the on-the-spot estimate of the damage. Pay attention now.

"Well, give me the money then," I said, which amounted to approximately six hundred dollars. I hoped this would settle the matter.

"Oh, no, I don't have it with me," Studly said. "I would have to go back to the office and deposit it in your bank account." He diligently took down my bank account number and gave me his name and phone number.

I know what you're thinking: "You schmuck! That's a phony name and phone number and you're never going to see the money or Studly again.

And, ¡claro que sí! that's exactly what happened.

"Bullshit," I said to the insurance adjustor in my sternest voice, before he explained some fine points about Mexican traffic law and car insurance.

Unless I signed a document being prepared by Erick to the effect that the accident had been a hit-and-run, and thus freeing the truck owner from any responsibility, both vehicles would be impounded by the Ministerio Público, a law-enforcement appendage of state government whose usefulness to the citizenry some Texans would equate to "tits on a bull."

The Ministerio would then duly launch a formal investigation of the accident, presumably with judges, note-takers, lawyers and other dramatis personae befitting a judicial proceeding, while the two vehicles waited at the auto pound for a resolution of the siniestro. 

I quickly remembered two friends, Ricardo and Mallory, whose cars had been impounded by the Ministerio and not released for several months, and other horror stories about the Mexican judicial system. This sounded like a really bad idea.

So I was given two choices: accepting Studly's phony offer or having my car towed to the pound to wait for the wheels of Mexican justice to creak very slowly.

I called Carmen, the insurance agent and she did not hesitate with her advice: "Get in your car, don't sign anything and get out of there!"

And so, after more than three hours of talking and waiting under the tree by the gas station, we drove home with our dusty banged-up 2013 Ford Escape.

Is this the end of the story? ¡Claro que NO! 

Today Wednesday we're dropping in on Carmen with two body-shop estimates to demand a more equitable resolution. And infinitely flexible as all things are in Mexico, including traffic and insurance laws, I'm confident she will find a better solution.

¡Claro que sí!

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