In fact, the damage itself was the least of our headaches compared to the six weeks of bureaucratic gyrations it took to "liberate"—that's what the process is called—our poor pickup from the San Miguel's auto pound.
|Waiting to be liberated since ca.1981|
|Strange backdrop to a strange operation.|
This is no temporary holding facility. One car had a 1981 license plate and most of the vehicles were covered by years of rust, dirt and assorted junk that suggested indefinite prison sentences. Think of it as a roach motel for cars, where they check in but likely will never drive out, or not any time soon. We know two people who had their cars impounded, one for six months the other for two years.
|Did your motorcycle turn up missing?|
In the U.S. the owners of the vehicles involved in relatively minor accidents will curse and scream, and then exchange drivers licenses, registrations and insurance information, receive a police report and arrange for a tow to the mechanic or body shop of their choice.
But this is Mexico, where most drivers don't have insurance, which is not required, or a way to pay for damages. In our case we hit the jackpot: The other driver had no insurance, money, Mexico plates or even a valid registration. His only documentation for his late-model Chevrolet Aztec pickup was a faded photocopy of a bill of sale from a dealership somewhere in Texas.
|Nothing to fear: Chucho is here.|
Both vehicles would be held at the corralón—effectively as ransom—as the incident worked its way through the bowels of the local State Attorney's Office, located in a new, bright- blue building on one of the entrances to San Miguel.
We realized there's a certain logic to the corralón: Given the general lack of auto insurance or cash to cover damages—and Mexicans' aversion to pay for anything or obey traffic laws—the only way to force settlement of claims is to impound the vehicles.
Even then, many owners just surrender their vehicles rather than pay for damages. Though mostly wrecks, there were also dozens of relatively new vehicles whose owners had figured it was cheaper to just walk away.
If one or both of the parties involved in an accident has the ready cash, the matter might settled on the spot to avoid the corralón. Or someone might quietly negotiate a mordida, a little contribution to the police officer's private retirement fund, to help him forget the whole thing. In case of serious injuries, of course, there are no quick outs.
|Abandoned by their owners?|
Our insurance company assigned us a stocky, gruff woman attorney to negotiate the payouts to the other driver. Our truck was on the wrong lane, so in fact we were at fault. Part of this lawyer's negotiating strategy, though, must have been not returning our insistent phone calls to find out the date of the hearing, which we had to ascertain on our own.
When the day arrived, the aggrieved passengers in the other vehicle showed up, each claiming fifteen hundred pesos (about eighty dollars) in medical expenses which our lawyer promptly conceded. But two of the injured weren't there and the case was postponed two more times.
We finally received our "liberation notice" for our truck which we had to take to the state police office from which we got another document, and go to another state office to pay a fine (about eighty dollars), and back to the state police with the receipt, before finally driving to the corralón to liberate our Frontier.
|The caretaker's home and guard cat.|
In all fairness, we were impressed by the efficiency and speed of the State Attorney's Office in handling this matter once they got to it. Or maybe we were just relieved to get out of there at all.
The corralón was guarded by a friendly, middle-aged man who lived in a very modest dwelling, borderline shack, with his wife, a cat and a wiggly young puppy. They were most accommodating but seemed surprised that we had come to claim our pickup. They remembered our green Frontier but not where they'd put it.
After a half-hour walk around the pound they spotted it—in a corner of the lot, buried behind several rows of trucks and other victims.
|Outta here. Hope to never see you again.|
It took two and a half hours before our Nissan Frontier, bruised but still rolling, emerged from the corralón, its front end hoisted by a tow truck also owned by Chucho, who charged us for the towing to and from the pound plus a daily fee for the privilege of staying at his corralón, for a total of thirty-two hundred pesos, or one hundred and seventy-five dollars.
The Frontier is now resting peacefully at a mechanic/body shop, curiously enough, right next to the other vehicle involved in the accident. Omar, the owner of the shop, was surprised as well that we had been able to extricate our vehicle from the clutches of the pound, which according to him, is a stop of no return for most of the cars that end up there.