On the outskirts of that large small town called Uman, to the south of Merida, there is a small retén, a police roadblock manned un-imposingly by one or two members of the Uman municipal police force, a formidable foe feared by organized crime, I’m sure.
On this occasion I was driving through Uman to Muna and the single skinny police official manning this post, who could not have been more than 18, made the up and down motions with his hands indicating that I should slow down and stop at his 4 poles and a piece of plywood shelter, complete with the economical and improvised flattened-tire-across-the-road speed bump.
I rolled down my window. It was a first for me to be stopped here in the many times I have driven this route, and I gave him a look that I hoped was inquisitive and at the same time supremely bored.
“¿A donde se dirige?” was the official-sounding query that came out of his barely teen mouth. This is a common phrase from the Official State Police Handbook used by police officials and literally translates as “where are you headed?” They could just say “a donde vas” but that just doesn’t quite cut it in terms of official verbosity.
“Muna” I answer evenly.
EagerCop closes in to peek inside the vehicle and sees that I have two 12-packs of cervezas on the floor of the truck. His face lights up noticeably.
“Muéstrame sus papeles” is his next salvo. I hand him my foreign driver’s license, setting down a couple of $100 peso bills on the seat beside me, and fish around for the vehicle’s tarjeta de circulacion and hand him that as well.
“Debe tener una licencia de aqui” he says. “Si no, le pueden dar una infraccion.” I know I should have a Yucatan license but did not know I could get a fine for not having one. In fact I do have one, but I like to mess with the traffic cops, especially prepotente little pricks like this one, who see a gringo face and figure they’ll try a little shakedown (cars, SUV’s and trucks were and are continuing to drive past and around us as he does his thing).
“Aha – lo dudo” I answer looking at him.
He looked thirstily down at the beer. I swear he licked his lips, but my memory might be playing tricks on me. The thought occurred to me that he might enjoy a cold beer.
“¿Cuantás ya se tomó?”
How many did I drink? Presuming guilt is is straight from the pages of Canadian customs officials and any hope he might have had of me giving him a few cold ones just went out the window.
He’s already giving up on the driver’s license end and now wants to work the alcohol angle or so it seems so as his next question, when I answer that I haven’t had a drink and that I don’t drink and drive is “No se puede transportar alcohol, le pueden dar una infracción.”
Right. So now, in his little world where he is the almighty authority lording it over a supuesto dumb gringo, transporting alcohol is now illegal. I explain to him that this is beer for an event I am attending in Muna, that I haven’t had any and that it most certainly is legal to put your shopping in your car and move it from one place to another even if said shopping includes alcoholic beverages.
He half-hardheartedly looks at the license, the registration, the 100 peso bills, the beer.
“Debe tener cuidado,” he says and hands me back the papers. I place the license along with the $100 peso bills in my shirt pocket and nod at him, biting my tongue to not tell him what a dick he is, and drive on to Muna.