Mexican Left Turn Angelic Blues
A Plug for Lewis & Lewis Insurance)
In March my compadre Jacques and I made plans to travel
back north together. Plunging ES (my ’78 Chinook
named Endangered Species) into San Luis Potosi’s
Semana Santa traffic, I aimed toward the museum where
he and I pulled off a flawless rendez-vous and continued
north. Jacques needed to meet with his lawyer
in Monterrey and also wanted to visit the scene of the
bus accident eight years ago when he lost his left arm.
The accident happened at night, and Jacques lay pinned
beneath the bus for seven hours until tow trucks lifted
it off of his arm. And that’s a story in itself
about insurance that didn’t work!
A couple of days later we find ourselves at Concepcion
de Oro, visiting the roadside tow truck business where
Jacques pays his respects to the brothers Alfredo and
Chuy, who lifted the bus off his arm, and I photograph
them together. Jacques has bought a metal milagro of a
golden arm, which he wants to leave at the site of the
accident in a kind of gringo reversal of Mexican Catholic
tradition. (Normally, milagros are offerings made in church
for miracles performed by God—health regained, wishes
fulfilled, limbs restored to usefulness.) Following Alfredo’s
instructions, we head south again. When we pass one of
the landmarks described by him I tell Jacques we’ve
passed the site and need to turn back.
Coming up on our left is an ample gravel turn out to
a distant building. I signal a left turn (first big booboo)
and start to slow. A car going about 100mph roars past
on the left, and I begin my turn. Almost off the pavement,
a sudden push from behind sends us flying onto the gravel.
Completely rattled but apparently unhurt, I continue forward
and swing in a large circle to return to the highway where
ES faces her “attacker”, a small nondescript
(to my eyes) red car. I stop and get out as a tall man
emerges and strides toward me, exclaiming “Que paso?”
Good question, I think—and then—he oughtta
know just what exactly happened, being the rear ender!
His teenage daughter bears the only human injury—a
cut on her forehead—and I hurry to find my first
aid kit. Jacques brings his sleeping bag for the girl
to lie down on, I raise her legs to prevent her going
into shock, and her mother cleans and bandages the wound.
We tell them there is a clinic just a few miles back in
Concepcion de Oro, but Jacques warns them, from his own
past experience, that it isn’t the best.
The father determines to hurry on home to Guadalajara
for medical attention, even though it is two hours away.
He appears hostile, edgy and unwilling to exchange information
with me, which I naively jot down in a notebook. When
they hurtle off at what appears to be their traditional
breakneck speed, Jacques collapses in tears, moaning he’s
sorry, that it’s his fault—feeling guilty
for bringing us to this spot. I tell him of course it’s
not his fault—he wasn’t driving! But neither
of us are impervious to the knowledge that we are within
walking distance of his previous severe accident—what
is this spot—a karmic black hole?
I finally have time to survey the damage. Poor ES looks
like her entrails are hanging out. The back left corner
of the camper is totally smashed, and Steve’s old
camp stove, twisted and bent by the impact, stares mournfully
out the hole at us. We compliment ourselves on being alive,
and go to look at the skid marks—which extend in
angry rubber about 100 yards up the highway. Jacques takes
pictures of everything that could possibly need documenting,
then stoops to pick up scraps of ES’s shell, the
tail lights and a scrap of metal that proves the Guadalajara
family was speeding along in some kind of a Volkswagon.
We decide to head back to the nearest phone so I can call
my insurance agent.
The first available phone proves to be in a hotel directly
across from a police station. I make my call, despite
Jacques’ suggestion that we go look for a private
booth. Midway through my call, I start to share his paranoia
about the cops across the way and the fact that within
minutes everyone within range of the senora at the desk
is going to know we’ve been in an accident (in case
they haven’t noticed ES with her innards hanging
out!) I reach Lewis & Lewis and am told the Saltillo
agent will be contacted and will join us within an hour.
Since it’s almost an hour and a quarter to Saltillo,
I rather doubt this optimistic timetable.
We sit at a booth near the window with a nice view of
the cop station, Jacques orders a sandwich (second booboo—it
proves Steve’s old maxim that hotels aren’t
in the business of feeding people—at least, not
well), and I take a turn at bursting into tears. After
I calm down a bit, I do some research, opening my battered
PG. “Hmm. That guy must have read the People’s
Guide,” I muse. “Carl says all best authorities
recommend leaving the scene of the accident and avoiding
involvement with the cops at all costs.” I stare
warily out the window, wondering when they’re gonna
come and get me.
Having had time to ride out the adrenalin rush, I realize
what caused the accident. It’s the good old surrealist
Mexico signal system where one signal has two possible
interpretations. A left blinker can mean either, “I’m
turning left,” or, “It’s safe to pass
me.” Presumably Mr. VW interpreted my blinker as
the second of the options.
“I should have pulled off to the right,”
I moan to Jacques. “Then I could have turned ES
around and just made a left from there.” The joys
of hind sight. Even though I was well aware of the conundrum
of the “left turn signal,” my own cultural
conditioning played me false.
Finally, about two and a half hours after my phone call,
our guardian angel, as we are soon to call him, arrives—a
plump young man with glasses, wearing a pale yellow shirt
and slacks, carrying a clipboard. His name is Raul Parral,
and he listens to our story sympathetically. He merely
smiles at my notes; Mexico does not have the means, he
tells me, of tracking down a driver by his driver’s
license or car license. And, he laughs, Commercial Mexicana
is not, as the man assured me, his insurance company but
a chain of supermarkets. Of course, I all but slap my
forehead, that’s why the name sounded so familiar!
Raul accompanies me to the site of the accident, makes
some notes and then goes with me to the police station.
“Just don’t mention the girl’s cut,”
The police, it turns out, couldn’t be less interested.
In fact, we don’t even see a policeman. The girl
at the desk tells us that since we’ve all left the
scene of the accident, there is nothing to examine and
nothing to report. I suspect she’s relieved to be
absolved of some mountain of paperwork.
So much for my paranoid fancies.
In fact, the advent of Raul has completely transmuted
the energy of the event. We are obviously in capable,
comforting hands. He guides us to the agency’s office
in Saltillo, starts the paperwork ball rolling and allows
us to camp in the company lot. I’m in no condition
to drive another inch.
Morning finds us again guided by Raul to a competent
'taller' that can handle all ES’s multiple injuries.
We go over the list of what needs to be fixed, which includes
a whole new bumper and under support, not to mention the
fabrication of the back wall. The job may take as long
as two weeks!
And then it occurs to me that I’m not just going
to be able to camp out in the shop. Where will I stay,
I wonder? Raul recommends a nearby hotel that is “muy
economico,” as he assures me. Unfortunately, even
economical is not within the means of my end of the trip
budget. “Twenty-five dollars a day!” I exclaim.
“I don’t have that.” Raul looks perplexed,
thinks a minute and then calls his wife on his cell phone.
Idalia, it emerges, has a co-worker at the Desert Museum
who is building a house that he may be prevailed upon
to rent me. Since she is unable to locate Enrique immediately,
Raul carries us off to the museum, insists on paying our
entry fee and encourages us to enjoy. This is all clearly
above and beyond the call of duty. It’s soon evident
that this two year new museum is of world class quality—I’ve
never been to a science museum of equal stature. Idalia
even takes us on a private tour of the nursery where she
raises and cares for some hundreds of cactus types, many
of them endangered. She glows with excitement telling
us about her work, and we fall under her spell.
At sunset we find ourselves in front of a row of houses
on a hillside on the edge of the city. Enrique and I negotiate
a price. (I am eventually to end up paying $75 for a ten
day stay.) It’s not a place I would have ever imagined
myself spending time — a raw and barren new development
where houses march shoulder to shoulder into infinity,
and there is hardly an inch that isn’t covered with
cement or the rubble of construction. But as Jacques and
I unload and set up makeshift housekeeping, I have never
been more grateful for a roof over my head and a place
to call home.
The taller’s work is good—they even try to
match the linoleum! And Lewis and Lewis cover the $1500
costs, minus my $300 deductible. The last night in our
little casita Jacques and I entertain Raul and Idalia
with some bizarre and unusual botanas concocted out of
food supplies remaining in ES’s closet and exchange
addresses. They wish us good luck on our journey home,
and Jacques answers, “You are our luck!”
If Raul is a typical agent, Lewis & Lewis is running
a team of angels! Give the agency a call when it’s
time to buy your insurance for Mexico: (800) 966-6830.