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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sea Mas Discreta, Señora

National Public Radio recently ran a story by Carrie Kahn, a journalist who covers Mexico news. She worked at the PBS station in San Diego when I had the pleasure of meeting her about 20 years ago while working for a PBS documentary series. The radio report is about Mexican cops, corruption and the use of cameras on officers to help put a stop to bribes from both police and citizens who initiate bribes. 

Corruption is a hot topic, and as Carrie Kahn's story details, the videos produced by the cameras promise to be interesting. 

There are two kinds of sin, venial and mortal. So too with corruption, there are two kinds. The goldfish kind and the shark kind. One you could swallow, the other could swallow you.

My experience with Mexican cops and corruption has been favorable, fortunately. I was once stopped by a traffic cop in a small Mexican town en route to Zacatecas and was given a police escort to the highway. That's how lost we were, or how quickly they wanted us off their streets.  Another time I was stopped for speeding when I was sure I was not driving over the speed limit and felt that I was targeted for being American. I thought I'd try to avoid the ticket and hassle by appealing to the cop's sense of guilt. I said, "So you see an American license plate and think this is easy money. Let me stop them." It worked, and he let me go on my way. I really believe I was channeling my Mom, who could argue her way out of a ticket with the ease of a seasoned actor. She once was pulled over for speeding and told the officer, "Look, son, I've got no time for this, I'm in a hurry, can't you see?" We have the traffic cop angel working overtime in my family. 

On our way to Cuatro Cienegas, ten years ago, just west of Eagle Pass we were at the border to get our car permit when someone in our group didn't have a car title, which was required. Getting a copy faxed from San Antonio was our only option to calling off the whole trip. The fax was delayed in coming and the delay went on for about two hours before one of us had the brainy idea it was never going to come unless we helped it with some extra cash. I was elected to attempt the transaction, but I shouldn't have accepted the job. I was already put out from the too-long wait and my usual affable nature was reduced to something less than. But as the only native Spanish speaker in the group, I seemed the logical choice. I stood before the customs agent and asked if our fax had arrived and he said it had not. I pulled the $20 bill my friend had handed me from my wallet and placed it on the counter. He bolted forward and said "!Señora, sea mas discreta!" urgently requesting that I be more discrete with my display of cash. He took the bill, despite my lack of discretion. The required fax magically arrived and our journey into Mexico proceeded with no further delays or need for discretion of any kind.