I do love life in YUcatan, but does it seem to you, that lately… the drivers cruising our streets seem to be in “full moon mode.” Is there more than the usual frantic horn blowing, blocking the view at intersections, tail-gating by buses and kamikaze motorcyclists with a total disregard for human life? My book MAGIC MADE IN MEXICO, points out a few strategies you can use to cope with the daily “Demolition Derby”
D is for…DRIVING Are you up to it? How can you develop the nerves of steel you need?
My friend Theresa has suggested that the erratic driving in our city is perhaps due to the fact that few people take actual driving lessons. They learn from their parents, older siblings or from their friends. They also pick up all these people’s bad habits, and the problem compounds. They know how to operate a vehicle, but they don’t know—or care about—the rules of the road. I’m sure you’ve noticed people driving with small children on their laps… and talking on cell phones.
The drivers seem to take personal offense if anyone is ahead of them. They need to pass and get in front, no matter how perilous this may be. It’s as though they’d rather pile into you than let you emerge from your driveway, slip into a parking spot or change lanes.
This same friend says it is sheer folly to drive “if you’ve lost your nerve”. You do indeed need nerves of steel to navigate the roads of México. What to do if you don’t have them? Can you learn to drive à la mexicana?
If you do need to take to the streets, first be absolutely familiar with your car and how it will respond to your sudden moves. Practice in a less congested area to get the feel of the wheel. At all times be sure you know where you’re going. Be certain of what lane you should be in and watch out for anyone coming your way. His blinking signal light cannot be trusted…expect the unexpected! Next, hold your ground. If you let another car force you into a different lane, you might never get back. Keep your speed up; whatever the other cars are doing, you have to match them, or you’ll likely cause a pile-up. Finally, do not let your attention wander. Driving requires constant vigilance. You never know when a motorcycle will speed up on your right, a pedestrian will wander across the road or a giant bus will tailgate your rear! While driving, you will definitely have some unexpected “cultural moments”…
What if you commit a traffic violation and get stopped? Know the law—it’s very simple. You can obtain a copy of el Ley del Transito – The Rules of the Road – at a police station or where the driver’s license tests are given. Study it from cover to cover!
Following is some common-sense information that will help you to feel secure while driving; it will also keep you safe if you run into problems:
• It is important not to drive anywhere without a charged cell phone.
• You should program your insurance agent’s number into your cell phone contact list because if you get in trouble anywhere in México, he or she really will help you.
• What should you do if you’re in an accident and worse yet, someone is injured? Contrary to what you hear, you should not flee the scene.
• Stop, stay calm. Call your agent first! He will dispatch an adjuster (usually English-speaking) posthaste. The adjuster will then handle everything for you and explain what’s going on—step by step.
• Stay inside the car and quickly gather up all the valuables you may have there, especially documents like the car registration, insurance papers, etc.
• If you are alone, get on your cell phone again and ask a friend to come and help you, especially if it looks as though you will be detained—hopefully Spanish speaking in this case—for either medical or legal reasons. If you’re being detained, give all your valuables and impor-tant documents to the person who comes to your aid. If you are hurt, it is even more urgent that you get someone you trust on the scene as quickly as possible.
• Don’t speak, don’t sign ANYTHING and stay put until the adjuster arrives.
I hope the preceding has not made you decide to never get behind the wheel! Really, it isn’t all scary bad news. Many drivers and police officers are very kind. I have been lost countless times and when I’ve rolled down my window to ask the person in the car next to me how to get to “such and such a place”, quite often, they smile and say, “Follow me; I’ll take you there!”
Once my car stalled in the rain, and a young fellow got off his motorcycle, and, all by himself, pushed my old VW to the side of the road! “I’ll call your husband for you, if you like,” he said. Another time when my car wouldn’t start, two patrolmen came to my aid. I had a trunk full of groceries and my two small children with me. They called for a tow truck, then loaded the shopping, the kids and me into their vehicle and delivered us home.
The Mexican government is just as helpful to drivers on the highways in México as are its citizens, and you will be pleasantly surprised should you experience car difficulties. There is a cadre of mechanics called los Ángeles Verdes – the Green Angels – who patrol the federal highways in green trucks to assist motorists who have a breakdown or other sort of calamity. If they cannot resolve the problem, they will call for backup. And, believe it or not, this service is completely free. The only thing that might be charged for is the gasoline furnished for those who run dry. If you do develop those nerves of steel, you’ll enjoy the independence and convenience that driving allows you. You’ll find yourself on roads leading to wonderful places and you’ll have enchanting days. You will be pleased with yourself!
D id for Driving is an excerpt from MAGIC MADE IN MEXICO. In the book you’ll read anecdotes and practical advice ‘from other letters of the Alphabet’, such as: H is for Heat… L is for Love … and T is for Tipping. The book is available at many independent book stores and online using this link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Magic+made+in+mexico You can also order directly from the publisher, who provides free shipping;. Contact Editorial Mazatlan at: email@example.com Theier website is http://www.editorialmazatlan.com On the website you’ll see some of the other titles they have published, such as Richard Grabman’s superb hitory of Mexico, GODS, GACHUPINES Y GRINGOS.