My registration had expired. Yeah, I knew it but... So I did what every guilty driver does and feigned ignorance. "No, seriously?", I said. All in Spanish of course.
The cop, as cops everywhere in the world do because it's standard curriculum at all the finest academies, gave me the look that shows he knew I was doing the guilty driver gag. But he went along with it. "Si, senor. Un ano." ("Yes, sir. One year.")
OK, now, one year seems like a long time but bear with me here for a moment. You know I'm somewhat introverted and perhaps a touch agoraphobic (except it's not a phobia, it's real) and this is the DMV we're talking about. THE D. M. V. ! DMVs are the same all over the world. Busy, confusing, and manned by people who might have cared long ago about something...anything but now are barely alive and don't care about that. And true to form, there is only one office for a city of more than a quarter million people. Oh, and vehicle registrations are all renewed at the same time. Get the picture? So, yeah, I was a year and a little more overdue in renewing. But I just might have an out.
Every three or four years there's an election and with every election the winner gets to issue new license plates. No, don't ask, I don't know. But what I do know is that we just had an election and the new plates, despite some last minute glitches, were on their way to the DMVs all across the great state of Quintana Roo.
So, back to the traffic stop. I explained to the officer I thought it was only when we got new plates that we got new registrations and so next month I was going to purchase the new tags. Pretty nifty out and I could see this might be working.
I'm told gringos are a paperwork nightmare for the police so that could be why he let me go. I'd like to think it was my good attitude and fairly good Spanish. Who knows?
The following month (or maybe the one after) I go online (Yes!) and complete the paperwork for the new registration. The computer displays a PDF with my "fine" for missing the previous year and the cost of the new tags. Fortunately, I was able to take advantage of filing early (hahaha) for a nice discount. Off to the bank I go, I pays my money, and I'm now the proud owner of everything I need to get new plates - my PDF and a bank receipt worth far more than its weight in gold.
I knew the DMV from when I bought the car some years past and changed the registration. Madness. Cramped quarters, no place for people to stand in line, and the line leading out the door. Ah, but those who are in line are terribly polite. They let their extended family, their friends, their extended family's friends, the friends of friends, and people they probably don't even know get in line ahead of them. I learn the DMV was so overwhelmed that moving to new quarters wasn't sufficient so they opened another office in town. Of course, they didn't advertise the satellite office. But then what should one expect, they didn't advertise their move. But somehow, word gets around. Oh, and there is NO sign outside the building where that satellite office is located. But after getting some vague directions from a couple of people who insisted they knew where it was and then finally asking so many people that I was bound to run into a DMV employee on lunch break or a suicide mission, I found it. There was no line.
But there weren't any new tags either. Come another day, they said. "El proxima semana." Next week.
You know when they "manana", it's going to be a while and probably not tomorrow. Even "ahorrita" sounds like it could happen at any moment but is actually worse than "manana". But "next week"? Next week means "maybe never". Next week is measuring tectonic plate movement in the desert. Next week?
Two weeks in a row I went "next week" and still no tags. It's now mid-April. I have until the end of June to change the tags. But armed with my paperwork and, more importantly, the bank receipt, I can challenge any police stop, Transport or otherwise. But they don't stop me. I smile and waive at the cops like a maniac and point to my plates and they wave back. I'm legal and they don't give me a chance to prove it. April passes but in May and again in June I try the "Next week" trip to no avail.
It's now the end of June (the deadline for changing tags) and it seems mine is the only car on the road sporting the 3-year-old whale shark plates, caked in dust and grime, but still no one stops me. Finally the deadline passes and with it, I assume, all the crowds at the DMV. I return to the unmarked storefront and present my tags, paperwork and bank receipt. Bada-bing, bada-boom, I'm putting the new tags on Ol' Red and noticing the naysayers were right, our County flag doesn't look quite right. And for this I paid good money?
It's getting close to mid-summer now and I realize my driver's license expired a few months back. But I'm not worried because the starter isn't doing what starters are supposed to do so Ol' Red in the shop. I'll not be driving for a while. Towing the car to the garage (US$17! Yeah, I know, right?) I was warmly greeted by the mechanic I had neither seen nor missed in eight months. He said he was happy to see me but concerned. He wondered if we had moved so far away we'd never return. I reminded him of all the time and effort (and my money) his people put into the Ol' Red and that he had nothing to worry about. Ol' Red could never get half that far...
P.S. Two-year renewal for the driver's license - US$27. New picture (the last one looked like I was just released from a year in solitary), new fingerprints, new electronic signature, and only an hour and a half of standing around waiting my turn. Quite manageable. I may even return.