San Felipe, Baja, Mexico

The Mexican Left Turn Angelic Blues
(or A Plug for Lewis & Lewis Insurance)

by Tina Rosa

March 2002

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,” he warns.

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.