Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No Bribes, No Fines

It was a good day. We accomplished a lot of chores with a bit of sightseeing rolled in. But, the most educational time was during a traffic stop at Plaza Cinco de Mayo.

The long story begins weeks ago with me exchanging my wallet for a rubber band to keep credit cards and money in my front pants pocket. No, it begins before that, doing Panama research, reading about the vagaries of life in this country and vowing to not get sucked into bribing people, especially the cops. Flash forward to yesterday as I made an illegal left-hand turn Well, if there was a No Left Turn sign, I didn't see it. Someday, I'll return to the scene of the crime and confirm. (Yes, checking later, there is a sign, seen here at the upper left.)

Just about mid-turn, it did feel a bit awkward sitting there in the middle of the intersection waiting for on-coming traffic to part. The traffic cop felt it was more than a bit awkward. He motioned for me to complete the turn and pull over. He unhurriedly walked up and spoke several paragraphs to which I had to reply, "No comprendo mucho Espanol." Hand gestures and our mutual few words of each other's language prompted me to reach for my California license. I included our residence card for Los Altos de Cerro Azul, wondering if that would buy me anything. When the cards came out of my pocket, he must have seen the bills wrapped around them.

He asked how long we have lived here ("tres meses" - three months) and then asked for my passport. He confirmed our last entry into the country and that we were legal on a tourist visa. Several times he used the word, "multa" and asked if I understood. I didn't. After several moments he motioned for me to get out of the truck. I gave Cindy my money and other cards, then joined two cops at the rear of the vehicle.

The cop then gave me a good talking-to and said "multa", pointing at the ticket book the second cop was holding. Now I got it and asked how much it would cost. He said $100 and I acted faint. Then he added that this was Panama! He wanted to know if I wanted a "multa?" I said no. A minute passed and he said it would be "bueno" if I gave him $20 then and there. It was tempting. One Andrew Jackson in place of 5 wouldn't be a bad trade. But, my puritan naiveté kicked in and I said no thanks, I'll take the ticket.

At that point it got as quiet as it could at the busiest corner of Cinco de Mayo. Then the cop received an "urgent" cell phone call, for which he walked down the street, leaving his young associate holding the ticket book with me. The young cop took a stab at the no-left turn lecture and I was attentive. Meanwhile, the first cop walked further away to I don't know what. After several more incomprehensible Spanish sentences the young officer made a gesture which I took to mean I was free to go. Which I did, with thanks all around and a smile on my face.

The video shows a time compressed trip from the no-left turn sign at Cinco de Mayo to the Novey at Albrook Mall. This was on a Sunday afternoon in light traffic which bears only little resemblance to our original trip and without my infamous left turn.

No comments:

Post a Comment