When I get into Mexicali, I pick up my worker Jesús who drives south with me each year to protect me from my absentmindedness, for instance point out that I am going the wrong way on a one-way street or doing 90 when I should be doing 45 or being in the left lane when there are big trucks going the opposite direction to us in the same lane. He points these things out in a gentle fashion but I notice he crosses himself and kisses his thumb at the same time in case I don't hear him.
We drive for a day half-way across the upper part of Mexico to the end of the free zone and the jumping-off point at Sonoita. But when we go to pick up the papers for my car it turns out that Mexicans have recently decided to be like the French, or maybe even the Germans.
People who can't find work anywhere else go to work for the government, where they learn quickly to say no. And, sadly, due to that miserable Fox, these bureaucrats are no longer susceptible to bribes. They also have computers --- which were unheard of five years ago --- which can and do gum up everything.
One has to do extensive paperwork to get an American registered car into Mexico --- and one is supposed to turn all that paperwork back into the government offices when one returns from vacation. But I forgot to surrender my truck papers last year when I drove back into the Free Zone. This meant that when I get to the official crossing point in Sonoita this year, the people at Banjercito told me they couldn't let me and my car back into Mexico because me and my car were still technically in Mexico illegally, were long overdue, and had thus never returned. I and my truck are right there before them to show them that I have indeed returned, but it is the great logic of all bureaucracy of all times: if you didn't do it right, you didn't do it at all.
They tell me that they can't give me a visa for the car. This means that there is no way I can get into Mexico proper. I tell them this is not acceptable. I say that I have never had a problem like this before. I tell them I have gone into Mexico twenty-two times with a car and it is inconceivable that they aren't going to let me in this time. I also say I had been driving all day. I say I am very tired and then I ask, "is there no way to resolve this" (open invitation for bribe). No, no, and no.
I then tell them I want to see whomever's in charge, the "abogada de la frontera" --- the government lawyer who handles these visas. They say it is useless. I say let me try. They say it's useless. I say I am very tired and I want them to give me a break.
It's eight in the evening, I'm having my usual on-the-road nervous attacks, the temperature has dropped to around 45°, and the office they direct me to is all government --- bright fluorescent lights, dirty grey walls, no heat, stacks of papers everywhere. The man at the front desk, Mr. Toad, demands to know what I want. In all my days, I have never seen a grown man who looks more like a bufadora, warts and all. Even the hands, set on the desk, palms down, turned inwards. He's squatting there, and I'm his fly.
I tell him that I want to see the "abogada." He says that's impossible, that she is very busy. I say I have to see her, just for thirty seconds. He says it's impossible. I say I'll wait.
I have Jesús put my wheel chair right next to El Bufadoro's desk, so that me and my chair are well in his line of vision. Then, with no prompting, after five minutes, I begin to shake. Northern Mexico desert country can be very cold, and I am, after all, an old guy with the heebie-jeebies in a wheel chair in an unheated government office. In the words of that ancient folk song, I begin to shake, rattle and roll.
My wheel chair is an old one, an antique (a fabled Quickie II --- not unlike the 1953 Bentley). It has loose wheels and mysterious chains and hanging things, so there's always a clanking and banging going on. The wheel chair starts in with the Anvil Chorus, and my teeth decide to join in. Also --- this is new --- my arms go into spectacular attacks of palsy. It gets quite noisy in that normally quiet office.
I say nothing to Mr. Toad, don't even look at him. I just sit there and make geezer noises and jingle my bells. There even might be a spot or two of saliva that escapes my purple lips (I am no longer in control, right?) After an hour of it, the toad gives Jesús a tight smile, and tells him that the lawyer is still busy. But I sense, through all the racket, that something has changed. I have proved my bureaucratic patience, my willingness to sit forever, not cool, nor calm, nor collected, but at least a presence --- perhaps an artistic statement: Persistent Old Fart with St. Vitus' Dance.
A signal is passed somewhere. The abogada's pretty young assistant comes and asks me what I want. "Si mira Vd. estos documentos..." I hand her my papers and my 30-second well-rehearsed explanation. In ten minutes she is back, tells us to go on down the ramp, that the bank will give us our papers. I thank her profusely, smile radiantly at the sullen Mr. Toad, and we are off in a flash.--- Carlos A. Amantea