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>Richie & A Ticket and a Slap

May 16, 2010

> I felt forced into an adversarial position vis-a-vis Richie, the boy in the first piece, because of the constant comparisons Mom made between us. Richie was actually a nice guy. I’d love to sit and talk with him now. The second piece is still hard to write about because it was the first of several instances of physical abuse, signaling a change in my relationship with Mom. 

Richie 

Richie Davis, who had already spent twelve of his fifteen years in Mexico, lived right around the corner from us in an expensive home. His father was an American executive for Kellogg’s in Guadalajara. So far as I knew they had little, if any, contact with the American community. Certainly Richie never hung out with the American crowd and Mom never mentioned seeing Mr. or Mrs. Davis at any of the occasional American parties or social functions she went to. Nonetheless, Mom and Genevieve Davis became friends, partly, I think, because she admired Mom’s spunk in moving us all to Mexico and partly because, unlike most American kids, Valerie and I were attending Mexican schools and we had Mexican friends. We weren’t like the “other” Americans.
I hated Richie. He was handsome, poised, articulate, mature, responsible and an excellent student. Worse, Mom was forever reminding me of all this, always comparing me to him. “Why can’t you be more like Richie?” she demanded. “Look how responsible he is.” Or, “Richie is such a good student. Why can’t you be more like him? You’re as smart as he is.” Or, “Look how Richie carries himself. He always stands straight with his shoulders back. You always slouch with your hands in your pockets. Why can’t you be more like Richie?” I hated Richie.
SNAPSHOT: Richie’s climbing into the driver’s seat of our Ford wagon, where I’m already ensconced in the passenger seat. The look on my face conveys my feeling at the moment: impatience.
Richie did do one thing for me, though. He taught me to drive. This was in the summer of 1957, after I turned fourteen. I had been wheedling Mom for months to teach me but she always said no. Then inspiration struck: “Can Richie teach me?” I asked her. I was willing to stifle my resentment for the opportunity to learn to drive.

To my surprise, she agreed. She probably figured that if I learned to drive she could send me to the store for her cigarettes or vodka or whatever. (There were no age restrictions for buying liquor in Mexico. Or, if there were, they were ignored. I routinely bought vodka for Mom.) Plus, Richie had already been driving for some time and, true to character, was a good, safe, responsible driver. She probably thought that the more time I spent in his company the more possibility there was that some of his wonderfulness would rub off on me. I don’t know if she paid him or if he did it out of the goodness of his heart (“See? Why can’t you be as thoughtful and generous as Richie?”) and I really didn’t care. I only cared that I was going to learn to drive!
SNAPSHOT: Positions reversed in this snapshot: I’m in the driver’s seat and Richie’s the passenger. Now the look on my face is one of joy.
It didn’t take long. I took to driving like a banker to money. I loved it. I was good at it. I learned quickly and with very few problems. Once or twice a week Richie would come over, we’d get into the Ford and head out to a far corner of Chapalita, an area still under development. Roads, still unpaved, were laid out with curbs and sidewalks but no houses as yet. And no traffic. A perfect place to learn to drive.

After a couple of months of lessons, I was ready to start driving on my own. I never even thought about a driver’s license or insurance and neither, apparently, did Mom. I don’t even know if they were required. I just started driving.

Now, not only did I have a good collection of rock and roll records, not only was I a good and willing dancer, but now I had a car as well! Few of my American friends, and none of my Mexican friends, had access to a car and my status in both groups shot up.
A Speeding Ticket and a Slap

Most of my driving was around Chapalita, where there wasn’t much traffic, and most of the time I drove responsibly. Most of the time. I did have two accidents while in Mexico, both of them due to inexperience rather than reckless or irresponsible driving. But yes, I was reckless at times, reckless and stupid, particularly if I had other American kids in the car. But only with American kids. Oddly enough, I always made it a point to drive safely with my Mexican friends. As with so many other aspects of my life in Mexico, I adapted my driving to the ways of whichever culture I was in at the moment.
We almost rolled over once when I took a corner too fast in a residential area outside of Chapalita. (I never drove recklessly close to home; too many people knew our car, knew me, or knew Mom.) “Watch this!” I said to Joel and Alan, friends who were riding with me. The street we were on was deserted so I tromped on the accelerator and sped to the corner, making a very sudden,  sharp left turn. Immediately my horizon shifted dangerously down to the right and my two passengers slid across the seat and crashed into me. I don’t know if it was something I did to right the car or if the laws of physics were on my side, but we came down safely with all four tires on the ground and sped down the street, whooping. “Yeah, I did that right!” I remember yelling.
Another time I was driving along the stretch of highway between Chapalita and the next colonia down the road, Colonia Las Fuentes. I had two passengers in the back seat and Val Rathbun sitting next to me. “Hey, Val! Take over the pedals, I’ll steer.” I took my foot off the accelerator and stuck both my feet out the open window while Val, his body awkwardly twisted, put a foot on the brake and one on the accelerator. We drove along like this for several minutes, laughing. We resumed “safe” driving only because Val’s foot was cramping. Once again we escaped hurting ourselves or others, but certainly not due to any common sense or caution.
I did get a ticket one day for speeding. Perico and I were on our way to Barbacoa San Carlos, a Mexican BBQ joint on Avenida Union. I pulled up to a red light on Avenida Vallarta, idling, waiting to make a left onto Union. The light turned green and it was like the starter’s flag dropped. I stomped on the accelerator and left my mark on the pavement, immediately drawing the attention of a motorcycle cop. He turned on his siren and lights and I pulled over, ironically, into the parking lot of the very restaurant we were headed for.
“¡Oye, mano, dale una mordida!” Perico was familiar with mordidas, bribes (literally, “bites”), an accepted way of getting out of trouble in Mexico, including traffic tickets, and he was urging me to bribe the cop. But I had no idea in the world how to do it.
SNAPSHOT: Motorcycle cops look the same the world over. This one has on a sharply creased tan uniform and his tight, black, calf-high patent leather boots bounce back the sun’s rays. He’s wearing wrap-around, silver-coated dark glasses and his cap has been appropriately crushed.
  I rolled down the window as the cop approached, his ticket book at the ready. “Donde esta el incendio?” he asked, and I couldn’t believe he’d just asked me where the fire was. How many times had I read that in comic books or seen it in cartoons? But this was no comic book, no cartoon; this was happening for real and it wasn’t funny.
I sat there in silence. I figured this way, at least, I couldn’t say anything that would get me in worse trouble.
He didn’t ask to see my license, registration or ask about insurance. He just started the dance. “You know, there’s a fine for speeding and reckless driving.” He paused, lifted his sunglasses and looked over me and the car, probably figuring the gringo would be worth a fair amount of money. “If you give me the money right now, I can save us the time and trouble of my having to write out a ticket. Then I’ll just turn the money over to the judge in traffic court.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Perico rolling his.
My turn to lead. “How much is it?” I could barely find my voice. He named an amount far beyond anything I had in my pockets, more than Perico and I combined could come up with.
“I’m sorry, officer, but I don’t have that much.”
Next step in the dance: “How much do you have?”
I turned to Perico. “How much you got, Perico? I’ve got thirty pesos.”
Perico had forty.
“We have seventy pesos, officer,” my voice dripping with desperate hope.
“Setenta pesos? ¡Que pinche cabrones! If that’s all you damned little bastards can come up with I’m going to tack on a penalty for the extra work I have to do!” Dance over.
SNAPSHOT: I’m standing in front of Mom in the upstairs hall of our house. Perico is just behind me. Mom is enraged. Her jawbones push out from her cheeks from the tight clench of her teeth. Her eyes are narrow slits from which she shoots murderous looks at me. There’s an angry red welt on my cheek.
When I got home Perico and I went into the house together. Mom was just coming down the hall.
“Buenos dias, a,” Perico said.
“Buenos dias, Perico,” she smiled back.
“Mom, I got a speeding ticket today,” I said softly, not certain of her reaction, and I handed it to her.
She took it and looked at it for several seconds without saying anything. I relaxed, beginning to think that maybe this won’t be so bad after all. But it was. The sound and the sting were simultaneous and the slap across the face turned my head. Mom turned on her heel and stormed back into the bedroom, slamming the door. With Perico there witnessing the whole thing, I was far more mortified than hurt. I turned around and went back downstairs, Perico trailing me, and we left the house. I didn’t return for several hours and when I did, no mention was made of the ticket. Or the slap, a portent of things to come.
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