Finally the other official handed back the car papers. "Awkay, dawkay," he said, "you can gaw."
The highway cop got in a parting shot. "You keep driving that slow," he said, "and you weel have cow on the roof."
"S�" I said. "Buenas noches." It was 11 o'clock in the morning.
Thereafter, speed was on my mind every second. Speed has to be on your mind every second when you drive in Mexico. From the border, the run to Mexico City takes a minimum of four days from the western entrances or two from the eastern, but only if you snap right along at normal U.S. cruising speeds of 60 and 70. If you obey the posted Mexican speed limits to the letter, it will take you almost as long as Cortes to get to the capital city. We found speed limits of 37 mph on straightaway stretches of desert road. We drove through school zones marked for 6 mph. "I love kids, too," my wife said, "but this is ridiculous!" The entire town of Guaymas is zoned for 18 mph, which doesn't seem too slow until you try to drive through the entire town of Guaymas at that speed.
The point is, you have to break the laws. The Mexican mind understands this. The Mexican mind also understands that the speed laws are almost 100% unenforced. The worst that can happen is that a local cop will stop you and you will have to pay something between $1 and $4 on the spot. This is his mordida, his bite, and it is the way he supplements his meager salary. You Chicagoans will understand. It is wise to save your righteous indignation for the United States; if you indignantly refuse to pay a mordida, the chances are you will go to jail while the cop searches out a judge, who might be a week or two away on a traveling circuit.
It is the nature of the Mexican highways, rather than the speed cops, that governs one's speed. At any second a farm animal might blunder across the road; there is no national fencing law in Mexico. Slow and unlighted vehicles abound. Overloaded trucks wind up mountain passes at two and three miles an hour, leaving long smoke screens in their wakes. And pixieish drivers, suffering from the dread "Rodriguez effect," are to be found on every stretch of road.
The Rodriguez effect, named for the famous road racers, brought the concept of speed to a country that needed speed as the British needed the hoof-and-mouth disease. We first encountered the Rodriguez effect in the jungle country near Tepic, where lizards as big as dachshunds poke their heads out of the undergrowth and stick out their forked tongues at you as you drive by. We came up behind a pair of Mexicans in an old clunk doing about 35 mph, and without even thinking I swung out to pass. A minute later all I could see in the rearview mirror was a floppy mustache and 1,000 candlepower of gritted teeth. The Mexican tailgated me for about five minutes and then came hurtling around my car on a blind curve, fenders flapping, smoke pouring from his exhaust like the battleship Missouri and steam flowing from his exposed radiator cap. Having passed, he slowed down to his customary 35 mph and gave me the pleasure of following him across about three miles of kinky mountain road while he fumigated the countryside with his exhaust.
Not a second before the secondary symptoms of asphyxiation set in, we saw the driver stick out his arm in the traditional signal for a left turn. Then he slowed and made a sharp right onto a dirt road. As we passed he gave us a crisp little salute: one hot driver to another. It was the same salute that von Richthofen used to give to the men of the Lafayette Escadrille.
No one should go into the interior of Mexico without some sort of road log or tip sheet on motel and hotel accommodations, road conditions, best routes, local customs and such matters, and ours was provided by our friendly insurance man, Dan Sanborn of McAllen, Texas, who prides himself on having logged every mile of paved Mexican road and gives the logs gratis to his customers. The only trouble is that no road log, whether it be Dan Sanborn's excellent ones or the AAA's or whosoever's, can give you the true feeling and flavor of any given stretch of road in Mexico. For proof, I offer a typical segment of a Sanborn log (this one on the road from Morelia to Toluca):
"120� Down thru community of San Agust�n.