Trying to avoid a pothole while driving through a small pueblo last week, I misjudged, hit the curb and blew out my right front tire.
I stopped and took a look, confirming that the tire was shredded and completely flat. Fortunately I'd been going slowly, so there was never any danger, just inconvenience. I turned at the next corner onto a side street, and began the process of changing my tire.
People in Yucatan's pueblos generally are pretty nice, but they are not usually outgoing with strangers, especially foreigners. If you say "buenos dias," or ask a question they will respond, but often unless a stranger makes the first move, the locals will watchfully but quietly pass by without overt demonstrations of friendliness.
I quickly got off the old wheel and put on the new, which is one of those little, temporary-type spares. Lowering the jack, I realized that the spare was nearly flat. As I stood there looking at it and wondering what to do next, a young man who'd apparently been silently observing the whole process from beyond the wall of his front yard hollered that he had a tire pump. He appeared a moment later from around the corner and handed me a bicycle pump. I connected it to the valve stem and began the slow process of inflating the tire. After watching for a minute or two, the young man offered to help. With younger, stronger arms, in about twenty seconds he'd gotten the pressure up to an appropriate level. I thanked the guy, and saying, "de nada" -- it was nothing -- he walked off, carrying his pump.
This reminded me of another experience I had in Mérida centro some years ago. My prior car was not terribly reliable and one day it abruptly stopped in the middle of a downtown intersection. I got out of the stalled vehicle while horns honked and a traffic jam developed around me. Within half a minute, a traffic cop appeared and helped me push the car through the intersection and over to the curb.
The officer offered to call roadside assistance, which I took to mean a tow truck. However about five minutes later a black municipal police pickup truck with flashing lights and marked Auxilio Vial (roadside assistance) parked behind my car and a uniformed officer jumped out. After asking me for details of what had happened, he grabbed a tool kit and began to troubleshoot under the hood.
I'd heard of and seen "Los Angeles Verdes" -- The Green Angels -- federal highway officer/mechanics charged with safety and security on the nation's highways. These officers help stranded motorists changes tires or make minor repairs along Mexican arteries, particularly in heavily-traveled areas in the central part of the country. But I'd not known that the City of Mérida boasts a similar service.
We stood on baking asphalt in the heat reflected from surrounding buildings. I walked to a nearby store and bought three cold drinks. The traffic officer and I moved to the shade of a nearby building to sip ours while the third guy sweated under the hood of my car. After spending a few minutes checking wires and connections he waved me over and said, "try it." To my amazement and delight, the car fired right up. There were big smiles all around. I vigorously shook the mechanic's grimy hand. I think I even slapped him on the back.
I asked the officers if there was a charge for the service, and they responded, "No, it's a service to the public." We stood for a few moments chatting while the mechanic finished his drink. After taking my name, address and license number and having me sign a form, the mechanic offered to follow me home in case I had more trouble. I thanked him again, but declined.
In a place where some complain about hassles and bribe-taking on the part of officials, in my moment of need I came into contact with two police officers who are honest and proud of their work. I've got to say that my experience was about as easy as a roadside breakdown could possibly be.
Life certainly is not perfect anywhere, but more often than not around here, I run into people like these. Like the officers and the young man in the pueblo, there are plenty of folks in Yucatán who observe simple, old-fashioned rules about getting along, hospitality and helping others. It is one of the things that makes living here such a pleasant experience.