Travelers crossed a line in Spain
My post about Spanish food triggered a memory of an adventure. This is from the travel story I wrote for The Columbian in 1996:
Spaniards respect God, the bull and the rights of the driver in the fast lane.
Unlike drivers in the U.S. where people in the left lane figure that if they’re doing 55 mph they have a right to be there, Spaniards keep the left lane clear for passing. Truckers help keep things moving, too, on the secondary roads. Normally, when it is safe to pass, a truck driver will blink the lights to say, “Come on around.”
Driving in Spain is fast, safe and efficient as long as people follow the rules. Break them, however, and like Roman justice, punishment is swift and sure.
We learned how serious the Spaniards are about safety on a jaunt from Salamanca to Seville.
Just out of Merida, my husband, David, got onto the spirit of passing. The two-lane road was clear, but he was unable to get back into his own lane before a sign indicating “no pass” was in effect. (But the road was clear.)
Waiting at the top of the rise were two members of the Guardia Civil, the men James Michener, author of “Iberia” and a lifelong lover of Spanish culture, calls “masters of rural Spain.”
They travel in pairs and they have absolute power.
We had no doubt about who was in charge of the traffic stop. One officer was aloof. He stayed just behind the vehicle. The other opened a book and flipped to an English paragraph that said the Guardia Civil can strip us of our car and arrest us on the spot.
Next, the officer showed us the section of the code we had violated. The fine for unsafe passing was 50,000 pesetas, roughly $500.
He wanted the money now.
We didn’t have that much cash. By combining our pesetas (that was before the Euros had come into existence) and miscellaneous dollars we had the equivalent of $120. I offered Visa, American Express and travelers checks.
“No, no, no,” he said.
We opened our wallets and pulled everything out. I offered to go to a bank and cash some travelers checks.
Too late, he said. The banks were closed. It was after 4 p.m.
When he was convinced that we didn’t have the cash, he found another fine — crossing some line — and pointed to an adjusted amount of money, the equivalent of $120.
We forked it over.
He stuffed the combination of dollars and pesetas in his pocket and asked David to sign the ticket.
David apologized and asked his pardon.
“De nada,” he said. He waved us off and wished us a pleasant trip.