It’s late Saturday night and I’m lounging, getting ready to crawl into my first real bed — the rest have been mattresses thrown on floors — in at least four years, when my friend Memho takes one of his many paranoid peaks out the window at our cars parked in front.
“It’s Tijuana,” he’d tell me later, “I don’t trust it.”
On this particular peak, his face changes shapes. His eyes popped, he looks at me then back through the window then back at me, then manages to half yell, half whisper that my car is no longer there. Vanished. Finito Benito. Gone. Stolen.
My reaction was unusually calm. I eventually cried a bit, but only because moments before I’d been watching Quinceanera, a touching little Mexican movie about a 14-year-old girl who gets pregnant. I almost immediately accepted the loss and went about figuring out how in the hell I was going to get from my apartment in Tijuana to my office in Mission Valley (past trolley trips have taken me anywhere from two to three and a half hours).
Nowhere in my mind did I think of the possibility of the car being found.
“This is Tijuana,” I thought to myself. “and I don’t trust it either.”
Not that I don’t trust the people living in Tijuana, but the Tijuana police aren’t even trusted by their own government (I was here last summer when the federal police took away the Tijuana officers’ guns and did an in-depth investigation on internal corruption).
“Besides,” my inner dialogue continued, “the Tijuana police have better things to do than look for my shitty Honda Civic that’s on its last few thousand miles anyway.”
But on Sunday, after a Saturday night of being told to go from one place to the other to report the theft and eventually resolving to simply go back home to bed, you can imagine the inches my jaw dropped when the clerk at Municipal Placio told me my car had been recovered. I signed a few dozen papers and was told to return the following day with the proper documents to pick it up.
If only anything in Tijuana was that easy. I sloshed through the muddy yard of a towing company called Matrix and found my poor little Honda sitting between smashed cars whose fate had been much worse. I opened the doors to find that all of my important documents — the title, the registration, my Sentri card — were gone. The stereo, too, was stripped and the interior smelled like pee.
I was told to go to the DMV in the U.S. and get either a duplicate title or registration, which I did the following day.
On Tuesday, I returned, all bright eyed and ready to reclaim my car, but was told my the same clerk who issued the police report that their system was down and I’d have to go to Otay Mesa. My friend and I drove up the Tijuana hill, got a flat tire from the shitty potholes in that part of town and eventually found the place they told us to go. The clerk there, though, said she couldn’t help us. She told us we’d have to wait until the system was back up.
On Wednesday, I still had hope, but every bit of that hope was smashed and destroyed by the eight hours that followed. I went to Palacio Municipal at 8 a.m., but the clerk again told me the system was still broken. She also looked at my documents and said, “Oh, you have to get these translated. Don’t you know you’re in another country?”
I refrained from smashing in her makeup-heavy face and walked across the street to the translator. Five minutes later, I tried to hand her a $20 for her work and asked if she happened to have change, and she laughed.
“It’s $29,” she said in broken English.
I was tired and sick of being confused so I did what anyone else in my position would do: I burst out into uncontrollable tears. The translator wasn’t moved, but the translator’s husband, thank Jebus, was. He gave me a ride to an ATM so I could pay them, then gave me a ride to Delegacion La Mesa, the place where the Public Minister of the second district would give me some sort of paper everyone kept saying I needed.
Four hours later, I was still sitting in the office space that stank with unnecessary paperwork and unorganized bureaucracy waiting for said paper from said public minister. I finally busted out the big guns and started to cry. The asshole — and I use this term out of necessity because he kept repeating “it’s not my problem, it’s not my problem, it’s not my problem” — finally gave me the stupid piece of paper and told me I’d have to go back to the towing yard, get another piece of paper, then go to another building in another part of town for yet another piece of paper. I cried extra hard right in front of him just for good measure then went on my way.
At this point, I was out of money for a cab. But a little rainbow magically appeared and I saw a Matrix towing truck and was able to hitch a ride back to the lot. But the rainbow was blown up by flesh-eating trolls with nuclear bombs when I talked to a guy named Rubin at Matrix who told me I didn’t need any sort of paper from them.
I cried again and my tears bought me a free ride back to the place where I’d get what I finally was able to figure out was called a devolucion, a piece of paper that says the car is mine and I don’t have to pay anything because the car had been stolen.
After another bummed ride in the same tow truck, I handed the new clerk at the new government office my pile of accumulated papers and told him in my broken Spanish that’s it had been “un dia largo,” a long day.
He felt my pain but told me that I’d have to wait for the judge to sign off. Two hours later, I started crying again and the clerk managed to get me a date with the judge. If I had thought I’d met the ultimate asshole with the public minister, I was wrong. The judge wouldn’t even look at me, nor slow down his Spanish so I could understand. Instead, he explained to the clerk that they could not find my police report — that he doesn’t believe that I had even bothered to file one, and that I would have to pay the towing company for services rendered.
I understood the last part and started crying again.
“I did!” I cried. “I did file the police report! If you call them right now we can talk to the lady who filed it.”
But no, the clerk explained later, they don’t make calls. By this point I’d caught on. They make calls, but not for stupid gringas who they assume have mountains of cash pouring from their white pours.
The clerk pointed me toward an ATM and told me I’d better just pay, so I did.
I got a ride back to the tow yard and presented my stack of official papers. Rubin nodded and gave me permission to get in my car. I climbed in, put the key in the ignition, turned the key and the engine started. I breathed relief too soon, though, because I pushed my foot down on the gas and my car didn’t budge. Fuck.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I had to jump through a few more hoops — one being the tow truck guys trying to convince me my car was crap and that I should sell it to them for parts — but I eventually towed it to a nearby mechanic. For $250, I got the clutch replaced and now, a week and a day after it was stolen, I have my car back. Yay.
Interesting side note: At first, I thought the car thieves had jacked the clutch and a few other important parts. It turns out, the clutch had given out on them during the police chase. Ha. Suckers.