The majority of my neighbors own automobiles but many of them are chocolates(our family vehicle included). A chocolate is an unregistered automobile. They are not at all uncommon on the streets of Tijuana. Many of the poorer families down here drive chocolates.
When I first bought our family car, I told my girlfriend's two sons and son-in-law(all licensed drivers), that I wasn't going to operate the vehicle until I'd saved up the nine hundred or so pesos to register it. They all three looked at me in astonishment. "The car runs fine but you're not going to drive it because it doesn't have any papers?" Each one said to me. In Tijuana many have the attitude that, 'the only reason you don't drive your car is because it won't start.' Papers, we don't need no stinkin papers!
As a California driver, born and bred, I was both shocked and appalled at their blatant disregard for the rules and regulations of the streets and highways. My childhood heroes on ADAM-12 and CHiP's would never allow this! License, registration and proof of insurance. Always have them ready. That's how it's done in So-Cal. Then there's Ba-Cal. I must admit though. After hearing their reasoning (and maybe more importantly watching Mexico's various levels of government in operation) behind driving chocolates, I think I might do a U-turn.
Their reasoning is as follows: It costs anywhere from seven hundred pesos and higher to register your car for one year. This is an approximate figure since a lot of factors can influence the price. Such as, is it already Mexican registered and the age of the car. If a local cop stops you and you're unregistered, a fifty peso bill (about 4.50) can get you off. Do the math folks. You can get stopped almost twenty times in one year and still break even. As I was typing this paragraph, my girlfriend asked me what I was writing about. I told her and she replied, "They'll take fifty pesos but they'd rather have a hundred. That's a more routine amount for a bribe." I agreed with her but that still leaves you maybe nine times that you can be stopped in one year and still break even. It's almost like a running game of chance;
Amigo 1: "Hey buddy. How many times you been stopped this year?"
Amigo 2: "Three times already, Pal. And it's only May. How about you?"
Amigo 1: "Not a single time yet, Buddy. Can you believe it?"
Amigo 2: "What luck! You should use the money you save to buy some lottery tickets!"
"What about cheating the government?" I asked a few fellow Tijuanenses. "Why not? The politicians just squander our money anyways," they replied. "They're no different than the cops who ask for bribes. It's pay corrupt persons a lot at once or pay other corrupt persons a little at a time." That's how some of my neighbors see it. Maybe I've been living here too long because it's starting to make sense to me. It's just another version of our own 'hogs at the trough.'
So far this year our family vehicle has been stopped three times. In each case a bribe of fifty pesos was paid. That's only one hundred and fifty pesos compared to how much to register? And it's already September. One of my girlfriend's sons got stopped a few weeks ago. He was flat broke and told the officer as much. The cop looked at him and said, "I'm going to search you. If you're broke like you say you are then I'll let you go. If you're lying to me then you are screwed (paraphrase)." My girlfriend's son praised the cop for letting him go. He says the cops do the poor people a favor by not impounding their vehicles and just letting us go with a token bribe. 
Of course, there can be drawbacks. For example; Last year, my girlfriend's older son drove me to the local Calimax supermarket to purchase some groceries. On the way home we were stopped. As the cop approached us, Eric turned to me and said, "I'm broke. Slip me a fifty and this will go fast." All I had left was a one hundred peso bill. I gave it to him. He looked at me and said, "You don't have a fifty. Because I don't think these guys give change." I glared at him and tried to figure out if he was being a smart aleck or not.

"No s--t, Sherlock," I hissed What annoyed me the most was that he'd attracted the cops attention by running a STOP sign. Something I'd warned him about in the past. But around here, STOP signs don't mean much to a lot of drivers. He's just being one of the pack. Some people might say that nine hundred pesos (about eighty dollars) isn't a lot of money. So why not just register the car. Well, for a part time dishwasher and full time starving artist, eighty bucks is a hell of a lot of money. Financial decisions can be crucial to survival in this out of balance place we live in. I'm now talking about the world. Not just Tijuana. I feel an outrageously libelous, left-wing, militant rant about to spew forth from my BiC - So I'll shut down in the spirit of bipartisan reconciliation. In the past. When I thought of chocolates, three things would come to mind. The indigenous chocolatl shrub from which the cacao bean grows, Cees candies which I love but can never afford and Snickers. Which I eat a lot of. To that trio I now add - our family car. COFFEE'S READY, GOTTA GO!!!

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JohnEdwardRangel Sept. 14, 2009 @ 7 p.m.

To RefriedGringo: You were right about the wooden shacks in my last story. Most people start out with a wooden shack and build cinder block dwellings afterward. We now have two such rooms that didn't exist two years ago when the fire happened. Also, because our lots are located on land that is still owned by the real estate company, there are no maps available for either fire or police to use. As for the Tijuana fire department (who operate in the city proper), in my humble opinion, those brave people are about the only heroes that we Tijuanenses can rely on. My girlfriend's son Eric worked for the Cruz Roja for about a year but quit when the nightmares became unbearable. He has some pretty frightening tales to tell. To SDaniels: The banter between you and RG is great. I really dig it. Especially on RG's latest story. Also, you both handle the BLOG WARRIORS with a lot of class. I wish I had more time to chat but they've increased my hours at The French Gourmet and the lack of sleep is making me goofy. Take care.


SDaniels Sept. 15, 2009 @ 3:25 a.m.

Wow, I came to comment, and found a comment for me. Thanks for the compliment and the support :)

Another fun piece.

"I'm now talking about the world. Not just Tijuana. I feel an outrageously libelous, left-wing, militant rant about to spew forth from my BiC -"

C'mon, let loose, Rangel! :)


David Dodd Sept. 16, 2009 @ 12:31 a.m.

John, I'd love to buy you a beer or two sometime. Maybe someday in Centro, when it's convenient. I admire your humility and your understanding of what this place is all about, and the way you convey that in your writing.


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