Shakedown Street

It didn’t even take 48 hours.  I had my first run-in with the Lima police.

Some of the fighters in Ben’s gym are competing in a tournament tomorrow so they had a weigh-in and press conference this morning.  Ben and I hopped on his motorcycle to head over.  As we were leaving, Ben got a call.  He was supposed to be teaching a class that very moment so we sped off to the gym.  When we arrived he immediately got off the bike and started teaching.

After the class we had to go to the press conference so we rushed back through the streets, weaving in and out of traffic.  I sat on the back and held on tight. Ben explained his recent motorcycle purchase, “It saves me so much money. I used to have to take cabs back and forth, and because we practice three times a day, it got expensive.”  Apparently Americans can drive in Peru for six months before needing a local license.

At the next light, we pulled up next to a troupe of three Lima police officers on motorcycles.  They were decked out in heavy riding gear and looked like a cross between the Hell’s Angels and a SWAT team.  One of the officers sidled up beside us and shouted something in Spanish to Ben.  He pointed to a parking lot 100 feet ahead.

“Are we getting pulled over?” I asked Ben.

“It’s just routine, they want to check my papers.  It’s not a problem.”

The arrogant officer puffed his chest out and strolled over to us.  “Documentos!”  Ben handed him the registration and his license. After reading them over, the conversation started to escalate.  I couldn’t understand the Spanish, but it was clear there was an issue.  Ben was starting to get frustrated and argumentative.  I kept my head down and looked innocently at the ground.   The Spanish yelling would have been comical had I not been involved.  Finally, we got back on the bike and followed them around the corner.

“What happened?” I asked.

“This guy is saying I can’t drive a motorcycle, only a car – apparently because my New York ID isn’t a motorcycle license.  That’s BS though, I’m allowed to drive this thing.  I’ve been pulled over before and they didn’t say anything.”

We pulled around the corner and the ruckus continued.  Ben was getting more angry and emotional by the minute.  I could hear him pleading, his voice strained with frustration.  He muttered a stream of curses under his breath.

“They’re trying to tell me the fine is 1,800 soles,” he said with despair.  At 2.81 soles to the dollar, that’s 640 dollars.  In my novice Spanish I translated him saying, “I could buy a new bike for that!”

And it only escalated from there.  The same arrogant head honcho strutted around like a razorback.  He actually looked like Pumba from the Lion King and he was rearing his tusks.  The shouting rose higher and higher until I was worried he would lash out.

And then it stopped.  It went eerily calm.  Ben got back on the bike and I followed his lead.

“What’s going on?”

“They want me to pay them.  But on the down low.”

“How much?”

“120 soles.” 43 dollars.

We rode about fifty yards down the road and one of the younger officers signaled us to pull over.  Ben reached in his wallet and dug out the cash, tucking it under his license.

“Do you need any cash?  I have some.”  I offered.

“No, and don’t take your wallet out.  I told them I only have 120 soles.”

“Documentos!” said the young guy.  Pumba and his partner idled off in the distance.  Ben handed it over and the officer made a big fuss.  He waved his arms around and rattled off some Spanish.  He then handed it back and the three of them sped away.

And that’s how things get done here.

2 thoughts on “Shakedown Street”

  1. Well, that’s no different than getting pulled over in the USA with no motorcycle endorsement on his license. And just because no other officer was able to find that there was no endorsement on his license, doesn’t mean that it’s kosher. In the US the consequences would be much more costly and a pain in the ass. I wouldn’t call this a shakedown as much as a cheap, efficient, enforcement of a fine for ignoring a law that’s pretty much common sense… to drive a motorcycle you need a motorcycle license.

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