Hey everyone, I’m trying something new. Podcasting, I dub… The Atlascast! A story telling podcast about my journies around the world by motorcycle. This episode is from Decemember 2010 when I traveled solo from America to Argentina for eight months. I get sick of police shaking me down for money, and I end up being arrested.
I wake up to the sound of a rooster screeching at 6am. Last night I went looking for a place to camp, and I stumbled across a Nicaraguan family who invited me to stay in their home for the night. We say our goodbyes and am on the road by 7. I am on a mission to cover all of Nicaragua and cross into Costa Rica. Not impossible, but not easy. I am stopped at a police checkpoint and all my paperwork is in order. I am free to continue on my way, but I get the impression that if there wasn’t so many people around there might have been some arbitrary ticket or fine.
A couple of hours later I am stopped again. They say my insurance has expired. I paid $12 for one day of insurance, or maybe the little girl made a mistake while filling out the paperwork. She was living next to an area where they were burning trash, so maybe she wasn’t the sharpest. The officers allowed me to take care of this problem on the side of the road for $10.
I am fixated on getting to Costa Rica. Among the fantasizing of pristine beaches I replay the previous two stops in my head. I didn’t notice radios on the officers. They were in the middle of nowhere. Could I have just kept going? What if I didn’t notice that they were signalling me to pull over. Bigger misunderstandings have happened.
Two hours later a third police checkpoint signals me to pull over. I’m never going to make it to Costa Rica with all this bull shit. There is some traffic, and I pull of to the side of the road and slow down, way down. The officer is crossing his hands waiting to see what this gringo is up to. What if I don’t stop? The question in my mind is an affirmation of the action. I don’t stop. I roll by them slowly, and I keep going slow. I’m not running. I’m just, not stopping. If I was running I’d be speeding away, but I’m not so I’m not running. My eyes are glued to my rear view mirror and an officer waves his arm to his fellow officers in a “C’mon, we’ve got a runner” motion. There’s no mistake about what is going on now. I keep riding slow until I am out of their eye sight then I punch the throttle wide open.
With all this traffic they can’t catch me. I am splitting down the car lanes. I come to emergency stops at intersections. No telling if there might be a cop coming through. When I see the coast is clear I gun it. I’m running, but I don’t want it to look like I’m running.
My adrenaline is jacked. I am fixated on the road. Speed, split, stop, look, repeat. There’s not distinction between my motorcycle and me. My eyelids hang down halfway and the muscles in my face go limp. I’ve somehow gotten all zen during this police chase, trying to convince myself that’s I’m not really being chased.
What the shit am I doing? I am not the kind of guy who runs from cops. I’m like every one of those idiots on the news, except there’s no helicopter capturing my stupidity. I reached my breaking point. I am sick of being jerked around. Let’s see what happens. What’s done is done. I keep running.
At the next intersection a cop car screeches to a halt in the middle of it. It’s a red light and I stop behind the line like a good law biding motorist. The cop launches out of his car leaving the door open. I look to the left, and to the right in a “What’s all the commotion?” kind of way. My hands are on my hips. They’ve been chasing a runner, and I don’t want to look like I might run with my hands on the throttle. The officer grabs my chest and pulls me off my motorcycle. I ask “What is happening?” and claim “I don’t understand” over and over as I am marched to the back seat of the cop car. Still in my helmet, my jaw tightens and the muscles in my face spring with fear. I guess this is what happens when you run.
I’m in the back seat with Officer Rodriguez and he is clutching my chest the whole time. He’s shouting at me, and waving his finger. I can only make out bits and pieces, but I know what this is all about anyways. A street merchant asks if I need a translator through the window. I say, “Yes, please!” and he hops in the front passenger seat.
Rodriguez and the merchant are talking back and forth. The merchant says to me, “You are being arrested for evading the police”. Ok, no surprises there, I’ve got the “I’m a stupid gringo thing going for me”. I’ll be ok. We are caught in traffic as we head toward the police station in the opposite direction of the chase. A taxi driver yells at the officers, making it clear that he is happy to see me where I am. He probably didn’t like the sight of me speeding in his town. Maybe I was being more wreckless that I thought.
The merchant and Rodriguez are talking and there is more news. I am also being arrested for attempted assault on an officer. My heart sinks. I am fucked. Still, the first question I ask myself is, “How much is this going to cost?” Probably in the thousands. Maybe I won’t be making it to South America. We arrive at the station.
Rodriguez pulls me out of the car by the chest and leads me into a room, with a table, four chairs and some filing cabinets. “Where is my motorcycle?” I ask. He doesn’t answer, but minutes later I hear her exhaust. At least she is ok. Who knows what will happen to me.
Rodriguez is pointing at me with the same grimace and saying I am in big trouble. I play the dumb gringo, “Why? I don’t understand.” Officer Garcia walks in and starts going through my paper work. He is less high-strung than Rodriguez and knows a little English. Garcia finds notes from my Spanish lessons in Guatemala, “So you say you don’t Speak Spanish?” “Only a little” I say. He glares at me and returns to my paperwork.
Rodriguez and Officer Lopez, leads me to my motorcycle and asks me to start unpacking. Lopez is laughing and joking around with me. He makes funny faces behind Rodriguez’s grimace as he talks to me, and I laugh. The tension is lowering, until I wonder what they will make of the five month supply of medication I have stashed in my bags. How do I explain that? Maybe they think it’s drugs. That’s what they are looking for. Why else would I run?
Rodriguez is going through everything. He is inspecting the inside of my chap stick and toothpaste. He asks me to open up a big plastic tube on my bike where I keep all my tools, my tool tube. I can only open the tube using my hand axe. I slowly reach for the axe and ask, “Can I?” He watches me closely as I loosen the opening of the tube. I slowly place the axe on the ground and he kicks it out of my reach. I pull out a wrench, pointing to it and say, “Just tools”. We methodically move through all my bags and finally reach my stach of over 400 pills. “What’s this?” asks Rodriguez with wide eyes. “Is very important for my head. It’s a five month supply.” He tosses the pills on the grown with the rest of my belongings and we go back into the station.
Garcia has made copies of all my documents and is making notes. He is going through my computer now and I can hear him opening up videos I’ve made on the road. Rodriguez is going through the videos on my camera. At this point four new officers gathered around to see the show. Moans and screams comes from my laptop and Garcia looks up at me. How did he find my porn folder so quickly? “You know pornography is illegal” says Garcia with a stone cold expression. “Are you fucking serious?” I spit out. Garcia smirks, “No man. It’s a fucking joke!”
It’s silent as everyone is shuffling through my belongings. I take a moment to gather the words in Spanish. “If I thought I needed to stop, I would have. I didn’t think I didn’t need to stop, so I didn’t.” I keep repeating this, five or six times until I am annoying Rodriguez.
I’m sitting there, waiting for what’s next until I hear the word “famouso” come from Garcia’s mouth. He’s speaking to Lopez and I hear him say “En Mexico?”. I ask, “Do you know me from the newspapers in Mexico?” Garcia nods. I made the front page of El Norte a month ago after posting a video of police officers shaking me down for some money. I impulsively smile from the fame factor, then realize my fame is derived from getting Mexican cops fired. Is this a good or bad for me? I keep quiet. One of the officers asks if I was video taping them. I pause, look around the room, then say, “Si” with a smirk. The room erupts into laughter and I feel like everything is going to be ok. I laugh along with them and secretly hope they don’t ask to see the footage I never actually shot.
I’m getting antsy. What happens next? If I have to spend a few days in jail, let’s get them started. Lopez takes his cuffs out and clinks them together. I stand up and put my hands behind my back facing him. Is this the next step? On with it then. He puts the cuffs away like the joker Lopez is. It’s been two hours, and Stockholm syndrome is kicking in already.
Garcia is gathering my papers. What happens next? The suspense is killing me. Talk to me Garcia. He pushes my bag of documents across the table. He gives me a stern warning about stopping for the police. I realize I am walking out of here in a couple of minutes and relief washes over me. Garcia adds, “Nex time, you get a ticket!” I struggle to contain my internal laugher and humbly nod in understanding. I got a “ticket” from a guy four hours ago down the road for bad insurance papers, and here I ran from the cops and walk out without paying a dime.
I still have a chance of making it to Costa Rica despite the chase and the arrest. No fucking around though. Stop at stop signs, obey the speed limit and no passing on solid yellows lines.
An hour later I am passing a slow heavy truck on a solid yellow line. It’s impossible to obey the laws here, at least for me. As I pass the truck I see an officer in the shade of a tree with a radar detector. I wasn’t speeding, but he’s got me on crossing a double yellow. He motions me to pull over, and this time I do.
I give him my International Drivers License because it’s disposable identification. He tells me I crossed on a solid yellow line, and I respond back emotionally, “That truck was so slow! There were no other cars around!” I flash a “C’mon, really?” expression at him. He is writing up a ticket for $150. I tell him I don’t have enough, and that my friend is up ahead where we are supposed to meet. If he takes my identification I will return to the station to pay the fine and retrieve it. I have no intention of doing either. The officer’s bargaining powers are diminishing and I can see it in his eyes. He writes $40 on his hand and says we can just take care of it here. I open my wallet to reveal eight dollars and tell him it’s all I have. He takes it, and I am free to go. I am getting better at this.
I stop at the first bank I see to get some cash for any future tickets/bribes so I can get through the rest of the country. An elderly man approaches me accompanied by his son who speaks some English. The young man is translating and telling me that his father saw me in the newspapers and would like to thank me for fighting against the corrupt police. “K bueno, k bueno” the old man keeps repeating and is shaking my hand. The news must have spread further south than I thought. I’m a hero in this man’s eyes, but I feel like I could be a target for others. Who knows who those fired cops are connected with. I keep riding. Not much else I can do. At least I’ll be a moving target.