Mexico - A Day in Mexico City, by Ralph Glazer (1975)
The French pre-production Concorde aircraft, which had arrived at Mexico on a proving flight the previous day, would be leaving for San Francisco in the afternoon. It was the main story in the TV news, and in the headlines in the Mexican Press.
I was on my way to a Concorde-related meeting in the VIP Suite at Mexico City Airport, and had joined a line of cars waiting at the red traffic light at the turn-off to the airport, when I heard him, and then saw him in my mirror, skidding towards me, evidently out of control. The central reservation to my left was clear, and I just had time to turn my steering full left and release my brakes before he hit me hard, so hard that I was briefly airborne before I crashed down on the central reservation, alongside the car which had been in front of me. My car, a Dodge Dart, had a bench-type front seat for the driver and a passenger, its back held upright by a transverse steel rod, which had snapped on impact; otherwise, it could have been my neck…
My seat had collapsed under me, leaving me lying on my back, looking at the inner roof of my car, and at the Mexican faces peering through the windows, hoping for a glimpse of the corpse. As I recovered from the shock, I realised that, miraculously, I was unhurt, and as I struggled to sit up, my audience fled in terror, evidently believing that they had witnessed a resurrection.
A policeman on a motor bike helped me to my feet, and politely informed me that I was under arrest; the car which had run into me was the property of the Federal Government, and the driver was a Federal employee, so this was a Federal case, and although not responsible for the event, I was being held as a material witness. Transport was on its way to take me to the central police station, but, he asked, where was I heading when the accident happened? When I told the policeman about the Concorde meeting in the VIP Suite, he offered to take me there on his motor bike, and, formally dressed in the blue pinstripe suit made for me by my tailor in Madrid, and clutching the brief case and the umbrella which I had retrieved from my car, (only a bowler hat was missing) I perched on the pillion seat of the motor bike, and we were off.
The VIP Suite, normally used as the Arrivals and Departure Lounge by Royalty and Heads of State passing through Mexico, had been taken over by Aerospatiale, the French partner in the Anglo-French consortium building the aircraft, to celebrate Concorde. A six-piece Mariachi band, (two trumpets, two violins, two guitars) was playing on the terrace of the VIP Suite, while waiters circulated with trays of canapés and glasses of champagne.
And outside, the star of the show, Concorde itself, graceful, elegant in Air France livery.
Aerospatiale’s guests included the British and French Ambassadors, executives of British and French companies doing business in Mexico, the airlines, the Department of Civil Aviation, and a sprinkling of the usual celebrities. In this distinguished company, my arrival in the VIP Suite, police escort carrying my brief case and umbrella, could have been part of the show.
The British Ambassador was impressed: ‘How do you people do it? The police never carry my brief case!’
‘You have to get yourself arrested first,’ I said, and told him what had happened. (I had been his dinner guest two weeks earlier, and we had got to know each other quite well.) After hearing my story, he advised me to contact the Embassy as soon as I got into town, ask them to call BA’s lawyer, to be extremely careful about what I said and did, and sign absolutely nothing before the lawyer arrived.
At this moment, another policeman joined us, come to take me to the central police station, and as we left the VIP Lounge, with my new escort now holding my brief case and umbrella, the Mariachi band had stopped playing and the French Ambassador was delivering a speech.
Following the British Ambassador's advice, I called the Embassy as soon as I got to the central police station. They quickly contacted the BA lawyer: he was out of town, but would see me by late afternoon. In the meantime, his advice, like the Ambassador’s, was: do nothing, say nothing, and sign nothing.
In the meantime, I was getting hungry, and tried to leave the police station to find a restaurant and get some lunch, but was stopped by the policeman at the door, who pushed the muzzle of his gun into my chest, saying: ‘Esta detenido: no puede salir.’ ( ‘You are under arrest: you cannot leave.’) So I called the Embassy, and, bless them, they sent some excellent sandwiches, and cans of Cerveza Sol, the Mexican beer.
Hoping to get a statement from me about the morning’s accident, the police tried the nice cop/nasty cop approach to questioning me, but finally gave up when they realised that they were not going to get a single word from me without our lawyer's blessing, and left me to my own devices.
Then the police station main doors burst open to admit four policemen carrying a man they had arrested, face up and apparently unconscious, one policeman to each arm and one to each leg, but as soon as they had released him and set him down on his back, he jumped up and, shouting obscenities, ran for it but, unfortunately for him, in the wrong direction, straight into the custody cells, where they promptly locked him up.
The BA lawyer was well known to the police as an occasional lecturer in Civil Law at the Police Staff College. An inspector who was an old acquaintance came out from his office to greet him, and offered us the use of a spare interview room where we could meet in private.
Once we had settled in the room, the lawyer looked carefully about him, inspecting, finally concentrating on the ceiling light, and said: ‘There it is! Just watch this!’ And,addressing the light bulb, he said: ‘Dos cafes con leche, por favor.’(Two coffees with milk, please.)
Five minutes later, there was a tap on the door: a kitchen hand came in with two cups of coffee and some English digestive biscuits on a tray.
‘See what I mean? As the Holy Bible says: ‘Ask, and it shall be given unto you.’ Jesus had The Almighty in mind, but here it refers to the light bulb.’ (He had trained as a priest before turning to law.)
‘So much for our privacy! But let’s get down to business. Please tell me exactly what happened this morning. All events leading up to the accident, the accident itself, and everything that happened afterwards.’
He listened, made notes and said: ‘That seems fine. You see, the Federal Government have lost a car, and I understand that their employee, the driver, has a broken leg and internal injuries. It seems that he fell asleep at the wheeI - and he almost killed you. If it can be shown that you were responsible for the accident in any way, the police would be reluctant to set you free. But there’s no question of that.’ He looked up at the ceiling, and, addressing the light bulb, said: ‘We’re ready for your statement, if we can find somebody to do the typing.’
Another tap at the door: the same inspector as before: ‘I can do your typing. I spend half of my time typing reports, while the criminals are left to go about their business without police interference. One day, the Hacienda will pay for a secretary to do the work, but until then, I am the best typist in this police station.’
There was a typewriter on the table. The inspector settled down comfortably behind it, facing the lawyer, saying: ‘A la orden, (at your service) Maestro,’ and he typed as the lawyer dictated the text of my statement. When he had finished, the inspector handed the statement to the lawyer, who scrutinised it closely, and passed it to me.
It was a splendid sample of jargon-free drafting, not open to misinterpretation of any kind, and I was glad to sign it and hand it to the inspector, who took it to his office, and came back moments later, carrying my brief case and umbrella: ‘We’ve been looking after these while you were our guest, but now you’re free to go, and to take them with you.’
He shook my hand: ‘It’s been a pleasure to meet you, but please don’t come back.’