Monday, 30 November 2020

Marchamo Madness

A few months ago, Costa Rica instituted a new law that people illegally parked could be written a ticket. Up until then, a traffic cop could only issue a ticket to the violator if the driver were actually in the car. Now the driver can be penalized even if he is nowhere to be found.

Mind you, the cuidacarros, those helpful gentlemen and ladies whose self-appointed job it is to supposedly beat off thieves with a broomstick and thus safeguard your car, will still assure you that space with a yellow line along it is perfectly fine. Well, if they vouch for it, I guess I’m okay.

When I first came to Costa Rica and would be approached by these guys for their fee after I had parked on a public street, I would be incensed, and a spat would ensue.

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“I didn’t ask you to watch my car,” I’d protest. Half the time, they only showed up when I was leaving, not when I parked. Don’t think me such a tightwad. It’s not the money; it’s the principle. It’s a public street, for crying out loud. One guy shamed me into tipping him: “Lady, you’ve got a car! I’m just a poor fellow trying to support his family.”

My husband was more direct: “You’re trying to save a few hundred colones? What about the few hundred dollars we’ll have to pay to cover the scratches he’ll leave on the car of the witch who wouldn’t give him any money? Next time, pay him!”

Anyway, the new parking laws produced a splendid result: now that there were no illegally parked vehicles turning a 2-lane road into a barely one-way, suddenly you could drive through a narrow lane without having to wait till the oncoming traffic passed. And now you could make a left turn without having to stick your car halfway into the intersection because, with no cars parked on all corners, you could actually see the oncoming traffic. I was in transit heaven. Finally, I could drive more or less in peace.

You’d think with all the new revenue the transportation department was surely getting out of all this, that the enactment of the law was here to stay. I don’t know what happened to their impetus, but merely a few weeks later, it was business as usual, parking-wise. The roads were once again congested and nearly impassable.

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Apparently, there was more money to be made with the old stand-by; the cops were back to the far more pressing business of writing tickets for people whose marchamo, or license to circulate, had expired. You’d see clusters of traffic officers at set points waving down certain cars and not others—I don’t know what their rationale was.

Maybe it’s those Mitsubishi mafiosos who are always repeat offenders? So they’ve returned to concentrating on ticketing the marchamo-less mob. Because the people who run red lights, who pass around blind curves, who go down one-way streets only the wrong way (but they flash their hazard lights so that makes it okay)—they’re evidently not a priority. It seems that the government considers getting its pound of flesh more important than saving others’ flesh.

I actually witnessed a car passing on a blind curve when around that curve came another car. My heart stopped and luckily, the hapless motorist who had been driving on his merry way managed to slow down and not collide headlong, while the jerk who had pulled the dangerous maneuver managed to get back into his lane. But as I was breathing a sigh of relief, I realized that the car that had come around the curve was a police car! “Oh boy,” I thought, “is this guy screwed, and rightly so!” I was indignant, and was happy that the malefactor would get his comeuppance.

But alas, the cautionary tale I was witnessing was soon missing the cautioning. I saw the policeman lower his window, slow down and—wait for it—actually glare at the perpetrator. Wow, that sure showed him! Then he drove off.

Apparently, the cop had more pressing business than punishing a driver who almost killed him. Must have been in a rush to catch a marchamo offender.

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Galya Gerstman
Galya Gerstman was born in New Jersey and studied Creative Writing and French Literature at Columbia University. She taught French Literature at Tel Aviv University before relocating to Costa Rica, where she married a Costa Rican and raised two sons and a daughter. Her mother’s family immigrated to Palestine at the turn of the 20th century and served as inspiration for her novel, Women of Jerusalem. Her father is a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to New Jersey and is the subject of her latest book.

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