October 21, 2009 GMT
Why Are Pirates Called Pirates?*

21.1.09 Santiago, Panama

pan city.JPG

You might even conclude that I deserve to 'ave me collar felt, doing just over double the speed limit on the first stretch of proper road in an unfamiliar country. My attorney's rebuttal (or summink) will centre around the fact that it was a dual carriageway (which might be "2 lane blacktop" in the USA) and the speed limits were switching, seemingly at random, between 100 kmh and 50. Clearly, the primeval gobs of brain matter that control motorbikin' interpret this information as "do 120 everywhere". Case dismissed! Ah - beg pardon your honour.

ca town.JPG

As the radar-equipped bike cop signals me to stop, the dubiousness of my import permit and the total, actionable inadequacy of the sheet of A4 that I will have to proffer as "liability insurance" vanish from my mind, as the urge to Do The Right Thing takes hold. I pull in at the next lay-by. There's a little bit of a comedy Panamanian stand-off - the lay-by is 200 yards up the road, and we squint at each other, thinking either "Well, you stopped me mate - you come up here!" or "I'm the bloody copper pal - you come down here!" We meet in the middle.


There's the inevitable chit chat about "infractions" and "102 in a 50 zone" as we plod downhill to his tatty police Virago. Oooh! A copper on a chopper! The sum of fifty US dollars is mentioned, but not demanded, and then he pulls out a book of speeding tickets. I manage to pluck the necessary feathers of information from the burbling turkey of his Spanish. 50 bucks is to be paid at some weird office before I leave the country. It occurs to me at this point that - hey! - I won't bloody bother, but say I will.

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This is the fulcrum of our encounter; the leverage moment after which a bribe becomes unnecessary. I nod mournfully, indicating - I hope - that
a: I really am most awfully sorry to have troubled him; that
b: I feel genuine remorse for my actions; and that
c: I have every intention of repaying my debt to society - to the tune of fifty smackeroos - at the nearest A.T.T.T. office (whatever in the blue-bottomed hell that might be).

ca goldbird.JPG

Then I hand him my UK registration document and my UK driving licence (or amateurish copies thereof). There's a brief pause while he tries to decide which chunks of information - in English, obviously - are the relevant ones. I elect not to help, deciding instead that this is the moment to start audibly cooing over his bike (which is actually quite groovy - a Panama police 1100 Virago.)

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Minutes pass. The speeding ticket has many boxes to fill in, and a UK registration document has many more. Importantly, I've made it clear that I'm not gonna bribe my way out of it. He folds: "too complicated!" and I'm on my way with a friendly warning. As I pull away, teeth a-chat with joy, I thank Booda he didn't ask to see my insurance.

pan flag.JPG

*Because they Arrrrrrggghhhhh!

Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at October 21, 2009 09:36 PM GMT

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