Los Policías

October 17, 2000

The drive from Salamanca to Toledo isn't really a long one, only about three hours, but much of it is through desolate country. The shortest route winds over the Sierra de la Paramera mountains, the highest point being nearly 5,000 feet. (See the map). The road from Avila through San Martin de Valdeiglesias to Toledo is too minor to be shown there.) Starting early, we had skipped our usual morning café con leché and after a couple of hours were looking for someplace to stop. Unfortunately, we had descended past the most likely spot, called something like "Mountain View Restaurant" before we realized it, and the narrow mountain road didn't offer any place to turn around for miles.

We soon arrived on the flatland, but the few small towns we passed through were grimy and desperate looking, reminiscent of coal towns. Then in the distance we spotted an oasis – a restaurant and bar that looked positively sparkling by contrast. We pulled across a service road to the parking lot, put on our blazers in the still-cool air, and were starting in when a police car pulled up behind us. We soon realized that they weren't offering pleasantries, although they didn't speak English and the Spanish we heard wasn't in our vocabulary. But we gradually were made aware that we had made an illegal turn across, not a service road, but an on-ramp from the northbound road we'd just passed over to the eastbound one we were on. When I "asked" how one was supposed to get to the restaurant, they indicated that one should continue down the road, make a U-turn, come back, and make a left turn!

I wasn't about to try to clarify why a left turn was better than a right turn – I lamented my stupidity and apologized profusely. (I'm afraid my actor friend Mary Yee would have accused me of chewing the scenery.) The officer riding shotgun pondered for a moment, pointed to his eye – "watch what you do" – and they drove off.

Sipping our coffee, we considered the incredible bad luck of having driven for hours without having seen any police, and just when we made an "illegal" turn, there they were. Then I realized that we'd been through the Spanish version of a small Southern town's speed trap, but theirs is even better. All they have to do is sit out of sight at the bottom of the on-ramp and wait for a parched, or famished, eastbound driver to stop at the restaurant. There is no need for any unseemly haste, no need to chase and pull over the offenders – they'd have already obligingly gotten out of their car. And no argument about whether some law had been broken; the turn itself is proof of guilt! Fortunately we were well dressed and sufficiently deferential (did I mention groveling?).

Also fortunately, I never did find out if a U-turn might also be illegal.

© Copyright 2001 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved