Fanning away the cloud of blue exhaust smoke left behind by the disappearing police car Betty shouted, “Dammit! What traffic light?”
My wife, holding her nose against the fumes and visibly cringing from the sudden outburst, responded, “Do you have to yell in my ear like that? Just start this thing up and let’s get out of here!”
In the open desert on the outskirts of San Felipe it was so quiet on this early Sunday morning that this outburst could have been heard for quite a distance but there was no one out there to hear it.
It was New Years Day 1984. In those days San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico was a quieter, more sparsely populated, but no less delightful place to spend a few days than it is today – a couple of pretty good restaurants at the time, a decent hotel, some good fishing and those nice beaches and rugged desert coastal landscapes.
This town, and the town of Puerto Peñasco just across the Sea of Cortez, was a favorite south-of-the-border weekend getaway for us – as was an occasional run to historic Yuma to visit friends and to step across the border to Los Algodones for a Mexican lunch and a stroll.
It had been a nice three-day New Year’s weekend in San Felipe and now the four of us were on our way back to Salton City, Calif., where, a couple of years before, our friends Frank and Betty had acquired a nice little winter place. We still lived in the Pacific Northwest where we would soon be returning to face the winter rains.
The ladies led the way in their pickup while Frank and I followed in our 28-foot Executive – the first of our three motorhomes. We’d just made it out of town when two unshaven and rumpled San Felipe policia in a dilapidated black & white decided we looked like a promising traffic stop.
Since ours were probably the only moving vehicles between La Paz and Mexicali that Sunday morning, theirs was not a tough decision.
As traffic stops go, this one was pretty sloppy. By the time the cop at the wheel found the brake pedal and stopped they were a good 20 yards down the road from where we were. Then it took him several minutes to struggle with the door handle, get out, put his hat on, and make his way back to where we’d stopped.
Not much life in the other guy who was slouched in the passenger seat asleep – or dead – hard to tell. From where Frank and I sat they both looked, not only very hung over, but already well on their way to more of same. They looked harmless enough though, so Frank and I pulled up in the motorhome and stopped a few yards back, ready to help out if necessary. They didn’t seem to notice.
We expected this to take a while but to our surprise a few words were exchanged, something we couldn’t see swiftly changed hands and apparently the matter was over. With a silly grin on his face the officer lurched unsteadily back to his car.
The head of the other officer rose briefly and we heard a muffled “bueno” before his chin once again dropped to his chest. At least he was alive.
After several unsuccessful attempts to get it started, the engine roared to life and they were on their way, nearly obscured by the aforementioned cloud of exhaust. That was when Betty cut loose with her now famous, “Dammit! What traffic light?”
When the pair was out of sight we gathered for a conference. I was curious why they left so quickly.
“That was the easy part,” said Betty with a smile, “we just gave him a twenty. All they wanted was some beer money.”
It sounded almost as if Betty had been there and done that before.
I continued to quiz her. “Why’d they stop you? I didn’t see you do anything wrong.” The frown returned. “He said I didn’t stop for the traffic light,” she answered. d then with a puzzled look, “what traffic light?”
“That’s easy,” Frank offered with a grin, “there are no traffic lights in San Felipe!”