March 11th, 2023 in Playa Las Lejas, Panama.
I had my first shakedown yesterday. It was the real deal. It was done so nicely, I hardly even felt it. This is what happened.
I was riding west, along Panama’s Highway 1, the Pan American, heading towards the border with Costa Rica, though still a long way off but that was the next major destination. In between, there would be a few stops but the journey itself was back on track.
The road was good: a dual carriageway, with two lanes in either direction and a central median ditch. The traffic was light. I was taking it fairly easy: 100 to 120 km/h. Nothing excessive but a nice steady pace. And then, just as I was passing a truck and a couple of cars, I saw two motorcycle cops on the hard shoulder flagging traffic over. They were standing in the shade of a tree and at a point where the road, which was completely straight, was sweeping down from the crest of a hill. I thought they were indicating one of the others but wasn’t sure and so I pulled over as well. I was later than the others in reacting and so I stopped maybe 100 meters past the cops.
I switched off the engine and, still sitting on the bike, began to walk/roll myself back towards the cops, noting as I did so that the other vehicles were already leaving the scene and carrying on their journeys. The cops walked towards me too. When they got to me, I put down the side stand got off the bike, removed my helmet and went through the routine: hand out in greeting, saying hello etc etc.
Cop 1: Where are you from?”
Cop 1, looking at the registration plate: “Passport.”
I handed him my passport, at which point he showed me the radar gun in his left hand. 112 it said — my speed. Si, I said not challenging the clock. He agreed too — it was indeed reading 112 km/h and he was indicating this was not good, not good at all. I asked what the speed limit was on the road — 80 km/h, he said. Oh, I thought. So I was going 40 per cent above the limit, a significant breach in percentage terms but, in terms of the road, its size and condition, not fast at all. But clearly, I hadn’t a leg to stand on and didn’t attempt to argue otherwise. Like, why would you?
Cop 1 asked me where I was going. I tell told him Alaska but first to David, an upcoming city, and then Costa Rica. He seems quite interested in this. At this point, Cop 2 joined the scene. He was very friendly. “Cómo estás?” he asked. “Bueno,” I replied. Cop 1 tells him that I’m going to Alaska and I chip in that I’ve come from Tierra del Fuego. Cop 2 responds with a sort of “respect, man” kind of reaction. It’s all very chatty, very friendly, no coming the heavy or anything like that.
I took some stickers from my jacket pocket — the shamrock Ireland ones and the Tip2Top ones and gave them a pair each. “Este mi pais y este my viaje,” I say in my Spanglish (this is my country and this is my journey). They seemed pleased. Cop 2 said he would put his on his motorbike. “Ah, tu moto?” I said to him. “Si,” he replied, indicating that his was smaller than mine but that he liked mine.
Cop 1 takes out his fines book, a sheaf of pages each with lots of sections to be filled in — name, address, location of incident, etc — and starts to fill it out. The fine is $75, he says. I say OK, where do I pay? He goes into a rigmarole about paying either in Santiago, the next town, or David, which was notionally where I thought I’d stay the night. So I said, OK, I’ll pay in David. He nods and continues filling in the form. I asked where in David, and this was where I lost him. I think he was saying at what office, and in what street, and the times it was open and not open, but I really don’t know. Because then he said “Or you can pay here”.
This sounded like a good solution because I also got the impression (though I didn’t realise it fully at the time, only in retrospect) that if I wanted to pay the fine at the office, wherever it was, I would have to get the bus there because they would be confiscating the bike until I sorted things out.
Cop 1 repeats the amount of the fine is but adds that if I pay here, it is reduced to $40. This immediately struck me like an offer I should not pass up.
I took out my wallet, opened it and extracted two $20 bills. Cop 1 opened the fine book and, rather than taking the cash in his hand, closed the book over the notes. He thanked me, said that was the end of it, and started to walk away, back to his original position down the hard shoulder. I asked if I could take their photo, a selfie maybe with the bike? Cop 1 laughed, a sort of giggle laugh, and indicated no thanks. Cop 2 seemed initially more willing, partly I think because of the biking connection. But then he saw the implications.
As they walked off together, I saw Cop 1 hand one of my dollar bills to his partner. As Michael Bailey almost said all those years ago, did I get a receipt? Did I fuck!
I rode off to a hostel by the Pacific where the young Italian girl in charge told me of her earlier life working on a yacht owned by a Russian oligarch. . . Never a dull moment.