The U.S. news media has bombarded everyone for years with their oft-repeated tales of drug cartel violence and headless bodies littering the roadside. The corruption of law enforcement, the involvement of government officials. It makes their readers’ hair stand on end.

Retire in Mexico mxcI don’t know. I guess it sells newspapers during the day and antacids on the nightly news, but I’ve lived in Mexico for more than six years and I’ve never seen anything like that. In fact, sad to say, I’m the only criminal I know here.

Tragic but true, although I have to stress that I’m not violent. My Minnesota driver’s license expired three and half months ago and only in the last three weeks have I tried to do anything about it. I blithely drove around town without one, something I would never have done in the States. I began to feel, though, that this scofflaw lifestyle would one day catch up with me, so I went to have my consulta. This is a document you can obtain from a number of small agencies in town. It’s a brief and cursory medical check up. Height and weight, vision, pulse and blood pressure. I learned I was not diabetic and paid the man the equivalent of $6.00.

Then the holiday intervened and the license station closed for a week, and I didn’t get back there right away. When I did, they turned me away because my consulta was more than 15 days old. I went back downtown, where the man copied much of my information onto a new sheet, dispensed with another blood-sugar test, and charged me $3.00 for a new document.

Back at the testing station I presented my replacement consulta, a photocopy of my passport, my blood type certificate, a copy of my permanent visa, and a copy of my electric bill, which proves my address. The electric bill was rejected because it was not the most recent one, which I had lost the receipt for anyway. No matter, I knew that a new bill was coming shortly. As it happens, the electric company, whose character and ethics I will not bring into this, actually did get the bill to me on time. (In the past they have failed to deliver the bill entirely and then turned off our power when we failed to pay it.)

Two days later I had my bill, got it copied, and returned to the testing station and presented my dossier. On a shelf behind the counter was a long row of awards and certificates for superior…what? Some looked like the crystal trophies from the Golden Globe Awards. Best Performance, others said on parchment with a gold seal at the bottom. Inspired by this, I said, “I’d like your best driver’s license. Only the best is good enough for me.” After all, it was going to cost me $54 for a five-year license. The man looked at me as if I were loco.

“They’ll all the same,” he said. “There is only one kind.”

In response I pointed at the awards and trophies, but he only shrugged. I left to pay for the license, which cannot be done in the same building where it is issued, which I took to be like a kosher set of rules where meat and milk cannot be mixed. Half an hour later I was back in line with my receipt and they gave me my license. They kept the long expired Minnesota license. The fact that it wasn’t current was no problem.

This is the true texture of lawlessness in Mexico. The process of dealing with the bureaucracy here makes people take chances on the dark side of life that they wouldn’t take in Poughkeepsie or Portland. It is a fact that half the drivers in this country do not own a license, and this goes a long way to explain why. The photo on mine made me look approximately 140 years old. Had I been younger, I might have let it go and taken my chances in this lawless land.

Click for additional information about Mexico.