This could have happened anywhere, but last night it was in Playa del Carmen. It started with the rain. As I was strolling along La Quinta—Playa’s 5th Avenue pedestrian mall/boardwalk/Vegas Strip—with my friend Benjamin Reed, it began to pour. Most of the tourists and souvenir peddlers and locals ran for shelter in the numerous bars and restaurants along the Avenida. But we were engrossed in conversation on Mexican politics and Idaho politics and the intersection of Mexican and Idaho politics, and we just kept walking, allowing the warm rain storm to soak our clothes. The air and the rain were a perfectly matched tropical temperature such that it just felt like a warm bath. But eventually my pesos and iPod were getting soaked so we stopped for some beverages (ague de jamaica) and food.
The food was mediocre, though I did try some of Ben’s corn fungus enchilada (made with corn masa). Not bad.
I had a clear view of the street and at about 8:15 pm I heard screeching tires and looked up just in time to see a man going down, under a taxicab. I think he slipped off the center median strip, probably because the rain made the roads slick, and a pickup truck and then cab hit him.
Everything froze for a minute. Most people in the restaurant, which was opened up to the street, did not even notice. The taxi driver appeared to be yelling at the guy, but he did not get out of the cab and as the man crawled to the side of the road across two lanes of traffic, I started to realize no one was helping him.
He couldn’t stand up and was struggling to reach his cell phone as he swayed and toppled over again in the gutter along the side of the busy street. I grabbed a chair, went over and offered my hand, but he was not coherent and at first did not seem to notice me. His head was bleeding. He was wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt. Then he looked at me and said weakly, “ayudame.”
I pulled him up on the curb and got him sitting upright. Ben came over to help and spotted the number on the cab, which was driving off. Another lady came over and called the police and spoke to the man for a minute. I was not sure what else to do and could not really understand his Spanish, so I backed off.
Thankfully, the police arrived in a matter of minutes, the man’s wife or at least a woman who knew him arrived and burst into tears, and then the paramedics arrived and tried to treat him. By that time he was standing up, but he did not remember what had happened and he still had blood on his eyes and nose and did not look good. The authorities seemed to have it under control. Most of the patrons of the semi-busy taqueria watched with visible pain on their faces; one had gotten up to flag down the passing cops, but most just sat and watched the tragedy unfold.
I realized two things: 1) I had no idea how to summon the cops in Mexico. I now know you dial 066, at least here in Quintana Roo, though I’m not sure if it will work from my U.S. cell phone. And 2) I was under the perhaps bigoted impression that police and emergency response here was subpar, which I have heard many times. But here in Playa del Carmen at least, it seemed rapid and professional and I was quite impressed.
The incident left me a little shaken. These types of scenarios play out in my mind all the time and I always wonder how I will respond. I was disappointed that I didn’t jump up and run to his aid, that I didn’t really know how to help him and that the blood and gore made me a bit queasy. But I was glad I got him out of the street, away from further danger, at least.
I was still shaken when I got to my hotel, just a block away, so I crossed that same busy street very carefully—sometimes it is hard to know if the drivers here are turning or switching lanes or merging or what—bought a fifth of rum and drank half of it in my room. I hope the dude in the Bob Marley t-shirt has recovered today and that he never goes to that place for tacos, because they kind of sucked anyway.