Friday, May 13, 2011

Cinco de Burro: May 20, 2006

For today's exercise in self-aggrandizement, we reprint the first dispatch we filed from the wrong side of the US/Mexico border.

Saturday, May 20, 2006
Shakedown Street


So we finally reach the border – la frontera. If anyone has any doubt about us being a Superpower In Decline, all you need to know is that there’s a $2.25 toll to leave the United States. How cheesy is that? Hell, it’s $4.50 to leave New York City.

But when we tried to hand over our nine quarters, we were motioned out of the line and sent over to a US Customs Service corral. No one explained why, and when we got there, no one who worked there could explain why either, until one of them said we needed an export permit for the car. This was the first we’d heard of an export permit, but the nice man assured us that it was really no big deal, and that they would only need to impound our vehicle for 72 hours. It was at this point that the export permit for my bowels arrived. Three days in Brownsville, Texas! Men have killed themselves over less.

After about an hour we were referred to someone who actually knew what he was talking about, who told us we needed no such document. We paid our $2.25 and watched Texas recede in the rearview mirror. In less than a mile, we arrived at Mexican Customs in Matamoros, an operation that makes the chuckleheads to the north look like the Blue Angels.

Basically, to get into Mexico, we needed three visas: one for us, one for the car and one for our stuff. Each of these visas is processed by a separate department, each deploying the latest in ballpoint-pen-and-carbon-paper technology. The personal visas went through without a hitch (we’re officially classified as “pensioners”), as did the car visa. The household goods visa, called a “manaje de casa,” was another story.

The manaje is something the Mexican Consulates in both New York and Boston told us we absolutely had to have. It’s a list of everything you’re carrying with you – some of it general (“one suitcase of women’s clothing”), some of it specific – make, model, serial number, etc. And since we got the manaje before we’d actually packed, we loaded it up with everything we might potentially bring, figuring it’s better to have too much on the list than to get caught with an item that wasn’t listed. The whole point of the manaje as it was explained to us, is that it allows you a one-shot, tax-free opportunity to get your stuff into Mexico

No one at Mexican Customs had ever seen or heard of a manaje de casa. But they were very pleased to have a detailed list of all the expensive electronic goods we were carrying, since it would make it easier for them to calculate the 15 percent import tax we’d have to pay. Initial estimates were somewhere between $1000 and $2000. It was here that a number of heated arguments broke out – between us and Customs, between the various Customs agents and between Laura and myself.

Mexican Customs is staffed almost entirely by women under the age of 22 who might someday get around to memorizing the actual customs rules and regulations. In the meantime, the operation seems to be completely improvised. After a number of long conversations among themselves (during which time no one else was being served) a suggestion was made that someone ought to actually take a look at our stuff. This involved opening the car door, pointing to a few boxes, and asking what was in them. After explaining that most of our stuff was “old,” “used,” “broken,” or “second-hand” (words we took care to learn before arriving), Customs arrived at a fair valuation of all our worldly possessions: $479. We paid our $67 in import taxes, tossed the manaje out the window, and embarked on our Mexican Adventure.

A hundred feet later, we were stopped by a Customs Police officer – a man who looked like he’d read the manual every night before going to bed - who looked at our receipt and suggested that $479 might be a slight undervaluation of two computers, a printer, a scanner, two iPods, an electric guitar and all our clothes, books and household appliances. Incredulous, we explained to him the old, used, broken, second-hand nature of our lives, averting our eyes in shame over the way we live. It was getting close to lunchtime. He waved us on, and we embarked on our Mexican Adventure.

1 comment:

Ziggy Bombanuts said...

The "manaje de casa" is an urban Mexican myth, perpetrated by counsulate workers and interweb bloggers who moved to mexico.