This isn’t an opinion column. It’s just something that happened.
And what happened was basically this: I got run out of Mexico by some cops.
It should be noted that everyone I met in Mexico on this journey was nice. I don’t intend to disparage the country. Like I said, I’m just telling the story of something that happened.
I was at a journalism conference in Laredo, Texas, on Friday. Laredo borders Nuevo Laredo, and my hotel was less than two blocks from the bridge crossing into Mexico.
I knew Nuevo Laredo, a city of 350,000, was dangerous. The Laredo Morning Times had a simple headline on its front page Friday: “More violence.” The publication assumed its readers would know it meant “…in Nuevo Laredo.”
I decided to head over there and check it out anyway. I didn’t have anything to do after the conference ended at 6 p.m., and there was no way I wasn’t going to go to Mexico when it was right at my doorstep.
Everything seemed OK when I crossed the bridge. I stayed on the main street, Calle Guerrero, and it was full of life. I didn’t think there would be so many people in the street if it was really a war zone.
I passed a movie theater about a mile from the bridge. They were showing that stupid Robert Downey Jr./Zach Galifianakis movie, and as I said, I didn’t have anything to do, so I waited around for the movie to start.
My mistake was in wandering a few blocks west of Calle Guerrero. As I passed a police station, a cop whistled. Since I wasn’t doing anything, I didn’t even think about it, but he whistled again, and I saw he was walking toward me, so I stopped.
“We’re going to check you,” he said in Spanish. “Stand over there by the wall.”
I moved over to the wall and another policeman came over. They decided to stop me for being an American in Mexico. The police station was on the other side of the street and set well back from the sidewalk. The cop picked me out as a gringo from a good 50 feet off.
“Take everything out of your pockets. Do you have any weapons or drugs?”
I told him that I didn’t as I emptied my pockets. I left my wallet and my passport in my back pocket, and the cop found them.
“Just my passport.”
“I said everything out of your pockets.”
I took my wallet and my passport out of my pockets, and the cop instructed me to toss them on the ground. This made me feel uncomfortable, but he had a big-ass shotgun, so I didn’t really have a choice.
Then they questioned me about why I was in Nuevo Laredo. I told them I was just “paseando” or walking around. I said I was at a conference in Texas and didn’t have anything to do, so I came to see Nuevo Laredo.
I hesitated when they asked me what kind of conference. Mexico is consistently ranked among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, and government authority figures, like these cops, are often implicated in the journalist killings.
But I couldn’t think of a plausible-sounding lie fast enough, so I just told them it was a journalism conference. Then they asked me if I was selling drugs. I was not, by the way, and I said so.
“It’s better that you don’t lie.”
I told them again that I’m am not a drug dealer, so they started asking me if I take drugs.
“Do you smoke marijuana?”
“Not at all?”
“No marijuana? You don’t smoke?”
I told them I don’t even drink alcohol, which is true.
“But you don’t smoke marijuana?”
“Not even a toquecito now and then?”
Having searched me, they obviously knew I had no drugs, yet they were still keeping me there. I started to worry they were going to plant, say, 100 kilos of heroin on me. Such things have been known to happen in Mexico. They were both kind of chubby, so I figured I could outrun them if they tried to arrest me. Of course, that would carry the risk that they might just shoot me in the back.
But my detainment was coming to an end.
“You shouldn’t be here. It’s dangerous in this city. We’ve had problems. It’s better that you leave right now.”
I asked him if it was safe, more or less, on Calle Guerrero.
“The safest place is here, close to the police station. You should leave now and go back to the United States.”
And it was over. I walked away, and didn’t go to the movie, but I did stop for some tacos before I left. So you could say I didn’t really get “run out” of Mexico. But from the cops’ mannerisms, tone of voice, and general way of shaking me down, it was clear that “you should leave” wasn’t exactly a suggestion.
It seems significant that the Mexican police in a major border city are telling Americans to go home because it’s too dangerous for them.
And since this isn’t an opinion column, I’ll leave it at that.