Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Get Up in the Morning at Your Own Risk

So okay, this picture wasn't taken in Mexico. But I'm quite sure there's a family on the road somewhere not far from me with the same traffic safety plan as this one.

Actually, there was a Vespa knockoff lurching along a cobblestone street near our place a couple of weeks ago carrying a family of four. Dad was driving. Big brother was perched on the seat in front of him. Mom hung on behind him with a toddler in her arms.

I did an OMG double-take. But from the above I now see that, relatively speaking, they were paragons of prudence. The bike above is carrying four adults and five kids including the one in the bucket seat. Asia has much to teach us.

We've been adjusting to Third World notions of risk allocation since the day we bought our home here back in 2005. That was when we learned that our little 7-unit condo building doesn't have any liability insurance on it, and not much insurance of any other kind either.

In a zone exposed to hurricanes and also prone to earth tremors, I observed mildly to the owners association president that this seemed incautious, although the word I choked back was "foolhardy." In response I got a prim lecture advising me to take a page from the Mexican Book of Wisdom and purge myself of the litigious "culture of blame" that prevails so unpleasantly north of the Rio Grande.

So I've been trying.

I scarcely turn a hair now when I encounter busy uncontrolled intersections, broken staircases without any railings, electrical transformers that I know are apt to fail explosively squatting at ground level next to crowded sidewalks, refrigerators standing in the beds of pickup trucks, restrained with one arm by a man balanced on the side rim, city buses driven by the criminally insane, unrefrigerated meats heaped on tables in the supermarket, etc. etc.

A few weeks ago I joined a popular hike along the coast south of here between Boca de Tomatlan and Animas Beach. It turned out to be a series of steep climbs and vertiginous cliff walks, all without benefit of warning signs, reliable footing, or anything to keep anyone whose mind or foot wandered from tumbling to the rocks below.

During the rainy season, big chunks of the trail are obliterated by mudslide. Our guide, an energetic Canadian woman, collects 50 pesos from each of her followers. She pays the money to a man who lives in the hills near the trail to build little bridges of sticks and rawhide to get us over these chasms. Many hundreds of people make this walk every year, but nobody else seems to care whether it's passable.

Not that it really is anyway. Last year somebody on this hike did trip on a root or a bit of protruding boulder and took a fatal plunge into the vertical rain forest that lines most of the coastline around here.

Tragic, but that's the culture of blame talking.

I realized recently that I'm finally beginning to silence that annoying voice. I was hanging a wind chime outside our bedroom when I dropped a large pair of scissors and saw it clatter to the bedroom balcony on the floor below.

Our neighbors had rented it to some nice people from Ohio. I went downstairs to collect my fallen shears.

"Ho, ho," quipped the tenant. "That's some pretty good liability for me to collect."

"Ho, ho, yourself," I replied. "Not around here."

1 comment:

  1. HA! Love your ending!

    It's been an adjustment for us when we arrive here each year and know that we had better be tread carefully because we're on our own. And an adjustment when we go home to the U.S. where liability feels more like someone winning the lottery.

    We probably won't continue renting our little guest house on our lake because we're so afraid someone will fall on the path to the lake and end up owning the property. And that's with liability insurance.

    We have friends who own acres of land (farmers) including a creek with a waterfall. Even tho' it's posted private property, a young man fell while climbing the waterfall and has a spinal injury (severe). They've been in court at least two years trying to defend themselves against his claim that they were liable.

    So --- I'm not sure Mexico has the whole answer, but I'm sure that the U.S. doesn't.

    Great column!