Monday, March 17, 2008

A Day with the Polícia Militar de Minas Gerais

Saturday started off a pretty normal day: sleeping in a little, going to the Mercado Central to buy some fresh fruits and veggies, a trip to the electrical supply store for a new outlet we're replacing. Nothing about our morning gave any indication that our afternoon would be spent at a police station. But then again, most police stories don't start off with, "so I thought it would be fun to spend some time down at the slammer . . ."

After finishing our shopping Saturday, it was a little after noon and the cloudy sky was starting to morph into a nice sunny one. We were getting hungry and Eric remembered that we had some leftover delicious pork chops from Friday night. We decided to go home, have some lunch, and then head over to the clube to enjoy the nice afternoon. And everything would have gone according to plan if it hadn't been for the woman who slammed into the back of our car.

Traffic was bad (as usual) and we were sitting in a line of cars waiting on a light to turn green. Just as the car in front of us began to move forward and Eric was letting off the clutch, we heard a loud crash, got a minor bit of whiplash, and our car went lurching forward about 40 feet. "Ugh, I did not need this today," I think were the first words out of Eric mouth. His next move was to look back and see if the car that just hit us was stopping. (He asked around in November what happens here if you get in an accident. The guys responded by telling him, "Well, that depends, are you the car in the front or the car in the back?" Eric did not know what that could have to do with anything, so they explained further, "Well, if you are the car in the front, it is the other person's fault so you stop and call the police. If you are the car in the back, then it is your fault, so you GO! Get outta there!" Everyone seemed to agree that was the best option. A while back Eric got hit by a VW van who also abided by the "if it's your fault leave" school of thinking (turned out to not be hardly any damage that time), so we were fully expecting to see the car behind us go zipping off into traffic and leave us to explain this one to the rental company!)

Much to our delight, the car that had just rammed us was stopped and the lady who had been driving was getting out of the car. Her front end was banged up pretty bad and her hood was bowed up. Our rental car's trunk and rear bumper were dented and scratched. (I didn't think I'd ever say this, but thank goodness our car is taking forever to get built and delivered to us from the factory!) Luckily, a local transportation guy had been standing on the street nearby and came over to check on the situation. The lady immediately starts crying hard as she tells the guy what happened. After calming her down a bit and radioing something in to someone somewhere, he tells us that if we want to report the accident we need to go to an accident reporting center that is operated by the Polícia Militar de Minas Gerais. The lady knew where one was, so he told us just to follow her.

We arrive at the police station which is basically a big parking lot surrounded by a tall concrete wall with a little building in one corner. There were lots of cops, but no one seemed to be in any big hurry to help us. The lady explained that we had been in an accident and we were told to wait. After about an hour, one of the cops started talking to us. He asked for both parties' license and car registration and for a brief recap of what happened and where. At this point in the story, the lady explains, through tears, that someone rear-ended her, sent her ramming into us, and then the person who hit her left the scene of the accident. The cop asked Eric if that was his version of the story. Eric said he was looking forward and didn't know what happened behind him, only that she crashed into us (although he and I were both a little surprise at the new revelation of this third car!) The cop doing our report had the personality of a fence post and was the most serious-looking person I've ever seen. He sort of had this look about him that indicated he would rather just take you to jail and save himself the paperwork of an accident report.

After entering all the lady's information into the computer he was sitting at, it came time to enter in Eric's info. This is where the cop got all confused. Eric explained to him that we were foreigners and here is my US driver's license, here is my inter-American driver's license, and here is the official translated copy of my US driver's license. Despite the translated copy of the driver's license being in Portuguese, the guy was having a real hard time figuring out things like Eric's full name, birth date, etc. And I guess that's our fault for expecting him to be able to read Portuguese. But anyway, Eric went back behind the desk to help the guy get his information entered into the computer. After most of the vitals were entered in, I noticed Eric starting to blush a little and he pointed to something on the screen and said to the cop, "Um, masculino, senhor." The cop looked at Eric and back at the screen and he actually laughed a little! He corrected the problem and kept chuckling a little bit. It was then time to go inspect the damage. As Eric came out of the office, I asked, "What'd he do, leave the gender as female?" Eric responded, "No, see, there was a drop down menu for the gender field and first it listed all the female options. He just picked the first male option on the list...which happened to be masculino transsexual!" I don't think Eric completely appreciated how much I laughed, and continued to laugh intermittently the rest of the weekend, about that one! Poor guy. He was almost forever etched in the Brasilian police records as transsexual!

So, anyway, we go to inspect the damage. It was strange how much damage there was to the lady's front bumper and hood, and yet, despite the new part of the story where someone hit her first, there wasn't even so much as a scratch on her rear bumper. Not that it really matters to us, as we were obviously the front car in the whole incident...we just find it interesting. After the cop made notes about the damage, we returned to the office where he continued to type up the details of the accident. He needed Eric's assistance reading the Portuguese-translated documents again, so Eric went back behind the desk and sat beside the guy again.

About this time (hour number two of being at the police station), a motorcycle cop pulls up to the station. He is a young, cocky thing and I guess he heard there was an American involved in an accident. And actually, I think he maybe spoke English and maybe someone had called him at first in case there was an issue with communication. Well, he goes strutting into the office a grabs Eric's documents off the older cop's desk. As he stood right over Eric (who was still sitting in the chair), the exchange went something like this (it was actually all in Portuguese though except for the bold italicized words which were spoken in English. The young cop seemed to be talking extra fast as if he wanted Eric to not be able to understand him.):

Young Cop: You work?
Eric: Yes, I work.
Young Cop: Where do you live?
Eric: Now, I live here in BH.
Young Cop: What are you, a pastor?
Eric: No, I work for Case New Holland, part of Fiat Group.
Young Cop: (Looking at Eric's driver's license) Where are your glasses?
Eric: (with some confusion in his voice) My glasses?
Young Cop: Your glasses! (Pointing to the restriction on Eric's license: Corrective lenses required)
Eric: Oh, I wear contacts.
Young Cop: (to the older cop and laughing) Oh, he wears contacts!
Young Cop: (talking to Eric again) Do you have a work permit?
Eric: Yes.
Young Cop: How long is your visa valid for?
Eric: 2 years.
Young Cop: Where's your passport?
Eric: It's at home.
Young Cop: You don't have your passport with you?
Eric: No, I went to the Mercado Central this morning and I didn't carry anything with me except my driver's license and some cash.
Young Cop: (obviously irritated, his hands flailing around and getting real animated now) An American is in Brasil and he doesn't carry his passport! Do you know what would happen to a Brasilian if the cops got a hold of him the US and he didn't have his passport? They'd be throwing him around, beating him up, and all kinds of @#!&! You Americans come here and you don't even carry your passport! If it were a Brasilian in the US he'd be getting locked up and punched! (He punches the wall that divides the offices now for dramatic effect, and you hear glass shatter on the other side.)
Older Cop: (laughing) Calm! Calm! Calm!
(The young cop looks around the corner and announces that a lamp fell off a table and broke. He gets a broom and dustpan and cleans it up before returning to the office with Eric and the older cop.)
Eric: (in a most casual tone) So, where all have you visited in the US?
Young Cop: (much calmer now and actually looking pretty happy) Oh, no, I've never been there.

The young cop eventually left after finding that he wasn't going to get a rise out of Eric, who just sat calmly the whole time he was putting on his show. Eric came out of the office and the older cop told us he was just waiting now for some papers to print. Finally! It has been well over two hours now and we were just ready to get our police report to give to the rental company and go home. (We were exceptionally hungry now too!) After about 15 more minutes, he comes out with some papers in his hand and two smaller pieces of paper. He hands Eric and the lady each the smaller piece of paper. There is a case number written on the bottom of it and an address for another police station. The older cop informs us all that on Tuesday we need to go by this other police station, give them this number, and they will give us a copy of the police report.

WHAT? After being rear-ended at a stop light by some lady who seems to like to twist the truth, we spend just shy of 3 hours of our Saturday afternoon at the police station while this guy slowly enters all our information, types up the damage, and what happened, we have to listen to a young, cocky, American hating, Barney Fife of a cop, Eric is almost forever known in the system as transsexual, and NOW we have to go, and no doubt stand in line and wait some more, to some other location during a weekday, but not during lunch because they are closed 12:00-1:30, to pick up the copy of our police report, which this cop is holding in his hand right now but can't give us because somebody has to put an official stamp on it first?!?

And THIS is why accidents are not reported to the police! Even if both parties do stop at the scene, you just get something figured out between the two of you, exchange contact information, and go on your merry way. Assuming the cops must be involved, I suppose you could just take the advice my former boss in Donnellson, Iowa gave me on if I ever got in wreck while driving the government vehicles: if you are not seriously injured, take out the tire iron and beat yourself to death...I promise it will be less painful.


Tony said...

I'm glad Eric was able to hold his tongue. Otherwise he might be on a diet of bread and water about now! (A Brazilian version of Barney Fife - that conjures up quite an image!)


Beth said...

Somehow I think when you started a blog for your adventures, this was not what you had in mind! Glad things turned out okay!

Be sure and visit my blog, I posted a recipe just for you!

Have a great day!

Rachel said...

and that right there, is precisely why i have no interest in driving in this country.

great story though!

Kristi said...

I think that is my favorite entry yet! Well written and witty (my absolute favorite part would have to be when Eric asks the cop where he had been in the states...) Emily I would like to email you as we are now in Rio - can you send me one so that I have your address?

Jeremy Sarber said...

I feel bad for ya'll but this made me laugh. Thank goodness I live in the United States (where we apparently punch people without passports).

Anonymous said...

Yeah... must be better in Guantánamo.