Joe is a pilot, sailor, former Marine (sniper) and an excellent story teller. He is 83 now and still going strong. He has neuropathy in his hands which means he can no longer use a typewriter normally. He doesn’t let that stop him, slowly typing out emails with two pencils so that he can tell friends about his adventures. I asked for his permission to share one with you.
I knew we might have some trouble. There is no VFR night flying in Mexican airspace and we were running late. I was flying a single engine airplane and although the sky was still bright, the sun had officially set. I confirmed to the controller that I intended to continue inbound to Mazatlan.
Mazatlan: Zero 8 Quebec report downwind
Pilot: Zero 8 Quebec turning downwind.
The runway was clear in the dusk but as we turned downwind, every light in the airport – it seemed like every light for miles around – flashed on. My passengers recoiled from the window as I continued the circuit, confirming to the controller that I required fuel upon our arrival.
Mazatlan: Zero 8 Quebec you are cleared to land.
As we touched down, he gave me further instructions.
Mazatlan: Exit your passengers at the administration building, have them wait for the guards, then proceed to the gas pit and they will direct you to parking.
Pilot: Roger, will debark passengers at the administration building and proceed to the gas pit.
I stopped the plane in front of the building where we were surrounded by rifle-bearing troops. The two couples were escorted to a small, stuffy room and told that they must stay there. After fueling up and parking, I was marched into a dusty little office in the main building.
A severe-looking mustached administrator sitting at a dented metal desk asked me for every piece of paper that he could think of: passport, clearance into Mexico, proof of ownership of the plane. He stared at my license for a few moments and then cleared his throat.
He handed me my paperwork piece by piece as he spoke. “Señor, the lights, they is very expensive.”
I breathed a sigh of relief now that I knew what was going to happen. “The least I could do is to help to pay for them,” I told him with a smile.
The man nodded. “Señor, more or less 2,500 pesos for the lights,” about U.S. $10 at the time. He paused and then spoke again. “And the guards, Señor, they must be paid also.”
“How much for the guards,” I said, pulling out my wallet.
“2,500 pesos. But also, Señor, the man upstairs. He is tough guy.” He pointed straight up. Did I need to bribe God as well? Or perhaps he just meant the controller.
I tried to look stern. “OK, how much for the guy upstairs?”
“Señor, 2,500 pesos.”
I peeled off the required amount and handed to the man who nodded seriously as he counted it. I grinned at him and he smiled back; we were friends now. “And for you, Señor,” I asked him. “How much for all your help?”
He gave me a shocked look and threw out his chest. “For me is nothing, Señor! Is my job!”
He ordered us a taxi and led me to the tiny waiting room where my passengers waited nervously, surrounded by the guards still clutching their rifles. I leant in close and whispered to the two couples that we were in serious trouble. I told them that I had failed to contact the American embassy and that we were probably going to have to spend the night in jail.
“They’ve arranged for a taxi to take us to the hotel, to pick up our personal belongings in case that we don’t get out tomorrow.” We drove to the hotel in silence, where I asked them to pack their cases and meet me in the bar in 20 minutes to wait for the taxi driver to pick us up and take us to the jail.
Once at the bar, I ordered a variety of snacks and a pitcher of margaritas: a final fling. The passengers returned from the rooms one by one, pale-faced and unhappy, and bolted down their margaritas. One of the women had tears in her eyes.
The taxi driver walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. “Ready to go?”
The woman burst into sobs: “I don’t want to go to jail!”
The taxi driver looked stunned. “Jail? Oh no! Mr Joe fix everything good. You no going to jail, you going to dinner.”
That was the final straw: I started laughing and could not stop. No one else in my party seemed to think it was quite so funny.
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