Here’s the thing about driving in the D.R.: it takes 110% concentration and a good amount of fear suppression in order to navigate the streets and highways of this country. You need a full 360 degrees of alertness and Spidey-sense like abilities to avoid hitting someone or something. The something is usually a family of five (yes, five) perched on an 80cc moped. Driving here is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced except for the six weeks in 2016 I spent in the Bronx for work-stoppage duty with Verizon. In my head, the correlation of the large Dominican community in the Bronx and my experience driving both there and here is all starting to make more sense.
The northern end of the island is also very mountainous, so traversing hills and ridges in a little four-cylinder SUV was …. heart-pounding. But perhaps the most adrenaline-inducing experience was being told to pull over by the gentleman in army fatigues with an M-16 hoisted over his shoulder. I couldn’t quite figure out why we were being waved over to the shoulder of the road, but in retrospect, I think my wife’s VERY American appearance played a part.
[dialogue in Spanish]
Officer: Who are you? Where are you coming from?
Me: [in a somewhat cracking voice] We are missionaries from the U.S. We JUST moved here and we’re on our way to Samaná.
Officer: Do you have any firearms in the vehicle?
Me: [mentally picturing the obviousness of our rental being packed to the extreme and wondering why he would ask that] Um … no? We’re missionaries.
Officer: So, you are Christians?
Me: [thinking we’re off the hook] Yes! Christians!
Officer: Wait here.
The officer calls over his supervisor.
Me: Oh crap.
Supervisor: My officer tells me you’re Christians.
Me: Yes, sir.
Supervisor: We’re just doing routine stops to ensure people aren’t transporting guns or contraband.
Me: [over-smiling] That would not be us.
Supervisor: Yes, I see. Still, my men and I have been out here all day and it’s hot, and I was wondering if you would be willing to …. make a donation so we can get some refreshments.
Me: [now staring at HIS M-16] Ummmmm …… sure.
I hand him 50 pesos. The Supervisor stares at the money and chuckles politely.
Supervisor: There are three of us and we’re all thirsty.
Me: No problem.
I hand him another 100 pesos.
Supervisor: Thank you so much. You may go on your way.
We drive off and I try to regroup my composure. I nervously fidget with the rearview mirror.
Lee: Was that a shakedown?
Me: I believe it was?
Lee: How much did you give him?
Me: 150 pesos.
Lee: [after doing the math in her head] So …. Like three bucks?
Lee: Okay. Not bad.