In a city as publicly cramped as Guadalajara, you can’t expect a lot of space to be dedicated to public parking. And even if there was, it would certainly not enhance the city’s charm. The grand majority of the parking space is the streets. The city could stand to make good buck with this, but it won’t. On the few streets that it has gone so far as to place parking meters, you might never know it. No one, including myself, pays them any attention. Once in about every twelve blue moons you’ll find tickets secured under the wipers of a whole block of cars. You can pay these little fines, if you want to… if you don’t want to you can just wad them up and toss ‘em wherever… it will likely come to nothing. Tickets here, for any infraction, apply to the car, not the driver. A driver could get away with not paying dozens of tickets for years.. but trying to sell the car later, in any honest fashion, is much more difficult . At any rate, no one is legally bound in any form to pay for street parking during the evening and nighttime hours.
One particular evening not long ago, I went to a bar… found a lucky spot a couple of blocks away, evidently someone had just left.. a simple parallel maneuver.. back up.. turn the wheel, and just like that you’re in.. with a good four inches to spare on either end.. easy as mac ‘n cheese.. were it not for the dingbat standing right behind me, waving his red cloth around and creating every distraction imaginable, hollering to me that it’s okay.. “you’ve got plenty of space… viene viene (c’mon c’mon)” Yeah.. I got space… and your fat-assed soon to be mashed and bleeding cadaver is wallowing all around in it!! Wouldn’t that make for a sensational photo!
Meet the franelero. The term is derived from the rag, which is called a franela. His name, sometimes hers, isn’t important. Do you give names to unwanted vermin scurrying about your humble home? A most unpleasant hallmark of an economy never, ever to be free from crisis, he stands to make far more in a day than do many of the supposed rich people with cars he’s there to suck money from. So he turns a five second simple procedure into a thirty second ordeal.. and then comes to your door as you get out and tries to chat you up with some painfully ironic gibberish like.. “you see? that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
But I’m not in the mood. I tell him “could have been easier..”, crediting him as little attention as possible. I don’t know if he catches my drift, or even wants to, or even cares, but as I begin to walk away, he calls for further deference – “Jefe, it’ll be 20 pesos…”. Pacing on, I respond what I normally do… “Yeah, whatever.. I’ll get ya when I come back…” - “Noo jefe you have to pay first…” Well.. that earns an eye contact at least. “..and if I don’t???” - “Bueno, señor.. I can’t make any guarantee that you’ll find your car in the same condition that you left it.” Until this moment the game is just innocent tit for tat.. but from here one has to decide whether to pay or to take it to the next level.. in a game which one must rationally assume that the franelero possesses far more experience. Most people pay at this point, if, through the warped education from prior experiences, they haven’t paid already…
But again, I just wasn’t in the mood. “Well what are you good for, then? Look, this vehicle may not look like much, but it’s my bread and butter, just as your bread and butter is this stupid business you do. So if I find the vehicle damaged when I leave here, I also cannot guarantee that I won’t take that silly red rag of yours and force it down your throat. And why would I even care if it wasn’t you that did it, I’ll still batter you.. one way or another. It’s not like I won’t know where to find you. So perhaps it’s you who should evaluate what 20 pesos is really worth…..”
When you’re not in the mood, you just don’t care. When you’re not in the mood, rationality is not king. When you’re not in the mood, any sense of danger is maimed, taped up in plastic and helplessly suffocating.
But in the end the question still lingers… should people react this way or not? The most common and safest answer is “NO”… but the philosophy underlying that answer is about as deep as the water in a mirage. The ‘no’ answer is the voice of expedient reason… “why risk expensive damage to my car over twenty pesos.. besides, he’s out here probably trying to get by in order to feed his kids.. “ Expedient, because people go to bars or wherever else to enjoy themselves and frankly don’t want such heavy stress on their shoulders all night, wondering if their car is okay out there. The night factor weighs heavily on the vehicle owner’s sense of security, even though the franeleros do work in the daytime as well. But it’s far safer to damage, break into or rob someone’s car in the darkness of night.… twenty pesos is no more than the price for one beer.. surely if the guy’s going to keep an eye on my car, that’s worth a beer.. isn’t it??
But go any deeper, and all you will find is the fabrication of an anxiety in order to charge money to assuage it.. pure and simple extortion. And in this light the franelero and his activity become naturally unacceptable. For those who can see it from this angle, the act of paying creates not only the guilt of having lost a 20 peso wager of the wills, but far more importantly that 20 pesos has just left one’s pocket to fund the very thing we wish would disappear. I may forget about it while in the bar.. I might not, but I´ll certainly be reminded of it when leaving, as he runs back up the street to hold my door open for me as I try to get around him to enter my vehicle… well, actually, that last part is only true if I didn’t pay at the beginning.
Now even though this problem may be magnified with foreign drivers, for all the obvious reasons, it’s essentially one for the citizens here to reconcile one way or another. There is absolutely no doubt that if the franelero worked all day or all night and didn’t manage to coerce even one driver in that time, his act would disappear from our daily reality.
But that’s not going to happen.
There’s a strange irony in life that an assortment of people from the lowly franelero to the lofty politician like to feed on. People rarely organize in mass for a cause and actually see it through. In reality, each of us possesses a self centered perspective of how the world works and should work. And like a perfectly arranged pyramid of a thousand empty beer cans, we prefer not to tinker with it. It’s not that we don’t have the ability as individuals to overcome this, it’s just that we generally don’t do it. Perhaps we’re afraid to; afraid that the perilous undertaking will somehow violate our sense of right and wrong and leave us floundering in an ever imploding world of screaming kids, woefully untalented traffic, and cartoonishly dense 24 hour news coverage. It’s a legitimate fear… The irony is that this particular common thread of self centeredness among all of us is what allows the likes of the politician to connect with so many as a mass. He talks about things that he believes will resonate with the greatest common bulk of self centered concerns.. which usually is found within the lowest common denominator of any number of people.
In the same way, the franelero knows that you’re far less concerned about what he’s doing than you are about your car and your night ahead of you. He assures you, for a small sum, that everything will be okay. He knows you’re not likely to consider that he cannot possibly care for every car he’s collected for. How many are there.. 50? 75… 150?? You’re just thinking about you.. and that you don’t want him to single out your car because he didn’t get any money from you. That’s worth 20 pesos, isn’t it?
And so why would they ever go away?
It’s not that these guys are bad people… or if some of them are it’s certainly not being a franelero that makes them so. Many of them indeed are people just trying to make a living. With most of them you could sit down and enjoy a beer, to be sure. Maybe then you could learn what their names are. But their work amounts to nothing more than petty extortion, and rarely will I ever find myself in the mood to reward it. I’m often warned, “But if you don’t pay him, your vehicle becomes a target..” Wrong. If anything happens to my vehicle on his supposed watch, the franelero becomes my target.
Here’s a good idea - next time one of these guys hassles you for money, tell him to pay you 20 pesos, and you’ll keep an eye out to make sure that someone like me doesn’t get him. You think he’ll take the offer seriously? If not, then ask him why the hell he thinks you should seriously consider his.
Not my video.. but this girl’s got sort of the right idea…