Friday, January 20, 2012


     Contradictions are as numerous on Ikaria as cicadas in August. One of my favorite contradictions involves the judious law enforcement agency i.e. the Ikarian police, and their seemingly arbitrary and somewhat hazy enforcement of Greek motor vehicle laws. During my summers on Ikaria the run-ins I’ve had with the local police consisted mostly of minor motor vehicle violations. These so called violations always seemed to be selective or maybe they were somehow related to the phases of the moon, but nonetheless they happened and they should be duly noted with some kind of a plausible explanation. Those of us, who have bikes, on Ikaria everything from a Vespa to a Harley, are required by Greek law to wear a helmet, or at least have a helmet handy. When the police decide to enforce this law they will set up a road block for an hour or two, usually under the shade of a large tree and see who they can catch sans helmet. My three experiences with these police road blocks are quiet varied and so are the results.
     Experience #1  My first experience happened as I was riding my Vespa to Agios as usual without a helmet and unaware of a road block just outside the city limits. As I approached the police road block I purposely slowed down in anticipation of being stopped by the Ikarian police, but because both officers were busy with their official duties of writing tickets they motioned me to continue without stopping. How fortunate I thought, maybe my Vespa is too cute or too slow to warrant a warning or a ticket. So, my first experience reinforced in me a false sense of motor vehicle security.
    Experience #2 Two years later, once again riding to Agios
on my Vespa without a helmet, I encountered another police road block. Thinking I had free passage I whizzed past the blockade only to have an officer quickly chase me down and pull me over. Asking to see my driver’s license, I searched my back pack only to discover I had left my wallet with all my identification back at the house. Explaining the situation to the perturbed officer he allowed me twenty-four hours to present myself and my drivers’ license, which happened to be a Michigan drivers’ license, to the police station. The next day being a bit fearful and uncertain of my status with the Ikarian police, I asked my good friend, Giovanni to accompany me to the police station in case some unexpected development occurred like being thrown in the Ikarian jail. He could thus relay the news of my imprisonment to my supportive wife. Upon reaching the police station and finding the main desk I explained to the duty officer the reason for my presence. “Fine,” he said, “let’s see your driver’s license.” Reaching into my back pocket I produced my wallet with all my identification cards. Fumbling to find my drivers license, my local Michigan library card happened to fall on the desk. The officer picked it up, examined it closely and asked, “Is this your driver’s license?” Jokingly I replied, “Oh yeah.” “Well, ok”, he said shaking his head as if he didn’t want to be bothered by such mundane civil infractions, “you’re free to go.” This thin piece of plastic had no identifying photograph, had no printed address, had no affiliation to the Michigan driver’s bureau. The card did however have a cute graphic of two books leaning together and a helpful list of nearby branches. That magic combination was evidently all I needed. Hastily I picked up my get out of jail free card, tucked it safely in my wallet, thanked the kind officer and with a dazed and confused Giovanni made a swift exit out of the police station.
    Experience #3 This latest encounter with the inglorious police road block occurred on a return trip to my village. By this time I had acquired a helmet, or what would pass for a motorcycle helmet since it was really nothing more than one of those hard foam bicycle helmets. My son, Alex, was my passenger on the Vespa, and he unfortunately did not have a helmet. Spotting the road block about half a kilometer away, I quickly donned my fraudulent helmet, but then started worrying about my helmetless son. Stopping at the road block, the police officer approached and giving my improvised helmet a cursory glance, asked the usual to see my driver’s license. After a quick glimpse at the license he waved us on. By this time my curiosity was inflamed. “Excuse me,” I asked, “is everyone on a motorcycle supposed to wear a helmet?” “No,” he replied, “just the driver, passengers aren’t required to wear helmets.” As we motored back to our village I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the same panel of Solon lawmakers that also made the no smoking law for the bank customers, but not for the bank employees.

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