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Mexico Guru

The Green Angels

The unthinkable happens: your car is kaput. Luckily for you, there’s a slender shoulder that you manage to pull onto before the thing conks out. Cars whiz by on the highway, but no one stops. Or maybe several helpful citizens stop, but can’t help, because your fuel pump is busted.

Being stuck on the side of the road is stressful in any situation, but especially in a foreign country where language may be a barrier. Since the 1970s, the federally funded Angeles Verdes, or Green Angels, have proved a godsend to motorists in distress from Tijuana to Ticul.

In the old days you had to wait for the blessed sight of a dark green Angeles Verdes truck to trundle into view, but today salvation for those who run out of gas, can’t fix a flat, or blow a water pump is just a phone call away.

How to Get Help

Dial 078 from any cell phone or TELMEX phone booth. Your call will be routed to the Green Angels’ Mexico City dispatch office. Agents there will radio the appropriate unit throughout the country. Green Angels don’t service every little backwater, however they do patrol all federal and toll highways. If you are having problems be sure to open your hood so they will see you.

The tow trucks typically make a full-circuit trip of each highway per day, in addition to responding to emergency calls. Agents typically work from 8AM to 8PM. On major holidays like semana santa (Easter week) and on puentes (long weekends) they are available 24 hours a day.

Drivers carry gasoline and motor oil as well as spare tires and parts for minor but important repairs. Trained in CPR, they can administer first aid in the event of an accident or medical emergency. While their main function is to help motorists in distress, they also carry maps and brochures of their regions. Most drivers speak excellent to reasonably good English and are knowledgeable about road conditions and tolls in their areas, explained Daniel Gómez, radio operator at the Puerto Vallarta station.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

There’s no charge for these services, but motorists must pay for gasoline, oil and parts. There’s conflicting information in guide books and on the web about whether drivers can accept tips. Mr. Gómez assured me that tips are permitted, and the Green Angels are happy to accept them. He reiterated, however, that the service is free, and that tips are entirely optional.

In 2007 the nation’s fleet of Green Angel trucks numbered 1,800; additional vehicles are expected in March 2008. Motorists can easily recognize the forest-green trucks with government logos painted on the side in white. Drivers wear a green uniform and carry identification with their name and photo around the neck.