Saturday, March 24, 2012

Living Here: Flat Tires and Car Trouble


Trying to avoid a pothole while driving through a small pueblo last week, I misjudged, hit the curb and blew out my right front tire.

I stopped and took a look, confirming that the tire was shredded and completely flat. Fortunately I'd been going slowly, so there was never any danger, just inconvenience. I turned at the next corner onto a side street, and began the process of changing my tire.

People in Yucatan's pueblos generally are pretty nice, but they are not usually outgoing with strangers, especially foreigners. If you say "buenos dias," or ask a question they will respond, but often unless a stranger makes the first move, the locals will watchfully but quietly pass by without overt demonstrations of friendliness.

I quickly got off the old wheel and put on the new, which is one of those little, temporary-type spares. Lowering the jack, I realized that the spare was nearly flat. As I stood there looking at it and wondering what to do next, a young man who'd apparently been silently observing the whole process from beyond the wall of his front yard hollered that he had a tire pump. He appeared a moment later from around the corner and handed me a bicycle pump. I connected it to the valve stem and began the slow process of inflating the tire. After watching for a minute or two, the young man offered to help. With younger, stronger arms, in about twenty seconds he'd gotten the pressure up to an appropriate level. I thanked the guy, and saying, "de nada" -- it was nothing -- he walked off, carrying his pump.

This reminded me of another experience I had in Mérida centro some years ago. My prior car was not terribly reliable and one day it abruptly stopped in the middle of a downtown intersection. I got out of the stalled vehicle while horns honked and a traffic jam developed around me. Within half a minute, a traffic cop appeared and helped me push the car through the intersection and over to the curb.

The officer offered to call roadside assistance, which I took to mean a tow truck. However about five minutes later a black municipal police pickup truck with flashing lights and marked Auxilio Vial (roadside assistance) parked behind my car and a uniformed officer jumped out. After asking me for details of what had happened, he grabbed a tool kit and began to troubleshoot under the hood.

I'd heard of and seen "Los Angeles Verdes" -- The Green Angels -- federal highway officer/mechanics charged with safety and security on the nation's highways. These officers help stranded motorists changes tires or make minor repairs along Mexican arteries, particularly in heavily-traveled areas in the central part of the country. But I'd not known that the City of Mérida boasts a similar service.

We stood on baking asphalt in the heat reflected from surrounding buildings. I walked to a nearby store and bought three cold drinks. The traffic officer and I moved to the shade of a nearby building to sip ours while the third guy sweated under the hood of my car. After spending a few minutes checking wires and connections he waved me over and said, "try it." To my amazement and delight, the car fired right up. There were big smiles all around. I vigorously shook the mechanic's grimy hand. I think I even slapped him on the back.

I asked the officers if there was a charge for the service, and they responded, "No, it's a service to the public." We stood for a few moments chatting while the mechanic finished his drink. After taking my name, address and license number and having me sign a form, the mechanic offered to follow me home in case I had more trouble. I thanked him again, but declined.

In a place where some complain about hassles and bribe-taking on the part of officials, in my moment of need I came into contact with two police officers who are honest and proud of their work. I've got to say that my experience was about as easy as a roadside breakdown could possibly be.

Life certainly is not perfect anywhere, but more often than not around here, I run into people like these. Like the officers and the young man in the pueblo, there are plenty of folks in Yucatán who observe simple, old-fashioned rules about getting along, hospitality and helping others. It is one of the things that makes living here such a pleasant experience.


16 comments:

  1. Life is so much easier if one accents the positive.

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    1. That is very true...

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    2. Yes. People have asked me why my blog is so relentlessly positive. My answer it that I choose to focus on these kinds of things. You can read the news whenever you want to and hear about bad things that are going on. It's possible to rant every day about something, if you want to focus on that. I think that life's too short to be spent angry and worrying.

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    3. Let me add: I understand a need for occasional rant, ventilation or complaint. Most of us have this need at times; but I try to keep mine within the confines of a trusted personal friendship. To do otherwise, one runs the risk of "adding fuel to the fire" of those who collect and re-broadcast negative distortions of reality.

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    4. I couldn't agree with you more, Alinde. I certainly have frustrations and get irritated from time to time, and occasionally I talk about it with someone. I don't feel the need to publish it, especially when it might be taken out of context or misinterpreted.

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  2. There are good things and bad things about living down here, but the positives generally outweigh the negatives.

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    1. That's pretty much the way I see it.

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  3. Replies
    1. That's probably why I like your blog, MT.

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  4. What I've noticed is that people who visit occasionally or who vacation for a few weeks or a couple months at a time sometimes tend to see everyone with a "mordida" attitude, those with year-round experience find - as you have and I have - that there are far, far more honest people and helpful people and kind people, even and/or especially among the police.

    Lawson recently wrote of two SSP officers who stayed with two vacationing women on the freeway to insure they had no problems while waiting for a wrecker to arrive. More often than not, the police are happy to help out.

    Besides, we are endlessly interesting to them, being different looking, speaking differently, who knows what all we might think and do?

    All the better to interact with us a bit and have something interesting to discuss with the neighbors. ;-) I agree the pueblo people are more reticent than Meridanos, but speak a word or three of Spanish and their faces generally light up. Seems to be more of a worry of "what will I do when this one speaks and I have no idea what he wants?" than anything else.

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    1. I think you are right that short-term visitors tend to have more negative experiences. It must be because they understand less about how things work, and they don't establish real relationships with average locals. Add to that, I suppose, that short-term visitors tend more often to spend time in tourist-oriented areas, where (as in any tourist trap anywhere in the world) there are more hustlers trying to separate them from their money.

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    2. The other factor in operation, possibly, is that short-term visitors carry their "template" for how the world works with them. They want to fit everyone in other lands into their rules for life in their home country. This can lead to endless frustrations and accusations, because the world doesn't all think the same way.

      Longer-term folks cannot help but notice that things do work differently; people do think differently and reason differently and value different things. It is soon obvious that to survive without ulcers, there is a need to adapt to the place where you find yourself.

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  5. I chuckled while reading your blog -- thinking about how I seem to be a constant source of amusement (and bemusement) to my own neighbors.

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    1. Yes. In this case, people passed by and looked, but no one said anything until the kid, apparently feeling sorry for me, came out with the pump. Maybe he felt a kinship with my situation, doing all that work and ending up back where I started from.

      In these types of situations, everyone looks, everyone watches. It is easy to feel that you are putting on a sort of display. I felt good at least that I have changed a lot of tires in my life, and am quick and competent with a jack and lug wrench. I suppose the sight of a foreigner changing his own tire in this tiny pueblo was interesting...probably the most novel thing that had happened around there in a good while.

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  6. I agree wholeheartedly with you. I had occassion to call the Green Angels while traveling in Mexico. Not once was there an answer to the call. I wonder if they really exist. A smile, a bit of friendliness and a word or two in Spanish go a long way towards making the experiences here in Mexico much more enjoyable. I really don't understand the Pessimist Pete's out there

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    1. Well, I've seen the Angels in action, but never on the Peninsula. Sorry you didn't manage to get ahold of them.

      Here in Mérida, the roadside assistance was great the one time I needed it. Nice people, quick and easy. And it always helps get things off to a good start with a smile, friendly word, and maybe springing for a refresco. Even if things don't work out just right, the time spent is a lot more pleasant.

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