(Real) Life in San Miguel
The first installment in our new, ongoing series.
(Only a couple of months late…)
Today was a Red Letter Day, a Day of Great Accomplishment, a Day to Remember.
Fortune smiled upon me. I feel vindicated, fulfilled, extremely lucky (blessed, even), and a bit tired.
Today I got windshield wiper blades for my car. That work.
If you think this is a minor achievement, you’ve never lived in the third world. Read on…
Their predecessors were in sad shape. The driver’s side had lost its rubberness altogether and screeched alarmingly on the glass. The other trailed a rubber ribbon loosely up and down like a squiggly black tail. (The San Miguel sun cooks things, pronto.) As the rainy season loomed, then tentatively began, then inundated us, I pondered my problem.
Back in April, I had stopped by Billy’s, my mad expat mechanic, to ask where I might find replacements. In his oil-stained blue coveralls, he clutched his stomach and laughed heartily, torso bobbing back and forth. When he got his breath back, he said “you’ll never find ones to fit a Japanese-made car here. You’ll have to have them sent down from the states.”
Daunted for a month or so, I finally decided to give it a shot, silly or not.
It only took two weeks and six visits to five stores (some open during published working hours, others not). And, I only had to buy four different kinds in order to find the one that worked.
In my quest, I circumnavigated SMA (a Formidable Task, in itself), visiting all the refaccionarias I could locate. No small feat, as my search involved waiting for a non-rainy day so that I could see while driving, dodging eight-year old unlicensed drivers, idling not-so-patiently behind taxis who refuse to ever, ever pull over when loading and unloading, swerving around tourists chatting in the middle of the street, and having to find parking (horrors!) at my destinations, which may or may not be open.
As a last resort, I tried at what I call the Mega Eyesore (our new, terribly modern, not-at-all-colonial Mega Comercial Mexicana superwarehousegrocerystore.)
Amazingly enough, they had 11 different kinds of blades to choose from. For a good twenty minutes, I sat on the floor, inspecting the selection. (Getting some stares. This is simply not done here—but I’ll be damned If I’m going to take the tedium of comparing overpriced pieces of rubber standing up.)
Time for a romantic (if unrealistic) flashback to the good old US of A: Drive to nearby auto parts superstore. Enter the air-conditioned, tire-scented establishment. Ask friendly uniformed salesperson for windshield wipers for a 96 Nissan. She or he types a bit and the computer spits out 43 options. Choose one set, take them home and they fit!
Ok, maybe I’m embellishing a bit. Perhaps the salesperson is really a clueless, apathetic, malnourished teenager who just got fired from Burger Barn and actually knows less about automotive supplies than I do—supposing the latter is possible. But there would be somebody else to ask, I just know it. (Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve been out of the States for a long while.)
So, back to the Mega.
Of course, not one of any of the available wiper blades actually claimed to fit the make and model of my car. So, I had to wing it. After much careful deliberation (I really should have gone to jury duty when they called me up, way back when. I would have been good at it), I chose four different blades that seemed, in some indefinable way, more compatible with my car than the others.
Yes, I could have enlisted the help of my friend and his pendulum, to make matters simpler… “Is it this one?” we ask. The pendulum’s swing says: “no way!”
But if I get hassled at Mega for bringing in my water bottle so it doesn’t hit a full boil in the car, I can only imagine what they’d do over a full new-age divination ceremony in aisle 36, even without the incense.
Armed with my four sample contenders, I asked the check-out girl if I would be able to return the ones that didn’t fit. After a few segundos of blank staring, she went to ask Someone in Charge. The verdict was: “yes, if the packaging is in good shape.”
Great. I shelled out about thirty dollars and took ‘em all home. With the utmost care, I opened them and tried them, one by one.
As only one type came with directions, written in fluent, universal, incomprehensible manual-ese, I spent about an hour trying them all on the car.
I was getting discouraged. I tried each type a million ways—upside down, right side up, backwards, forwards, with and without the extra plastic doohickey. So far not so good.
I got good grades in school, I thought. I run a business. My father is an engineer. Surely I can figure this out.
Finally, I closed my eyes and asked the great autoparts god(dess) for guidance. Taking a deep breath, I tried the final candidate upside down and backwards. And, lo and behold, the damn thing clicked on. After some more tinkering, I even got the claspy thing to close.
A massive thrill of accomplishment filled me, similar to making it to the top of Mount Everest, finishing the great pan-American novel, or finding a legal parking space in the centro on a Saturday afternoon in July.
I pulled an old bottle of water out from under my seat and doused the windshield. (My car’s spritzers stopped working long ago, after I made the mistake of putting San Miguel’s calcium-laden tap water in the tank. “You did what?” asked Mechanic Billy, guffawing—I amuse him quite regularly.) I said a little prayer to Santa Funciona (the patron saint of things that work), bit my lip and hit the lever.
It was a thing of beauty. After a month of not driving when it rains, or of chancing it and looking at the moving world through a perilously impressionistic lens, the sainted plastic blade made a gorgeous, lazy arch and left half of my windshield as clear as…well, as glass. I could see! I could drive in any weather!
Now I only had to get its mate, and return the runners-up. Easy, right?
Nope. Of course, policies had changed during my 18-hour absence from Mega.
“We don’t take returns on these.” Said the woman, dismissing me and turning to chat with her co-workers.
“No. Wait.” I said, panicking. “I specifically asked and was assured that you would.” Three big pairs of eyes turned and stared at me from behind the customer service desk. (Around here return policies are as rare as snow. And almost nobody insists—they’re accustomed to being denied and take it with grace and honor. But not me—I come from the land of the squeaky, ungraceful wheel.)
“I was told I would be able to return these,” I insisted. “I just bought them yesterday.” Getting nervous, Customer Service Lady radioed somebody from the auto department, who confirmed that yes, they most certainly do NOT take returns on wiper blades.
“But look,” I went on, pointing at my careful glue job. “The product is brand new, the packaging is perfect. You can’t even tell they were opened.”
Having no other option, I launched into the full, unexpurgated tale of buying four different kinds to see which would work and how my audacious plan had been Approved by Mega Officials, and how it’s a matter of safety, and how I would now really, really just like to buy the other wiper blade, and get on with my life of safe rain driving, etc.
I think she relented just to shut me up. (Whatever works.) I thanked her kindly and went for the matching wiper, dodging eight-year-olds playing bumper carts and swerving around tourists chatting in the middle of the aisles.
And the matching wiper blade was still there. (Amazing.)
The excitement was too much—I couldn’t wait until I got home. In the sun-blazed parking lot, after a bit of fumbling, I attached the other blade and gently laid it back down. I petted it, “Nice wiper. Nice wiper.” Got out the windshield water bottle, squirted the glass, flicked the switch, crossed my fingers, and then—oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you—their gentle, cleansing duet.
A thing of beauty.
“Ahhhhh.” I stood, grinning and hugging myself in the Mega parking lot, admiring my prodigious triumph.
It was a golden moment. I drove home with the clearest of windshields, eagerly anticipating the next downpour.
Of course, it hasn’t rained since.
So, when are you coming to visit?
PS: Always on the cutting edge, Casita de las Flores is inaugurating a revolutionary new marketing scheme. The Triscuit Tally. Each box of wonderful woven wheat wafers that makes it down here will represent one person who found this story, read the whole thing without falling asleep (maybe) and who then made it all the way to the Casita. Keep up with the Triscuit Tally here, on our very own blog.