The Mechanic Makes House Calls
Monday morning less than 24 hours after we bought our Blazer it decided to stop working. We got up at dawn and got the kids ready for school, dragging a little as we haven’t adjusted to the new schedule yet. When we went out we were already running a little late, and then the truck refused to start. It just kept turning over without catching. Rrrr-Rrrrr-Rrrr-Rrrrr. School is the one thing we really need a car for and on the first day it doesn’t work, but luckily getting up at dawn makes me so groggy that I couldn’t even cry over it.
We hadn’t put any gas in it yet, maybe the gauge was off? Jason checked a few things and said that there wasn’t any fuel getting to the engine, so we decided it must be out of gas, because surely it couldn’t be broken already. Running out of gas is a silly problem but easy to fix, so we’d start there as soon as we got the kids to school.
We ran down to the ocean again and caught a taxi after only a few blocks. Jason started to ask how much it would be like we usually do, and without thinking I said, “It doesn’t matter we just need to get there.” Kicking myself I thought, Well, I guess I have only myself to blame if he overcharge us, but he quoted the standard 30 pesos. Understanding that we were about to be late he rushed through the traffic and got us there in record time. The girls ran for the gate, relieved that it was still open.
We asked the taxi driver to take us to the Pemex station, the only gas station there is in Mexico. We asked if they sell gas cans, and that was something tricky to communicate even though he spoke some English. After a few minutes he said, “You need a tank? For gas?” Close enough, yes we need a tank to take gas back to our car. “I have one at my house, if you want we can go and get it.”
So the taxi driver took us to his own house, ran inside and came back out with a used antifreeze jug that he had saved. I guess they don’t sell gas cans here either, but we were glad for the help. He drove us to the station, waited while the attendant filled the container with gas, then drove us back to our house.
When we got there we pointed out the truck and said it would be just a minute then we could give him back the jug, but he said no it was fine for us to keep it. I was touched by his simple generosity, to give us his own things and go out of his way, to hurry when it wouldn’t matter to him if our girls got to school before the doors were locked or not.
The normal fee to go to Gardner and back from our house is 60 pesos, and I usually tip 10 more. This guy had taken us all over the place, had known we were rather desperate, and had not named a price. We had taken up almost a half hour of his time, time that he might have spent finding other passengers. I figured the ride was worth at least 100 pesos, plus the time and personal effort. I gladly gave him 200 pesos and thanked him for his kindness.
This might sound like a lot, but at the current exchange rate that’s about $12.50 usd. How much would this kind of service have cost back in the states? Would someone have taken us to their own house to get what we needed? This is what I love about Mexico, the willingness to help and unthinking kindness. Although we don’t have a lot we can afford to pay more to show our gratitude. We know it and the Mexicans know it, and it would be insulting to pretend otherwise.
Back at the Blazer Jason poured the gas into the tank, spilling a little as we aren’t used to doing it without the helpful spout that gas cans have in the States. He tried to start it, but there was no change. The last of the gas in the jug he put into the air intake where it would go directly into the engine and had me turn the key again. It tried really hard to start, seemed to almost catch, but couldn’t keep running. Jason said that it wasn’t out of gas, it just wasn’t getting any gas from the tank. It was a mechanical problem after all.
So now our new car is dead on the side of the road outside our house and we have no idea who to call to fix it. I called my friend Julie and asked about her mechanic, but how would we get it there even if we could find it? She told me that mechanics here make house calls, and to check the facebook forum of Cozumel 4 You for recommendations. Of course! Cozumel 4 You is a resource I rely on heavily, a place to ask questions of others who live here and know how things work, but it’s also searchable to find previous discussions. I found a few numbers and started calling.
One of the mechanics, Carlos, was working in Playa del Carmen but said he could come over after 4pm to look at it. I agreed and gave him my number to call when he was on his way.
It’s Mexico so if Carlos had actually called anywhere near 4:00 I would have been shocked, but by 5:30 I was wondering if he forgot. I sent a message, then Jason called thinking if he talked to a man he might be more responsive (Mexican machismo is alive and well.) It had rained all day and Carlos was still in Playa del Carmen, his work on diesel engines slowed by the downpour. He could come in the morning instead.
So Tuesday morning we got another taxi to school, Jason leaving ahead of us and bringing it back so we wouldn’t have to chase. Carlos came around 9:30 with an older man to help him, both in filthy clothes that looked like they had already been worn to work on a dozen cars. He checked under the hood, tried the same things Jason had tried and then agreed with him that it must be either that the fuel filter was plugged or the fuel pump had quit. Jason had tried to find the fuel filter to check it himself, but in Mexican cars everything is not the same.
Carlos and his assistant went to work taking apart the fuel system with hand tools that they had brought in a bucket. No fancy electric or pneumatic power here. He showed Jason where the fuel filter was, underneath the gas tank. In the same vehicle in the U.S. it would be along the fuel line underneath the driver’s side. I wonder why it is so different?
With just hand tools they dropped the gas tank and opened up the fuel system to see what was wrong. They got to the fuel pump and found that it had sucked in what looked like a piece of fabric or ribbon and burned itself out. Some of that same fabric had gotten through to the fuel filter and clogged it, so rather than one or the other being the problem it was both. The gas in the tank was also ruined after all the debris was pulled out of the system. Ironic that the gas we had gotten from our friend the taxi driver had to be wasted.
Carlos asked for 1100 pesos for parts and 100 for gas, and we gave it to him. His assistant stayed behind and cleaned out the gas tank then sat and waited in the heat. Jason took him out some water when he went to check progress. We were curious if the parts Carlos brought would be new or something used but when he returned a few hours later Jason watched him take them out of AC Delco boxes.
I had hoped to be able to pick the kids up from school but they were still working on the truck, so with a sigh I walked down to the water and flagged down a taxi. I climbed in and said “Gardner, por favor,” and the driver said “Is your truck still broken?” It was the same man who had helped us get gas on Monday! He usually works the morning shift of 6am to 2pm, but this afternoon he happened to be covering for a friend.
We talked all the way to the school about our families, and after we picked up my girls we detoured to pick up his very pretty wife. I felt like I was getting to know this man pretty well, and I liked him, so before he dropped us off at home I got his name, Omar, and his cell number, just in case.
We went inside and Jason announced that the Blazer was no longer broken, he had just come back from a test drive and it ran great! It was such a relief. He was getting cash to pay Carlos, who had asked for another thousand pesos, and thinking of the older man waiting with our car in the heat all day I said to make it another 1200. Jason gave it to them, telling them the extra was “for cervezas,” and they all laughed.
They seemed really happy to have the extra money, and I thought again of how fortunate we are and what a difference we can make by being generous, especially now in the low season. September is called “Septi-hambre” meaning it is a hungry month because it is the last month before tourism picks up again.
We happily drove the kids to their first aerial dance class tonight, and tomorrow I can drive them to school myself. Maybe before we started running around feeling free we needed to be reminded of those here who are not as free, who cannot always afford to fix their problems on the spot. Things happen for a reason, and while I hate learning things the difficult way it does stick better. I will remember the kindness shown to us, the simple tools that were used, the condition of the people who came when we called. I will be grateful and not waste the precious time we have here on this island.