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An Interesting Expat

Larry Landwehr

The US Congress, in one of it’s typically stupid moves, granted the right of broadcasting television via satellite with the restriction that no one living outside the borders of the US should be able to receive it ­ including expat Americans. But it’s actually relatively easy to receive US television in Mexico. Just set up a big dish and arrange to have someone program your smart card, the card you stick in your satellite receiver, so that you can receive the signal.

One day Mary and I were in the shop of someone who specializes in installing satellite TV, and who also speaks English. One of the other customers, who was bilingual, overheard us and became drawn into our conversation. The long and short of it was that we made a new friend.

Sam (not his real name) was also an expat, and was immediately drawn to me because of our similar backgrounds. We exchanged addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers. We made a few visits to his home and were somewhat overwhelmed. I am a pretty techie person, but Sam knows more about hardware than I will ever learn.

Some examples of his technical virtuosity: DVD discs are written in such a way that they can only be played on a DVD manufactured in a certain region of the world. Sam has modified his DVD player so that it will play any DVD disc. He has a cable modem hooked up to the Internet that has special micro-code installed in it so as to enable it to operate as fast as possible. He builds computers that can write multiple CDs at one time. He’s an incredible person.

One day our monitor burnt out. I called Sam. He came to our house, and he and I took the monitor to a shop where he knows the people. Because he knew the people, they immediately dropped what they were doing, and worked on the monitor. A technician took two probes of an oscilloscope and touched various parts of the circuit board. He quickly zeroed in on the problem, a burnt out power amplifier chip.

The technician searched through a computer database looking for a similar chip, but it turned out to be a rare one, so Sam and I drove to a section of downtown Guadalajara that specializes in electronics. Parking was nonexistent, so I dropped Sam off to hunt for the part while I circled the block waiting for him to reappear. He finally showed up with two small packages. We headed back to the shop where a technician did some surgery on one of the chips to install it, but it turned out that the part did not have the necessary capacity, so we returned to downtown Guadalajara with another technician in tow, determined to find a replacement chip.

In Mexico, the “lunch hour” lasts from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Since it was about 3:00 pm and all the shops were closed, we decided to have lunch at a McDonalds. While we were eating, Sam overheard a mother and a daughter next to us talking in Spanish about living in the US ­ the daughter wanted to go live in Los Angeles. Sam, who has no pretensions to shyness, immediately entered their conversation with words of warning against such a move. He is no more enamored of the US than I am. Having lived here for nine years, he has thoroughly explored both cultures and vastly prefers Mexico.

After our lunch, the three of us walked down the street to where all the electronic shops are. We wandered from one open-air shop to another asking about the amplifier, but had no luck. The shops were fascinating. They reminded me of old-fashioned hardware stores because of their smallness.

Finally we went to a small mall of shops. You entered this mall through a door set on a side street. Once you entered, the walkway expanded rapidly and split into upper and lower levels. It was like entering another world. There were very small shops, hardly more than closets stacked with circuit boards that had been ripped out of old televisions and radios. Not being a hardware person, I was overwhelmed at the organized chaos of all the electronic marvels.

While Sam and the technician had a merchant pore over some cross-reference books that the merchant knew almost by heart, I headed off to use a bathroom. After paying three pesos, I received some toilet paper. I gingerly perched on the seatless toilet, pondering the fact that I was in a place where the toilets had no seats, but the people well knew how to use an oscilloscope. Mexico is indeed a strange place.

When I rejoined Sam and the tech, we came to the realization that no amplifier chip was to be had ­ it would have to be mailed down from the US. We drove back to the shop where they gave me a monitor to use until mine was fixed. This was a personal gesture of friendship toward Sam. This loan plus their immediate dropping of all other work let me know how much Sam meant to them.

It had been a long day. Sam and I were eager to get home, so I tried to beat the traffic lights. One turned red just before I cleared the intersection. Sure enough, a cop flipped on his lights. I pulled to the side of the road. The cop walked up and said I was getting a ticket for the red light. Sam told me that if I paid the fine within fifteen days, the fine would be half price. Then the cop looked at the front of my driver’s license and said I was going to get another ticket for an expired license. Sam told him to look at the back of the license for my extension.

Just then another cop walked up behind us. He took one look inside the car and spotted Sam. It was instant reunion day. Sam got out of the car and he and the cop gave each other high fives and shook hands. Sam had helped the cop get a work visa in the US at one time. Needless to say we did not get a ticket. In fact, Sam said that if I wanted a police escort to my front door it would be no problem. In the famous words of an old comic, "What a country!"

Published or Updated on: May 1, 2001 by Larry Landwehr © 2008
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