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The Death Of The White Bullet?

Larry Landwehr

My car, a 92 Pontiac affectionately christened "The White Bullet" by Harry, may be dead.

Mary and I were thinking about moving to the town of Colima. Guadalajara was fun at first, but it is too expensive, too congested, and too noisy. So this morning I got the map out and discovered that the road to Colima is the same one as the one to Cuidad Guzman, which Mary and I had already visited.

I was cruising along at eighty-five miles an hour when I noticed that a light on the dashboard had come on. It had one of those real informative warnings: "Service engine soon". I looked at it in puzzlement when I noticed that the temperature gauge was way in the red zone. I pulled the car to the side of the road, and sure enough, steam was coming from under the hood of the car.

I was poking wires with a pliers to see if I could get the radiator fans to start when a Mexican guy walked up. He started looking the car over too, but the fans wouldn’t turn on. Finally I went to the back of the car and cut off some wires from the wiring harness I use when I pull a trailer. The Mexican crawled under the car to hook up the wires so that the fans would be wired directly to the battery and thus would be constantly on. While we were fooling with the wires, a carload of cops pulled up behind my car. One of the cops came over and started asking me questions in English like where was I going to and where was I coming from. We got to talking a bit and I learned he had spent two years in Los Angeles.

You should have seen our wiring job when it was done. One wire went from the positive terminal of the battery to one of the fans. Another wire tapped into the first wire and carried electricity to the other fan. It looked as hung together as any repair job as I have ever seen, but it worked. The fans blew nicely. The cop looked at the wiring, laughed, and said, "Made in Mexico". He was right. Mexicans can repair stuff with virtually no tools or materials. Since I was the one who came up with the idea of using the wires, I consider myself an honorary Mexican.

I paid the Mexican guy some pesos for his troubles. Everybody shook hands. The cop even asked me my name. I fired up The White Bullet, found a place to turn around toward Guadalajara, waved to the cops and headed for home.

Funny thing though, the temperature meter stayed pegged to the top end of the scale. I realized then that there was more to the temperature problem than just the fans. Something else was wrong too ­ maybe the water pump wasn’t working either.

I was seventy miles from Guadalajara with only about a hundred dollars worth of pesos in my pocket. I figured the only thing I could do was to hope the fans would air-cool the engine enough to let the car keep on operating. I lowered my speed to fifty-five and put the cruise control on.

The car cruised along pretty well even though two lights on the dashboard were lit up and the temperature meter was scaring me. I was nearing Guadalajara when I came to a small hill. Suddenly the car started slowing down. I immediately knew what was wrong. The engine had gotten so hot that the pistons had started to expand. They where becoming bigger than the cylinders they were in, so they were starting to rub against the cylinder walls. It was all over. If I didn’t stop the car immediately the pistons would weld to the cylinder walls.

I coasted over the hill and pulled to the side of the road out in the middle of nowhere. What a sinking feeling. I put the hood up as a distress signal and waited for a Green Angel to appear.

No, I wasn’t going crazy. Mexico has a fleet of trucks that rove the main highways of Mexico looking for tourists with car trouble. They carry spare car parts and gasoline. They’ll try to repair your car and if they do, they’ll only charge you for the cost of the parts ­ the labor is free. Why can’t the US do something like that?

After a half hour or so I tried to start the car. No go. It wouldn’t start. I started thinking about how June wasn’t really part of the tourist season and how I hadn’t seen a Green Angel recently. I decided I needed to hitchhike to find some help, so I stuck my thumb out, but without much luck until a bus went by. The bus slowed down, and I thought what the heck, how much could the bus fare be?

I hurried toward the bus. When I got on it, I realized that the entire bus was empty. I sat down near the driver as he explained that he was on his way to pick up a group of people in Guadalajara ­ the ride was free. We chatted for a while until we reached a tollbooth. Right past the booth was a rest area where the bus driver hooked me up with a tow truck (Grua) operator.

The tow truck guy was reading a newspaper while waiting for business. He looked pretty rough, but I figured that anyone who read as much as this guy did couldn’t be all that bad.

I had to pay over ten dollars to get the tow truck past the tollbooth. Then we drove about four miles to where my car was parked. The tow truck guy had me steer my car while he operated a winch that pulled my car up onto the back of his truck. We drove back to the tollbooth where I had to fork out another ten dollars for the toll. Yeah, they got me coming and going.

We were still about twenty miles from Guadalajara, so the tow truck guy practiced his English on me and I practiced my Spanish on him. Lot’s of people in Mexico speak a little English because it’s taught in the schools. I was forced to take three semesters of French which I never learned very well, and for which I have not discovered any use whatsoever. It was such a waste of time.

I had to direct the tow truck operator through town because he was not very familiar with Guadalajara. When we got to the ' Glorieta From Hell', not knowing the word "hell" in Spanish, I told the driver that it was the ' Glorieta de Muerte', or the 'Glorieta Of Death'. He really cracked up over that.

We finally reached the Pontiac dealer where we offloaded my car. The tow truck operator told me that his bill was eleven hundred pesos. I only had seven hundred on me, so I gave that to him and told him I had money at home ­ something that normally I would never ever admit to, but I liked this guy and felt safe. Besides, I would make sure he didn’t come inside the house.

So we bombed across town again toward Mary and my house. Along the way I somewhat morosely remarked that it had not been a good day. He grinned and said “No para ti”, or “Not for you”. I couldn’t help laughing with him.

The driver politely waited outside the gate while I got the money. I thanked him and gave him directions on how to get back to the periferico so he could go back to reading his newspaper while waiting for new business. We waved to each other as he drove off. I liked that guy - and the bus driver - and the cop - and the guy who wired my car. It had been a long, expensive, disappointing, stressful, and tiring day, but I had met some very nice people, had a few laughs, and managed to practice my Spanish. It’s really hard to have a bad day in Mexico. I just hope "The White Bullet" will be ok.

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