Christmas angels - a highway story in Mexico
In this holiday season, I want to share an experience that truly demonstrates the spirit of Christmas. You wouldn't believe the inventiveness, perseverance, kindness and generosity of Mexicans when somebody is in trouble.
While recently traveling through Mexico, my friend Hart Cowley and I, Gerry Green, had stopped my van at the side of the toll-road, just past one of the toll booths, to go to the restroom. When we got back, the van started but ran rough before quitting altogether. Nothing could get it going again. We lifted the hood and poked around inside, but couldn't see anything obvious.
Then a Mexican fellow appeared and, looking over my shoulder, asked in accented English what the problem was. We were amazed to hear any English because, it seems, away from the border, resort cities and Lakeside areas, few Mexicans can speak English. He started off saying, "you" should check this and that. Then, as it became obvious we had no understanding of how to diagnose the problem, he started saying "we". Soon it was "I" and then "my friend and I".
He then proceeded to pull the gas line off the engine. I immediately figured that there would be no way to get that connected again without new parts and proper tools at a service centre. As there was no gas when I turned the engine over, he got some gas from his car and poured it into my air filter.
Sure enough the engine ran fine, until the gas was used up. So he had determined that the problem was not the engine but a problem getting fuel. Without hesitation he dived under the van and cut the lines going to and coming from the fuel filter. He blew into the extracted filter and yucky brown fluid came out. There was still no gas at that location when I cranked over the engine! "It must be the fuel pump inside the gas tank," he said. I was all ready to try to get a tow truck to tow us the hundred kilometres to the nearest service centre when he pulled his tool kit out of his car.
He said he was a mechanic and could remove the gas tank to check out the fuel pump. I was desperate and now in a state of constant shock, basically stranded in a foreign land, except for his help. They proceeded to siphon all the fuel from the tank into a bucket and various other containers. We had just recently filled up, so this entailed a huge amount. There was fuel spilt everywhere so I was on guard, checking for on-lookers with lighted cigarettes. I excitedly tried to stop one lady from sucking her candy sucker and a man from carrying his key case in his teeth. It was getting dark and I was getting paranoid about the potential fire hazard.
They then jacked up the van and started to unscrew numerous large bolts holding up the gas tank. The bolts were completely rusted on after ten years of salty winters. It was an incredible undertaking accompanied by skinned knuckles, loud grunts and unmentionables. Now it was totally dark. I said, "This is crazy beyond belief. Nobody can do this job on the side of the road without light". So he pulled up his car and shined his headlights on my van, more to appease me than help him, I think. After a heroic struggle with the tank, they dragged it out and he managed to undo the large corroded fastener and extract the pump. By now these guys were filthy from lying in the dirt and spilt gas, and yet, they were joking and in good humour but sensitive about my concerns.
He mentioned a Chrysler dealer, that could have a pump replacement, located in a city forty five minutes away. But it was a holiday, and it was getting quite late at night. However, he said he had a friend in the city who "might be able to help". Two hours later, he proudly arrived back with a genuine new Chrysler van fuel pump. He and his friend had gone to the Chrysler dealer's house, got him to open up the parts department, and sell him a pump.
Unfortunately, this Mexican pump's connectors were totally incompatible with those on my old Canadian pump. What a disaster! "No problem" he said as he dismantled both pumps under my flashlight, cut half a dozen wires, ripped off insulation with his teeth, swapped connectors and twisted various wires back together to make one supposedly usable pump from two.
I could hardly see what was going on in the spot of my flashlight and was totally convinced that he couldn't possibly get the right wires together. He worked fast as if he could do the job blindfolded. Soon he had the pump reassembled, back inside the tank, and the tank itself hoisted into position and connected to the fuel filling tube. Next, after a few mouthfuls of fuel, the contents of the open containers were siphoned back into the tank. The fuel filter was replaced with a new one, and the tubes and pipes repaired and connected.
He said, "Start it up". I was thinking that here my expensive new fuel pump was destroyed and my van was probably only fit for the junk yard now. My God, it ran! And the fuel gauge and computer indicators worked too. They finished securing the tank and fuel filter with screws and bailing wire from the nearby fence.
So now I worried how I could pay for the pump and filter, and their five hours of labour, as I didn't have much cash. However, he knew of a bank machine in the next city. So off we went, me trailing him for half an hour down the highway and then through a maze of city streets.
My miles per gallon indicator was showing a remarkable improvement of almost four mpg. That plugged fuel filter and weak pump had been starving the engine of fuel. Close to midnight we pulled into the city. The streets were crowded with people celebrating as this was one of the biggest fiestas of the year in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The bank machine worked and he breathed a sigh of relief. We said our farewells and drove off with a van running much better than it had for years.
I'll never forget my angel, David, who looked over my shoulder and then took over my problem as if it was his own. People have a saying down here that is perfectly true and repeated often, "Only in Mexico!"