Today I’m sending up rockets ( cohetes). It’s a day worth celebrating. If you have lived for any time in Mexico in a small town you know what I mean. That first rocket exploding at 5:30 in the still pre-dawn of a quiet winter night before the donkeys start braying and the roosters start crowing says it all. But why the celebration?
Over a telephone call, nothing more.
Everything is different in Mexico — the first thing that a fascinated newcomer to Mexico learns. And getting a telephone installed and working down here in the land of mañana is way different from the routine call to the local phone company, the prompt installation, the equally prompt billing back in the United States. Down here things go at their own special pace and rhythm.
Twelve years ago I got my first telephone here in Mexico. In those days Telmex was a government monopoly and had a terrible reputation. The telephone usually didn’t work. If it did work, a wrong number was the result. If by chance you got the right number, you couldn’t talk, or if you were talking you were cut off, or you suddenly heard a third person entering the conversation. And then the billing…. Strange long distance calls to Aukland or Timbuktu which after long and heated discussions with Telmex were always paid so the service wouldn’t be cut off. Nowadays, Telmex is a private consortium of which Southwest Bell is a major member. Service is better. The telephone itself is no longer a clunky black, ugly piece of junk, but a sleek beige electronic instrument manufactured in Canada; with tone dialling no less. The service has improved so much that Mexico seems to be leaving the third world and beating on the door of the developed nations.
So when I decided to move into my newly constructed home for the millennium, I anticipated no problems in changing my telephone. Why should I? I was only moving a block over and two blocks down. There was a telephone cable running down the street. I would have a telephone drop of only some 60 feet. I would ask for a relocation of my present number, my new service would be installed, my old number would be reconnected, and I would call the kids for New Year’s to join in the millennium celebrations.
¡UN MOMENTITO! —the second thing learned in Mexico.
In November I went down to the phone company to apply for a new service. Everything went like clockwork until the girl’s computer told her that phone service to my new home was “saturated.” Saturated how? No telephone lines? No unused numbers at telephone central? Away she went to the back room to talk to the engineers, returning to say that all the lines in the telephone cable running down the street were in use. But the company had plans to install additional cables sometime during the year. When? Maybe in January, maybe in June, maybe not until December, maybe…
My friend Jack suddenly came to mind. Jack has been waiting for telephone service for “two months.” Every two months for three years now he has visited Telmex to find out why the service has not been installed. Every two months he has received the same answer. “ Un momentito. You will have service in two months. Un momentito!”
A knight on a white charger came to my rescue. His white charger was a pickup of the Comisión Federal de Electricidad. He dropped in for coffee around January 20. I cried on his shoulder about my telephone. He said: “I can get you a telephone. I know this area. There are spare telephone lines here on your street. I know all the Telmex installers. Todos son flojones. They don’t like to work, they are too busy, so they say the cables are full. I’ll talk to my compadre.”
Two days later he was back at my front door. We waited until two telephone trucks showed up, with two installers each. No wonder they are too busy. All four looked at my house and made plans to install the telephone. All four told me that the cable in front of my house was a 10 pair cable with only four of the telephone pairs in use so there were actually 6 lines available. I gave my electrician friend $2800 pesos to cover the installation and everybody went away happy. I was happy too. Two days later my friend brought me a contract for installation of the telephone together with my new telephone number. Cost of the contract $2200 pesos. The extra $600 pesos disappeared as a “mordida” or tip, not for my friend, but for the telephone technician and his three compadres.
Rockets now? Un momentito! That was the 26th of January. The installation crew (four of them again) finally showed up on February 15th, and the phone was installed within half an hour. Two of the four checked the phones with a temporary connection, promised to come back the next day to activate the service and all four went away. This time with a tip of $100 pesos for a beer for each. Came the next day, no service, the next day still no service, the next day a visit to Telmex, “When will you activate my new phone?” “ ¡Un momentito!—Next week, maybe.”
Next week: “¡Un momentito!”. Ah, there really was a problem. A distribution box for my street needed to be expanded before the telephone could be activated. When? “One or two weeks more.”
Today, the 9th of March my telephone was activated. I made my first call. That’s the reason for the rockets tomorrow morning at 5:30. A thank you call to God for sending a white knight to a frustrated gringo in mañana land. Remind me to call the white knight to tell him the rockets are for him too. Un momentito! Rockets away!