Mary and I went to Aguascalientes on the last day of September to look for a house to rent. Harry and Alejandro had left the previous day, traveling by bus. We offered them a ride in the White Bullet (we finally got the WB back it still had a noise in the engine, but we were tired of hassling with NAOSA) with us, but Harry wanted to be independent.
I decided to take the free road to Aguascalientes to see how much we would have to endure to save $40 US on future trips back to Guadalajara. We saw some interesting sights – like a lot of chicken ranches south of Aguascalientes, and we enjoyed eating from a lunch cart beside the road (I had beans, Mary had chopped up pig head meat – ugh), but the free road wasn’t worth it. The road itself wasn’t bad, but the trucks were so overloaded that they often had to creep up every hill. People were risking their lives to get past them.
We arrived in Aguascalientes at around 5:00 in the afternoon and headed into the heart of the city to find the Holiday Inn hotel where Harry and Alejandro were staying. We finally found it and drove down a steep ramp to an underground parking lot.
Harry and Alejandro were gone somewhere, so we asked a clerk about the price of a room there. She said that with tax it would be about $90 US for that night, but the price would be rising to $100 the next day because of an upcoming convention. We asked if they had anything cheaper and we were shown a cramped dingy room about the size of a large closet. That was available for $70 US per night. We said we’d think about it and sat down to wait for Harry and Alejandro, who soon came walking into the lobby.
After hugs for Mary and handshakes for me, Harry sent Alejandro to get two copies of the Sunday paper they had bought. Harry showed us the advertisements they had already checked out and agreed to update our paper with his notes while we went to check into a cheaper Best Western motel that we had learned about.
Mary and I got a room at the Medrano Best Western for $50 (which included all taxes). We ate a quick meal at the attached restaurant and took a taxi back to the Holiday Inn to confer with Harry (Alejandro was out goofing off somewhere). He told us some more about some of the houses they had checked out. We decided to remain separate teams so as to cover more ground in our search for two houses. We would tell him of anything we found that he might like and vice versa.
As Mary and I walked in the dusk to a taxi stand to get a ride back to the Medrano, Mary was hailed with the expression “American Woman!” by a Mexican. There were so few gringos in Aguascalientes that we really stood out.
The next morning Mary got up first and started making calls as I washed and dressed. Our plan was to explore the city by taxi. That way I wouldn’t have to cope with driving in a strange town while Mary tried to find addresses on the map we had bought – much less stressful for both of us.
Mary lined up our first house viewing and we caught a ride to the address she had been given. The taxi dropped us off in the very heart of the city on a crowed one-way street with two lanes of traffic. We knew right away that something was wrong. Mary talked to a couple of drivers waiting at red lights to see if there was another street with the same name. One driver was a fireman who cheerfully ignored car horns honking in protest when the light turned green. He and Mary bonded instantly and Mary patted his arm at the end of their conversation. She really has a way with people.
We bought a telephone card at a nearby shop and tried to call the landlady, but she apparently was waiting at the rental house for us. Finally Mary got through and learned that the house was located at a “prolongacion”. In Mexico they don’t use “north” and “south”, or “east” and “west” to indicate different portions of the same road dived by another road. They use the word “prolongacion”. You learn something new every day.
We caught a taxi to the correct address where the landlady showed us the house. The house was spacious and brand new. The woman was willing to come down from $800 to $750 US in rent, but every single wall of every single room was painted blue. It was a light blue, but there was no way our furniture would fit in, so we decided to pass on it.
We caught another taxi to our next appointment, a house that could be charitably described as a dump. It was basically one building subdivided into three “houses”. There was a ladder in the garden that the woman had been using to climb up to her daughter’s “house”. The garden also had two moldering couches that the landlady assured us would soon be gone. The kitchen had no stove. The shower had a funny head that Mary said was an electric heater, so there was probably no hot water heater.
And I’m not real fond of mixing electricity and water – with me standing in the water. The landlady said she might even be willing to come down from the $500 US rent she was asking. You couldn’t pay us to live in a place like that.
We were early for our next appointment, so Mary called Jose, our taxi driver on our previous visit, on his cell phone. He asked where we were and told Mary, “Where are you? I’ll come get you.”
After a few minutes he showed up with a hug for Mary and a handshake for me. He was genuinely happy to see us. He agreed to drive us around town looking for “Se renta” signs while we waited for the next appointment. We spotted a couple of places and wrote down telephone numbers while Mary and Jose kept up a happy chatter.
Finally we went to our appointment and met the couple that was showing the house. Mary invited Jose in with us so we could get his opinion of the house. He appeared a little surprised by that, but he shouldn’t have. Mary treats everybody as an equal.
The house was pretty nice. The walls met at unusual angles. There was a maid’s room with a separate outside entrance for a live in maid. There was an enclosed kennel outside in the back. The eight-foot tall walls around the property were topped by a wire fence sticking up another five or six feet. The house had been built by people who obviously knew how to live well. The only drawback was that one of the bedrooms was pretty tiny, but Mary and I liked it.
When Mary asked, they agreed to lower the rent from $800 to $750 US. I was ready to take it, but Mary said why not see the other houses on our appointment list first? I agreed with her, so we left our hotel telephone number and headed back to Jose’s taxi.
We were again too early for the next appointment, so Jose took us back to our hotel for some rest while he went back to work. He offered to be a reference for us if we needed one for a rental contract. He told us he would do anything he could do for us – just ask. Mary has a friend who once told her that some of the nicest people he had ever met were from Aguascalientes. I wonder if he had met Jose?
After a 45-minute rest we met Jose in front of the hotel and went to the next house. It looked like a warehouse. The sides of the building had no windows or doors. The front had sheet metal doors topped by a brick wall with no windows. Even knowing the propensity of Mexican’s to keep their wealth hidden, I had my doubts as Mary knocked at the door.
A young woman opened the door and asked us (including Jose) to come inside. We stepped through the door and found ourselves in a cement floored three-car garage. With the windowless doors, nobody outside could tell if the house was occupied or not – very clever.
An open door to the back beckoned us into the house itself. When we walked up a short step and into the house, I was floored. The house was magnificent.
We were standing on an intermediate landing of a wooden staircase. To the right steps led up to balcony that had rooms at either end. Straight ahead more steps led down to a spacious living room, a dining room and a kitchen. Large glass windows or sliding doors let in the afternoon sun. Everything below us was bathed in light. We could see a large lawn through the windows.
We all chose to start at the top of the house and work our way down. We walked up to the balcony. Toward the right, the front of the house, was a children’s bedroom (cartoon wallpaper), an adult bedroom with lots of shelves (the computer room Mary and I quickly agreed), and a full bath. There was even a small closet for upstairs cleaning supplies.
To the left was a large spacious master bedroom, set a few steps down from the balcony. It had large windows that overlooked the lawn and a large park a short distance away. The bedroom had a private bathroom with a Jacuzzi.
Walking down the steps to the ground floor we were struck by the artful blend of yellow and orange paint on the various walls. Our furniture would fit in beautifully. One wall of the living room area was all glass. It faced a stone wall. At the foot of the wall was an area about 12 feet long and four feet wide that was paved with rocks. The woman informed us that the area could be flooded with water to create a pond – a pond that was both inside and outside the house! Add in some green foliage and you would have a miniature private arboretum!
The living room are had a built in fireplace. The adjoining dining area was sunken and faced out to the lawn. And of course there was a ground floor half bathroom.
We walked into the kitchen where the cooking area was surrounded on three sides by a businesslike counter. One part of the counter was circular to form a small table perfect for coffee clutching.
We walked around the outside of the counter and through a door to a covered porch. A built in grill to the right promised well fed lawn parties. The covered porch promised that rain would not be a problem.
A lawn sprinkler was going, keeping the grass green. Pretty flowers bordered the lawn while vines crawled up the walls. The tall walls themselves were topped with three strands of electrified wire to guard this miniature universe – this Garden of Eden.
The woman, whose name was Maria Teresa, and her mother, Margarita, were asking $800 a month in rent, but Maria Teresa said her sister, the owner, would accept $750. Mary said we wanted to rent the house on the 24th so we would have some time to move in – she asked if the rent could be lowered to $700. Maria Teresa called her sister and came back with a counter offer: If we would agree to the rent starting on the 15th, $700 would be okay. We agreed to the deal. Maria Teresa said her and her mother would meet us at our hotel at 8:30 that evening with a contract.
As we were all walking toward the garage making small talk with each other, someone knocked on the outside entrance door. Maria Teresa opened it and Alejandro followed by Harry walked in! Mary immediately started shouting, “The house is rented! This house is rented!”
Needless to say, Harry and Alejandro were stunned.
They were there to see the house too, so Mary and I gave them a quick tour. We told them that we had learned that the owner of the house was an architect who had designed the house. We showed them the future pond pointing out the stepping-stones down the middle of it that led to the laundry room, which was carefully hidden away – complete with a full bathroom. We showed them the great kitchen and the spacious enclosed lawn. Harry had the class to congratulate us. I was worried that he would be resentful, but he was glad for us – pure class.
We all left the building. Harry and Alejandro had a taxi waiting. Jose took us back to our hotel. Mary invited him and his entire family to a house warming. Mary said he could hardly believe it. He told her that he had brothers and sisters, and if we ever needed anything, like help getting utilities hooked up, we should be sure to call him. We paid him $30 for his time and told him we would be sure to call him once we got moved in.
The next five hours of waiting were anything but restful. The time seemed to drag. At first Mary arranged our furniture in our new house, but by the time 8:30 came around, Mary started getting really antsy. “Why aren’t they calling?” she asked.
Finally, a few minutes after 8:30, the phone rang. It was Maria Teresa and Margarita. We met them in the lobby and then joined them at a table in the restaurant where a waiter poured us three coffees and a tea.
I had prepared a list of questions about the house – such as how to get on the roof to install our parabolic satellite antenna. Whatever questions Maria Teresa didn’t know how to answer, she wrote down. She promised to ask them of her sister later on and get back to us. Both Mary and I were pretty sure she would. She had that attitude about her.
Next we got to the contract, which was written in Spanish. Mary translated for me. I pointed out that the house was being rented for a period of 12 and a half months, not 12 months as the contract stated. That was changed and we signed both copies.
As we chitchatted, Mary and I learned that the house had been vacant for nine months. The sister’s husband had moved to San Luis Potosi for work and the sister and a child had eventually followed. Who knows, maybe they’ll decide to stay there and want to build a new house. They might need to sell “our” house to have enough money to build that new house. Maybe, maybe.
While we were talking, someone delivered a message that Harry had tried to call us. We finished our drinks. Then Mary hugged both women telling them she felt like they were family. They told her that she should consider us family. If we needed any help at all, just call.
Once we got back to our room, Mary called Harry. Again, he congratulated us and reassured us (especially me) that he was not resentful. I told Harry that I wanted to use the White Bullet to drive him and Alejandro around town – to “sweep” the desirable neighborhoods for “Se renta” signs.
The next day Harry and Alejandro packed their bags and moved into another room at our hotel while we checked out (Harry is stubborn, but he is cheap – I mean reasonable – too). We all piled into the White Bullet and drove to an appointment Harry had set up to see a house Mary and I had told him about.
The house was a disappointment. It had no garden or lawn at all. The wooden parquet floor had pieces missing. It was a loser.
We drove to the neighborhood of our new house and scoured that without luck. Then we drove to the other side of the park near our house and looked there. We found one possibility for which we wrote down the telephone number. Harry said he would call them later, but right then we had to return to the hotel for a call Harry was expecting. Mary and I dropped Harry and Alejandro off at the hotel, wished them luck, and took the cuota back home. At this moment we are waiting to hear if they have found something.