I’m jumping ahead a bit in our story, I promise I’ll circle back to street food in Mexico City tomorrow, but I wanted to write about this first. Okay, so we’re driving a 19-year-old Dodge Caravan, a car that needed $1500 in repairs, but we just said, “screw it, we’ll fix it as it breaks and put the minimum amount of money into this car”. The fan belt needs to be replaced, it has this high pitch noise it’s making. The engine light comes on almost everyday. The airbag light came on last month and we’ve been ignoring it ever since. The car is a mess. But in Mexico, the thing is there is a mechanic shop or tire place in every town, usually along the highway and they charge you practically nothing to fix things, so yes, let’s start a 2,500 mile road trip with the car that’s about to die. No problem.
After leaving Mexico City, at about 1,000 miles into our trip, the car became possessed. Going around corners the electric door locks would click on and off, the interior light would flash and the door chime would go off. Within a few hours it wasn’t just happening sometimes, it was every few minutes. We pulled into a gas station and I popped the hood.
Well, the guy who had checked our oil when we left Puerto Vallarta had forgotten to replace the oil cap, so there was oil all over the engine.
Nothing to be done about that, I take a look at the fuses. I have no idea how to fix electrical things, but I do know that if you remove the fuse for something you can effectively shut it off. I remove three fuses based on the little chart: the airbags (ha! we don’t need those), the electric locks and the interior light. Everything is fixed except the door chime.
First, I tell my friend Pam that I am a genius. She’s not convinced. Then I drive around the parking lot. Damn, chime! I can’t find anything on Google about which fuse shuts that off but I do figure out that the door ajar sensor for the driver’s side door is setting it off. I read a post online about how to fix that: remove the door panel and spray it with WD-40. I have neither WD-40 nor any tools, so I take a spare bottle of engine oil from the trunk and a pair of tweezers and try to oil the lock, the little hook on the inside of the door that grabs the door frame when it closes. I push it down and rotate it and it clicks into place.
It’s locked. Which is great! Except the door is open. So I can’t close my door, I can’t unlock it. I can’t do anything to get the little hook up. I put the fuse for the door locks back in. Nothing. The auto locks for my door are no longer working. Manually locking and unlocking the door does nothing. I can’t pry the lock open with my tweezers either. So I do the best thing I can think of: I slam the door as hard as I can.
It bends the hook. I might have made the hinge a little more broken than it was before. The whole thing is totally utterly screwed.
Then I’m surrounded by five guys who are taking turns not listening to me as I explain in Spanish what I did, and in turn, they each try slamming the door to get it to close.
Here’s the thing about traveling as a women, if you don’t complain, and let people help you, they usually will. I mean it’s frustrating that you get treated like a helpless idiot (probably doesn’t help that I’m a foreigner too) but then they help you. So you’re caught in this weird second class citizen position with fantastic benefits. Right? I mean I can complain all day the way they interrupted me and pushed me aside, but at the end of the day when they said they would call their friend the mechanic, I took their help. I’m still sorting out how I feel about that. It seems stubborn and stupid to refuse their help on principle, yet I didn’t mind thinking, “great, slam my door again, because maybe with your special penis-power this time it will actually work.”
So the mechanic comes. And he is driving the most banged up car I’ve seen since we left Puerto Vallarta. It wasn’t until he gets out and checks out my door that I believe he is in fact a mechanic. His butt crack is exposed above his pants and it is the most magnificent leathery brown skin I have ever seen. It was glorious. Only a lifetime of having your ass up in the air with ill-fitting jeans would produce such an effect.
The mechanic has the same idea as me, but instead of tweezers, he has actual tools, so he just bangs the hell out of my latch and prys up the lock until he can slam it close. He tells me in Spanish, “Okay you can get someone to fix this door, later, or you know, you can just never open the door again. Just don’t open it. Ever.”
Okay sounds good to me. I offer to pay him for his time, the hour of master craftsmanship with a big mallet, and he asks for 100 pesos. About $7.50. Done.
An hour later, I open the door.
F@#K. F@#K. F@#K.
We were driving down the highway and Pam turns to me calmly, “um, I think the tire is flat”. I slammed on the breaks and pulled over so I wouldn’t ruin the rim, if it was really bad.
I jumped out, opening my busted door without thinking and ran to the other side to look at it. Pam was already there and just said, “Okay…”
It was really bad.
“So should we take some photos first?” I asked.
Because of course when you’re a blogger on a road trip through Mexico and you blow out a tire, the first thing you do is document it for the invariable blog post later. “I almost DIED in Mexico. Look. At. This. Tire.”
So after taking the required photos, from several different angles, making sure the exposure and composition look good, I open the back of the van and pull out the jack and get to work. It takes me about 10 minutes of cranking to get to get the car up, another 10 minutes to wrestle the lug nuts free with Pam’s help and just as I’m about to put the new tire on, an officer drives up.
“Where are your husbands?”
So anyway, after the requisite small talk, the officer gets down and tries to put the tire on but the car isn’t high enough. He cranks the jack up a few times but announces that it isn’t working. I point to the back of the jack — there is still plenty of length for it to go up more and say, “mira” but he ignores me and wanders off to his car.
I’m annoyed. I’m not going to sit here and let him tell me my jack doesn’t work and drag me into a bunch of unnecessary workarounds.
So I start cranking the car up as fast as I can. A few minutes later he comes back and tries the tire again.
Oh. It worked. Was that a flash of embarrassment I caught on his face?
I think, “So where is your wife? Maybe next time she could help us,” but instead I say thank you, because it was nice that he stopped, and we drive off for Chiapas. Two women with a busted up car, on an adventure. We had no idea, but this would only be the beginning.