Saturday, January 20, 2007

Less Curve Balls... But They're Coming

Took the 10 AM bus to Center City today to reclaim my pickup. They did a nice job cleaning the engine. Looks like I won't have to rely on my motorcycle afterall.

Am lining up a tree cutter to trim some branches that are interfering with our telephone hookup on the new poles. The ICE engineer was out again a couple of days ago to resurvey. He believes we can skate by with a combination of tree trimming and a couple of extra light guage poles. They want to hook us up on Monday!! Not much time to prepare. The ferreterias in our immediate area are out of the poles, and they all close at 12 PM on Saturdays here in Center City. Too late now.

Am also having my junk yard dogs return Monday AM to clean up the mountain of trash the squatters we evicted from the house next door to us in December managed to manufacture over they're term in the house. Apparently, it was too difficult to walk to the main road to dispose of their trash bags in the two privately maintained 50 gal. oil drums at the mouth of our private road. Nevermind one of the squatters worked every day in the mini-super that hosts one of the drums in front.

So Monday is shaping up to be a crazy day with lots of last-minute antics - lots of curve balls. Am chanting now to prepare...

While lunching at my favorite tico restaurant in Center City today, I discovered an unprotected WiFi network, so I'm checking email, blogging and downloading virus updates, as well as some program updates. Every now and then you get lucky. But then, luck favors the prepared. Revel in it!

Must sign off and get back to meet with Negro, my Nicaraguan tree expert. This guy's amazing. The other day tree fell on the bodega housing the restrooms for a local bar, blown over by the strong Papagayo winds blowing us to pieces right now. Luckily it didn't fall far and struck a major structural member, sparing the bodega. This guy butchered the tree in a matter of minutes, climbing other trees - barefoot - to secure lines to shift the fallen tree's gravitational dynamic as he worked through it. It was art!

Pura vida!

Curve Balls

In a previous entry I wrote about how planning the day here is absolutely futile because whatever is on your list of items to be accomplished is usurped by the curve balls that are thrown at you as you try to accomplish them. Today was such a day.

I started the day by sorting and loading a crapload of old "zinc" (corrugated metal) that had been rotting in a pile next to the house for God only knows how long to haul to a municipal landfill outside a nearby town. I had hired a couple of guys two days before to load up and haul out trash and construction debris that had accumulated on the property in three large piles - about 12 pickup truck loads of broken gypsum, pieces of concrete, ceramic tile, glass, metal stud pieces, glass bottles, plastic bottles, paint cans, etc. Some of the debris predated my renovation of the house and was buried under all kinds of other crap. It wasn't easy work.

The guy who was accepting the material that was being hauled was using it for landfill on a piece of property nearby and didn't want any metal. So I was stuck with not only the rotting sheets of zinc, but old lawn chairs, bicycle wheels, metal studs and angles, an huge and ancient ceiling fan remnant, rebar, barbed wire and a steel headboard - about 35 years worth of trash that had accumulated in piles next to the houses and back into the jungle. I decided to play "by the book" and pay for the metal's disposal at the municipal landfill, against the recommendation of the guys moving the other stuff who told me to dump it on someone else's vacant property under cover of darkness.

Amazingly, I was able to get everything on my pickup in one load, putting the ceiling fan and lawn chairs in the back seat. The dissolving zinc I laid in a nice stack in the bed of the pickup with the studs and barbed wire along side. I put the old steel headboard on top of the pile and used it as a kind of rigid net to keep anything from blowing off in the gale-force Papagayo winds we're experiencing right now. I strapped the headboard down with compression straps, sandwiching everything else nicely below. It was all so neat and tidy. I was kinda proud of myself.

I kissed my wife good-bye and hit the road. When I arrived at the dump I pulled onto the scale, was logged and weighed, and then took off for the edge of the world where my rusty cargo would be forever buried. At least, that was my expectation. Upon reaching the edge of the world, I was met by about 10 very poor Nicaraguans who were scavenging materials from the landfill, mostly aluminum cans that were light and had some cash value for recycling. They competed against each other in their efforts to recover any items of value. I tried to unload the zinc but was rebuffed immediately. These folks had a system and didn't want anything slipping through the cracks. They unloaded everything, saving some of the better pieces of zinc, ostensibly, for their dwellings on the other side of the edge of the world.

I pulled back onto the scale and got out of the pickup. I noticed a puddle of oil on the scale that hadn't been there when I pulled up. There had only been one truck behind me, so the oil belonged to either him or me. It was me. I was leaking a river of oil. First curve ball.

The total for dumping the debris was 1785 colones (about $3.50 US). When I tried to pay, I was informed that there was no cashier and that I had to go to the Municipalidad to pay the fee. There was no way I would make it there in the condition my pickup was in. Second curveball.

I jumped back into the pickup and left the dump. I pulled over to check the oil level. When I opened the hood I couldn't believe my eyes. There was oil everywhere!! The engine, turbo, hoses, the underside of the hood, the front suspension - everything was coated with oil. I removed the dip stick and found that I still had half capacity, so I decided to motor to a nearby gas station. I made it. Base hit.

Now, if you've read my previous posts, my pickup had just returned from the taller 2 weeks ago, after being in S. Jose for repairs for 1 month - repairs that were supposed to alleviate nearly exactly the same problem I was now experiencing (actually, it only took 2 weeks for the repairs, but I had to wait another 2 weeks through Xmas and New Year's for the drivers of the platform tow trucks to return from their vacations and transport my pickup). So I was pretty pissed off at the dejavu of it all.

I called my wife from the gas station (the mechanic was on his two-hour lunch) to get the number for the car agency in S. Jose so I could give them an earfull (like it would matter) and figure out what to do next to avoid nullifying my warranty. She answered in a frantic voice asking me in 100 kph Spanish if I had the number for the veterinarian. Third curve ball.

The Virgin's face was twice it's normal size, eyes swollen shut, gums red, eyes red, belly red, whimpering in pain. I almost burst out laughing as I pictured this image in my mind. You see, The Virgin was spayed last weekend. Her now-stiched incision is on her right side just in front of her hind leg (she left the vet with a big hole in her side - superficial, the vet said - that was supposed to heal naturally. The hole got bigger the first night so I returned her to the vet and told the vet to stich it up - I live in the jungle and stuff gets into things, especially with these Papagayos). In order to keep The Virgin from tearing the stitches out, the vet fashioned one of those dopy head cones out of a cardboard box and packing tape, and fit it around her neck. The more respectable plastic cone she had was too big for The Virgin. The dog had looked like some campesino's canine mock up of the International Space Station under construction - with The Virgin's head at the center of the communications dish, forever aimed at Mission Control.

As I listened to my poor, panic stricken wife gushing over the phone, I was picturing The Virgin's swollen, disfigured head in the middle of the communications module. I was able to both retrieve the number for the agency and laugh out the number for the vet, somewhat relieving my wife's panic. I figured The Virgin had either eaten something or, more likely, had been stung by something. As it turned out, it was the latter, probably a scorpion as she's pretty low to the ground.

I called the agency and asked them what I should do. I now know everyone by name and they, likewise. Happily, I was able to work something out with the head mechanic there. Coincidentally, upon my arrival at the gas station, a grua plataforma (platform tow truck) driver stopped for diesel. Eyeing the low-hanging fruit, he came over to ask me what was up. I told him my predicament and that I was on the phone to the mother ship. He said he'd wait. Of course, as soon as the agency told me that their gruas were all heading toward S. Jose, not away, the driver waiting for me had vanished. But he did leave me a business card. So I gave the number to the agency. They said they would call and order the platform. I got a call about 10 minutes later form the grua company asking me my whereabouts. I told them and they dispatched the truck.

After about an hour and a half, I called the number on the card to try to determine the E.T.A. of the platform. The guy on the line said he hadn't dispatched a platform, that the agency from S. Jose had called only to inquire on pricing, but had not ordered the dispatch. Hmmm... then who had called me to ask my location so that the platform driver could locate me? Fourth curve ball.

While I was on the phone again with the agency, the platform showed up. I hung up. Apparently, the agency wasn't satisfied with pricing from the company whose business card I had been given and had called another. Standing double.

I asked the grua driver to pass by the municipalidad so I could pay for the trash. It was approaching 4 PM when they normally close and I thought I could make it. We drove into town and I arrived at 3:54 PM. But it was Friday and the municipalidad closes at 3 PM on Fridays. Pop fly. Out! We left Municipalidad-town for the taller in Center City.

I arrived at the taller in Center City about an hour before closing. They all know my name there too, and vice versa. We took a look under the hood. I started the motor. Looked to be a leak from a cracked hose that was spewing oil like a Texas gusher. It was brand new hose, I might add, that was replaced on the last $500 repair job. I had to leave the truck there overnight as they didn't have time to fix the problem, and I wanted them to clean the entire engine, as well as the entire rest of the pickup. No biggie. I had already resigned myself to leaving it there overrnight before arriving and was in a state of bliss at the fact that the problem was not serious. Headfirst slide into first base. Safe!

Upon arriving at the house, my wife and I talked for awhile and I laughed heartily at the now-less-swolen but clownish looking face of The Virgin, a mini-grizzly bear staring at me from the cardboard communications dish of the International Space Station. She would be OK. Safe again at first!

I decided to work on my motorcycle because I'd need to use it in the absence of my pickup, and working on her usually evens me out a bit. The throttle was sticking, so I had to clean the dust and dirt out and lubricate it. Upon the release of the second screw that makes up the cable guide and cover, which clamp together to hold the throttle to the handle bars, the cover slipped, hit the concrete and bounced. I saw it land next to the motor cycle. I looked at the grime on the throttle cable and guide and went inside the house for paper towels. After cleaning and lubricating all parts I went for the cover to put things back together. It had disappered. Fifth curve ball. No cover, no throttle, no transportation! Was I going insane?? I had seen it there. Maybe it had bounced farther or I had kicked it out of the way and not heard it clink. I began to look beyond the concrete porch. Nothing. Then it dawned on me - the dogs. I had been inside the house for no more than 30 seconds to get the paper towels. Had one of them been that stealth to snatch the cover? It was the only answer. The piece had evaporated.

I went in and got the rake and a flashlight. It was dark now. My wife and I combed a three meter perimeter around the house while I screamed threats to kill the dogs and eat them after drying their flesh in the Guanacaste sun. The moment I gave up, scratching my head with both hands, screaming at the stars, nearly on the verge of tears, my wife found the cover on the other side of the driveway next to the ashes of the burn pile the dogs so fondly adore for their siestas.

Home run!! Not bad for a guy just up from the Minors.

P.S.: As I was typing this, the sixth curve ball was thrown. In temporary state of perceived dimentia while searching for motor cycle parts, I threw my favorite NFL team baseball cap to the dirt in frustration (my favorite NFL team that is still in the hunt for a Super Bowl berth this Sunday). The Virgin did a good job of disfiguring it. Sixth curve ball strikes batter. Batter storms the mound. I will surely eat The Virgin for breakfast in the morning.

P.P.S.S.: The seventh and final curve ball was thrown at me when the power went out before I could post this. It's a day late. Foul ball. Strike!

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

"The Is"

"Es como es" ("It is how it is"). I've found that it's nearly impossible to plan the day in advance here. Agendas and "To Do" lists help organize tasks, but the priorities or deadlines for their completion are simply an exercise in mental masturbation. I must admit that it's been a big adjustment for this "control freak". But I now laugh at myself every single day thinking back on the way it used to be in contrast with the way it is.

Yesterday, we were on a search for a new mattress to replace "el hueco" (the hole) we were "sleeping" on - or in. My very generous parents sent us a check for a housewarming gift. My wife and I looked at it and in an unspoken nano-instant, smiled at each other knowingly with exactly the same thought - a good night's sleep. So we hopped in the pickup, dropped the dogs at the beach, and went on mattress safari.

To make a long story short, we brought home a beautiful orthopedic, matrimonial-sized mattress a little before sunset last night. But along the way...

...I got a phone call from my insurance agent. INS (the national insurance provider) was having a problem with the signature on the check I used to pay my car insurance premium. Nevermind that I signed it in front of the agent. So I had to stop at the bank, get cash and then stop by the insurance agent's office to re-pay the premium. Then, my sister-in-law called to remind me to bring the CD with her newly designed (by me) restaurant menus to the printer. Luckily, I had the disk in my backpack (which almost never happens). So another stop to the graphics guy. Then my wife decided that she wanted a couple of new bras. We were close to the megamall (I call it the "mini-mega", like "mini-super"). While she was shopping for bras, I decided to shop for a pair of flip-flops to replace the nice pair of Reef's my dog very neatly and methodically disassembled and laid out on the porch of my house a couple of weeks ago [I'm thinking of finding him a job at the taller (car repair shop). He can surely disassemble the engine of a '71 Toyota Land Cruiser, and the job description for a car mechanic here doesn't include "knowlege of how to put a car engine back together"]. I scored on a couple of pairs of Puma's, which go nicely with the 5 t-shirts, baseball caps and pairs of shorts that comprise my wardrobe. Then we got hungry and stopped at our local favorite tico restaurant in Center City. We ran into friends, one of whom called me after leaving the restaurant to ask me to check out prices on motorcycles at a new dealer in town. So, another stop and we were motoring back to the store at which we started to purchase the mattress.

So you see, Grasshopper... Always start the day with only one item on your list. Any more than that one item, and you risk being sucked into a vortex of emotional stress and self-frustration that will benefit no one and only hurt yourself and those close to you. The curve balls that inevitably will be thrown at you will wreck your flow and will always make a mockery of your logical and organized approach, your best-laid plans. This, Grasshopper, is "The Is".

Now leave, Grasshopper. I must enjoy my sleep.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Habla, bla, bla...

Frio Club finally fixed my A/C unit. Yay! Ivan arrived with head held low. Apparently, my calls to the boss had an effect. Yay! It took them two tries to get things recharged and cooling. They couldn't wait to get out of there. I made them stay an extra hour to check all connections, etc. Payback time. They got the point. But it was forgotten today because every day here is the first day.

Am excited about a new lease-to-buy real estate deal I'm doing with a "relation" of mine (friends in Deadwood rarely exist, only relations). If all goes well, it will benfit us both - and the community too. My moto in business has always been "Benefits for all!". If someone gets the short end of the stick, I don't get involved in the deal. EVERYONE in the deal needs to be happy for the business venture to be successful. The vast majority of people here - mostly gringos - don't get it. They're always trying to pimp someone in the deal. The monkeys usually suffer the most.

Many of them are vastly more wealthy than I am. But they have enemies. I don't.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Ahhh... the Phone Company

ICE (the phone company) came out today to look at the poles we installed for the telephone line - 4 poles that were installed in positions determined by an ICE engineer. Turns out we'll need to install more poles to go around trees that, apparently, were not visible to the engineer even though that's all we talked about while we were locating pole positions. Another technical item reared it's ugly head too as they now will not run cable underground and want to run cable directly from the last pole to the house. I'm going to fight that one. But I still need 2 more poles to get to the last one. Details... They don't exist.

A AyA (water company) hookup broke out where our private road meets the main street yesterday morning. It got worse by the afternoon. Our road is now a muddy river making the opening of our gates a hateful experience. God knows when AyA will show up to fix it. Am thinking of getting a kayak and navigating the rapids.

Called my A/C guy's boss today to give him an earful. They've been coming for 2 hours now all day. Am at my new favorite watering hole using their Wi-Fi, with a view of the road. If I see them, I'll make sure they stop - probably throw my beer bottle at the truck. Maybe that'll get their attention.

The winds have died down and life is pleasant and easygoing again here in Hollywood (on good days it's Hollywood; on bad ones, it's Deadwood). The timing of the winds was kind of a blessing in disguise as most of the dead tree branches hit the ground and not my newly-delivered pickup.

Yeah, I have a garage - it's under that tree over there.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

¡Calientisimo!

It's HOT!!! REALLY HOT!! But to add fuel to the inferno of the blazing sun (which I LOVE), it's incredibly windy now. The January winds have arrived with a vengence. At la Casa Jungla, it's like living in a blast furnace, only with dead tree branches raining down upon you from the sky. Most people here in Deadwood don't deal with this issue - they've cut down all of their trees. My wife's nephew was playing outside of our house yesterday and a large branch came crashing down next to him. I had to move him and his Lego condo project to the protection of the porch under one of the balconies. Last night a huge tree blew over across the entire main road through Deadwood. It's root structure had been undermined by earthwork at the development on which the tree formerly resided - it just tipped over. It lay in the street until this afternoon. Chain saws are neatly slicing it up as I type.

I have no A/C in our master bedroom. Yup, it's f*cked up again. And it's brand new. Frio Club was supposed to be by at 6AM today to fix it. At 11AM I called Ivan, who hadn't arrived. He's got the gripe (GREE-pay, or cold) today and won't make it. Didn't occur to him to at least call me or to send someone else. I'm enormously pissed and irritated at these guys! 5 weeks and I'm only running at 50%. Ridiculous, even here! I don't mind the heat. The hotter the better. But my pregnant wife is suffering a bit. Which pisses me off even more.

My stranded pickup may finally be on its way back from S. Jose. I spent half the morning and a good portion of the afternoon yesterday at the bank and on the phone with both the bank and the dealership. The dealership doesn't accept credit cards. So you have to either go to Banco Nacional and make a deposit into the dealership's account with cash, or transfer it directly from your bank account to theirs. After they finally determined the amount I owed them, which had to be paid before they would load the pickup on a flatbed for transport, I went to the bank to do the direct transfer. The dealership gave me the wrong account number. When transferring from one bank account to another you need the "cuenta cliente" account number of the receiver's bank, which is different from the one you would use if you were standing at the teller paying cash. I called the dealer from the bank. They had no idea what a "numero cuenta cliente was". I put them on with the bank rep. When she started rolling her eyes, I knew I was in trouble. After being transferred to Accounting, and then to Legal, we finally were able to obtain the number.

But it wasn't over yet... After the transfer, I had to fax a confirmation to the dealership. The bank said they would do this for me. I had to pay my marchamos (license plate fees) for my motor cycle and pickup anyway, and I could do this at the bank. So I did this while I awaited confirmation on the fax. Paying my marchamos took another 45 mins. By this time, the representative who was helping me with the transfer and fax had left for her 2 hour lunch.

I called the dealership a couple of hours later to see if they had received confirmation. They had not. I called the bank to see what had happened with the fax. Turned out, after much chasing around, that it had been placed in the "Sent Faxes" bin. But after second inspection, it turned out that it had not been sent because the line was busy. They resent it.

This morning I called the dealership again. They had received the funds and fax confirmation! But now they had to line up a flatbed for transport. After another hour of them having to check with el jefe, I had a transport price and a date of arrival - $100 to arrive tomorrow at 8AM. I'm betting it will be 4PM - Friday.

It's sugar cane season and the fields are burning like crazy. The sky looks a dark, foggy, steel blue out over the Pacific, and in just about every other direction you look. The smell of smoke pervaids every location. You cannot escape it, even on a boat. It's amazing.

All that smoke should make for a fantastic sunset tonight. Pura vida!