Two days before Christmas I went into Port to pick up some supplies for Alan at the local Ferreteria, or hardware store. The items I needed were in the bodega, so I pulled around on a side street, parked the truck and went in to pick up the PVC pipe.
The kid working there was kind enough to cut it in half so I could transport it without bending it. We loaded the pipe, I got back into the truck and turned the key. There was a slight click and then the key spun free in the steering column. I felt a tight sick feeling in the pit of stomach. I might not be a mechanic, but I do know when I am genuinely screwed, and this would be one of those times. If I had had a cell phone I would have used it to call Alan, instead I went to the public phone and called. He never answers the phone, so, next, I walked over to the bus station and found a couple of taxistas loitering the morning away.
I got a price on a round trip to the farm and got in. He took off like he was driving the Dakar Road Race. After about two blocks of speeds that made dogs curl their tails under and slink into the bush, I reached over and clenched his arm telling him I wanted a roundtrip, but it could be tranquilo, please. He got the point and we went out and retrieved Alan and the tool box, banging our way over the potholes, twice, for more enjoyment.
It was just about noon when we got back to the truck. I had parked it outside the bodega on a side street which runs North and South, so we were well situated to catch all the afternoon sun. In temperatures reaching ninety Alan proceeded to try crossing wires to hot-wire us so we could get home. He could get the motor to turn over, but the motor wouldn’t start. Seems these newer (old actually- 1987) automatic transmission Jeeps were built to protect us from thieves, as well as ourselves. Somehow we needed to find the wires that bypassed the transmission and fuel pump. They were not under the hood. We spent about two hours in the blazing sun trying everything we could think of to get her started.
Leaving the car in Port was not an option. We figured she would be stripped to the bones by morning. A couple of people we know came by and offered help. Baco, who drives the local recycling truck and is nephew to our old friend John John came by and called his father in Manzanillo. Ruben was to go around to someone named Philip, who “knew that kinda business good.”
We never heard back, so after about a half hour I walked back to the public phone and stood in line behind two young lotharios who were apparently talking to some girl who had recently been in Port. They kissy-kissied and I listened to them, “Please, you got to pro-mise me. Pro-mise me. When are you comin’ back?” It was endless. While I was waiting I was lucky enough to see Chola, Tun’s ex-wife, and Johnnie, their daughter, strutting down the street in their finest clothes. Both of them had their hair in long extenders in wild shades of purple and blue. Johnnie had just graduated from high school and had a big sash across her chest announcing her as a graduate -2005. Chola couldn’t have been a prouder mother. I gave them both a hug and they went on down the street; they were their own parade. I had been at the phone booth for so long Alan finally locked the car up and came looking for me. When I finally got the phone and reached Ruben, he said, “I speak to the man, but he still here.” It looked like we weren’t getting any help there.
We went over to see Danny, who runs a little tire repair business in the center of Port. Danny said, “You know who know that business, is Danielo. But, he ex-PEN-sive Mon.” On our way back to the car we ran into Andy, who was on our work crew the first year we built our house. He said he was taking a couple to Limon and would ask the guy at the junk yard up Hone Creek way if he could tow us home. Waiting for anybody was no longer an option. It was now getting on past three and the next day was Christmas Eve. Nothing would be moving then. We walked up to Juni Stewart’s house and Juni showed us where Danielo lived. We never would have found him by ourselves. His little hidden house was shoved back in between two others, a tiny trail meandered back to his door.
We talked to him for a bit and in my best Spanish asked him if he knew how to cross wires to bypass the key. How do you say “hot-wire” in Spanish, anyway? Alambrar en caliente? Anyway, He said he knew that business. He would get his tools and be there soon. We went back to the car and about ten minutes later here he came with his tool box- a paper sack with a screw driver sticking out one end.
He lay on the floor of the Jeep, his butt just inside the sill, his feet out the door and his head jammed in between the pedals. With one arm he reached up into the steering column and messed around until he came out with a wad of wires. Once he had them out, he sat for a long time and thought, and thought, and thought. Eventually he took a whole mess of them and twisted them into one. Then he took a single black wire he had left and touched the group. we could hear the fuel pump start and the the car started. He shut it back off and headed home to get some connecters for the final installation.
While this was going on I saw Andy’s brother, Chumbo, across the street at the local liquor store drinking with his pals. Chumbo had been on our work crew too. I walked over and asked him if he had Andy’s number so I could call him to tell the guy at Hone Creek we wouldn’t need him. Chumbo handed me his cell phone and said with slurred speech, “You call.” I told him I couldn’t call because I didn’t know the number. “I tell you; You mark it.” I called Andy who informed me that the deal in Hone Creek was dead. “The guy not working; too close to Christmas,” He said.
Back to the car and our little miracle worker. Our next problem was the automatic gear shift which was locked in park position. Danielo pried the cover off the shifter off and with a huge screw driver began prying at things I thought he had no business prying at. I kept telling Alan to make him quit before he broke something. But, it turned out he knew that business too. He popped something off the shifter and we had a car that started and could be shifted into gear. We drove it that way for about two weeks during “The Christmas.”
We went to san Jose during all of this and looked for the key switch. No one had one, and everyone said the car is too old. We also tried to get my cell phone, but that is a whole chapter to itself. On the way home the wires under the dash caught on fire and we had to pull over and cool everything off, Alan separated the melting wires, disconnected the air-conditioner and we went on home without further incidence.
We went back to San Jose a couple of weeks later, and found a new mechanic who used to own a Jeep Comanche pick-up and loves them. Alan told him about our difficulties and he reached up into the steering column, probed around for a bit, and said, “You need one of these,” holding up a rod that connects from the key to the ignition that he had laying around on his shop floor. He repaired all the wires from the steering column to the motor, fixed the switch rod, and charged us about eighty dollars.