Thursday, September 1, 2011


Lately I've been feeling a little more confident in speaking Spanish to the natives, even to the point of making jokes.  I also needed to have some car repair work done.  This post shows how I have cleverly combined these two activities in the past two days.

Yesterday I returned to the amazing mechanic at the Boquete Texaco station to have the oil changed.  I also had him look at the steering because a worrisome "clunk" has recently appeared when I turn the steering wheel all the way to the left.  He diagnosed the problem and told me exactly which parts I need to get.  He said it happened because of the bad roads here.  Unfortunately he didn't have the parts.  

This meant a trip to the Suzuki dealer in David, which I'd been putting off for several months anyway because of another problem - the felpas needed to be replaced  - related to switching from 2- to 4-wheel-drive, and I know that the agent who helped me buy the car in the first place made sure that Felipe Rodriguez Suzuki in David had ordered the parts.  

That was six months ago.  I didn't know if they still had the felpas.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So my mechanic - whose name starts with an "A" and I think is Alonzo but I'm not sure so just go to the Texaco when you need your car fixed in Boquete and you'll find him in the back to the left around the stone wall wearing the red polo shirt - gave me a written list at my request of all the parts I needed to fix the steering problem.  He did change the oil and oil filter. It was truly a pleasure to watch the care he took in pre-lubricating the oil filter so it would make a good seal.  I have no idea if the US mechanics do this because I have never been privileged to watch them work.  In any case, Alonzo is truly an artist.

I had also asked him to change the air filter, thanks to a pre-printed sheet of instructions from Google Translate, an essential tool for any person in a foreign country with internet access.  He didn't have an air filter in stock but did take out the existing air filter and blasted it with compressed air to make it as good as new.  

Jiffy Lube, please take note.

At this point I decided to try some Panamanian humor.  I said to him, "Estas el Einstein de los carros."  (You are the Einstein of cars.)  He laughed his head off.  Actually, I'm not sure if he laughed because he thought it was truly funny or because he thought I was incredibly stupid for trying to make a joke in Spanish.

So today I took off for David to get the rest of the repairs done in preparation for a road trip to the Azuero Peninsula, which I'm sure you will hear about in more detail than you would care to know.  I left the dogs in the house a little before 7:00 am to make it to my first appointment at the tire store to have my tires rotated and balanced and an alignment.

I love this tire store - Tambor on the Inter-American Highway in David, just past the one traffic light going toward Costa Rica on the left.  This is where I had bought my tires shortly after buying the car, and was recommended by the same man who ordered the felpas for me.  Tambor is clean and the customer service people are outstanding.  I have these awesome Yokohama Geolanders A/TS (again recommended by my car man), which are good either on- or off-road (read:  good either on the highways or on the road where I live):
Not my actual tire, but mine are just like this.
However, the rotation couldn't be done until I got the steering problem repaired.

So after the hour that it took to rotate and balance the tires (with an appointment), I made my way to Felix Rodriguez Suzuki/Goodyear to see if they had the parts.  I decided to have their mechanic look at the car just to be sure of what needed to be replaced, and also checked about the felpas.  They were still in stock - good.  So I decide to have the shop at Felix Rodriguez fix the steering problem and the felpas and go ahead and do the alignment so I could head on back to Boquete once everything was done.

This was at 9:30 am.  The car was finally ready at 5:30 pm.  During all this time - count them, EIGHT HOURS - I sat in the shop at Felix Rodriguez reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love except for two short forays to the pastry shop down the block to buy Coca Colas and lunch.  This is a most excellent book which I would have never read if I had never seen her TED talk on creativity.  (Surely you know about the TED lectures?  If not, you're missing out on something good.  Check this one out for starters and you'll want to read the book too.)

Now the ironic thing about reading Eat, Pray, Love around all these Panamanians is I was just like Julia Roberts in her role playing Elizabeth Gilbert in the movie of the book, except that I was reading the book around Panamanians and Julia / Elizabeth was eating gelato around Italians.  I love it when life imitates art imitating life:

This is Julia Roberts / Elizabeth Gilbert
eating gelato in Rome in the film Eat, Pray, Love, but it could have been I / me
reading Eat, Pray, Love in the auto shop in Panamá,

except I'm better looking than Julia Roberts.  (Just kidding.)

It could have been during the fourth hour when an old man, a street vendor, walked into the shop selling foot-long mesh bags of garlic.  As it turned out, I had already bought one of these bags from another vendor shortly after arriving.  (What's the deal about garlic?  I have no idea.)  I had hidden the previously purchased garlic in my fanny pack.

The street vendor must have taken me for a sucker because he walked straight up to me.  Actually, I was making eye contact with him in the hope that he would do so.  He asked me if I wanted to buy garlic.

I opened my fanny pack and pulled out my garlic, saying "No necesito mas aijo, pero gracias." (I don't need any more garlic, but thanks anyway.)

He and I both laughed until our sides hurt.

Somewhere around the sixth hour, a young super-macho Panamanian man backed his repaired car out of the garage and got his car caught up in the framework of the lowered lift rack.  His tires were between the tracks of the rack.  He managed to get back onto the track but over-corrected as the nearby mechanics were yelling at him to straighten out the wheel and fell off the track on the other side.  This seemed like a good opportunity to crack another Spanish joke:

"El conduce como una mujer." (He drives like a woman.)

Again the mechanics along with the female receptionist laughed heartily.  I was beginning to feel like I belong here.

It' a nice way to feel, whether it's true or not.


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