My good luck on accomplishing tasks in Mexico has run dry.
At least, it would appear so based on my recent quest to buy a mobile telephone.
When I moved to Mexico two years ago, I arrived without a telephone. But, I also arrived with my brother -- and that was even better.
He brought along a telephone as a house-warming gift. He knew I had relied on my work PDA (personal digital assistant) for several years.
The PDA was so versatile, it was known as a Pocket PC. And I loved mine. Leaving it behind at work was almost as difficult as saying good-bye to some of my colleagues.
When we arrived in Melaque, my brother arranged for the installation of the appropriate card. And he purchased some minutes.
For those of you north of the border, that last phrase may sound a bit odd. We do not have calling plans down here. We nick into the local Telcel shop or convenience store, and buy minutes as if they were Twinkies.
My brother's gift turned out to be perfect -- in three ways. First, I had a telephone for emergencies. Second, I could easily synchronize the telephone with my computer's calendar and contacts -- because the telephone's operating system was Windows-based.
But, most importantly, I could use the applications that made my PDA a favorite: PocketQuicken, PocketBible, and PocketStars. Wherever I was, I could track my finances, do my daily Bible studies, and find Jupiter.
OK. The whole thing was a bit anal. But it made me happy.
All was well until the day Jiggs died. A neighbor was helping me tend to Jiggs and knocked my telephone off the rear bumper. The dog was dead. And so was the telephone -- with a cracked screen.
I managed to get by without a mobile telephone over the next year. When I returned to Melaque, I decided it was time to buy one -- for medical emergencies, if nothing else, and for my travels in the truck with the failing transmission. But I wanted to buy a Windows-based telephone.
I may as well have wanted to apply for membership in the Athenaeum Club.
I stopped at the local Telcel store -- where telephones are displayed. I told the clerk what I wanted. I got a blank stare in return. I did not appear to be very successful in communicating the concept of an operating system.
I went to a second Telcel store in Melaque. Same result. And I had the same result at two Telcel stores in Manzanillo.
It was clear that the clerks in those stores were there to sell minutes -- and any telephone the customer wanted to purchase. But they were not there to help make that decision.
So, I took another tack. I noticed one store had a poster of the telephones Telcel offers. I wrote down the names and resorted to a lot of research on the internet.
My government training taught me that good intelligence work will almost always result in appropriate targets. Mine was an HTC Diamond Touch.
Back to the Melaque Telcel stores I went.
Nope. Not available there.
Could you order one? Maybe -- in a few months.
My last hope was to go to the main Telcel store in Manzanillo. I had stopped there once, but the place was packed.
When I showed up for a second visit, the crowds were just as large.
In moments like this I fall back on my timid tourist routine, and asked if any clerks spoke English. Sure enough. And there was no line for that clerk. Things were going far too well.
Do you have an HTC Touch Diamond? Yes, sir.
Her brought it out. And that is when my luck turned.
Mexico now registers all mobile telephones -- in a misplaced belief that official registration will somehow cut down on organized crime. It is easier to get on an airplane, I discovered, than to buy a telephone.
I needed my passport. I didn't have it with me. That was just as well because I would need to make at least two ATM runs. The purchase price was just short of my monthly rent.
I told him I would return the next day. He said he would be there.
I was; he wasn't. So, I ended up in the serpentine line of surly customers waiting to purchase telephones. Two hours of waiting. For me, it was a nice Kindle experience.
When I got to the front of the line, I spoke with a clerk who knew about as much English as I knew Spanish. But I was able to tell him how far we had got the previous day.
With that information, he retrieved the telephone. And after another hour of paperwork and a second line for the cashier, I was on my way home with my treasure.
I have had it several days now. All of my applications are loaded -- as is my calender and list of contacts. And, thanks to several friends who made test calls to me, the basic function of telephone calls works, as well. All things in good time.
But I have one more tool to start my trips around Mexico.