Wednesday, June 16, 2021

getting gassed

Owning a house is like volunteering for the job of city manager -- especially, in this part of Mexico.

I am responsible for keeping the water flowing from my well. For generating electricity from the solar array. And, perhaps most importantly, for ensuring that my propane does not run out -- or I would be bereft of my two grills and my countertop cooker.

Up north, I was a natural gas user. For heating water and heating the house. I never had to think about it because it was piped into the house from lines running under the streets in Salem. It was always there.

When I moved to Mexico, I quickly discovered I was no longer in Salem. I had to learn the art of wrestling with propane cylinders. They usually came in pairs. When the stove lacked a flame, I would switch out the cylinders. More than once, I was shocked to discover that the reserve cylinder had a leak and that I would soon be without propane.

That was not a big problem. Propane trucks selling their blue cylinders regularly drove through town playing either a jaunty jig-like tune or an annoying honk. All I needed to do was to flag down one of the trucks, load up the empty cylinders, and attach them to the regulator.

I went through that exercise for six years at two different rentals in Villa Obregón. When I bought my house in Barra de Navidad, the first thing I did was to replace the cylinders with an 18 kg. pig with a handy gauge that shows how full it is. That was seven years ago. The price for filling it then was $1,341 (Mx) -- just under $66 (US). 

I waffled about the size of the tank, but opted for a relatively large residential one. That was a good decision. That 2014 filling lasted me until January 2017. I did not need another until May 2019. On Monday, I had my fourth top-off. Four tankfuls in seven years. That does not strike me as onerous. I almost forget that it is possible to run the tank so low I will not get any propane out of it.

I have noticed, though, that the wholesale price of a unit of propane in Mexico has been rather sporadic with a general increase in price, even though the consumer price has shown a steady increase.

Unlike liquid petroleum, Mexico does not produce most of its own natural gas. The country needs to import 80% of what it needs -- 90% of that from the United States.

I usually put off ordering a tank re-fill until I absolutely need to. That is not wise planning.

Two years ago, during a propane shortage, it was unusual for anyone to answer the telephone at the order desk. And trying to find an available truck when hurricanes or tropical storms are barreling down on us is almost impossible.

My bad planning is closely akin to my faltering Spanish. I dislike talking on the telephone in English. When the conversation is in Spanish, I lose far too many words when I cannot watch the speaker's mouth.

But I have put all of that behind me with a little acting trick. Most telephone calls in Spanish are easy to reduce to predictable story arcs. If I want to order a tankful of propane, all I have to do is memorize a few lines. My name. My address. What I want. It is that simple. And all of it is on the crib sheet of the last propane receipt in my expenses file. In a way, it is like arguing briefs before the Supreme Court. The flow is almost always anticipated.

And it was this time. My call lasted less than 30 seconds. In two hours (an hour before the promised time), Chuy showed up, just as he did two years and filled my tank. I gave 1500 pesos. That should hold the Commonwealth of No Name for another two years.

If every city manager job was this easy, there would be more competition for the position. I am keeping mine. 

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