Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?


4:30 AM. We are jolted from sleep by the ringing phone. It’s the cordless handset that alerts us to an incoming SKYPE internet call. Instantly awake, we rush to the computer. The number on the screen calms fears, brings annoyance. It’s not family, it’s a long-time customer with equipment problems calling Bill.

When we first came to San Pancho nearly ten years ago, there were only a handful of public telephones scattered around the pueblo. Armed with a stack of phone cards, I would walk from one to the other to find the shortest line. It took two phone cards and a long series of numbers to execute one call. Under pressure, I would inevitably misdial and have to start again. The polite coughs and shuffling feet behind me felt like signs of impatience and that did not make it easier.


You had it easy, Gail. When we got her fifteen years ago there were two phones and a fax machine in a little hole-in-the-wall a block from the beach. One of the old families was running the business, and it was a life saver. There was a chalk board mounted on the outside wall where your name appeared when you had a fax. If you were awaiting important news you’d be down there every few minutes until your fax arrived.

My husband was trying to have it both ways, keep a software writing job and come to Mexico too. He would take his laptop to the little office and plug it into a phone to download his email. One day, the download went on until his bill was up to 200 pesos (when 200 pesos was real money) and he had to quit. The next, he drove into Vallarta in search of a faster download--no, internet cafes used phone lines there, too, and though they didn’t charge 10 pesos a minute as in San Pancho, the email was still taking too long to come through.


Then you understand how excited we were in 2004 when we our house was completed and we could apply for a private line.
“We’re very sorry. No more phone lines are available in San Pancho,” Telmex said. They would put us on the wait list. But the number of people wanting phones had exploded and we ended up waiting two years. The good news was that, by then, we could get broadband, too.


That was rough. We got our phone when the first twenty private lines were offered, but we were on dial up for a long time.


Then SKYPE! We loved it! Then a cell phone tower! Ten year olds in the pueblo had cell phones. Soon we did, too.

Emails—we get lots of them. Many promise eternal happiness if we forward same to 50 of our closest friends and every on-line purchase results in special offers. But my sister gets in touch every morning and we can stay close to family and friends. We pay our bills and read the newspapers on-line, too.

SKYPE calls—we get a lot of them too. Bill’s customers want him to fix their problems. Our sons call with questions about air conditioners and water filtration systems, or when the keys are locked inside the car in a snowstorm. But they also call to check in, to share good news, and to ask Bill for his coconut shrimp recipe.

By the way, Carolyn, did you ever find out what was in that email?


It turned out to be a video clip of a rhinoceros trying to copulate with a very attractive Volvo.

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