Simplifying our lives is an ongoing intention in Casa Staton. Ancient Chinese wisdom states that "the easiest journey has the least baggage," and over the past seven years we've succeeded in tossing a lot of unneeded physical, emotional, and psychological paraphernalia overboard.
A complicated life is often filled with stress, clutter, and endless activities. Been there, done that. We're always on the lookout now for new wrinkles that give us more time to do what we really want to do rather than what we have to do. And sometimes such opportunities unexpectedly fall right into our laps.
Against that philosophical backdrop let me tell you how gas service works around here. Trust me, it'll all come together at the end. We use natural gas for cooking and hot water. Larger apartment/condo buildings often have centralized service with the cost built into the monthly maintenance fee, but in our small building with only five units everyone is individually responsible.
The gas comes in tanks about three times the size of the ones you use with your gas barbeque grill. Their initial cost is about $65 each and replacements are only $2.50 delivered. We have two, one for immediate use and a spare for when that first one is emptied.
Trucks filled with these tanks drive around neighborhoods beep-beep-beeping their horns to alert you to their presence should you need a replacement. As a gesture of "supporting the local economy" for years I've chosen instead to buy mine from a tienda merchant around the corner.
This act of goodwill has often come at a price beyond the $2.50. You see, Santiago is both a good guy and a poster child for the Latin American mañana culture. I've learned the hard way to walk over there and buy a new tank as soon as one runs out because his promises of prompt delivery within a couple of days often stretch into more than a week.
One of his tanks usually lasts us about twelve days, so countless times after a week I've stopped by to "remind" him. My most effective technique is to mention Cynthia's name while pantomiming a knife being drawn across his throat if we totally run out of gas, with beheading occurring if she's in the shower at the time the water suddenly runs cold.
Recently we did run out. Fortunately no showers were in progress and Cynthia wasn't even home. I immediately high-tailed it to his store and said I needed two tanks now. Santiago of course profusely apologized, not only for the delay but also because he was there alone and couldn't leave.
I said, "Then put the tanks on that little delivery cart you sometimes use. I'll take them home myself and bring it back to you."
Let me tell you, these tanks are heavy. Two of them are damn heavy. Here I go huffing and puffing them down the street, drawing stares from both drivers and pedestrians. This is not a job you see an old gringo doing every day--actually, any day--in Cuenca.
We have low humidity here but I'm sweating like a one-armed paper hanger. Then when I finally get to our building I've got to negotiate a downhill incline into the basement with these two beasts. Against all odds the mission is a success.
I wasn't upset or mad about any of this. In fact Santiago and I laughed about the episode when I returned the cart.
Next time I needed gas he announced that his shoulder couldn't take the abuse anymore and he was out of the gas business. OK.
I came home and asked the woman who runs a beauty salon in our building who she uses. She said, "I need a tank right now. Do you need one too? I'll call and place an order for both of us."
"Great," I said. "How long does he take for delivery?"
"Oh, usually about thirty minutes."
"Thirty minutes?!? (I'm expecting an answer measured in days). Are you kidding me?"
At that moment, thirty seconds after she hangs up the phone, the gas tank guy pulls up in front of the building.
"What is happening here?," I gasp. "Is this some kind of magic trick??"
We all have a big laugh, pay for two gas tanks, and I happily come upstairs with a phone number that I instantly treasure.
I subsequently learn several more things. One is that this new guy's tanks last 50% longer than Santiago's. Inferior gas? Partially filled tanks? Who knows? Second, he's a real businessman. I called him late in the afternoon and asked if he could deliver a tank that day. "No," he said. "Eight in the morning." The next day there he was right on time.
Most importantly I learned something about myself. This surprising turn of events made me question why I had put up with Santiago's nonsense for so long. And the only honest answer is I wasn't being present, instead mindlessly repeating behavior that was in no way serving me.
From a minor episode thus comes an important life lesson. Now if I can just figure out how to get someone to carry those heavy groceries up four flights of stairs-------.