Who You Gonna Call?

Like most people in the Lake Chapala area, I rely on Telmex for my home phone and internet service. When we moved here almost two decades ago, it was pretty much the only service available. New full-time residents had to wait for months to have a phone installed. Temporary residents – forget it.

It reminded me of stories I’d heard about East Germany, before the wall came down. They hadn’t printed a new phone book for ten years. I later learned from a former East German that they didn’t need to update the phone book because there was a ten-year waiting list to get a phone.

When we moved down here, we were fortunate that the woman who sold us her house included her phone. All we had to do was change the name. Over the years, it has proven to be relatively reliable. But, of late, I am beginning to wonder if they have recently hired East German service technicians. 

In the past two months, my home phone and internet service conked out three different times. Typically it happens late on a Friday afternoon, and the Telmex office is closed Saturday and Sunday. 

The first time, I waited until Monday and went to the Telmex office to file my complaint. The clerk politely took my information and called the complaint line from her office phone. I hoped a call coming from the main office phone number might get some priority handling. But it still took half an hour for her to finally connect with a live person. I couldn’t hear if the discussion was in Spanish or German, but I was ultimately given a file number and was told they would call me on my cell phone when the service technician was coming. 

They never called my cell phone, but the house phone rang a few days later letting me know they were able to resolve the problem without having to come to my house. I never got any explanation of what had gone wrong. But whatever it was, it happened again about two weeks later. This time it took ten days and two visits to Telmex to be corrected, again without coming to my house. 

Fortunately, I had a working cell phone and a secondary internet provider during the Telmex outage. But what if I didn’t have these high-tech alternatives or they had failed at the same time as Telmex? You can’t even count on having electric power. That goes out about as frequently as the phones. All it takes is a little wind, a little rain, a little squirrel. At any moment, you could be plunged into a Paleolithic environment for which only a few nutcases in Idaho are prepared to survive. I suddenly realized it had been over twenty years since I updated my Y2K survival kit. It was time to add a low-tech communication system. 

When it comes to communication at its most basic level, you would have to consider smoke signals. All you would need is a pack of matches and the pages from your ten-year-old Telmex phone book. This concept has at least one benefit.  If a fire truck suddenly arrives at your house, you’ll know that your neighbors’ phones are still working. It is your phone that is the problem. 

But after a 25-year career working for the air pollution control agency in Los Angeles, there’s no way I could promote starting a fire to intentionally belch smoke into our pristine lakeside air. What if my former boss happened to read this article? Who knows what disciplinary action he might take. So I decided to look for a pollution-free alternative.

How about using two empty soup cans with string stretched between them? That worked pretty well when we were kids. And it wouldn’t jeopardize my paltry retirement benefits. But kids today are different. You can’t count on your neighbor’s kid to sit with his ear pressed against his soup can 24 hours a day. I suppose you could tie a bell to the string so the kid would know when a call was coming in. But then every time a bird landed on the string there’d be a false alarm.  That would be almost as annoying as all the spam calls you get from Telmex when the phone is actually working.

Probably the best option would be to use a flashlight to send Morse code. The problem with flashlights is you can never find one when you need it. A word of advice—don’t try doing what one of my Boy Scout buddies did. He learned the hard way that leaving his flashlight turned on when he put it in his backpack did not make it easier to find the next day.

And even if you find a working flashlight, what’s the likelihood that your neighbor has watched enough reruns of Titanic to know the Morse code for S.O.S. Of course, he wouldn’t need to actually understand your code message. You just need to get his attention so he’ll come over and ask what’s wrong. With that in mind, I have decided it would be better to use a laser pointer rather than a flashlight. That way, even if he doesn’t know Morse code, you can be sure he will eventually come stomping over to complain that you’re driving his cat crazy.

You’ll be glad to know that my phone has been working fine for several weeks now. When my latest bill arrived, I took it to Telmex to find out if I had been given a discount for the days I had no service. The good news was that I had been given the discount. The bad news was, when I tried to pay the bill, the clerk said she couldn’t process the payment at that time. Their computers were down.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Larry Kolczak
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