Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finished, fueled, and feline-friendly

We are still at the Paradise South Resort in Mercedes, Texas (map). The relief operation is over (mostly - more on that in a moment) and we are on our own.

Sunday turned out to be the last full day of the operation for us. We had a late (9am) start, but the intention was still to get the truck mostly loaded in the cool of the morning. Alas, it was not to be. David brought the truck around to the loading door, only to discover that the padlock that was originally on the truck had been switched out during the course of the operation by some other department that borrowed the truck. (The truck is a national fleet asset, and has to be available when on an operation for any operational needs.)

Of course, by this time we were about the only ones left in HQ, and the keys to said padlock were nowhere to be found. No doubt they were in some volunteer's luggage, 30,000' over Iowa by this time.

I owned up to having both a set of 30" bolt cutters and an angle grinder with a cutoff wheel in the bus, and so it was decided that I would run home and get the bolt cutters to get the lock off. After about a 15-minute round trip to retrieve them, I started in on the lock, an unassuming looking Master model with a hexagonal shackle.

I'd like to say that the bolt cutters made short work of the lock, as they have done countless times before, but the truth is the other way around: I literally broke the jaws of the cutters. I'm sorry now that I did not take a photo before I threw them away -- it was truly impressive.

Back to the bus I went, sorry, now, that I did not take the extra ten minutes to excavate to the angle grinder on my first trip, buried, as it was, in the depths of the spare parts bay, behind the entire collection of lawn chairs, patio mats, and tables. 20 minutes later I was back at the lock, and, after fiddling around for another five minutes, I was finally able to attack it by having someone hold it in place by jamming the handle of a hammer behind it.

The angle grinder made it through both sides of the shackle in under two minutes, but the damage to the schedule was already done -- it was nearly 11 by the time we started loading the truck.

And so it was that we did not actually finish de-commissioning and packing everything until after 8pm, at which time we slammed the door on the truck and trundled over, truck and all, to Milano's Italian restaurant in Weslaco for a final team dinner. The rest of the gang left for San Antonio first thing Monday morning directly from their hotel in McAllen, so we bid everyone a fond farewell.

Monday for us was really our first chance to catch up on sleep, as well as all those other pesky things that fall by the wayside while we are engrossed in a relief operation, such as paying bills. We both caught up on a month's backlog of email, and finally got a chance to put away myriad things that have piled up around the house, including various tools and other items that we took out to use at the office.

Monday afternoon we drove into Harlingen to check out what remains of the operation, the "transition team" working out of the chapter office. While we elected to officially process off the job effective Tuesday morning, we had a report that the transition team would be wrapping up Wednesday evening, and we agreed to stick around until they were done, to pack up and ship the transition equipment, and provide any support that might be needed along the way. As such, we had made arrangements to keep the rental car until Wednesday evening.

What we learned Monday, though, was that the Wednesday date was a complete red herring -- they will be working all the way through to next Monday. We don't want to stick around with our hands in our pockets till then, nor does it make sense to keep the rental car another week, so we spent a few minutes showing the lead over there how to pack everything and keep the finicky printer running, and told them we'd be around till mid-week if they had any problems. (The car is on a monthly rental, by the way.) We also stopped by the warehouse, also in Harlingen, to check on the lone computer and printer located there, but the place was deserted.

Yesterday we locked our personal computers and all our Red Cross paraphenalia in the rental car, packed up the bus, unplugged, and headed across the bridge to Nuevo Progreso for fuel. (Leaving the computers back at the RV park locked in the car meant not having to explain two computers to Mexican customs, who are rumored to be suspicious of personal computers in general, and more than one in particular, and also not risking having them inspected or possibly detained by US customs, who are invigorated by a recent court ruling affirmng that they can do so -- there's nothing to be found on them, but losing them would be a huge pain.)

As we rolled up to the International Bridge, and got ready to fork over our toll, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent came running across the street to quizz us about why we were driving the bus across, and perhaps persuade us to park on the US side and just walk across. We did not want to debate with him any issues related to importation of diesel fuel (although the amount in question is well within our personal exemption), and so we simply explained that we had our pets with us and they could not be left unattended in a 105° parking lot while we wandered around town. He nevertheless insisted on doing a cursory inspection of the bus, including the bays, making us wonder just exactly what authority CBP has to perform such inspections on vehicles exiting the country.

After crossing the bridge (for US$9.75 -- we had $2 ready as per the sign, which neglected to include the amount for three-axle vehicles), we enjoyed yet another inspection on the Mexican side, by no fewer than four agents, all of whom appeared to just want to look inside, and chat among themselves about what it must cost. We were simply waved through the military checkpoint a few yards further along, and then the real trouble started.

After crossing the first side street and making it half a block down the main boulevard, we were stopped dead in our tracks by a low wire. We saw it snag just as two locals did, and they were kind enough to stop traffic behind us and help back us out to the intersection. We could see similarly low wires all along the street, and we knew from the satellite photos that the Pemex station was all the way at the other end of town. I was able to muster up enough Spanish to ask where the truck route was ("¿dónde está la ruta de camiones?") and they gestured down the side street -- between the two of us we made out enough of what they said to know approximately where we were going.

The side street brought us to a dirt ramp up to a levee, which is where the truck lanes are (the trucks have their own bridge, adjacent to but separate from the auto bridge). The truck route turned out to be paved for only half a mile -- we rumbled along a rutted dirt road the last mile or two. The road came out right at the Pemex station, just north of the highway, and we rolled up to the truck pumps. I was surprised to see the price posted at MX$6.10 per liter, as I had just read that it was $5.93, but that's a difference of only US$0.08 per gallon, and this is the only Pemex in Nuevo Progreso.

We put in a full 302 gallons (1,143 liters) for an even MX$7,000 (US$707) with the tip for the attendant, working out to US$2.34 per gallon, or a savings of around $600 over what we would pay here in Texas.

Sadly, we were unable to see any more of the town or take in a meal, and we simply worked our way back out the way we came in. Uncharacteristically, the Mexicans were more lenient with the bridge toll, assesing us only MX$41 (US$4.10) to cross. We had hoped to stop and turn in our FMT's (tourist permits) from our last jaunt, as they will expire in two months, but there was no place to park Odyssey while doing so. Of course we had the usual circus-clown parade of CBP agents crawling through the bus on the US side, including the guy who had run across the street an hour ago, wondering why we were back so soon. We just recounted the low-wire story, which prompted a smug look and an "I told you so."

Today, after dropping Angel off at the vet (on advice of several people who suggested that the recent pee-on-the-rug episodes might be evidence of a urinary problem), we returned to the international bridge. The rental car is not permitted to leave the US, so we parked in the $2 lot on this side of the bridge, paid the $0.25 pedestrian toll, and walked across to deal with the FMT's. While we were there, we walked a couple blocks along the main street dodging the vendors hawking every imaginable craft, as well as pharmacopeia and dentistry, and had lunch at upscale Arturo's, which reminded us very much of one of our favorite restaurants in San Jose, California, "Original Joes." A very nice meal, complete with a Negro Modelo, came to $20 for the two of us.

Angel, it turns out, does have some type of urinary infection, and so we now have yet another pet on daily meds. At least we have some hope that the incessant peeing will stop when she gets past it. The vet had her all day, and she was very happy to see us when we picked her up this evening.

We're giving the folks in the warehouse until tomorrow morning to get back to us; if not, we'll turn in the car at Avis right across the highway, and get ready to leave town.

1 comment:

  1. I hope Angel is better soon.

    Where are you headed next?


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