Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Rest of the Story

I spent the last day of my sabbatical in July 2005 doing stuff I did not plan to do. I got up early to take a friend of mine to the airport to catch her flight home to Kansas City. Turning out of a parking lot, the rear passenger side wheel of my Honda Accord struck the curb. I drove only a bit before the unmistakable feel of a flat tire got my attention. I’d never had a flat in this car.

I pulled into a parking lot near Bay Area and I-45 and went through the first flat tire ritual of locating all the parts to the jack, retrieving the mini-spare Honda provided, loosening the lug nuts on the flat, raising the car, and removing the useless, deflated tire.

When I attempted the put the spare on I discovered that the holes did not align with the studs on the car. No matter how I turned it, it just didn’t fit. Honda, I concluded, had made a mistake and provided me a spare that just didn’t match.

I called someone to take my friend to catch her flight and then I called the local Honda dealer. They quickly dispatched a tow truck. The driver got out and listened to my explanation. Then, apparently thinking I was not bright enough to align holes and studs, attempted to put the spare on anyway. “I doesn’t fit,” he concluded. “I know. That’s why I called you,” I said, without resorting to a sarcastic tone.

He took my Accord and me to the nearest dealership, where I experienced the worst customer service I have ever had at any business anywhere. No one seemed interested in helping me. They wanted to charge me $75 for the tow. They wanted over $200 to replace the tire. They didn’t have a spare to fit my car. Since they had not sold me the car they refused to take any responsibility for the spare that wouldn’t fit. I was there all morning and most of the afternoon attempting to solve the problem. With only three tires I couldn't go anywhere. Eventually they put on an old tire they had in the back, which allowed me to drive to the Goodyear dealer where I had a road hazard policy on the tire and where I would have been already had the spare fit.

I could write a lot more about that experience, but I won’t. (Actually, I did write more in a blog post a few days later, but it was written with such an angry tone that I soon removed it.) I wrote a detailed letter to the owner of the dealership and copied the president of Honda America, neither of whom replied or even acknowledged the letter. Although I had used that dealership for service on this and a previous Honda, I have not returned to them for three years. The dealership where I'd originally purchased the car eventually took responsibility for the towing charge and provided a replacement spare. Now they do my service as well.

Now for the rest of the story.

A few weeks ago, I stepped outside and noticed a tire was flat on the Honda, which my daughter now drives. I changed the tire and in the process scratched my knuckles badly on the concrete. A day or so later I was having lunch with my friend Mike and his family. He noticed my scarred fingers and inquired.
Mike: “How’d you do that?”
Me: “Changing a flat on the Honda.”
Mike: “Hope the spare fit.”
Me: (Thinking he was referring to the event above.) “It did this time.”
Mike: (puzzled) “This time? What do you mean?”
Me: (puzzled – Why would he say that when he obviously knew about the other time, having alluded to it?) “What do you mean?”

Mike then proceeded to remind me of an event that had taken place sometime prior to the July 2005 flat tire, rotten customer service experience. His son had gotten not one, but two flats on their Accord across town late one night. Mike and I drove my car over to help him. I let him use the spare from my car along with his own to get him home.

A few days later, Mike’s son had stopped by to return “my spare.” Mike told me that his son had wanted me to have an unused one, so he'd picked one up at at junk yard. Mike had always wondered if he'd gotten the correct one. I thought he'd put my spare back in the trunk. I had completely and thoroughly forgotten about this entire episode.

Consequently, the case of the non-fitting spare in July 2005 was not Honda’s fault after all (although I tell you there was no effort at taking care of a customer’s problem). They had not supplied a defective spare. They were not responsible. I had formed an opinion and an attitude on far too little information.

And I never would have known that, except for the remarkable confluence of another flat, skinned knuckles, and lunch with a friend and his family. Here’s what I wonder. Where else have I formed judgments with T.L.I. (too little information)? Where have others formed such judgments of me?

Seems to me I have no business judging much of anything. T.L. I.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Green Bus

Rod Johnson carefully explained how to ride the bus from his neighborhood to the central area of Oaxaca City, near the zocalo. We took notes. It was simple. We would catch the bus two blocks from his house. It would make one right turn onto a main road. Later it would make one left turn by the Goodyear store. Then it would go straight to the zocolo. He told us where to get off the bus and he told us how to catch the bus back to his house.

“Go to Crespo street near the big church. The bus will have an all green front and will say 'P. Jardin,' which stands for 'Panteon Jardin.' Take that bus and it will bring you right back where you started. It is the only bus that comes here. No problem. You will need to be back here by seven for dinner.”
He showed us all this on a map to be sure we understood. He gave us a cell phone to take with us in case we needed help.

Eight of us successfully rode the bus to the zocalo to meet the rest of our team for lunch. They have been staying downtown at a bed and breakfast. We got off one stop later than we planned, but that was no problem. It only added a couple of blocks to our walk to the restaurant.

After lunch the group divided up to do a variety of touristy kinds of things. Melinda, Jenna, and I were off on our own to find a cup of coffee, take in a couple of art museums, and shop a bit.

In a couple of hours, our mission was successfully accomplished, so we headed for the bus stop at about 5:45. Just as we got there a green bus pulled up. On the front it said, “Jardin.” I got on the bus and asked the driver in my fluent Spanish whether this bus were going to Jardin. He nodded and took my money. We settled down into the gray plastic seats and prepared for our journey back to the Johnson’s house.

A sign on the bus facing us gave us great assurance. Jesus is on the cross saying in Spanish: “No one loves you like I do.”

Jenna noted that she’d ridden the bus twice before and that this bus did not look like any of the other two. I assured her and Melinda that it said “Jardin” on the front and that the driver had confirmed our destination. Just to be sure, I tapped the gentleman in front of me on the shoulder and asked him in my fluent Spanish whether this bus were going to Jardin. “Si, Jardin.” I was confident that we were on our way to dinner. Melinda, not so much.

When the bus got to the main street heading back to the house, it made a right turn, just as it was supposed to. The next turn would be left, a good way down the road. But the left turn came sooner than expected. We found ourselves following a circuitous route through unfamiliar neighborhoods, but still generally moving in the right direction.

After about twenty minutes we passed a landmark I recognized from the night before when we had gone to eat at “El Gran Taco” not too far from the Johnson’s place. It was an unmistakable veterinarian’s office painted bright blue and called “El Gato Nerd” (The Cat Nerd). I was sure we were close to home. Melinda, not so much.

Soon the bus came to a stop at an intersection none of us recognized. The driver told us this was the end of the route. We got out and surveyed our surroundings. Nothing looked familiar. We were standing directly in front of a pharmacy that was closing up for the day. We spoke to the proprietor in our fluent Spanish. (We later learned she is a dentist and her husband a physician. Her name was Maribel.)

Turns out we were not in Panteon Jardin. We were in Colonia Jardin. These are two different places, both served by green buses. But we had the cell phone. We called Connie. We could not tell her exactly where we were. We put Dr. Maribel on the phone to speak with our Dr. Christy Tharenos, who speaks better Spanish than anyone else available. But still they could not communicate where we were since this was her first trip to Oaxaca.

So Dr. Maribel told us she’d take us home. We climbed the back seat of her Toyota and I sat on what must have been one of her children’s electronic games. It began to play Ode to Joy in computer tones and I could not turn it off. Accompanied by Beethoven, we made our way through dirt streets. In only a matter of minutes we passed a familiar sight – the church building where we had worshiped this morning. We knew our way from there.

I regretted my impulsive decision that put us on the wrong green bus going to the wrong Jardin. But all’s well that ends well. That’s what I think. Melinda, not so much.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

OrangeShark Responds

Got this email from my buddies at OrangeShark on Thursday:

Thanks for contacting OrangeShark support. Thanks for your patience. As per your request we have deleted your entire contact list. Those addresses will not receive any of our OrangeShark emails. We maintain our user's privacy, we will not sell or share to any other person or do business.

I will believe it later.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Oaxaca, Mexico – A chapulina is a fried grasshopper. The saying in Oaxaca is that if you eat one, you will return to Oaxaca. I have eaten at least three that I recall. I don’t recommend them, really. Even if you don’t think about what you are doing, they still don’t taste that great. And you can get the little legs stuck between your teeth. But I have eaten some, and so I have returned to Oaxaca.

This is my first journey back to Oaxaca since 2005 (see posts from May 2005). Melinda, Jenna, and fifteen others, most of whom are part of the UBC congregation, arrived on Wednesday, 6 August, as a medical mission team working with local missionaries and friends, Rod and Connie Johnson. Part of our group is staying downtown at La Casa de Mis Recuerdos B&B and the rest are staying with Rod and Connie, who are great hosts. We will conduct a total of four medical clinics, worship with Rod and Connie at their church, and enjoy the beauty of Oaxaca, its people, history, and scenery.

On Thursday, we conducted a clinic in San Andreas, a village Melinda, Jenna, and I visited in 2005. There is no evangelical witness in the village and the team of Christians bringing health care and compassion to the people of the area goes a long way toward preparing the soil for Rod and others to return to with a gospel witness. We saw about 75 patients that day. I was assigned the work of counting pills in the pharmacy, which I was able to master eventually.

Yesterday we drove only twenty-five miles, but it took us more than an hour. We made our way through winding mountain roads, with sheer drops on the side. We traveled along dirt roads pocked with deep holes. Melinda and I rode in the Ford 150 with Fernando, hauling the medical supplies. We also had plenty of time to practice our Spanish.

The village of San Pedro is located on the top of a mountain and has a population of only about 150.. They have a spring to meet their water needs, so people have lived in this location for more than 3,000 years. The ancient Catholic church in the village was built in the 1500’s by the Spanish. The Zapotec Indian village it originally served contained pyramids, temples, and tombs that have since been covered over. According to one local legend, some of Montezuma’s relatives lived at the site when the Spaniards were pursuing the Aztecs. The church building contains stones with ancient hieroglyphics still showing, stones the Spanish borrowed from Indian ruins to construct their house of worship. An American archeological team is making preparations for an excavation of the site.

No evangelical Christians are in the village of San Pedro, but they were very open to our being there. We saw perhaps a third of the population. At mid-day the women of the village served us a meal you could not buy in Houston for less than twenty dollars, I suspect. They brought out mountain trout stuffed with tomatoes, onions, and a sauce, wrapped in a leaf of hoja santa, baked in foil over coals, black beans, rice with vegetables, a squash casserole, and a cactus salad. We had blue corn tortillas for bread and horchata (rice milk) with small pieces of cantaloupe and honeydew melon floating in it.

Our meals at night have been incredible as well. Asuncion, Fernando’s wife, has been cooking for us. Last night’s dinner was pozole, a chicken soup made with hominy.

Today we have taken off for some shopping, sightseeing and errands. I seldom make a journey without some added challenge. This time it was luggage. Everyone else’s bags arrived with our plane. Mine arrived three days later. Melinda and I went with Rod to the airport to reclaim my luggage after dropping everyone else off at the market. Our rental van broke down near the airport on the way. A guy from Alamo picked us up and took us on to the airport. After we retrieved my bag we took a taxi back to Rod’s house. Meanwhile, the rest of the group enjoyed some shopping at the downtown market and a few took a taxi to see Monte Alban, the ancient Indian ruins just outside of Oaxaca.

Tomorrow we will worship and visit more in the city. On Monday we travel to another village for a clinic and then on Tuesday we will provide a clinic for a local orphanage and its neighborhood. On Wednesday we return to Houston.