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Looking out my Backdoor: What you gonna do when the lights go out?


October 3, 2019

Stand on the curb of any street in any town in Mexico and look up. No, not that high. Those are just the ubiquitous buzzards, turkey vultures, also fondly, tongue in cheek, called the Mexican Eagle.

Yes, lower down, that’s what I want to show you, the leftover-spaghetti-mess of wires criss-crossing overhead, connecting each habitation to power, cable, satellite, internet and phone services.

When I lived in an apartment on a busy street In Mazatlan, for entertainment, I watched the men from CFE (electricity) or Telmex or Megacable climb a pole across the street and add another wire, string it across to its destination, and voila, another connection made without removing any unused wires. Why not reuse a former wire? Not for me to know.

On some streets, the overhead wires resemble strange art installations. I imagine creatures in an UFO trying to decipher a message written in unknown tongue.

Here in our tiny colonia on the rancho, it’s no different. From poles at the entrance, at dirt-street intersections, overhead from house to house, spaghetti. I try to ignore the implications. The wires carry what they are designed to carry, so why worry.

History. I’m told at one time not that long ago, all the houses here — 17, not all inhabited at present — were hooked up to one electric meter. The residents figured out a system to pay the monthly bill. Rumor has it that bill-paying time generated a clutch of arguments, disagreements and on occasion, fisticuffs.

Which eventually led to separate meters for each residence. One spaghetti, two spaghetti, and whenever a casita gets a new resident, three spaghetti, four!

No shock or surprise to me when I returned from a two-week holiday in Mazatlan, and the power went out. Let me modify that. My power went out. Only mine.

An interruption of electrical power is a nuisance. But one copes.

Called Josue to rescue me. He fiddled around and replaced a little black rectangular thingy inside the larger gray box. Said he’d not seen one of those burn out before and let me know there might be a problem that caused this problem, but for now, I had electricity again, and as soon as he had time, he’d run a check on my wires.

Twenty-four hours later, my lights went out again. This was not a CFE problem. This was a personal problem.

My thoughts veered to the strange. A mere three weeks ago I launched myself into space and put out my head lights — crash! — on a marble tile floor. Did I, in a past life, put out someone else’s lights? Is the Great Wizard-person of Life trying to get me to examine my conscience? Have I a problem that needs illumination? (Undoubtedly!)

While I’m being weird, Josue examined the wires, beginning at the source, and found the seat of my problem, a hot seat, so to speak. Out at the main breaker, where a wire, a ground and a wire, go into the big meter, one of the wires had burned to a crisp.

Josue explained. When those men from the past, Joe and Charlie and Ernie and Harry and Tom, once they’d cooled down from inept fisticuffs, after all, they were all in their 70s and 80s and it was not a pretty sight, decided to install individual meters, they went on the cheap. Why use copper wire and brass fittings when aluminum is a mere fraction of the cost?

Meanwhile, Josue and Leo ran a homemade rig from the power source next door to my electrical box and stole power for me so I’d have lights overnight and could keep my refrigerator running. I’ve seen worse solutions put into action.

Josue bought proper wire and parts and within a few hours had restored my service, complete with copper and brass in appropriate places. He fixed me up without adding to the overhead strings of noodles.

You might wonder about, you know, code? I suggest you don’t ask. I might have to fight you.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com/. Email [email protected]


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