Daze 2 at the Border

by Jim on 16 April 2010

This is of course part 3 of the story about our recent time at the US/Mexico border.  And we’ve finally made it to day 2.  Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

I mentioned that on the day before "daze 1" I had a pretty bad migraine attack.  I should note that during these crazy days at the border, I was feeling pretty healthy.  I tend to have fewer migraine attacks during times of high stress – whether it’s just the grace of God or the grace of God using some neurological reaction, that’s the way it is.

Of course I would probably keel over after a week or two like this, but it would be a painless death.

Let’s see where we left off.  We were exhausted, had a van that didn’t work, were in one hotel and had to move to the other, and were waiting for a document from Mexico so that we could register our vehicles in Mexico.

The Battery

Once or twice a year we seem to have electrical problems, which seem to be solved every time.  We’ve really had very few problems with this vehicle, but it has had 3 batteries, one alternator rebuild, and seems to me some kind of sensor replaced.

When we got up in the morning the priority was to deal with the van.  Knowing that we had run the battery down (umm, repeatedly) the day before, I thought there was a good chance the battery was at fault.

Knowing no mechanic in the area, and not wanting to spend a lot, I decided to have the battery checked out first.

We packed up and I walked to Walmart (just about a 15 minute walk), picked up a battery case and some tools (oops – I loaned out my tools to someone in Ixtapaluca and forgot to get them back!).

I removed the battery, and had the hotel reception call me a taxi.

Somewhere in here we checked out from the hotel, but they graciously allowed Shari and the kids to hang out in the lobby (where they were to be stranded for quite some time).

I took the battery to AutoZone (we have those in Mexico – not sure where the company originates).  They gave it a charge for an hour, and I went for something to eat (as you may recall, I ate very little the day before – I decided not to be caught like that again).

I walked not too far away to Denny’s.  Ate, and watched as it started to pour again.

I tried to pay with my credit card, but they said, because of the rain, it wasn’t working.  Tried again – no go.  They took my card number in hopes they could get it to work later.  I hope they got it to work eventually!

I made a dash for the store.  I was not far – but far enough to get very soaked.  I arrived in the auto parts store dripping wet.  The cashier made some comment about how wet it was.

I stood dripping in the doorway (on the mat) trying to find the paper they gave me so that I could pick up my battery.  I checked every pocket – where is it?!

As I searched my pockets without success, I kept glancing up, trying to find the counter where I was supposed to pick up the battery.  Where was it?  Wait – have they moved things around in here?  What have they done to the …

I was in the wrong store.

Seriously, there were two very similar auto parts stores side by side.  I had dashed dripping wet into the wrong one.

I walked around (empty battery box in hand) trying to dry a little and give their store a chance, since I had just dripped all over their mat.  But there was nothing I wanted here – so out I went.

In the next store I finally found that receipt (right where I thought it was – don’t know how I missed it the first time!).

I dripped on their mat for a minute then went to check on my battery.  It had been so low that it still wasn’t charged enough to be sure it was all right.  They thought there was a good chance it was fine, but they would need to charge it more to give it a proper test.

Another two hour wait.

Remember our running theme?  Over-tired, bored kids.  They did well stuck in the hotel lobby, but … well, they’re kids.  Day 2 of being stranded places after very little sleep was taking its toll.

There was a restaurant next to the hotel, but it was pouring rain, as you remember.

While I went to wait again, the rain started to let up.  It was mid or late afternoon, and Shari decided to try the restaurant.

When she went in, she soon realized it was a buffet-only kind of place.  Dealing with our two kids in a buffet line is not for the faint of heart.  But somehow Shari pulled it off.  (She says she’s not Wonder Woman, but sometimes I wonder….)

I had nothing to do but wait.  I went somewhere to order a cheesecake, and I ate it … over the two hours … and watched someone steal a coffee.

Then I returned to AutoZone.  The battery checked out fine, and was fully charged.

I carried it to a pay phone, called a taxi, and waited.

Before I got into the first taxi that morning, the driver had gone in to check with hotel reception (to see if I was who I said I was, perhaps??).  I had had the time to read all the taxi rules of the city, which are posted on every taxi.  Laredo is very specific about how every taxi must charge.

So I knew this second driver wasn’t playing fair when I got in and I was already being charged US$7.  "Oh, it’s because I had to come from downtown", he said.  "It’s a flat rate of $12."

This isn’t legal, I thought.  But I decided not to get hostile, and just pay $12 and no more.

The meter was above $12 when we arrived, but he only got $12.  No tip, either.

Or maybe not the Battery

I put the battery back in the van, and got Shari and the kids, who were back in the hotel lobby.  Hannah was studying for her exams, which she had the day after we got back.

We decided to go for a drive down the highway, to make sure the battery was holding its charge.  It was almost evening, I believe.

Of course, we left our trailer at the hotel.

We drove down the highway, and everything seemed fine.  It was low, but holding the charge.  I was just about to turn around, but missed the turnoff.  So we were looking for the next one…

Then we remembered.

There was an after-border checkpoint here.  No way around it now.

Would they wonder what we were doing?  Would the trained dogs find the cat in our engine again?

They were a little confused that we were leaving Laredo… and heading for Laredo… but eventually they let us go.  And we turned around.

About 45 or 50 minutes into our trip (We weren’t intending to be driving for an hour, but with the missed turn and checkpoint…) it happened.  The battery started draining.  Faster and faster.

"I’ll drop you guys off, and go back to AutoZone", I said.  But as we entered Laredo it became apparent there would be no time.  We needed to go straight to AutoZone.  And we did.  Almost.

3 and a half blocks away, the van died.

I walked to AutoZone, and they gave me a booster machine.  I walked back.  No go.

I went back again and they offered to send someone over.

I forget the man’s name, but he was the best.  Smiling, helpful, he came and gave us a boost.

It died again.

Another boost.

Dead again (I think that’s the 7th time, if you’re counting).

He checked the battery – aaahhhh – it’s a loose connection!  He went to get a new connector.

New connector – another boost – another death.

All right, he said, I’ll bring a new battery and get you back to AutoZone – it’s likely the alternator.

Fine.  He got the battery, and we made it back, with him behind (far behind – we burned rubber trying to make it before anything else happened!).

This time the whole family was together – not much to do at AutoZone, however.  Especially for kids who were exhausted beyond recognition (us too, of course, but we have a little more self control.  Sometimes.).

The smiling helpful AutoZone guy checked the alternator – looks like that’s the problem.  I picked out an alternator and they called a mechanic.

The smiling helpful AutoZone guy kept coming back and saying (in Spanish, of course),"What can I do to help?"

He was great.

Two Spanish speaking mechanics arrived.  By now it was late, and dark.  And we were running out of good games to play with the kids in a parking lot.

But it was then I warned the mechanics about the cat.  The body was extracted from our engine – pried out – I won’t say it was all in one piece, but I’ll spare you the details.

The mechanics were working in the dark (we had parked in the one spot in front of the store where the light was burned out), and covering their noses with their shirts because of the smell of … deceased cat.

Fortunately, we had a little flashlight, so holding the light with their teeth or hands, and with occasional help from me, they put in the new alternator.

And at their strong encouragement, I bought some Febreze Auto to spray into the engine.

Our van engine is very compact – it wasn’t an easy job.  I don’t even know how the cat managed to get in.  But enough about the cat.

How to pay the mechanics?  Why, with $US of course – which I now had more of, but still not enough.

So I went with them to an ATM (probably not the brightest move, going with two strangers in the dark – but that’s not the first mistake I made in these two days!).  I dropped something getting out of their vehicle and was in such a rush I jumped up, banging my head on the car window.

Shaking the stars away, I got the money, we went back, and I paid them and thanked them, and we took the kids to the hotel.

Getting to bed again

If we can at least get them in a hotel room, they’ll be contained and can maybe watch TV or something, I thought.  Remember, the trailer (with our suitcases) was still at the hotel we had checked out of that morning.

We checked in, and I left for the old hotel.  But there was nothing on TV, and the kids were so tired they were close to insanity.  It was not a happy place.

Shari decided to give Nathanael a bath, but all our luggage was in the trailer, so she had to put his dirty clothes back on him.

Meanwhile, I picked up the trailer, and returned.  This hotel had a parking garage, so I decided to unhook the trailer and park it in one spot and the van in another.  It was pretty empty, so I carefully got the trailer in position, avoiding the cement pillars, and went to unhook it.

A parking attendant walked up, and explained to me (in Spanish of course) that I should park on the next level, where there was a large gated lot that I could easily turn around in.

Fine – so I manoeuvred out of that spot (not easy to miss those cement pillars) and drove up to the gate.  Another parking attendant told me I could go in.

This time I wasn’t so careful.  Give me a break.  I’d had a busy week.


I had smashed the trailer into the metal gate.

With the parking attendant’s help, we got the trailer loose, and I drove into the lot.

I ran back to check the gate and apologize.  It was a little bent up, but not destroyed.  I didn’t bother to check the trailer.

You may not believe it, but this lot in the parking garage was not level – it was basically a hill.  I have no idea why things were designed that way.

So I was parked uphill, and I went to get a cart to load the luggage on to.  Fortunately, there was a speed bump nearby, so I braced the cart on the speed bump and ran up and down the hill with the luggage.  It was a bit tricky, but I managed it – down the elevator to the lobby, up the elevator to our room (on the 9th floor).

Nathanael was beyond all reason.  But somehow we got them both to bed, and crashed into bed ourselves.  It must have been three or four hours past the poor kids’ bedtime when they finally got to sleep.

What would the next day hold?  We were still waiting for our document, and had to cross the border again.  Find out what happens next in the next post (and the final post on this topic, you’ll be relieved to hear)…

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Peggy April 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

Oh my…I’ve heard MANY border crossing stories, but this one, wins a lifetime achievement award! Perhaps…somehow…the Lord will be glorified through it. I think I feel guilty for not praying for you more!!!

I think I shall pray right now!!!

When we went to Mexico, we crossed at Laredo. That was actually our easier border crossing. The group we went with, packed the powdered milk into plastic bags. I did get questioned-none-too-friendly-like-about that one! Thankfully, I remembered the word for milk…unfortunately, it came out in French. Thankfully, the two words are close enough! (French-lait, Spanish-leche.) A few hours further south, we had another border check. The guard gave our bus a thorough going over. He was going to let us go as long as we left our interpretor with him. Thankfully, he was satisfied when we traded a guitar for her. Ahhh….border-crossings.

Jim April 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Wow – that’s quite a statement coming from you – I’m sure you have some amazing border stories to tell! 😉

Milk in bags – that’s hilarious. And I’m glad you traded your guitar for the interpreter. How did she feel when she realized she was traded for a guitar? I hope it was at least a good guitar!

d. miller April 16, 2010 at 9:06 pm

No way. No. Way.

Jan in Mexico April 16, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I’m enjoying your story, and it’s fun for me because i know Laredo so well that I can tell where you are, can envision you running through the streets in the rain, etc. Listen, we are only 3 hours from the border. If there is anything we can help you with we will do our best to help! Even calling people we know in Laredo to help out, etc… Just FYI for future trips!

Jim April 18, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Yes. Way.

Thanks Jan! 🙂

Grandma C. April 19, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Jim: You know what I often say: “God uses challenges like these to build character. You were a “character” before, now you must be a “super character!” 😉

I’m reading these postings just one per day. I don’t think I could handle any more than that. Oh, by the way, thanks for not going into detail about the poor cat’s condition.

Luv ya!

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