Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.
I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.
Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.
I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt – and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.
The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.
I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down.
One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.
After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.
It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either.
Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.
At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.
But wait – not so fast.
First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.
The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.
The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.
Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.
A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.
“I’m good?” I ask.
“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante”
If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.
Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.
We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.
It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.