The young man behind the long counter at the periferico Boxito megastore smiled knowingly in what could be described as an almost-smirk, as he heard me out patiently on my third visit to this famous Yucatan plumbing supply institution.
“So why did they sell you that?” he asked with a friendly yet slightly chiding laugh. It was a general question, not one that required an answer because the only answer was to say I was stupid, that I believed the ‘expert’, or that the guy who sold me ‘that’ was an idiot.
For those who don’t know me, there is a reason I don’t attempt to fix things around the house myself; it’s because I am a complete idiot with a wrench or any hand tool for that matter. Anything I try to fix becomes more broken, anything I try to replace I ruin with my clumsy attempts at being a handyman. Plumbing, electrical, anything mechanical, it matters not.
Our hot water heater, thanks to our hard Yucatan water and its age; two years of life which seems to be the lifespan of electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures, died. It sprung a leak from somewhere in its bowels and there was no replacing the water tank and so, it was time to find its replacement. And what with our chilling Yucatan winter, the hot water was a must, even if it was just for the washing machine or the kitchen sink. There is something about washing dishes with hot water…
Changing a boiler – how hard can this be? Disconnect input and output water hoses, disconnect gas. Remove boiler from where it is and put a new one in its place. Re-attach water and gas lines. Simple, straightforward.
Maybe for a normal person, but not for me.
The disconnecting process went smoothly. A couple of turns of my one all-purpose wrench and all the hoses were disconnected and the boiler was on the ground on its side, purging itself of its 40 liters of accumulated warm water.
I then went to Boxito (boh-SHEE-toh) a very well-known plumbing supply company in Merida, to buy a new boiler. Nothing fancy, as a previous experience with a snazzy Bosch water heater at 10,000 plus pesos had taught me that the more expensive brands are too delicate and no match for the rougher elements of the Yucatan. I found something cheap, under 2,000 pesos and brought it home. I figured that at that price the boiler was almost disposable, should I screw up the installation in a major way.
Turns out that the hoses feature 3/4 inch connectors on the old boiler and on this newer, smaller version, they are 1/2 inch. I will need a reductor to make this connection. I also wonder where the spark comes from to light the gas and heat the water
Back I go, on my second visit. I mention to the Boxito man that I need the little piece that will convert my 3/4 inch to a 1/2 inch whatever and we had the longest possible conversation on this admittedly trivial subject.
The salesperson I was talking with accompanied me to the counter where the ‘experts’ and their computer screens are, explained the situation and the conversation took many exciting twists and turns. The most interesting aspect of the dialogue is that it was all between the salesperson and the expert. The expert would ask questions about what I, the client, wanted or needed. I reminded him that I was actually standing in front of him and he could simply direct his gaze and questions at me, which resulted in a rather sullen attempt at customer service, completely at odds with the optimistic motivational posters behind him describing the importance of customer service and how important us customers were to Boxito.
We then went into a lengthy discussion on whether or not the boiler needed batteries. I explained to him that the flames will ignite only with the help of a spark which must be created by either an electrical connection, a battery or a little miniature caveman with flint fire creation tools inside the boiler. The expert was adamant that it did not need batteries and so naturally my response was to go to the showroom floor and take the demo and place it in front of him, opening the battery compartment for him to admire. At this point he admitted that yes, that model needed batteries.
Finally, with the connectors (and two D cell batteries) in my hand (after paying at what appeared to be a bank teller window where a humorless and disinterested woman took my money with a minimum of amiability) I headed back home to complete my installation.
Of course, these connectors did not work, as they were missing the female or male (can’t remember which) threaded part where you actually screw the hose onto the thing. Not being a plumber, I stupidly did not become aware of this fact until I was actually trying to put all the pieces together. The batteries remained in their blister pack for the moment.
A third and thankfully final visit to Boxito was the charm. Another expert, this time one who actually knew what he was talking about, quickly and after the chiding (above) was over and done with, furnished me with the appropriate part. The third visit was worth the 19 pesos it cost me for the connectors.
At home, the connectors worked, the batteries were inserted and voila – nothing happened. At the end of all this, I had to call in my plumber to finish the installation; he did the wrapping of the connections with Teflon tape and stopped the leaks from my rather poor installation and switched the position of the batteries (I swear I did this and nada) and lo and behold: hot water in the kitchen sink.
How nice it would have been to have those folks at Boxito actually know what they are doing and take preemptive action to ensure the customer’s happiness that seems so important to them, at least on the posters. Not everyone knows what they are doing but this was a pretty cut and dry case and I could have left feeling like they actually were interested. All the radio advertising in the world with offers of free tacos (they do this often) are wasted if this is the customer experience, in my somewhat opinionated opinion.
For now, I will continue to rely on my plumber and my electrician and my mechanic for all my home (and car) repair needs.