You all know my neighbor Jamie. Surely you remember the fun times she had moving into the apartment across the hall? Well, even though she succeeded in moving in, the adventures didn’t end. And I’m not talking about the
sisterwives without the weird part communal dinners. This is the story of Jamie and her dryer. You’re probably asking yourself, “How in the world can a dryer take up an entire blog post?”.
Hold my beer.
A month after Jamie moved in, she got her utility bill. That was all fine, except there was no charge for the gas. Charges for water, electricity and sewage were there but no listing at all for the gas. Jamie is not one to leave stones unturned so she contacted the apartment managers at Repulsive Rentals. This is not the real name of the apartment managing company because you just never know how they’ll feel about being mentioned in my world-famous blog. But the name reflects the experience.
Upon receiving Jamie’s message about the missing gas charge, this was Repulsive Rentals’ response:
The next month the bill came and yet again there was no charge for gas. Jamie notified RR again.
This continued every month with the same lack of response. Sometimes Jamie would receive a “we are working on it” response but most of the time there was no response.
In June, 4 months after moving in, Jamie stepped up the comms and started sending weekly Whatsapp messages, asking Repulsive Rentals what they were planning to do about her gas situation. She was starting to be concerned that at any moment her gas would be turned off. Those are the kinds of scenarios you try to avoid in Colombia because reversing an action is much harder than avoiding it. Much harder. Read: darn near impossible.
Well, gas companies in Colombia are slow but they aren’t dummies. They aren’t going to stand idly by while someone uses their gas with no payment. In July – 5 months after Jamie moved in – the situation escalated to whole new level. EPM, the utility company, sent Jamie a letter. They noted that gas usage was happening but there was no official account. They said that it needed to be fixed otherwise the gas will be shut off.
Jamie was having none of that “gas turning off” business. She did not want to lose her dryer OR her hot water, not to mention her cooking options. So now she really started putting the pressure on RR to get this situation resolved.
They started working on the situation, although very very slowly.
Until they worked quickly. This is Colombia, after all. The #1 adjective we have for Colombia is “inconsistent”.
One day Jamie was having a pretty unpleasant dental appointment. It lasted several hours and involved some pretty serious meds. At that moment, when Jamie was under sedation, RR contacted her and said that the EPM utilities representative needed to come to her apartment that afternoon. At first Husband Scott responded “no way Jose“. But even in her drugged-up state, Jamie knew the importance of getting this situation resolved, so she agreed to have EPM come over while she was recovering. Scott got Jamie home from the dentist, got her tucked into bed out of the fray of the incoming utility guys and waited.
After all that…. EPM never came by.
But EPM did come by – with no notice – quite a few times after that. It was never clear what was the purpose of each visit, but Jamie knew that if it was getting her closer to having a legal gas account, it was worth it. After each visit Jamie would say “all good now? gas is ok?” and the dude would say “sí señora“. And then a few days later another EPM guy would show up. It was like a circus, but as long as there was some progress, Jamie tolerated it.
Finally the guy who supposedly had “all the power” came by. He did a 4-hour inspection of the entire house, including looking for leaks and safety hazards and anything in between. All was well. Jamie gave him a glass of water, offered him a snack and it looked like the process was finally ending.
And then he inspected the dryer.
Now, in order for this story to make sense, you need to understand that Jamie is using the FSO (Figure Shit Out) method for ventilating her dryer. There is no permanent venting system for the lint tube that attaches to the dryer so Jamie got a long tube and stretched it to her laundry room window. I did the exact same thing, as I am also a fan of the FSO method.
Well, EPM doesn’t like FSO. They said that the gas flowing through the tube was a fire hazard.
EPM, do you even know how dryers work??? There is no gas flowing through that tube! It’s hot air. Jamie googled the information, tried to show the guy that there was no harm in the tube stretching out the window, and tried to explain how dryers work. Nope nope and nope. EPM workers are not taught to think independently. They are trained to do what they are told and nothing else. This guy clearly read the “no long ventilation tubes sticking out windows” memo in the employee breakroom.
At some point, after failing to educate Mr. EPM on how dryers worked, Jamie decided not to argue with them and instead play their game. She expressed shock and concern and asked “What can we do about my this dangerous dryer that will obviously kill all of us if left to its own devices?”. Because if they are presenting a problem, surely they have the solution too. Note that the EPM worker did not notice Jamie changing her tune on the dryer reaction. He’s probably thinking that her inconsistency is cultural.
So now that Jamie is speaking their language and is receptive to their skewed version of problem-solving, EPM says “You have to get a permanent ventilation system. “
Oh! Is that all? No problem. The cost of labor is cheap here, a permanent system that meets all fire safety standards is surely better than an FSO system and in any case, RR or the owner of the apartment will pay for it. This will benefit the next renter too, so this is a win-win-win scenario! OK, says Jamie. “Les Doodis”. (That’s FSO for “Let’s Do This”)
RR seemed to accept this and began – slowly – working on the work order. Not much was happening but we were used to that by now.
A few days later, on the way home from Pilates, Jamie and I got into the elevator and we noticed a worker dude carrying a dryer tube. We were almost to our floor and I decided that we couldn’t let this opportunity pass us by. This conversation ensued:
Allison: Hello random elevator passenger. Why are you carrying a dryer tube?
Dryer Tube Carrying Man: It’s to create a permanent ventilation system for the dryer in apartment 1202.
This is exactly what Jamie needs! How fortuitous! Jamie likes to call me the Mayor because I seem to know a lot of people in our little corner of Medellin and I’m always making connections between them. I’ll agree with her, because I hate to argue. But part of it is that I just talk to everyone. EVERYONE. Elevator passengers included. We’ll call the elevator-dryer-tube-carrying guy “Jon” for the sake of this blog post.
So after a brief chat, Jon invites us to visit him on the 12th floor and see his work. We take a couple of pictures for RR and Jon says he’ll drop by Jamie’s apartment on his way out and do some measuring and give her a quote. This is fantastic! We are really helping out RR by spoon feeding them a guy who can do the work. #winning
Jon drops by an hour or two later, just like he said he would (this is already better service than RR and EPM, combined) and gives Jamie a quote for 100 bucks more-or-less. No problem, especially because Jamie doesn’t have to pay for it. We are so confident that this process is going to work, we make an appointment with Jon to come three days later and install the ventilation system. Jamie forwards all the info to RR, thinking that she’s being World’s Most Helpful Tenant, solving her own problems. All they have to do is pay the dude and this chapter of the Living in Jamie’s Apartment With Illegal Gas will be done! Easy peasy, lemon squeezie.
Upon receiving the quote for the work, RR contacts Jamie and says that the owner of the apartment does not want to put in a permanent ventilating system and the work cannot be done.
First rule of living in Colombia: don’t ask why. Even if you get an answer, it won’t make any sense. “Because blue. That’s why.” But Jamie asked why anyway. She asked why, she pleaded, she explained, she sent Google links, she asked why again.
So that left Jamie in a conundrum. What are our options, RR? They say “you can’t use your dryer, EPM has to close off the gas connection in the laundry room. Then there will be no fire hazard and they’ll sign off on the final inspection. You’ll have a legal gas account for other uses like hot water and cooking. Just no dryer usage. No problemo”.
What is Jamie to do? Continue living with no dryer? Pay to install the ventilation system herself and hope she’s long gone when the owner notices? Burn down the building? All perfectly good options.
Luckily for the rest of us in the building, she went with an FSO option. She would cap off the gas tube to the dryer, EPM would come for a final inspection and sign off, and then she would proceed to uncap the gas tube and reconnect the dryer. And by “she” I mean “someone who knows how to do all this stuff”. Sounds like a plan. Sounds like some great FSO happening.
So EPM guy came again, discussed how dangerous the tube was (dude, use Google, it’s really not) and capped off the gas faucet that goes to the dryer. Jamie played a convincing Tenant-Who-Is-Grateful-The-Gas-Company-Is Concerned-for-Her-Safety. She put all the dryer parts inside the dryer, the dryer was pulled away from the wall and she even had some wet clothes hanging on a drying rack to prove that she was not using the dryer. It was a perfect class in method acting. Sally Field would be proud.
All went as planned. EPM signed off on the apartment and stated that a legal gas account could finally be opened. She even got a certificate that stated all safety standards had been met. The certificate is good for 5 years. Yes! Finally! We are done. Right?
No. This story is not done. Not at all.
The next step is to get that gas uncapped so she can use her dryer. We had two options of who we could call (and be “we” I mean “me” because Jamie will not be making any phone calls in Spanish thankyouverymuch muchasgracias.) We could ask Oscar – the guy who services my apartment – who you met in this blog post. We knew he would come but we also knew he would tell us 184 stories about how much he needs money, his son is in danger of being kicked out of school because they can’t pay his tuition and his wife’s birthday is coming up. This is Oscar’s MO every time and as much as we love the guy, it just gets annoying. He’s a great fix-it guy and problem solver, although clearly notsomuch when it comes to his own personal budget.
So we say “Hey! We know that dryer guy who worked in the building! We have his card, let’s call him!”. Remember Jon, who put in the permanent ventilation system on the 12th floor? Yeah, him! Surely he can do something so simple as just hooking up the dryer to the gas. This is child’s play for Dryer Jon.
So I call Jon and got the receptionist (probably Jon’s cousin) and pretend like I just need a simple new dryer hook up. Just uncap the gas, that’s all. Nothing to see here. The lady said “sure”, takes down the details and says she’ll send me a quote. About an hour later I get a copy of a letter dated 2 months earlier written to Repulsive Rentals, giving them a quote of installing the permanent ventilation system.
Jamie just about died. Jamie is trying to hook up this dryer completely hidden from RR and from EPM. What are the chances Jon’s company is actually organized and keeps her apartment address on file AND refers to a previous quote they gave RR for the apartment??? This is crazy. Jamie freaked out. She envisioned this scenario in her head:
Jon Dryer Guy, having lunch with Other Cousin Who Works for EPM:
Jon: Oh, did I tell you? That crazy gringa over in Poblado had me go and uncap her gas faucet to hook up her dryer.
Cousin at EPM: What? That gas has to be capped, that was the agreement!
Jon: Oh you better go over there and arrest her, that’s not OK.
At least that’s how the conversation went down in Jamie’s brain. I don’t think that Jon has a cousin that works at EPM and even if he did, they probably wouldn’t discuss her dryer at lunch. But nope, Jamie was not having any of it. She needed to find a different solution.
So we promptly denied any need for that gas uncapping from Jon and his extended family (#inconsistent) and we called Oscar. At least he would not tell RR he was there! He may not manage his money well but he’s loyal to us.
Oscar came over, uncapped the gas, hooked up the dryer and all was well. Success! Gas working, illegal dryer hooked up to legal gas account, winner winner pollo dinner! By this time it was the end of November. It took 9 months to complete this process.
Now fast forward to January.
I was out to lunch and as I was returning home I get a text from Jamie.
EPM is here, she says. They are concerned about the major increase in gas usage from one month to the next and they want to inspect the apartment. Jamie 1) does not like unannounced guests, and 2) does not want anyone from EPM seeing that her dryer is hooked up, as the account is based on having NO dryer connection. She’s pretty sure that on the top of her account file in big red letters it says NO DRYER. She’s pretty sure the EPM guy carries handcuffs and drives a car that has a prison cell in the back. Like a dog catcher but for illegal dryer users.
The two guards for our building, Carlos and Mario, were trying to deal with this situation when I arrived home. It was complicated by the fact that Jamie’s home phone does not work and yet her home phone is the only number the guards are authorized to call. So the guards usually call me to find out if the person can proceed to Jamie’s apartment. I was gone so when they called, they got Zoe.
Guard Mario, calling my apartment: Is Jamie home? EPM is here.
Zoe: Oh, yes she’s home!
Zoe then contacts Jamie.
Zoe: Miss Jamie, the guards called and said EPM is here. So I said you were home. You’re welcome!
Jamie: OMG no! Tell them I’m not home!
Zoe to Guards: Oh, sorry Mario. I made a mistake, she’s out of the country. But if Rappi the delivery guy comes with her groceries you can let him pass. Totally normal.
Zoe has learned to FSO. And not ask questions about what Jamie and I are up to. Meanwhile Guard Mario is so confused, he comes up to the apartment and rings Jamie’s doorbell. Jamie, having no peephole (how did I end up with the only working phone AND the only peephole on our floor?), opens the door.
Now, you need to know a little story about the guards Mario and Carlos from about 5 days before. Jamie left a bag of school uniform articles of clothing in the lobby for the guards to give to her daughter’s school friend. Jamie left the bag in the lobby with Mario to avoid seeing the mother (avoiding awkward small talk in Spanish is a
full time job hobby of Jamie’s). Jamie went so far as to say to the mother “you can come pick up the bag but I’m not at home.”. #whitelie But when the family arrived for the bag, Mario was at lunch. Apparently he forgot to tell Carlos the bag was there so Carlos tried to call Jamie (her phone actually worked at this point… that’s another story). But there was a Spanish Miscommunication.
Carlos (who speaks as fast as an auctioneer): Miss Jamie, there is a lady here to see you. Can I let her up to your apartment?
What Jamie Heard: Miss Jamie, the lady is here looking for her bag.
Jamie: Si si, Carlos! The bag is right there, please give it to her.
What Carlos Heard: Si si, Carlos. Let the lady come directly to my apartment!
Carlos let the ENTIRE FAMILY into the building and they went to Jamie’s apartment. Unable to see through any peephole, when the doorbell rang Jamie answered it. She was mid-chew from her breakfast, having barely rolled out of bed (and recall, she told the mom that she was not home). The entire family stood at Jamie’s door, just having been to church, so they were dressed in their finest. They proudly handed Jamie a gift for Coco, as a thank you for the uniform pieces. If Jamie could have, she would have slammed the door in their faces, this was the intensity of how much she did not want to see or converse with this family under the current circumstances.
But she put on her
big girl panties biggest smile and walked back down to the lobby, making small talk in the elevator while picking breakfast morsels out of her teeth. She showed Carlos where Mario had put the bag and sent the thankful mom on her way.
The next day Jamie had Mad Spanish Words for Mario and his faulty communication skills and not telling Carlos about the bag for the Lovely Family With The Gift For Coco. Mario did not have a lot to say in response. He did manage to mutter “I’m sorry” in English. When Jamie rolls out her Mad Spanish Words you pretty much have nothing to say in response. Remember that point for later.
So back to the dryer story. We’ve got the same cast of characters – Mario and Carlos – trying to deal with the EPM guy standing in the lobby when I get there. Having received Jamie’s text, I knew that EPM was an Unwelcome Visitor. Here’s how the conversation went down.
Me to EPM guy: She’s not home.
Guard Carlos, talking to Other Guard Mario on the walking talkie: Is she home?
Mario: I’m standing right here with her.
Me to EPM guy: She’s not home.
Me to guards: But if her maid Gloria shows up you can let her in. Totally normal.
Carlos and Mario and EPM guy: [silent confusion]
I knew it made no sense to any of them and I knew that EPM guy knew I was lying but I didn’t care. This was like the time I tried to use Jamie’s membership card at Costco and they figured out it wasn’t me. I told a bold-faced lie.
I told the EPM guy that I know why he is there, that he’s checking on the unusual spike in activity from one month to the next and he’s come to check for any leaks. This is good, in normal situations. But Jamie’s situation is anything but normal. And any look into the last few months of her account will tell EPM that. I try to explain to the EPM guy that she, 1) just got her account working, and 2) was gone for a big chunk of December. So there would be no “normal” month for awhile.
The EPM guy was not having any of my story. He wanted access to her apartment because apparently he was trained to inspect apartments and not deal with gringa lies and logic. I said one final “She’s not home” and I sent the EPM guy on his way.
When I got to my apartment, I find Jamie and Guard Mario standing in the hallway. Jamie was trying to show Mario the endless EPM forms that had already been completed. Mario was pretty much wide eyed, probably hoping not to piss off Jamie yet again. After I showed up he bowed out as Jamie turned her ranting and raving into English and continued with me.
Since The Cates were leaving Medellin soon, she really only has about about 4 more weeks to hold off EPM, being sick or somewhat unavailable every time they stop by. What are the chances EPM would send another guy? I mean, they probably have a lot of these visits to make, if they put Jamie’s apartment back in rotation, it’ll take a few weeks, at the earliest, to come back up on the schedule. RIGHT???
EPM Dude came back 2 days later and this time he somehow managed to sneak all the way up to the apartment. He appeared at the door when Jamie’s maid showed up to work. And it wasn’t even the same EPM guy! It’s like he was stalking her! Maybe Jon had lunch with his cousin after all??? Maybe in addition to NO DRYER stamped in big letters on her file, it says BIG BONUS IF YOU MAKE IT INTO HER APARTMENT, SHE’S A SNEAKY ONE.
The day that Stalker EPM Dude #2 showed up I didn’t know what was happening because I did not receive any phone call from the guards. But I heard loud, Mad Spanish Words happening in the hallway so I looked out my peep hole and saw an EPM guy standing in Jamie’s doorway. When I spied the EPM guy, my very first thought was of you, loyal readers. I knew this was a opportunity to get a picture for this blog post so I nonchalantly sauntered into the hallway and secretly snapped photos. Jamie was pretty much yelling at him, handing him form after form that she’s received from EPM while telling him he could not enter. I joined the hallway party but did not let on that I spoke Spanish. At this point Jamie’s Mad Spanish Words were much more effective than anything I could offer.
After lecturing the EPM guy for about 15 minutes, Jamie got through to him that he was not getting into her apartment that day. He wrote some notes in his little machine, printed out a receipt of some kind and handed it to Jamie. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, EPM guy.
So how did this guy get access to Jamie’s apartment with no phone call to Jamie? Well, the guards had a shift change and we now have a new set of guards on duty during the day. That day happened to have our favorite guards Cesar and Alex. Cesar would lay in front of a train for us and he knew the ‘no EPM in Jamie’s apartment’ policy. But somehow Alex didn’t get the message and let the dude pass. Alex is used to Gringa Craziness on our floor and he probably didn’t want to deal with the non-working phone.
A few minutes after the Mad Spanish Words in the Hallway incident, I left to go to an appointment. Both guards were wide eyed as I walked through the lobby. I think they knew something crazy was going on up on the 11th floor. Maybe they saw the EPM guy leaving with his tail between his legs? I told the guards that it’s a crazy story and I would tell them later, when it was all over. All they know is that EPM has noticed a huge spike in utilities and yet no one from EPM is allowed into the apartment. What conclusion could our beloved guards come to? We hope they think “Drying Clothes Illegally”, not “Growing Weed Illegally”.
As I was leaving for my appointment, I reiterated to the guards that Jamie’s phone wasn’t working and Food Delivery Rappi was always able to go through, but anyone else should not pass and they should call me. At that point Guard Cesar turns to Guard Alex.
Cesar: Alex, you can never let EPM up to Jamie’s apartment.
Alex was guilty as charged, for letting the EPM guy up. All is forgiven, however, mostly because Alex is the cutest guard we have. We call him Mr. January because one time we saw him leaving work in his workout clothes. Let’s just say that if we had a calendar of the guards, he’d be the picture for the first month. #notrelevant but #totallytrue
A week went by with no EPM visit. Then another week. Every day that EPM did not show up was a good day. Even so, Jamie took to using her dryer only at night, when EPM wasn’t likely to show up. In the event they did come in, she needed her dryer to be cold as ice to fully play the part of I’m Not Using My Dryer, Officer, Really.
So now you’re wondering “What happened? Did Jamie get thrown in Colombian Utility Jail for using the dryer? Did Jon the Dryer Guy go to lunch with his cousin? Did Alex the Guard make up for his mistake by changing his shirt in public?
You’ll just have to wait for the next blog post to find out.
Nah, I wouldn’t do that to you, dear readers. After all the time you’ve invested in this story, you deserve the ending and you deserve it now.
The real truth is that EPM never came back, Jamie aged 10 years during those 4 weeks due to the stress of freaking out at every doorbell or noise in the hallway, and the dryer was successfully sold and sent away to it’s new home the day Jamie moved out. It was a bittersweet moment when it left, we felt like we were losing an old friend. We’ve been through a lot together, that dryer, Jamie and me.
And Repulsive Rentals? Well, they were never the wiser on the Illegal Drying that was going on in Jamie’s apartment. They aren’t the sharpest tools in the property management shed so that was no surprise. There is no love lost between Jamie and Repulsive Rentals (read: Jamie hates them with the intensity of 1000 suns).