This morning Stacy remembered she needed to bake some cookies, so she went out and tied a plastic bag to our front gate.
Here in Ecuador, propane gas is the cheapest way of making things hot. Water heaters, stoves, and ovens run on propane gas. However, despite the reliance on gas, very few places in town have gas piped into the home. In other words, instead of having a gas line running into the house, you have replaceable gas tanks supplying your water heater and stove. A new tank costs about $50 right now. After you drain the tank, you can swap the empty tank for a full one for about $2.50. We have four tanks, one for the water heater and one for the stove. The other two are spares.
So what does this have to do with the plastic bag?
Most residents exchange their empty tanks for full ones through a personal home service. Trucks filled with new gas tanks cruise through the neighborhoods, the drivers honk their horns in a specific pattern as they roll slowly down the street. Residents who need a new tank simply run out to the street and flag down the truck when they hear the horn.
And there you see the problem: we can’t hear the horn.
At our last apartment, getting a replacement tank was usually the work of a morning. We would go up onto the roof of our four-story apartment building and look down the hill, watching and waiting for a gas truck. We could see about a quarter of a mile down the hill, and could tell right off when a gas truck turned onto our street. However, we were at the very end of a long residential street. About 100 yards before our home was a left hand turn, leading to more homes and apartments; therefore, most trucks would ignore the last bit of the road and would simply turn left just short of our home. We usually stood on the roof and waved towels in order to attract the driver’s attention.
Now, though, we live in a single story house. We can’t go up on the roof and look down the street. We still can’t hear the horn.
Thus, we use a plastic bag. We have arranged a signal, a way of telling one particular driver that we need gas. He told us to tie a plastic bag to the gate, and when he sees that he stops and buzzes at the door as long as needed. When we figure out he is there, we head out and buy a replacement tank. If the kids are home, they hear the door buzzer first, and let us know the gas man has come.
They, at least, can hear the gas.