Friday, July 24, 2015

My surprising encounter with the gas and electric company in Madrid

After visiting my London loves, I was off to Madrid for my final week in Europe.

I was preparing myself for the worst, because Madrid was hitting 105-110+ F every day, whereas in London I'd felt chilly some days.

Gregorio (my old roommate from 2009-10, now friend) wasn't around when I arrived that hot Tuesday, as he had actually left for Oliva (near Valencia on the coast) a day or two before because his father was going to have heart surgery on July 16 (that Thursday, which coincidentally was also Gregorio's birthday). So he didn't think he'd be back in Madrid until the 19th or 20th, and my return flight to the USA was on the 22nd.

So on that Tuesday night he texted and mentioned the gas/electric people needed to come on Thursday for some readings, would I be around to let them in? Yeah, my plan was to stay in the dark indoors all day (dark because you close the metal window coverings outside to keep the heat out—no AC) and get caught up on work. I had plans at 18:00 on Thursday to meet with one of my old English students, but he said the company would come sometime between 12 and 16:00.

He then said something about checking the hot water, to make sure it worked before the company came to test it? But that seemed kind of pointless; why wouldn't the hot water work?

Anyway, he also asked if I'd seen any dead (or living) cockroaches (the smaller kind, so not as gross as what you might be thinking), because he put out some poison before he left town. I remembered seeing lots of these when I was briefly there upon arrival at the end of April. And yes, later on I started seeings some crawling around in the kitchen, and a few dead ones in the bathroom.

When I left the apartment on Wednesday, I did see a sheet posted up in the entryway, for residents to write a certain reading (not sure if it was gas, water or electricity) from a meter. That night, Gregorio called to check in. I wanted to clarify some things about the gas and electric visit, so I brought up the topic. During this discussion, Gregorio revealed that—wait for it—he'd cancelled and rescheduled this visit so many times, that the company said they'd cut off the service if nobody was there to let them in that Thursday! Yeah, f'real. I just rolled my eyes, because this was so Gregorio. So I really couldn't miss it, but again this was no problem, since I'd be home working.

I asked for some clarification about checking the hot water, to which Gregorio responded something along the lines of, "No! You don't check it before they come, why on earth would you do that?! Of course it works now! They're gonna take off [such and such a part] to get this reading, so make sure whoever comes doesn't f&%^ up my water heater! (Or whatever part he was talking about... my Spanish vocabulary for all these parts and gadgets is nonexistent, which is another reason why I started feeling unsure about all of this). So you absolutely have to check and make sure it still works before they leave. Don't let them leave before you check! These freaking people, they'll crack it or break it and then leave you with a machine that doesn't work, and it'll be on you to fix it!" And so on and so forth.

So yeah, now I was a bit terrified of screwing something up on Thursday. "So I just open the door and let them do their thing?" I asked Gregorio, "I don't have to say anything or show them anything? They know where to look/go?"

Because I sure as heck won't have any answers if they ask me anything about what they're doing. In fact, I still didn't understand what part they were going to be opening up (and possibly breaking, according to Gregorio), as my Spanish vocabulary is not this specialized.

It was getting late and I wanted to go to bed, so I soon ended the call and just hoped the following day went smoothly.

Now it's Thursday morning, sometime after 9:30, and I've actually taken a shower. (I know, surprise surprise). Then I randomly decide to sweep up all of the dead cockroaches lying on the floor in the kitchen and bathroom, to just have it done before the visit in a few hours. And then I start washing dishes from the night before.

I see a cockroach crawl behind the sink and across the counter, so I pick up the soap dispenser and set it on top of the cockroach. There's actually space underneath such that the cockroach isn't squished, but it is trapped underneath the soap dispenser. "I'll deal with that later," I think.

Then all of a sudden the doorbell rings.

Holy crap they're here early! Go figure. I rush into the hall and glance at the clock—it's only 10:00. I scramble to the "phone"/buzzer in the hall, which is conveniently hiding behind two new mattresses that are leaning up against that wall. Ug!

Once I finally reach across and get the "phone" off the hook, I say "Hello?" (well, you know, a Spanish equivalent).

"Yes, I'm such and such a person from the gas and electric company—" the voice answers.

"Yes, yes, ok" I say, as I quickly hit the button that'll let them get through the apartment building's front door. After hanging up, I worry for a moment that my Spanish response could have been better. Did I come off as rude? Was that short? Should I have said, "Yes, please come in" instead? Or "Yes, come on up"?

Luckily there wasn't too much time to ponder this, as I had to find my keys in order to open the front door, but the thoughts were very much present in my mind.

I spot my keys in time and get them in the door as I hear footsteps on the stairs, approaching Gregorio's third-floor apartment.

Again I have a brief awkward panic; should I wait until they knock or start opening the door already?

Turns out it doesn't matter, because I'm still turning the key for a third time to finish unlocking when they hit the doorbell on the opposite side.

I get the door open and—

... it's Damien! And a small suitcase.

What. on. earth.

I'm totally taken aback. I'm more than surprised; I did not see this one coming at all.

It feels so surreal; I'd just been texting Damien last night, and he talked about his upcoming weekend going mountain biking with his best friend near Montpellier.

We'd said goodbye when he left London, and I'd mentally prepared myself for 2-3 months apart.

And now, here he was, standing a foot away from me in the doorway to Gregorio's apartment in hot Madrid.

Wait a minute, how the hell did he pull this off? He's never met Gregorio before.

But if he was the gas and electric person, and Gregorio's the one who told me he'd be coming, that means Gregorio was in on this too?!

This is unreal.

And that, my friends, is exactly what happened. Damien messaged Hannah after he left London to see if she had Gregorio's contact info. She did some digging and put the two in touch. Since Gregorio grew up in Paris, the two easily communicated in French to coordinate this whole surprise visit. The previous night when Damien was texting me, he had actually been on an overnight bus from Montpellier to Madrid (around a 12-hour bus ride). Crazy, I know.

Now remember, Damien doesn't speak Spanish. So then I wondered how the heck he'd known what to say when he rang the first doorbell. Turns out Gregorio sent him a voice clip on Whatsapp of the phrase in Spanish, and Damien practiced and practiced.


And today was Gregorio's birthday! But it totally felt like mine; more than a birthday + Christmas combined.

I've done my share of surprising people who think I'm still on the other side of the ocean, but to be the surprised one—man, it was such a strange feeling. It was somewhat related to the feeling I'd had on the first day friends or family members had visited me abroad in the past (as in, "I can't believe Grandma and Jacki are in my school in Korea")—though that was when I knew they were coming.

So this was much stronger; it actually took a few days for the shock of this surprise to wear off. (Which was replaced by a flood of gratitude).

Gregorio and Damien did finally get to meet later in the week; we overlapped with Gregorio in Madrid for just two days before I flew back to the states and Damien took the bus back to France.

Damien, moi, Gregorio

Has anyone else been gifted a surprise visit before? Or have you surprised someone else with your presence?
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