Friday, March 6, 2009

Por Dato

Datos are facts, as in information. Hechos are also sort of facts (El hecho de lees mi blog me agrada mucho/I really like the fact that you read my blog), but hecho-as-fact is not part of today's linguistic equation.

Datos are facts, as in the population, literacy rate and percentage of Roman Catholics in a country 16,454,143, 95.7% and 70% respectively in Chile's case). But they're also little tips we give each other when we've got a really great picada (cheap eatery), médico (doctor) or in my case, mecánico de bicicleta (bike mechanic).

You'll have to bear with me for a second if you're not a cyclist. Imagine it's your car. You have a vague idea of how it works, might be able to do some minor repairs, etc. But when it comes to something like... oh, I don't know, pick a complex car thing here, you'd rather bring it to the experts.

Here's where the maestro chasquilla (Jack-of-all-trades, master of none) comes in. Years of living with close-enough solutions for mechanical and construction problems means that alot of Chileans who make a living by fixing things can be very... creative at times. On the one hand, McGyvering a solution when the options are fix it or leave it broken (and leave me stranded) is a desirable skill. On the other hand, if you want your vehicle of choice to keep functioning properly for the long haul, you should just try to do it right the first time.

When it comes to bicycles, probably the most complicated system is the whole shift levers/derailleur/chain rings set up, which I believe is called the drive train. Ideally, all of these parts are from the same manufacturer, and of the same series. One part may wear out before the rest, and you may want to find something compatible if your exact desired part is no longer available (bikediehards beware, I believe in holding onto things until they no longer work, not until something shinier comes along). But in Chile, on the street San Diego, where most of the bike shops are, what will work with your drive train depends alot on who you talk to. Cheap repair parts are referred to as being "chino" (Chinese), which may be because they are from China, or may be because they are of inferior quality. Getting the right parts can be expensive, difficult (a common response to "I'm looking for this thing" is "de eso no hay" (you can't find those here) or very creative, including a stealthy 2 AM Ebay purchase and a trip to the Dominican Republic to pick up the parts, wrapped in a Colorado newspaper from your mom. But then, your mileage may vary.

Once I have the parts, or have identified that my bike has a problem that needs to be fixed and that is beyond my ability or desire to repair, I refer to my bank of datos. This is how I found my dermatologist, my gp, my favorite pizza place (which I will totally take you to if you visit, and please do not request corn on your pizza) and many other highly-valued get-what-you-pay-for and love the quality services. Among those is my taller de bicicletas (bike workshop). A friend recommended Doctor Bike to me, and I can't be happier.

Luis Cabalín, the grey-haired ex-competitive cyclist, listens to the problem, proposes a solution, seldom goes over budget and does darn good work. He also doesn't treat me like a dolt because I was born with double X chromasomes and once asked kindly after a hiking-induced double ankle wound (darn short socks!). He also installed my new shift levers, cables, front and rear derailleur and desperately-needed new brake pads (I supplied the parts) and exchanged pleasantries with me all for less than $20 (11,000 CLP). People call him a miracle worker, a bike surgeon, a master of bicycles. And it's all true. That's today's bike dato.

Coquimbo 1114, 698-4193. Tell him the gringa sent you. Or better yet, tell him I ride a "real" bianchi hybrid and a Shimano 105 series component roadbike. Cyclists tend to know each other by their bikes. He'll know who I am.

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