Home Depot is for losers. The cool people go to Fernandez, a place so cool I wish I knew how to screw in a lightbulb. If I were a competent homeowner, and could drive a nail without injury, I’d be here all the time. This is the narrative that kept repeating in my head as we waited for our number to be called at this no-nonsense home improvement store on Calle 70, somewhere between Santiago and San Sebastian.
So how did I end up being a fish out of water?
When you’ve still got a lot to learn about living in Mérida, sometimes you have to put yourself in the hands of a knowing guide. We have been availing ourselves of a driver’s services, and Carlos is more than a guy with a car. He’s a local through-and-through, a tough, a manly man of good humor, but nobody’s fool. He’s my exact opposite, which is what I’m at least smart enough to know I need in my life. You don’t hire people who are like you; you hire people who fill in the gaps.
Case in point: We probably have the shortest house cleaner in all of Mérida, and reaching dust and cobwebs past a certain height was a challenge. But if we got a stepladder, maybe that would help. Our first instinct was to run to Home Depot, but Carlos knew where the smart homeowners go.
Fernandez is for people who don’t have time for consumer stores. They know what they want. Set up like a wholesaler that serves plumbing or electrical contractors, Fernandez is awesome, packed with solemn, serious contractors and geeked-out DIYers, and anchored by a long counter and stools operating under a “take a number” system. Displays for the most mundane objects – padlocks, ventilators, pliers — implied these were coveted trophies. And I was smitten. Without meaning to be, it’s the kind of hyper-masculine/hyper-nerdy place that makes me wish I knew anything about … anything mechanical. Not all the customers were men; lots of women were at the counter, paging through catalogs and getting deals on everything from dimmers to drills. My voice went down an octave and a half as I asked Carlos questions about Fernandez, and my s’s were far less sibilant.
I felt a deep sense of shame that I had considered going to that sissy-pants Home Depot. And overpaid for lightbulbs at the Walmart, where I shopped with all those other … unenlightened people.
So Carlos talked to the agent about ladders, we were led across the street to a warehouse — actually disguised as a green colonial house — will all sorts of ladders. It was surreal. We ask for ladders, and now we’re surrounded by a giant room with countless ladders. A worker went to a loft and dragged over more. After some discussion, we bought two. The agent took a notation on the ticket; they would be brought around to us later.
Some odds and ends were also bought, picked from a catalog and retrieved from an unseen stock room, and packaged at the cashier station. Carlos carefully reviewed the sales slip, making sure we were charged correctly and challenging any line items that looked off. All was in order. We left feeling victorious. The macho world of Fernandez is exotic to me; strange and wonderful, and we will be back.
And then, a step back into my sissy-pants world, that lame monument to consumer retail sales —a place I still can’t quit. We had to go to the Home Depot for hose nozzles. Carlos didn’t take us to the established one on the prolongacion, however. We crossed Itzaes and went west on Avenida Canek to the one that just opened. It was shinier, larger and grander than the other branch. It was interesting to see the very same ladders we bought on display out front, priced double what we paid back in the macho den. The money he saved us paid for Carlos’ services that day, and what he taught us will pay off over and over down the road.