The Fifty-Nine Second Phone Call


Sr. Carlos Slim is the wealthiest man in the world.  He owns Tel-Mex, the Mexican phone company.  To make a long-distant call, back in the day, you had to line up in front of the phone company and wait your turn until the operator could connect your call.  This was only about ten years ago.  There were pay phones for local calls, and the more privileged households had land lines.  The tech revolution changed everything.  Enter the cell phone.  Even five years ago, a rare item here.  Now every Mexican teenager has one.  We have VOIP, Skype, Magic Jack, Vonage.  It’s all fairly civilized.

But we still need cell phones, and it’s different here.  Sr. Slim still gets his cut.  My own cell phone was recently stolen.  I let one of my renters use it during my absence.  She left it in the unit and it vanished by the time I returned to retrieve it.  No good deed goes unpunished.  I immediately tumbled into cell-phone-hell.  The first phone I bought, about $30., didn’t work at all.  I tried to enter a phone number into the contact list, and it popped up a bunch of other people’s names.  So it was a used phone they tried to sell me.  I returned it, yelled around, and spent an extra $10 for the next, better phone.  One like I had before, and knew how to use.

Here, you buy the cell phone of your choice.  It comes pre-loaded with maybe 30 minutes of talk time, maybe more.  Then you buy more minutes as it runs out.  This is as simple as taking your phone to a local mini-mart, giving them your phone number and they recharge it with more minutes for a service fee of about .50.  There are no contracts, a good thing.  They also “register” your phone.  This is part of Mexico’s efforts to combat the drug problem.  If the police can track a phone used in a drug deal to your name and address it makes their job easier.  If the police tracked my stolen phone to me, then too bad for me.  This is a country that doesn’t worry much about the details.  The phone store “registered” my first phone to a phony Mexican entity, to protect me.  The second time, they insisted on ID, and my name is on it.

But it’s not cheap.  Outgoing calls are about .40 cents/minute.  Incoming calls are free.  No free nights or weekends.  So everyone plays the 59-second game.  You can call someone and speed-talk for 59 seconds (and it’s surprisingly easy to gauge this after awhile).  Or call them when you know they can’t answer and wait for them to call you back.  Or call them, let it ring once and hang up, so your number is on their missed call list.  Tag, you’re it!


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