A Note to Murphy Ailara About How My Camera Died

Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil
November 2011

It rained, heavy monsoon-like rain that lasted all day. Karimé and I took the little train to the farthest and greatest of the massive double-decker falls where Argentina meets Brazil. She wore a long, blue poncho that covered her body from head to toe, and for once in her life she was glad she was as short as she is. I once again cursed the limitations of my flimsy rain jacket, which was less than useless.

We began at the top of the swirling maelstrom of Garganta del Diablo, a nearly circular funnel of rushing water that crashed more than 200 feet to the bottom like a constant explosion. Rain from above, a watery backlash from below, the air so filled with mist that you could hardly see beyond the great hole.

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It was a sad reunion. We had lost one of our oldest friends. The last time I had seen any of my school friends was at Art’s Memorial Day weekend party several years ago. Art’s kids were in grade school then. Now one of them is graduating from college. Lee is a grandfather. It had been longer since I’d seen Steve — more than twenty years, when I left Atlanta for D.C.

For me, it had been too long. The only time I get to Atlanta is for funerals anymore.

After Mike’s visitation, I caught up with Art and Lee and their wives over dinner. We spoke of their children, our parents, and old friends. It was an all-too-brief encounter before we went our separate ways again.

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My Friend Mike

When I was seventeen, my friends and I went to see The Empire Strikes Back at the Phipps Plaza Mall in Atlanta. That night after the movie, I rode back to Lilburn with my friend Mike Garrett. As he drove down I-85, Mike excitedly recounted the best parts of the movie and speculated about how Luke and Leia would rescue Han Solo in the next episode. It couldn’t come out too soon.

Passing into the late-night darkness of Gwinnett County, Mike glanced over from the driver’s seat. “Use the force,” he said — and closed his eyes. He scared the crap out of me.

Mike loved Star Wars. Luke Skywalker always reminds me of Mike. Mike had a kind heart and innocent soul. Always saw the good. Always gave his best.

I hate writing in the past tense.

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Border Crossings

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

The visa officials at the Brazilian consulate in Puerto Iguazú turn us away with instructions, forms to fill out, photos and bank statements to obtain. At best, our visas will take 24 hours to process. For this we were unprepared, despite the call to the Miami consulate before our departure. There’s a note taped to the desk in English, “It is not our fault if you did not plan your trip better.”

The one official who speaks English says it’s harder for Brazilians to enter the U.S. For one, the U.S. requires fingerprints. I’d sympathize, but what transpires from this point on sets off a three-hour odyssey through torrential rain — photos in one place, a frantic hunt for a cyber cafe with functional printers that’s actually open (signs saying open at 8:30 a.m. mean nothing here). The only one that’s open has a faulty internet connection that keeps knocking us offline just as we are submitting the forms. Karimé felt the urge to stab someone until calmed by a beer at 10:15.

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Workout Along La Plata

Montevideo, Uruguay
November 2011

At the base of high-rise hotels and apartments, the beautiful and not-so-beautiful people of Montevideo saunter forth this Saturday morning on La Rambla. The path follows a crescent around the beachfront where lithe, attractive, young women in shorts and tank tops fly past on rollerblades; lean, athletic men jog by; children scurry here and there; and families and old ladies stroll. A middle-aged man hangs his big, hairy gut from a wife-beater and over the top of his Bermuda shorts, his white-socked feet wedged into sandals against all good taste.

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November 2011

We come for the food, but we dessert on the city. Karimé and I arrive from Colonia with empty stomachs, and within an hour we’re at the parrilla in the Mercado del Puerto gorging on steak, chicken, and bottles of wine.

Montevideo teems at its center on a hot, late spring day. Yet for all its bustle, it’s slower and more self-contained than its larger rival across La Plata. We have no plans, just killing time in the Ciudad Vieja. By nightfall, we’re hungry again and ready for another bottle.