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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Montevideo

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.

 

 

Colonia

Colonia del Sacremento, Uruguay
November 2011

Colonia del Sacremento is where wealthy Argentines go for the weekend. An hour by ferry across the River Plate, it is a little coastal city of cobblestone streets, fishing boats, yachts, ancient city walls, and a lighthouse built against the ruins of a Spanish convent. In daytime, the city has some tourist-trap qualities, as many people come for the day and leave on the last ferry. There are lots of lunch places catering to day-trippers with poor food and indifferent service, t-shirt shops and bars advertising “happy hour” specials, and tour buses parked along the back streets.

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Estancia

El Ombú
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina
November 2011

Some schedules are worth keeping: bus schedules to outlying places, for example. But hangovers play havoc with punctuality. Karimé and I are moving slowly.

The Retiro bus terminal is several blocks behind the sprawling train station, which doesn’t seem to have many trains. We’ve made bad time, past the helter-skelter sidewalk vendors stretched out along the smoggy avenue, then up the escalator and into the soulless curving tunnels through which you enter the terminal. We have to search for the ticket office we need, then there is a line. Everything is taking longer than it should.

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