Argentina Is My Waterloo

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

“Can’t touch this,” Karimé says. “When did parachute pants come back?”

She’s pointing at a young, blonde, German woman who is wearing the billowy, patterned pants young, artsy girls have brought back from places like Madras. “It would make sense if it was a skirt,” Karimé says. “But this? Not even MC Hammer would touch this.”

We are standing in an absurd crowd that is bum-rushing the boarding gate at the Puerto Iguazú bus station. It is a crowd of people we’ve been seeing all day. This afternoon at the airport waiting for the flight that ultimately was cancelled, same as all the flights that were cancelled today, that were cancelled yesterday.

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Lo de Juan

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

The bald man at Lo de Juan approaches us at our usual table in the corner, looking out on the street at the top of the hill descending into the center of town. He takes our drink order: wine for Karimé, a short beer for me. “Empanadas,” Karimé tells him. “I just want empanadas.”

It’s early evening, our second night in Puerto Iguazú. Our skins still feel waterlogged from sloshing around in the day-long monsoon at the falls, culminating in our dowsing in a boat underneath the torrential cascades. Only a long, hot shower — okay, a relatively long, mostly lukewarm shower — is giving me any life. My rain-soaked clothes and shoes are in a soggy pile in the back corner of the bathroom at the hotel. I’m in my last dry shirt and pair of pants, wearing dress shoes with no socks. Across the table, Karimé’s eyes are bleary, her hair tied up, her expression sort of bewildered when I expected dead-dog tired or pissed-off.

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Disconnected

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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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.