Friday, July 1, 2011

A Harrowing Drive

July 1, 2011 – The Recounting Of A Most Harrowing Drive

This story has elements that will make your protective sensors sound the alarm. The relating of this tale might make your feel like my mother, father, older protective brother etc… While reading, you will want to call and tell me to come promptly home. You will most likely want to remind me to be very very careful. You will probably scold me a little and want to scold others in this tale as well. You will want to advise me in all the ways I should be cautious --- you get the idea, right?

Thank you for wanting me to stay alive and be well. I will consider myself told.
If we’ve got that all cleared up then please read on.]

Dia De Los Pescadores – the continued story in which I tag along with a rich crowd and take a most harrowing drive.
After wrapping up my conversation with Javier, the Mira Flores Kennedy Park fortuneteller, I head across the street to Starbucks where Walter and Mary are going to meet up with their friends Terry and Lawrence. I’m not anti-Starbucks, but having it here in Peru (with the KFC and Pizza Huts and McDonalds) seems just a bit too ubiquitous and I’ve avoided going there so far. I’m more of a Beirut Café type of girl these days.
No way around the meeting place so I blow out a sigh and walk through the little iron gate that encloses Starbuck’s patio. I see Walter and Mary right off and head their way. They make the introductions. Terry is a redheaded fifty-something Texan who is wearing a T-shirt with a flannel button down, jeans and flip flops. “Do you speak English?” he asks me straight off in a thick Texas accent. He sounds just like a good old boy. Bless his heart.

“Oh good,” he says, scooting his chair up closer to the table in my direction.
“Let me ask you something,” he gets right into the conversation. “Say you have a boyfriend who lives fifteen miles away and you want to go to his house to see him, which would be better for you, to take a taxi to go to his place, which he pays for, or for him to come in a taxi to pick you up and then take you home again?”

“Logistically speaking,” I say after a half moment of thought.
“Ah,” Lawrence says. “Logistically speaking, she says.” Lawrence is originally from London, but hails from all over, as he tells me later. I’d put him in his early fifties, maybe. He’s dressed a little more business casual and speaks with a British accent. Where Terry is brash, Lawrence appears conservative. He works in the Casino business, his wit is biting and he can hold his own with these Texas boys. 

“Logistically speaking,” I say again, “It’d be better for her to take a taxi on her own. But maybe she,” I know this is a question with personal relevance to him so I tweak the pronouns, “wants to spend that time with you.”
“After six years?” he asks.

I shrug. I don’t know why not. “I had a boyfriend who lived fifteen miles away from me and the logistics of getting together was one of the reasons we broke up. He made such a big deal about the travel time that I began to think he didn’t want to see me, that I just wasn’t worth the trouble.” I put a cautionary note in my voice. The implication being that a girl just wants to feel special. In my case, I just wanted to feel that that boy loved me enough to want to spend time with me. But that was a lifetime ago and not this story.
“She charges by the hour for counseling,” Walter teases.

“She speaks English,” Terry says. “Maybe she’ll be my girlfriend.”
Dream on, dude. Apparently, although Terry has lived something like the last twelve or so years in Peru he doesn’t speak any Spanish. I find this kind of international living nearly incomprehensible. Oh, I know it happens all the time. I’ve seen it first hand in Texas with the Mexicans who come over, create their own mini-Mexicos and never really have anything to do with the United States of America. I feel there is some obligation, when you live in another country, to try to approach that country on their terms. That’s just me.

“What part of Texas are you from?” I ask. He says “pill” so it sounds like “peel.” Now I’m a fourth generation Texas and I can lay on the y’alls, but I’ve lost the Texas Twang over the years. His accent is thick and I want to place it more specifically.
“You know the Grapevine Trophy Club?”

“Sure,” I reply. At least I know Grapevine.
Terry is a flirt. Not just a harmless flirt either. He must have some kind of initial beguiling charm because he has four ex-wives and a current 24 year old Peruvian girlfriend-fiancée. But I don’t see it. He makes me feel edgy, like I need to keep an eye on him at all times. After a hashing out of ideas it’s decided that we’ll go to La Bistecca in San Isidro for the buffet. We pile in Walter’s car. Being the littlest I get backseat middle without even calling it. Lawrence sits to my left. Terry gets in on my right and immediately puts his arm around the back of the seat. Touch me and I kill you, I think in my head.

La Bistecca is ritzy. I’m wearing a cute shirt but I have jeans and tennis shoes on and almost feel underdressed. There’s about a twenty minute wait so we take a seat at a table at the bar. Lawrence takes drinks orders and goes to fill them for us. The chit chat is about business. When he’s back, Lawrence shows us a video of a refinery that breaks down almost any material and recycles it back into reusable oil or something like that. It sounds nearly too good to be true.
We get called to a table and settle in. The buffet is great.

There is a lot of salad stuff and I pile up a plate with food. When the guys go back for seconds Mary leans across the table. “I read what Walter wrote in his book. It’s all lies. It’s not true. What he said, it’s not true.”

Oooh boy. Ghostwriters are ghosts for a reason. “I just write what he says,” I tell her, and then try for diplomacy. “I realize that some of it may not be true, but do you think it’s just his perspective of things? That people won’t always approach or remember a situation the same way?”

She doesn’t go for it. She’s too close. She’s too much a part of that story and it’s not all pretty. There are too many years of warring and loving on both sides of their relationship. Trusts that have been shattered and haphazardly fixed, misunderstandings that will never be resolved, sacrifices that have gone unacknowledged and concessions that will never occur for pride or fear. This is how so many relationships are. I’ve seen them before, I’ve been in them before. I charge by the hour for counseling, I think absurdly in my head, but for you, a special deal.
“If he tries to publicize that book, I won’t have anything to do with it,” she says. “I’ll tell everyone it’s lies. What he’s said is wrong.”

I eye the bottle of wine on the table. You and me, friend? I think. How about it?
Mary tells me her side. I don’t want her to feel she has to justify her life to me. I want to tell her that I’d seen her part like a dream in my head. I’d understood what she’d done, how life goes. There are no absolutes. It’s just the same side of the same coin seen from different angles. How easy it is to look in from the outside, how hard it is to be in the middle of it all.

The boys come back. I get seconds and once again the plates are cleared away. A waiter brings new silverware with each round of new plates and I think of all the washing they must have to do. Terry’s girlfriend, Fiorella, arrives. She’d lunched with her parents and had said she wouldn’t come. I guess the logistical issues got resolved for the one day and she decided to come have dessert and drinks after all.
Fiorella is young, she’s beautiful, her nails are manicured, she’s immaculately dressed. “What are you wearing?” she asks Terry after she kisses him hello. “You guys let him out like this? Thanks a lot.”

We make small talk, clear up the little introductory details. I tell her I’m a writer and I’m helping Walter write his memoirs.
“Where are you staying?”

“I’m living in Cieneguilla,” I reply.
Her perfectly symmetrical eyebrows shoot up. “You live in Cieneguilla?! Oh god.”

This poor little country mouse can sometimes pass herself off as a city rat, I think.
“When are you planning on getting married?” I ask her.

“Oh? He told you about that?” Fiorella looks pleased. “It’s good to know my boyfriend says that. Maybe in a year, we don’t have a set date yet.”
The boys and Mary go back for another round of food. I’m full. I’ve had enough, satisfyingly enough. I take a break and head downstairs to the bathroom. It’s posh place all around. Swank.  I close the stall door and am greeted by a poster of some too pretty male model. Seriously? Here? Okay. It seems so funny to me though that I come back in later so I can take a picture.

Walter has had several Pisco Sours by now. His jokes get a little bit louder and Mary doesn’t laugh. With Fiorella keeping her eye on Terry I don’t have to keep my defenses on full alert. Lawrence eats a very nice dessert with ice cream, meringue and fruit. We order espressos, coffee, and Walter asks the waiter to put the remaining Pisco Sours into an empty water bottle for him to take home and freeze.
The bill gets settled and I cringe when I think that the cost for the buffet at 56.50 soles per person would feed me for approximately twelve days if I used that same amount at the local Mercado where I shop. Since Walter had invited me out he pays for both Mary and I. I know he’s a little tight for money at the moment while he’s waiting for a few business things to be finalized and while he’s trying to get ready for a two week trip to the States. But this expense I let him take on. I need my twelve days of food money for later. I’m still technically and currently unemployed.
Terry and Fiorella take a taxi home together. Walter, Mary and I drop Lawrence off at his house and then we drop Mary off at her home.

It’s starting to get dark. Walter stops to fill the Mercedes up with gas and then we take the road toward Cieneguilla. I feel a little tense energy in the air from Walter. Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s the pent up emotion from his and Mary’s fight about his book, maybe it’s the worry of money. Or maybe it’s me that’s tense – because, as if in contradiction to what I sense, he says, “Well, that was fun,” and he means it.

He puts in a tape of country music then says, “Mary didn’t like the outline of the book. She didn’t like what I’d written”
“Oh yeah?” I ask.

“We decided that we’ll talk about it after our trip to the States, so that we don’t go with all that hanging over our heads.”

“Good thinking.”
There’s this oily film on the windshield. When the street light hit the glass just right I can’t see a thing. The headlights also aren’t that great. And I think Walter has probably had just enough Pisco Sours to be slightly drunk.

The irony is that I almost feel better being driven by an intoxicated person than driving in Lima myself. Almost. We get about a third of the way home. He turns through the second ovalo (roundabout) and pulls out the plastic bottle with the Pisco Sour in it and takes a swig.
“Hey,” I say, “don’t drink and drive.”

“It’s a little too late for that, girl,” Walters says.
Well, hell. I guess I’m glad the car has a seatbelt.

As we go along it gets darker. Nearer to Cieneguilla there aren’t any street lights. As we pass over the mountain the drizzle starts to smear the windshield.
“Can you see anything?” Walter asks me.

I can’t. “Nope, not a thing,” I tell him.
“Me either,” he says.

I know I’ve mentioned before that driving in Peru is insane. Every time I get into a vehicle I closet my fear and hope for the best. That’s not to say I don’t press my right foot hard into the floor sometimes when it seems like there’s just no way to avoid an accident. Or that when a car on the left takes a right hand turn in front of three lanes of oncoming traffic that I don’t think something like, “Sweet mother of god.” But overall I relax and go with it. The alternative would to be in a constant state of alert and futile panic. Peruvian transit is not for the faint of heart. All that to say, this drive was the first time that I think I should actually be afraid. Of course that makes me mad. This is not a good night to die, I think. You kill us both, Walter, and I’m going to be pissed the heck off.
Then a fog descends.

We’ve got an oily windshield, drizzling rain, fog, and a tipsy driver.  
It’s hard to see the lines on the road. Walter veers toward the center, veers closer into the lanes with oncoming traffic. Just when I’m about to say, “Um, yeah, you’re about to kill us dead.” He finds the line again. He’s not driving erratically, he’s not swerving drunkenly, but the car just inches over like a boat drifting. I just don’t have complete confidence. And I certainly couldn’t sing Fraulein Maria’s “I have confidence in confidence alone” song. If I thought I’d be able to see much better than him I’d make him let me drive or let me out. But we’re still too far from the house. It’s slow passage down the mountain. The road vanishes in the dark and then we’re blinded by oncoming headlights. Then the road vanishes again in a soft play of fog and rain.

“Are the headlights even on?” I ask at one point. They are.
Half the motor-taxis that come the opposite way don’t have headlights. We come up just shy of hitting a motor-taxi  in front of us that doesn’t have taillights. Walter goes on a rant about how lights are only 1 sole and how can they drive like that, and isn’t it ridiculous?

I’m counting seconds and watching the kilometers tick by. We’re in Cieneguilla proper. I could get out and walk home now. I want to. Suddenly Walter turns off and stops the car. He restarts it, so I’m thinking there was just some technical glitch that I’m not understanding. Sometimes he has to switch tanks from gas to natural gas. A big truck passes in front of us and Walter leans out to yell, “Get that ugly piece of junk out of my way.” He doesn’t sound like he’s joking. The driver gives Walter a once over and then the truck passes on. Walter pulls out into the road. Then he whips around and heads back in the direction to Lima.
“Where are you going?” I ask, nearly demand.

“I have to buy a phone card,” he says.
Right now!? Right here!? I think. Just take me home. We were so close. I nearly made it back alive.

Finally, eventually we get back to Casa Del Gringo.

Maybe that drive felt worse than it was, after all nothing overtly awful happened, but still I don’t want to reprise that ever again.
All’s well that ends well?


  1. Frankly, Terry scares me more than the drive.

  2. Ok, I read the disclaimer. But seriously, Amanda, how good is your judo? Doesn't the Bible mention not tempting God? And this Terry guy? (shiver)

  3. I don't think you can make the same comparison between Mexican people that come to America because they want a better life but would actually rather be in their home country and an expat American that is choosing to live in Peru basically for pleasure. In the former case, it's a matter of survival to immigrate and creating a "mini-Mexico" is a way to cope. Meanwhile, Terry moving to Peru seems to be a choice not made out of necessity, so there's more of a disconnect as to why he chooses not to learn Spanish.

  4. Great comment, Anon. I feel a little differently than I did when I wrote this. Choice, survival, and necessity are definitely factors to take into consideration when viewing a situation.