I almost don’t go meet up with my friends. It’s been a long day of classes with Katrina and now it’s dark. I’m like one of those little old ladies who won’t drive after the sun sets. What am I afraid of? Vampires? Katrina tells me I can use her as an excuse to not go if I need one. After all we have an early class the next morning and another full day of teaching and bus riding.My chicken mind says, “Get home, cozy in, and send them a message that you aren’t coming.”
My adventurous mind says, “Girl, please, man up and go have some fun. They’re in Peru of all places and if you don’t go see them then that’s an opportunity missed and you’ll regret it later.”I listen to me and decide to go.
Katrina and I are running really close on time. We went over our class with Ivonna by about fifteen minutes and the combi (little bus) we’re on seems to be taking its sweet time getting back to Jesus Maria from Surco. I’m supposed to meet my ex-coworkers from USA Swimming at the Sheridan Hotel in Downtown Lima at 8:30. It’s already 7:00 and I’m at least forty minutes away from Katrina’s apartment and from there about another thirty minutes from the center of Lima. That’s not counting time to stop off at the apartment and change clothes or grab a bite to eat. I try not to feel impatient. Over the past few years I’ve learned better how to be. Not to stress. For the most part I succeed. I can’t change the traffic on Javier Prado. I can’t control this, so I just have to trust things will end up the best way possible. That may mean I make it to see my friends, it may mean the opposite. Quien sabe (Who knows)?
Eventually we do make it to our stop. We get off at the Metro. I check my phone for the time. It just might all work out. I still have a list of things I’d like to do before I part ways with Katrina. I have to take out some money from the ATM to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent on the apartment. I also would like to buy some snacks to fill my belly before I go out drinking with my friends.
We powerwalk across the street and into the store. I get my rent money and hand it over to Katrina. We make a round through the grocery store and pick up some comestibles. The second hand of time doesn’t slow down, and the lines at Metro are long. There are no self-check outs here and the cashiers have no reason to rush. There are maybe a million people (one ninth of Lima’s population) standing in the 15 items or fewer line. There’s no way we’ll get our food and back to the apartment and then get me on a bus in this millennium. No way.“I think I’d better go right now,” I tell Katrina. “If I wait longer I won’t get there on time.”
I realize I don’t have MJ’s or Lisa’s cell phone numbers. The only way I can communicate with them is through Facebook or face-to-face. One day I’ll learn the lesson of having my meet-ups info with me. One day. I’m not sure my North American friends will know to wait for me on South American time.Katrina and I drop the things we’d picked up (for me, some bananas and a bag of chifles) on some random end aisle and leave the store. Katrina, with her mom instincts on full throttle, stands with me at the bus stop to make sure I take the right one. I’m sue-perrrr (as they say here) grateful she does because we wait an infinite amount of time and the bus doesn’t come. If alone, I’d question that I was on the right corner or facing the right direction or remembering the right bus number or end destination.
“The next one looks like it,” Katrina tells me gazing into the darkness. “Not the first bus, but the second one.” She’s said this twelve times before. I’ve nearly lost faith. The bus never comes. And never comes. And still doesn’t come. “How much longer do you want to give it?” Katrina asks.I don’t know. It’s 7:30 now. I want the bus to come and I don’t want it to come. “Maybe two more cycles of the light,” I say.
As if answering some silent prayer, the bus finally arrives. It’s completely full. Packed to the gills. Stuffed.There’s standing room only, and then there are combi buses in Lima, Peru. You almost need to experience this to understand. The little Chama buses are fifteen passenger cars.
“I’ll call you when I know if I’ll be home tonight or in the morning. Thank you. Chau!” I call after her disappearing form (if I could see it).
I’ve found the Peruvian people to be a little cold on the exterior. On first glance. But they always surprise me with their kindness, with their helpfulness, with their concern. Especially to a gringa on a bus. This Cobrador doesn’t let me down. He tells me a block ahead of time that the next stop will be mine. That gives me time to ooze my form between the other human forms and get to the door.“Gracias,” I tell the Cobrador when I finally burst out of the combi and into the open air.
“A ti (to you),” he responds.I try not to look like a susceptible rob-able tourist as I get my bearings. Downtown Lima isn't the safest of places. Katrina’s directions hold good, and then, even better when I look up I see the Sheridan’s neon light calling me like a lighthouse beacon.
It’s 8:25. Against all odds, I’ve made it to my destination with five minutes to spare. It’s a South American Miracle.I’d arranged to meet MJ and Lisa in the hotel lobby. They’ve finished up with the swim meet they were helping with and are no longer on work regulation. Which means they can drink, unwind, and take on the City. I nod at the Sheridan guy in front of the hotel and thank him when he opens the glass doors for me. I take a breath and slow down. I glance around the room. They’re not there.
Okay, so I’m early.I ask the hotel desk clerk to call Lisa and MJ’s room. No answer. I tour the lobby quickly. No one I recognize. Now what?
I take a gander into the bar just off the lobby. Bingo! I see my girls.“Hey!” I say when I get within hearing distance.
MJ is bent over her iphone. Her face light up as she stands to hug me. She holds up her phone. “I wasn’t sure how to get a hold of you, but I just got your Facebook message from your friend.”Lisa stands and gives me a really tight hug.
I’m glad I decided to come.They introduce me to Brandon Draws who has worked the competition with them and is also off regulation. I can tell this by the beer he holds in his hand. “This is BD,” they say.
“How do you do?” I say. Or, “What’s up?” more likely. He’s a North American so I don’t greet him with a cheek kiss. He and Lisa continue their conversation. I scootch up on the bar stool and rejoice that I’ve made it all on my own. I’m such a big kid.MJ and I catch up. She asks me all about life in Peru. I fill her in. She asks me what the best and worst parts of living here are. “The best thing is being able to live the way I’m living. To not have to sit at a front desk and stare out the window wishing I were outside. It’s incredible.” I take a minute to think. “The worst thing is probably the traffic in Lima. But I don’t have to drive in it. Or the lack of sunshine. But it’s winter, what can you expect? So really, all in all, I love it. What do you think of Peru?”
“It’s really great,” MJ says. “It seems a lot different and better than some of the other South American places I’ve been.”The girls have already had a drink or two; they’re relaxed and happy.
“Let us buy you a drink? You want a Pisco Sour?” MJ asks.“Red wine would be fantastic,” I say. It’s been a long day and that’s my drink of choice.
The waiter hovers.“Un vino tinto,” I say. “Por favor.”
“Wow!” MJ says, “I’m glad you told him, I wasn’t sure how to order that.”This makes me feel good about my Spanish speaking abilities.
“It’s on me,” BD says. He and Lisa are to my left and MJ is on my right.“Can I take a beer with me in the taxi?” BD asks.
One of the athlete’s families has come to Lima and they’re heading out to sightsee the next day, but the team manager has the athlete’s passport. So BD has to go to the airport to get the passport from the team manager and bring it back to the athlete. It sounds about as complicated as it is.This is Peru. I think anything flies. “El puede tomar su cerveza en el taxi?” I ask the bartender for him.
“Of course, why not?” the bartender replies.“He says yes,” I say.
“I’ll take two beers then,” BD says. Then he goes out front to arrange his taxi.While he’s gone MJ leans across me so she can include Lisa. “We should all go! Let’s go with BD to the airport! Can we get our Piscos to go?”
I translate the question and the bartender says sure. He goes off in search of some plastic to-go cups.BD comes back and MJ says, “We’re going with you. You want us to come with you?”
“You don’t have to,” he says. “But it’d be a lot more fun if you did.”The girls are enthusiastic. “We’re going then!”
The bartender makes the drinks and serves them up in the plastic cups. He pours me another serving of red wine. BD puts a wad of bills and coins on the counter and I sort them out to pay the tab and hand him back his change. He could care less about it. It’s just monopoly money to him, I think.“Let’s take a shot before we go,” someone suggests. We down some straight Pisco. BD takes his beers in hand. The girls and I take our drinks in ours. I thank the bartender and we head outside together, happy as clams.
“Let our translator have the front seat,” BD says. He, MJ, and Lisa cozy up in the back seat and I get in front. The driver pulls out the cup holder and puts my plastic cup of wine in it for me.Lisa is still making a face about the Pisco. “That stuff is awful,” she says. “It burns my throat.”
I’ve had one glass of wine and a shot of Pisco on an empty stomach. I’m already feeling it. I’m exhilarated, happy and relaxed. A quartet of laughter fills the cab. I make a little small talk with the driver whose name is Marco. Then we let him work his magic of driving to the airport while we drink and chat.I never partied when I was in my teens or twenties. I never was big on the drinking scene. I never got into drugs. I was straight laced. I could have been labeled a square and I wouldn’t have minded that; it was true. My mom once told me that it seemed like I’d been thirty all my life and that when I did turn thirty I finally physically reached the age I’d been mentally for so long.
I think I’m going backwards now. Like Benjamin Button. Which, if I follow the logic, means that I’ve reached my peak and am now going downhill – and if 33 is my top then I’ll die at 66. I’m not really keen on that idea, but all in all, I’m more chill and I can honestly say I’m having the time of my life.We make it to the airport on time. Candi, the team manager, is standing outside waiting for us with the athlete’s passport in hand. Her white hair is blowing in the wind, she looks more at ease than I ever remember seeing her. She must be off regulation too. Candi has a strong personality and in the work place I’d found her to be intimidating at times. Friendly, always friendly, but a little bit scary too. She seems like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead. I’d stayed on her good side when I worked for USA Swimming and even done an editing project for her department at one point. She does her job well, but I don’t know that I’d want to work directly under her. I’m not sure I want to ever work under anyone directly ever again.
We grab the passport, bid Candi farewell and go.“We need to take this to the Marriot in Mira Flores,” BD says. “Can you ask the driver to go there and ask him how long it’ll take?”
Lisa hands me the Marriot’s address written on a napkin.
“Can you take us here?” I ask Marco showing him the address. “And how long will it take us to get there?”
“Okay, sure,” he says. “About twenty minutes more.”“Tell him I’ll pay whatever extra it costs,” BD says.
We get the logistics handled and Marco weaves us through the traffic in Callao and heads us down the coastline through Mira Flores to the Marriot.I’m buzzed. We’re all buzzed except for Marco.
“My mom would make a good sparring partner for Candi,” BD says. “My mom is part of the LPN. She’s the Queen Bee of the LPN. They’re a fickle bunch of bitches though. You can get thrown out of the LPN if you flirt with the wrong girl.”“What exactly is the LPN?” I ask him. I have a clue, but I’m not for sure.
“The Lesbian Power Network,” he explains.“Ah, right,” I say, and write it down in my notebook. “I like that.”
“I like that you’re taking notes,” MJ says.“Everyone wants my mom,” BD says. “Cuz she’s the LPN MILF. She’s powerful.”
“Everyone wants to fuck her,” Lisa chimes in.“Lisa,” MJ says. They have BD in between them. “You’re pretty explicit.”
“My mom is a bitch,” BD says without malice. He’s just stating facts.“BD’s from Portland,” MJ tells me.
“I’m from Portland,” BD says. “We have a sweet house on the river.”“I want to meet your mom,” Lisa says.
“Why?” BD asks.“I want to be scared,” Lisa explains.
I’m not exactly sure how we segue or if we even do. Our conversation goes from the Lesbian Power Network to Buddhism.Maybe MJ tells me that BD is a Buddhist. I can’t exactly remember.
“Reincarnation makes the most sense,” BD says. “Matter can’t be remade. This conversation that we’re having is changing your consciousness. It’s the stuff in this cycle of rebirth. Sansara. The Buddha was right. Life is unsatisfactory because we create things and there’s an answer to craving. There are four noble truths.”I think he tells us the four noble truths. I can’t take notes quick enough and the conversation is delighting me. I want to enjoy it and capture it all at once. I think by now I’ve had one shot of Pisco and two glasses of wine.
“I went to Kurt Cobain’s funeral,” BD says. “Write that down.”I do.
“My friend said, ‘We’re going to Kurt Cobain’s funeral.’ I told my friend I wasn’t going to go to Kurt Cobain’s funeral.”“Why did you?”
“Probably to smoke some pot after.”I wonder what it means that I’ve met someone who went to Kurt Cobain’s funeral.
“Why is a partner’s name always Susan?” Lisa asks.I’m sure there is a connection, but I’ve missed it.
“All Susans have lesbian friends,” one of us says.“Frank is the best,” Lisa or MJ says. BD agrees. I've got to be quick to keep up with the conversation. Frank is the National Team Director for USA Swimming. Frank had just joined USA Swimming shortly before I quit. He seemed like the best, so I can’t argue. He’d treated me like a real person. That goes a long way in my book.
“He gave a great speech,” MJ says, “It’s not winning or losing or that by product shit, he said, but being the best you can be. Keeping the athletes young. No expectations. Let them be what they can be.”BD, MJ, and Lisa glow with love for Frank. “He encourages everyone. Everyone is doing the best to be the best whether they’re an athlete or an employee.”
In a stream of consciousness sort of way we come back to Buddhism. BD has not only been to Kurt Cobain’s funeral, but he’s met the Dalai Lama. He’d gone to DC when the Dalai Lama was there and even sat at Bob Thurman’s feet.“Uma Thurman’s dad,” BD explains. “You know who Uma Thurman is? Whenever there is a show about Buddhism, he’s there.”
I’m enjoying listening to BD talk. He has his arms around Lisa and MJ. “I like being here with my two girls,” he says.
“Hey,” I protest with a grin. “What am I? Chopped liver?” Someone assures me that I’m not.
“The Dalai Lama even spoke to me,” BD continues his story. “We were in DC and it was hot.
’Very hot, isn’t it?’ The Dalai Lama said. I made friends with this monk Seldan who was nephew of the Dalai Lama. Seldan, my buddy, didn’t know how to swim and I didn’t know Tibetan. So a deal was struck. ‘Fuck yeah, I’ll teach you to swim,’ I told him. I was as awful at swimming as I was at Tibetan.”I drink the last of my wine out of my plastic cup. Marco tells me that he’s taking us down the seacoast route to avoid the traffic. I assure him that we’re absolutely fine with his driving decisions.
“Seldan told me the Tibetans were going to march at the Chinese Embassy. Richard Gere was there in front. Boston Russell, Kurt Russell’s son was there. My best friend told me, ‘Buddhism is cool.’ There were fifteen thousand Tibetans protesting in DC for freedom. There was a mob mentality. I was in this mob with these people. I’m not an emotional guy,” BD says, “But three or four times I was completely overwhelmed.”I don’t get a chance to interrupt and ask him the specifics. I feel in this story the mob mentality was a good thing and not an evil one. That the united spirits of the marching Tibetans made a joint something that was great for humanity and freedom and life. Maybe I’m just projecting this into his story. I may never know.
|"Buddhism is Cool"|
“We marched on the Chinese Embassy. Then later that night after we go see The Perfect Storm we go to an Irish Bar. There’s this drunk ass Irish man trying to pick a fight with anyone. Fuck, I think, I hope this guy goes away. But he’s trying to pick a fight with Seldan. Seldan is a skinny ass man. I put myself in front of him, but Seldan pushes me back and walks straight up to this guy. He says, ‘My name is Seldan,’ and grabs the Irish guy’s hand. Amazingly enough, the guy completely deflates. Holy shit, I think. It was amazing. I tell this story to all my employees and I expect my staff to be like that.” BD pauses and then he gives us the moral and the point to his story. “An open hand goes way farther than a closed fist.”We make it to the Marriot and drop off the passport. We also have some drinks at the bar there. BD asks me to go down and make sure that Marco will wait for us. “Tell him I’ll pay whatever it costs and ask him if he wants a drink too.” Marco doesn’t mind waiting for a finite amount of time and he says he doesn’t need a drink.
At the bar we collect a new person into our group, Graham, who I believe works with the Canadian swim team. After we’ve had our drinks we crowd into the elevator then head out into the open air. Marco is waiting for us. MJ and I share the front seat and the rest of the gang gets in the back. We return to the Sheridan. Lisa’s friend Bridgette, who has just arrived into Lima, finds us in the bar and there is much rejoicing.
I have a feeling we have some other shots at this point. Maybe tequila. I don’t really know. Whatever it is puts me over the edge. The pictures I take are a better recording device than my mind. There’s a white edged blur around my vision. There’s a dizzy bliss in my blood. There’s the hint of slur in my speech. I laugh at myself, what am I, twenty-two?
We all head upstairs. The girls have to pack up. They’re leaving early in the morning to go to Cusco.“You should come with us,” they say.
I wish I could.“If you are ready to go in the morning,” BD puts in, “I’ll pay your way to go with us.”
Holy smokes. If my passport wasn’t in Cieneguilla I’d totally go. I wish I had it with me. I really wish I had it with me. I play with the idea of going right then and there by bus to Cieneguilla to get it and to pack up a few things, but I know I’m a little too tipsy. I don’t even think of taking a taxi. That would cost a fortune and I’m not used to tossing money around.
I sit back in the chair and watch the girls pack. I chat a little bit with Bridgette. I watch Graham sip on his beer. I take some pictures.
Grahams says, “The view is frightening,” and I write this down, but I have no idea what he was talking about.I should be embarrassed to say that I go to the bathroom and throw up some of my drinks. I should be embarrassed that BD comes in to check on me and finds me sitting comfortably on the floor leaning against the bathtub. But I’m not. I could live here, my drunken mind thinks. It’s comfortable. These are friendly folks. I like you guys.
BD lifts me up. “Come on,” he says.“I’m okay,” I tell him. “I’m fine. Really.”
They take off my shoes, help me out of my jacket and tuck me into bed. BD puts a trashcan within reach just in case. “Can you tie back her hair?” he asks Lisa.“I have a hair tie,” I say. I pull it out of my pants pocket and use it to tie my hair back. “Thank you for taking such good care of me, BD.”
|BD took care of all of us|
My alarm goes off at six o’clock and I wish I were a deeper sleeper.
I wish I were irresponsible enough to pretend I hadn’t heard it. I’d like to sleep all day. If I can get back to Katrina’s apartment before seven then I can get in my day of training with her.
I brush my teeth. I fix my ponytail. I grimace at the bags under my eyes.Lisa and Bridgette are up. MJ has her own room. BD does too. I don't know where Graham ended up.
“Thanks for patting my back last night,” I tell Lisa. “I hope I wasn’t too much trouble. I had a really nice time with you all. I’m really glad I got to see you.”She echoes the sentiments.
“Tell MJ I said bye and have a great time in Cusco. I wish I could go. Be sure to tell me all about it.”A hug goodbye and I’m out the door.
I go stand outside and muse. How to get back to where I need to be? I turn to the doorman. He’s the same one who’d let me in the night before. He asks me how my night was and we talk about the swimming competition and the weather.“Do you know which bus I could take to get to San Felipe?” I ask him. I glance at the time. “Or, how much it would be to take a taxi?”
“We have transportation here,” he says. “Hold on a minute.” He goes over and confers with the logistics dudes.“Twenty-eight soles,” he tells me.
Ouch. But then again I didn’t pay for anything the night before and I had budgeted at least for a dinner out. Even though I know that twenty soles is really only about seven dollars, somehow anything over a sol seems expensive. What a funny mentality I have.“Twenty?” I counter-offer.
He goes back for another conference. "Okay, that’s fine. They said that was okay.” He looks at me with pride as if I’m his own pet gringa all grown up. He all but pats me on the head.The taxi pulls up and who is it but my good friend Marco.
“Good morning, Marco,” I say.“Buenos dias, señorita,” he says.
“You worked all night?”“Yes, all the nights.”
“Do you like that?” I ask him.“Oh sure,” he assures me. “The traffic is much better during the night.”
I settle in the back seat. The trip passes by amiably and he gets me to the apartment in no time at all.“This is okay,” I tell him when we’re close. “You can drop me off here.”
“I’ll pull you right up in front,” he says. And he does. “Cuidate,” he tells me.“Cuidate, chau,” I say in return. I wave goodbye and head into the apartment complex.
It’s a new day, a new dawn, and although tired, I’m feeling good.