Outside of working menial, meaningless jobs and collecting enough General Ed units for four people, I spend my nights and weekends with a rock’n’roll outfit whose name I will not mention because I guarantee you’ve never heard of it, plus it would only lower your already waning impression of me. Part of the reason we are so unknown is because we spend way more time plotting seemingly unreasonable tour destinations than we ever do playing music. "We may suck, but we suck internationally" is our motto.
These tours were executed on shoestring budgets, and as such, I am used to carrying contra band through customs. We do not declare ourselves a band when abroad lest we get charged all sorts of union costs and entertainer taxes and merchandise fees. Accordingly, we try and disperse our merchandise as loosely as possible. The last time I went through Buenos Aires’ customs I had 200 CDs disassembled in my backpack and guitar case, and no less than ten shirts hidden under a complete boy scout uniform I wore thinking I would look less dangerous.
Our flight arrived at 7 this morning and by 8 I smoothed through customs without so much as a glance. But as elated as I was to enter a foreign country so freely this time, I was conversely disappointed to see that neither Tomy nor Nekro, mi amigos, were waiting for me on the other side. My mom would be happy to know that I had neither of their phone numbers either.
I spent an hour waiting for them to appear between the masses of people and suitcases before sweat started to gather in my pits. I mounted my backpack and went a-looking around the airport.
The whole place was under construction so few directorial signs were up. I had no idea what terminal I was in and I feared that if I wandered too far off I might never find my way back, so I sat and waited for them to find me like any good lost explorer. Can someone who gets lost at an airport even be considered an explorer?
Three hours later I realized they weren’t coming. I went out in search of a phone card and, of the few phone card dealers to choose from, I chose the one with the most English on the sign. They sold me a $5 phone card for a low 20 pesos. As I later found out, the money exchange is $1USD for 1 Argentine Peso. My first cash transaction and I had already been ripped off…
Before I left home I was communicating with Cucsifae’s webmaster. Cucsifae’s guitarist, Lukas, used to play in Fun People, a band we toured Argentina with five years ago. I was hoping to catch Cucsifae play while I was here so I got both the webmaster and Lukas’ phone numbers. Lukas, I remembered, spoke very little English, but the webmaster was very fluent so I called him.
Turns out he types excellent English, but speaks almost no English. I called Lukas. I don’t know how it happened, but I was able to communicate, and he was able to understand, that I was stuck at the airport with no one to pick me up and, less fortunately, nowhere to go. Lukas, bless his Spanglish-speaking heart, offered me to stay at his house, way out in the boondocks of Buenos Aires. As long as it wasn’t the airport, I was game for just about anywhere.
I found a cab booth that advertised "Anywhere in Bs. As. - $25." The other cabs were over $40 so I investigated their operation before consenting to their business. Since no returning cabs were in need of a good hosing down from the blood of past customers I gave them Lukas’ address and my luggage and hopped in the backseat.
We sped across town with no regard for other drivers or pedestrians or street laws. The 30-minute ride was nothing short of exhilarating. We caught air, we passed other cabs that were passing other cabs, and we drove on the wrong side of the road.
At one point my driver blessed the baby-blue rosary that hung from his rearview mirror. I wasn’t sure if it was to insure us a safe ride, or if he knew we were hurdling towards our death and was just making last amends with God. Every time we passed a cab on the side of the road, he bowed his head for a moment of silence. It was like each out-of-commission cab was a wounded soldier in a war for Public Transport Über Alles.
Eventually, we wound up on a dirt road. Every house we passed had address placards on their porches and the further we drove the closer the numbers got to the one Lukas gave me. I was relieved but I was also sweating like Chris Farley because when I left Los Angeles I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, thick, military-issue sweater and pants. But it was over 90° F now and I was in the backseat of the cab drowning in my own perspiration.
We came to an abrupt stop at a huge dirt mound blocking the road. The driver got my bags out of the boot and pointed over the mound, indicating that I need to keep going "that way" to find what I was looking for. He charged me $37, explaining that road tolls and dirt roads were more expensive. I gave him $40, ripped off again, but thankful that I was out of the airport and not dead.
With my pack and sweater on, I marched a quarter-mile to Lukas’ house where I was greeted with a glass of cold water and a place to shower. Gracias, Lukas, gracias...
After the shower I was invited to Lukas’ practice room to jam for the afternoon. Lukas is one of the most innovative, creative guitar players I have ever seen. To watch him play is astonishing, but to play with him was an honor. We played standards and we shared new ideas that I will no doubt use and exploit when I get home. When the sweat made playing impossible we came back inside and listened to music and swapped records until I conked out.
When I woke up, Lukas contacted Nekro’s roommates and arranged for me to go over there. They lived in the heart of town and were better suited to accommodate me. On his bicycle, Lukas rode me and all my luggage to the train station where I gave him as sincere a hug as I’ve ever given then hopped on a train headed towards another minor unknown.
I got off at the correct train stop and got a cab to Patricia’s. I was charged $5. I gave him a $10 bill and he gave me a $5 coin in return. As he drove off I looked at my $5 coin and realized it was actually a 25¢ coin. Even though this was the third time today I have been out-and-out swindled, I had still somehow managed my way to another destination while in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language (but was learning fast!), and for that I was proud.
Patricia welcomed me into her flat. An English teacher, she also fronts the band the She-Devils with her roommates, Pilar and Lula. I had a couple of their records back home and have had minimal contact with Pilar, so I was excited to stay with them.
Their place is so peaceful. They have four bedrooms and a large, tropical patio far from the street outside, replete with trees and flowers and bugs. Patricia set me up with dinner and a bed and I spent the night talking with everyone and boning up on my broken English. By 3am everybody but Patricia and I were sufficiently drunk and stoned, we were just exhausted.