Thursday, June 30, 2011

You were WHERE? Doing WHAT? Really????

And just like that... I found myself hard at work in a small town corner store. Working the register, doing quick mental math, restocking beverages, chatting it up with the locals, and loving every moment of it.

So how did I get stuck in San Carlos? Let’s just say I’m a sucker for small town enthusiastic hospitality.

It all started when I pulled up and parked Tioca outside Despensa Miriam, across from the main plaza. I pulled out my thermos, my wallet, and bike lock. When I pushed through the door, they were all waiting for me. From the meat guys to the woman at cash register, from the customers to the little girl who stuck her tongue out at me (which I returned, of course). I was greeted with untethered enthusiasm. I was asked a million questions and given more than two earfuls of advice. Suddenly I was a celebrity.

I cooked up some soup on the stove in the back of the store, which I proceeded to eat with some pan casero in the plaza. Pablo, selling cds, asked for some mate. I offered him what was left of my soup. As he ate, he ranted his life philosophy at me. Vaguely similar to my own. To paraphrase: Live life. Now.

He ranted and paced the sidewalk. He gave me some advice, the best of luck, and a mix cd of Argentine rock. He was pure energy, of the ungraspable kind. A definite personality.

The guys in the Despensa let me unload my bike in a bare storage room above their store. They said I could stay there if I wanted. Amazing. I accepted.

With a lighter bike, I went for a ride. The sun had finally decided to dodge the clouds. I got sunburnt. I passed vineyards, farm houses, pomegranate trees. And suddenly everything in the world made perfect sense.

I love the people in this town. Such energy. Such friendliness. I’m blown away. Everyone wants to help, but it’s not because they expect something in return. It’s because they truly want to help you. It’s hardwired into them. I love it.

When I came back from my bike ride, Carlitos and Fabi threw me headfirst into the business. Soon I was selling bread and aspirin, sugary sodas and meat, mayonnaise and cigarettes. I performed my work with all of my ability. I showed off quick mental calculations. I served mates. I lifted heavy boxes. I small talked with the costumers. And I had a marvelous time.

That night, they invited me out. But it was already 1am when they were leaving. I wished I had more energy; I would have loved to join. But I knew that if I went, I would be a moody zombie. So I decided to stay home. Next time, I promised.

And this time there was a next time. And it presented itself faster than I expected.

When I woke up, I went straight to work. The morning was a busy shift. I worked the register and the veggie section. I overcame my fear of the potatoes, but I’m still nervous about the cold cuts. I reorganized the crackers and served sweet mates. I was the only one who had gotten a full night’s sleep, so I took charge on mentally calculating customer change.

At two thirty I went with Carlitos to Walter’s birthday lunch at the farmhouse down the dirt road. I rode Mechanica, the horse, without a proper saddle. We walked around the field and I let my feet dangle and swing to the beat of the horse’s stride. Carliots told me about his life. Good people often have bad things happen to them. And Carlitos is a very good person.

I watched as they pulled a whole roasted pig out of the chulengo oven and snuck an empanada from the basket to munch on. When the food was ready, all 20something of us sat down at the table to eat. And eat. And eat!

We talked life philosophy. There were so many opinions. Everyone was curious. I guess I was a novelty. And my story is somewhat off the beaten path. We were so immersed in conversation that no one watched the River soccer game. And then they offered me wine. And birthday cake.

As the wine flowed, people got rowdy, conversation volume raised to the nearly shouting level, and the fireplace crackled along for the ride. Someone opened the Fernet and mixed a pitcher. Soon everyone’s face glowed rosy cheeks and laugher abounded.

The ambiance was warm. I felt comfortable among strangers. They clapped me on the back like they had known me my entire life. I taught the kids a card trick. They taught me one in return. I sipped my drink. And joked along with the circus.

Then the truco game began. Oh boy. It was an animate six-person game. We bluffed and maneuvered and commanded the game. Our team was unstoppable. No one could believe a Yanki could play truco.

And every good birthday party has a crazy drunk uncle. This one was no exception. Except, well, we all were a little tipsy. And a little more than a bit crazy. So we all just laughed.

Then the kids brought out the guitar. They handed me a sword and a hat. We ate some more. They tried to persuade me not to leave the next day. And I left to warm smiles and kind words. That evening I honestly loved these people with all my heart.

Through my international bicycle meandering, I’m subjecting myself to many new situations. I’m learning that there are many many good people out there. People who will take you in as a stranger and release you as a friend. People who will feed you, put a roof over your head, and wish the very best for you. Yes, there are very very good people out there. And it is my genuine pleasure to meet them, share moments with them, and leave with the taste of good memories.

I knew I wasn't going to stay forever in San Carlos, although the guys didn't want me to leave. So, after two nights in this beautiful hospitable town, I packed my bike, restocked some sodas, sold some tortitas and waved as I pedaled off.

Little did I know that around midnight that night I'd be riding on the cold, hard, encaged backseat of a police car.

1 comment:

Ed Gragert said...

Alisa, you really know how to grab a reader and leave him (me in this case) eager to know how you ended up in a police car. Waiting.....