I had just cleared Customs at the Ministro Pistarini Airport in Buenos Aires and, as is common at every international terminal in the world, I was met by a throng of people there to pick up their friends, loved ones or business associates. Many were holding signs with a name on it in hopes the passenger they were there to meet would be able to locate them in the crowd. I had been told by my contact in Buenos Aires that he would send a driver to pick me up and take me to my hotel so, I searched the crowd for someone holding a sign that read “Mr. Taylor”. I walked along the leading edge of the crowd which appeared to be about 10 people deep. There must have been 500 people standing there and making enough noise to wake Evita Peron.
After making several passes around and through the crowd and coming up empty, I noticed a man trying to get my attention. I approached him and he said something in Spanish, of course. Well, I told you in an earlier post that my Spanish is muy poquito. I also told you I’m hesitant to use what little Spanish I know because all you have to do is say “si” to someone and they assume you’re fluent. You spend the next 5 minutes listening to them say something which, to you, is completely unintelligible and then the five minutes after that trying to convince them that you “no comprendo”. But desperate times call for desperate measures so I asked him, using my limited vocabulary, sounding somewhat like a redneck Ricky Ricardo, if he was my driver.
“Si! Donde vas?”
Okay, I can handle this. He’s asking me where I want to go. So I told him the Intercontinental Hotel and with that, he took my bags and motioned me to follow him. We cut through the crowd as if we had special privileges and then out the door toward the parking lot. It was then I noticed there was a second man walking along with us. He walked with us all the way to the car and grabbed the shotgun position. The other guy threw my bags into the trunk and off we went. Now, I’m beginning to wonder about this second guy. Who is he and what role will he play in getting me to my hotel? Maybe this isn’t really the driver who was sent to pick me up, I’m thinking to myself. Maybe these two are planning to kidnap this Yankee dog and take all his money. If that’s the case then the joke’s on them. Most of my money was in American Express Traveler’s Checks which, I would later learn are almost worthless in South America. No one wants them. When I returned home a week later, I returned every one of them to the bank.
So, as we hurtled toward the city at breakneck speed, I found some comfort in knowing we were going in the right direction. I had been there before so I would have known if he was going any direction other than where I wanted to go, such as to a secluded wooded area.
Something I have learned about Argentinians, in particular, and South American drivers, in general, is they don’t own the road but they drive like they do. If you’ve never ridden the roads in any major South American city then you really can’t appreciate the horror of this experience. The street in front of my hotel was eight lanes in each direction; yet at a stop light, the cars would be lined up 11 across, each way. Lines and lanes mean nothing. I was once in Santiago with a friend who had worked his way through college as a taxi driver in downtown New York and he said there’s no way he would drive there. It truly is something you have to see to believe. Ray Charles could drive through Buenos Aires and do just fine.
Anyway, back to my adventure. These two tried to make small talk along the way but soon realized it was like talking to a dog. Ever notice how a dog listens to you? You’re speaking to Spot and you say something like, “Okay Spot, come on boy; let’s go for a ride.”
Spot hears, “hftksmelr gtektlpmw Spot, mwghtkplevld sfgwnptle boy; lpwthemd go for a ride.”
Eventually they got me to my hotel and told me the fare was forty bucks. Having taken a taxi from the same airport to the same hotel in the past, I knew this was a fair fare. That’s also when I realized this was not my client-dispatched ride but was, instead, a taxi. Turns out my ride was still wandering around the airport looking for me…without a sign.