Monday, April 8, 2019
South American Diary #1—Fly Me to, ah, Buenos Aires
The solidly-built young man had a full red-beard and was dressed all in black, from his watch cap to his sneakers. His new bags—hip, if luggage can be hip—were also black, as were the clothes and luggage of his friend, who wore a Dutch cap.
A quip occurred to me.
"Are you lads on your way to blow up the bridge over the Remagen?" I thought, but did not say. Shutting up is an art form, and mentioning obscure bits of World War II trivia—capturing the Remagen bridge over the Rhine was vital to the Allies forces drive to Berlin in the spring of 1945—to young strangers is not a practice embraced by those aspiring to be au courant. Okay, hipsters try to look like commandos when they're not aping lumberjacks; deal with it.
There was no need to chat. From snippets of conversation, not to mention a few tell-tell luggage stickers for companies like Shure microphone, I figured out that these two fellows, and a few dozen others exactly like them gathered here for the 10:20 p.m. flight to Buenos Aires, had to be sound people, on their way to Lollapalooza, which I noticed was scheduled in Buenos Aires in a couple days. One later admitted, with all the modesty he could muster, that he was the sound man for 21 Pilots, and I hadn't the heart to tell him that this was as meaningless, to me, as if he said he was chief accountant for the Hemschlott brand of rustic pipkins.
That's why they were going. To work. But why was I going? Good question. The short answer is: a pal asked me to join him on a Royal Canadian Geographic Society expedition cruising up the coast of Chile.
I had never been to South America nor felt a desire to go, the same blend of inertia and ignorance that keeps so many content to while away the years at home. My entire impression of the continent, I'm ashamed to say, was formed by watching Walt Disney's "Saludos Amigos" at an assembly one rainy afternoon in Fairwood School.
But saying "No" just wasn't an option; it would have betrayed a timidity that, while sincere, was the equivalent of climbing into my coffin and pulling closed the lid. I might be that homebound person, but that didn't mean I had to let him do whatever he pleased. The dynamic, still-alive man within would accept the call to adventure from his good friend.
That didn't mean I was eager to spend nearly three weeks hauling off to a place I'd never been nor contemplated. I really like my life and routine: grapefruits to peel, a dog to walk, columns to write. Going somewhere far away conjured up a raft of particulars to deal with: tickets to secure, inoculations to get, clothes to pack.
The last challenge was killing two hours during the layover at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. I had assumed there would be a good Southern place for dinner—airports now do a better job of featuring cuisine from their local communities, rather than being just so many anonymous outposts in an interchangeable neutral international world without flavor or distinction. But the closest I came was a palm-sized sweet potato pie in a small round tin to follow my anodyne grilled chicken and vegetables.
Boarding time approached. I pulled out my iPhone and wrote a message to my wife: "I seem to be about to board a plane to South America. Should I really go?"
A joke, surely, mocking my own timidity. But with enough truth that it was less funny, more taking my unease and waving it over my head. Bad idea. No man wants to be a coward in front of his wife. And why spread anxiety around? Shutting up, as I said ... I deleted the email, gathered my stuff, and got on the plane.