Thursday, October 4, 2012

In which I try to go to a movie and I break another drought

I was bored. Neither Christine nor I had been able to reach Suzy yet. Cochabamba doesn’t present the casual tourist with an abundance of possibilities and there are only so many hours a day I can spend eating.

In the town center amidst the scribes with their typewriters and the signs that pleaded “No urinating,” I found a movie theater. It was showing Casper -- not my idea of great theater, but better than Judge Dredd, the other option. I bought a ticket and went inside. The movie started -- and it had been dubbed in Spanish! (Imagine!) Most movies simply had subtitles. I hadn’t thought that Casper would be considered a children’s movie. (My mind was going with boredom.) I tried to understand the Spanish, but the sound system was old and the words emerged garbled.

I walked out and asked the ticket seller if I could have my money back. She looked concerned. “I don’t know,” she said, and beckoned the ticket taker over. “What do you think?” she asked him.

“I don’t know.” They consulted for a minute, then came to the conclusion that this decision was out of the realm of their collective authority.

“We’ll have to ask the manager,” they warned me. “He’ll probably say no. All these tickets are numbered, you know.”

I told them I’d take my chances and they led me upstairs to the manager’s office. The ticket taker knocked timidly and cracked the door open. The manager beckoned him in. “She wants her money back because she’s American and the movie is in Spanish. We told her those tickets are numbered.”

The manager rolled his eyes and said patiently, “Give her the money and close the door.”

On Sunday evening, I went to the airport to wait for Suzy, who, I was to learn, is not the most organized person in the world. She’d finally sent Christine a fax saying that she’d fly into Cochabamba from La Paz on Sunday but had neglected to give us any other information, like her flight number or arrival time. It had taken me two days and three trips to two travel agencies to find out what flights she might be on. There were two arriving from La Paz that day. I’d gone to meet the 1:00 flight and she wasn’t on it, so now I had returned for the 7:00 flight.

As I waited outside the terminal, I felt electricity in the air, then a crisp, clean smell and a sudden coolness. Odd, I thought. Feels like a thunderstorm. But it hadn’t rained in five months in Cochabamba. The wind picked up and dried leaves and bits of trash spun and swirled on the blacktop. Thick clouds billowed over the mountains toward the terminal and threw off lightning bolts. Within minutes, icy cold rain and hail began to hurl themselves to the ground. The wind blew branches off the trees. A tree tore itself from the ground and threw its naked roots to the sky. The rain started and didn’t stop for two hours. All the flights were delayed.

The flight from La Paz was delayed until 9:30. And then Suzy wasn’t even on it. I left the terminal in disgust and went to wait for the bus. No bus. I asked someone how long before the bus arrived and she told me it didn’t run that late.

I approached a cab. “How much to take me to Christine’s house?”

“Ten bolivianos,” he told me.

“Ha!” I replied. “I’ll give you four.”

He countered with eight. I told him that just because I was a foreigner didn’t mean I was stupid and that I was not paying any more than five, which was what Christine had told me was the going rate. He grinned and looked suitably chagrined. When he dropped me off, he shook my hand, wrapping both his hands around mine, and kissed me on the cheek.

I gave up on Suzy and decided to leave Cochabamba and went to the bus station to buy a ticket to Sucre. Standing in line behind me were two clean-cut, fresh-faced young American men dressed in short-sleeved white shirts and ties. On their pockets were blue badges proclaiming “Hermano Jim” and “Hermano Tim.” They were a pair of those ubiquitous Mormon missionaries who overrun South America. I asked them what they thought of the Bolivian political situation. Oh, they didn’t know -- they never read newspapers or magazines. Really? They hadn’t noticed that Bolivia was in a state of martial law? Nope, they didn’t bother with that stuff. They weren’t supposed to, you know. I asked if they really believed that their church did not want them to read the news. Yes, they said. Some missionaries did, but they went by the book.

I left the bus terminal and was walking through the market when school let out for lunch. A herd of small boys ran out form the gates, yelling and skipping. I stood next to an old pickup that was parked halfway on the sidewalk and watched them. Five of them in a row stopped next to the pickup, upzipped their pants, and peed against the front wheel of the truck. I wondered where the public restroom for the girls was.