Saturday, December 13, 2008
Mykel's Column for MRR 307
An Irregular Column
for MRR 307
by Mykel Board
Travel is pointless without certain risks.
I was happier than a foot fetishist in a shoe store. A month. Travel. Adventure. Sex? Booze. NO WORK. Hooeey!
The plan: one week in Trinidad. Two in Venezuela. Then back to T'dad for another week. Aooogah!
Trinidad, actually Trinidad and Tobago(tm), are two small islands, the southernmost volcano tops poking through the Atlantic in a sideways J. Seven miles from South America. You can spit to Venezuela. Maybe you should.
If you've heard of Trinidad at all, you know Carnival. You probably also know the Steel Pan,a percussion instrument made from a cut oil drum. The Trinis tune it to make notes when you hit it with a mallet.
Venezuela is the land of oil and Hugo Chavez. Maybe you like the guy. He called W, The Great Satan. He gave free oil to poor people in New England. He built schools in Nicaragua. The U.S. government and press hate him. He must be good, right?
Hmm, I'll tell you later.
As I write this, I sit in THINK café. It's a local (NYC local) coffee shop. Coffeecally correct (free trade, free internet, recycling, with face-pierced clerks and Bob Dylan on the stereo), it's my closest comfortable writing location.
To experience my adventures in the Caribbean you'll have to join me in my testicular time machine. Climb in, I know it's cramped, but you'll make it. You in? Seated? Come on, squeeze! There's still room behind that vas deferen. Ready?
Now the stroke. That's it! A little more! Aaaah, a spurt to the past. August 15, 2008.
I've just arrived at the airport in Trinidad. A long trip. New York to Atlanta. Two-hour wait. Then four more hours to this land of 2,000,000 brown-skinned angels.
I have a hotel reserved. A guesthouse actually. $35 a night. One night. Then, on to a couch surfer in the countryside. I figure a guesthouse will look better to the immigration officer than the address of some stranger I've never met.
It doesn't matter. The immigration guy says, “enjoy your stay in Trinidad.” And waves me through. He doesn't care.
Outside the airport I wait for the guys from ANTI-EVERYTHING, a Trini punk band I found on My Space. I'm half an hour late, I hope they didn't give up.
I call Randy, the guitar player.
“Hey man,” (he pronounces it MAHN, like Jamaicans), “you here?”
“Yep,” I say, looking around at the plenum of people surrounding me... Everyone looks Negro or Indian-- or some combination. I feel like I'm in the Harlem of Calcutta. And good-looking? Yow! Hubba hubba.
“I'm at the airport, a little late, but here,”
“We on our way,” says Randy. “See you soon.”
I wait by the curb. A big Negress sits on her suitcase. She talks to me.
“Oh,” she says, “if you take a taxi, make sure you ask one of the guys in white shirts. They'll take you where you want to go. The others...”
“OK,” I say, “you waiting for someone.”
“My sister,” says the woman. “She was supposed to be here an hour ago. She knows... This your first time in Trinidad?”
“You'll have a good time,” she says. “Just watch your back.”
Eventually, her sister shows up. I'm standing there. At the curb. I'm tired from the planride. My neck hurts from the strain of trying to watch my back. My new friends haven't....
Here comes a car. An old beater. Ford? Chevy? A young guy with a ponytail rides half out the back window. His arms raised in the air.
“Mykel! Mykel!” he's shouting, as the car rounds the curve on two wheels.
The car screeches to a halt in front of me.
The front door opens and this young guy, with glasses and a scraggly beer gets out. He looks Indian... like most of the folks around. He gives me a hug like we're old friends.
“Randy?” I figure.
“Yah Mykel,” he says. “Sorry we were late.”
He opens the trunk and I throw in my bags. Then I get in the back seat. Next to Randy is a beautiful girl who looks like she's just stepped out of a Bollywood movie. Next to her is a big guy, an Indian with dreadlocks, friendlier than a puppy.
The attractive brown guy who was half out the window sits next to me in the back.
“Hey, Mahn,” he says, “I'm Allan...” He hands me a beer.
“You drink beer, mahn?” he asks.
“Does the Pope shit in the woods?” I say.
He doesn't get it. Who cares? He hands me a beer. And we're off.
Everybody in the car has a beer. Including Randy, a beer in one hand and the steering wheel in the other.
We plow through traffic. Sometimes on the right. Sometimes on the left. I can't figure out which side these people drive on. I don't think it matters. It's a DODGE 'EM-CRASH 'EM car chase. Whiz. Screetch. Dodge that truck. Quick turn. There goes the beer. Who cares? There's more where that came from.
Allan is on about something. He's gesturing, talking a lightyear a second. He mentions bops... watch out for 'em. (I later learn that bops are policemen. Probably rhyming slang with cops.) I should try some babash. I'll never get it in New York. Something vex him... (that I can sorta figure out). Something semi demi happened. He's not interested in any mampy. And look at that jagabat out the window there. Yowsah! What language is this?
Randy talks a little more normally.
“I guess you're tired,” he says. “I'll drop you off at the hotel and see you tomorrow.”
“You don't want to be limin'?” asks Allan.
“Lime-ing?” I ask. “You mean like having a piece of green fruit?”
The others laugh.
“Limin', limin'” says Allan.
“It's like hanging out,” explains Randy. “You know just drinking, and hanging out with people and...”
“Oh yeah,” I tell him. “I'm really want to lime. I want to see everything.”
“OK,” says Randy, now nearing the guesthouse. “We'll pick you up at eight.”
“Sure,” I tell him.
At ten o'clock, they show up.
Out we go. Same people in the car. We're off to SOMEPLACE.
“Ghetto mahn,” says Allan.
On the way, at every stop, (not stop light or stop sign... those don't mean anything, but just where we HAVE to stop because the car in front of us stopped, and there is another car on the right and left), Allan rolls down the window and yells at the passers by.
“Chinkies?” he says. “You (unitelligible) Chinkies?”
I'm worried I've discovered some kind of anti-Chinese racism.
Some people shrug. Some people point. The car careens ever forward.
We end up on a sidewalk on a side street. The main street itself is the loudest street I've ever heard. Competing music: socca, calypso, soul, rap, hip hop, what-the-fuck? All at volumes high enough to drown a jet engine.
We pile out of the car. Allan accosts a passer-by. A young woman more black than Indian-looking. She's got a pair of buttocks that you wish would invite you to move in between and take up residence.
“Chinkies? Chinkies?” he asks.
The woman smiles and points. We're off.
It turns out Chinkies is an outdoor stand (a chain?) where they make lots of things with lots of pepper in them. Everybody buys one of something.
“What should I ask for?” I ask Randy, reaching for my wallet.
He shoves a paper-wrapped something in my hand.
“You're with us,” he says. “You don't pay.”
I take a bite of something really messy and really delicious. It drips brown out of the thin paper and down my arm. I run my tongue over my arm, scooping up the sauce. It's peppery with the bite that Indian food should have, but rarely has among the pepper wimps in New York.
The delicious something still in hand, we approach a bar.
“Shouldn't I finish this food first?” I say.
“Why?” asks Randy. “It goes better with drink.”
Turns out, in Trinidad, you can buy food one place and bring it into another. You can buy booze one place, bring it into another or just drink it on the street. Except for my passport on entering the country, I had to show my ID exactly NO TIMES in Trinidad.
“You want a Stag?” asks Bryan.
Do I know? A stag could turn out to be anything, but what the fuck?
“Sure,” I say.
It's a beer... the man's beer.
We walk, drink, eat, look at girls, talk, get drunker. Go limin'. Lime some more.
I pull my digital camera from its holster and shoot the scene.
“Be careful with your camera,” says Bryan. “It's not so safe around here.”
I am not careful.
All-in-all it's the best first night I've had in a country where I didn't get laid. I wasn't allowed to spend a cent. I was completely plastered. Filled with Chinkie's chicken with peppah. Smiling a mile a minute, completely unaware of how I got back to the guesthouse.
The next morning... late morning... I'm having breakfast in the guesthouse restaurant. The Daily Express is there for the perusing. Headlines: Dengue Fever Outbreak, inside: Brazen Murder in City. Next page: Chopping Suspect on the Run.
I put the paper aside and pick up The Guardian. Headlines: 52 Killers Escape Hangman. Yowsah.
In October 2005, there was a march on the capital of Trinidad to protest the rising crime rate. 305 people, dressed in white, laid down in the street to symbolize the number murdered that year. That's a huge number, considering the population of the whole country is less than the number of people who live in Manhattan. In 2005, there were fewer than 100 murders in Manhattan.
“Watch your back,” the guesthouse clerk tells me. “Trinidad has a really high crime rate. More than 400 murders so far this year.” And it's only September.
So I'm thinking. OK, you have a free country. No traffic police. No drinking age. Never show an ID. No TV cameras on the street. No finger printing visitors. Really free. But are you paying for that freedom with murder?
Later in the trip, I ask Bryan about it.
“You got it,” he says. “I was in Florida once. I felt like I couldn't do anything. I needed an ID to rent a videotape. I was carded, watched, everything. But, I guess I was safe. Here, we are freer, but the price for bops that don't care is crime.”
After a night at the guesthouse, I move in with a New York-born Jew who worked in the diamond business. He retired at 40, married a Trini woman (who wouldn't?), built a mansion with a swimming pool and servant's house. I had my own room.
“What do I want with America?” he says. “You have no freedom. You have no healthcare. People are stupid... and ugly.”
“So you want to stay here?” I ask him.
“Sure,” he says, “the only problem is the crime.”
I'm thinking about this as I get on the airplane for Caracas, Venezuela. I'm thinking about how freedom maybe isn't so free if you always have to watch your back. It'll be interesting to see what it's like in a more controlled country. See how my idol, Chavez keeps control. What kind of freedom do the people have there? Should I be willing to give up the quest for freedom for a tad of security?
On the other hand, I never felt in danger in Trinidad. My rich Jew host in his mansion never locked the door. The people in his little town all know-- and watch out for-- each other. I donno. It's a tough problem.
I don't sleep the night before the Venezuela flight. I'm out limin' with the gang. Then Randy brings me to the airport.
I get on the plane for the 20 minute ride to Caracas... and pass out.
ENDNOTES: [email subscribers (firstname.lastname@example.org) or website viewers (www.mykelboard.com) will get live links and a chance to email comment on the column]
-->Ho ho ho dept: Jim Hass sends me a clipping about a 52-year-old man who was convicted of beating an elderly street minister to death, in downtown Atlanta in 2004. Prosecutors said the killer was dressed as Santa Claus at the time of the attack.
-->Contact dept: My new friends in Trinidad and Venezuela need CONTACTS. Help bring them into the world. Look for the Trinis on MySpace under their bandname: Anti-Everything. You can find the Venezuelans on MySpace at APATIA NO! or email 'em at: email@example.com
-->Another disappointment dept: Next week you'll read about my disappointment with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In the meantime, Ms. S, who I've written about before, sent me a clipping from the NY Times, International edition.
Seems like in Cuba, the Raoul Castro government couldn't stomach the lyrics of punk rocker Gorki Aguila Carasco. He was arrested at a concert for “social dangerousness..” A charge with as much meaning as the American “conspiracy.” Fortunately, public pressure (including President Bush!), forced the Cubans to release him with a $28 fine.
His comment on release, “I've walked out of the small cage, into the big one.”
-->Hole in my theory department: I usually never go to places that tell you how great they are. I'd never shop in a store that calls itself Best Buys. I won't eat in a Delicious Diner. Or buy shoes at the Wonderful Shoe Shop. I figure if a store needs to name itself Best, Wonderful or Terrific, it's not.
But in Trinidad, where everything is great anyway, I went to the Excellent Stores Shopping Center to use the internet café. Nothing special, right? I just walk up to the counter, pay the attractive girl $15 Trini dollars (about $3 US dollars), plug in and surf.
The first week of my Trinidad visit, I do this exactly twice. Mundane, boring task, right? Hooey!
I leave Trinidad for two weeks in Venezuela. When I return, I go to the internet cafe. The same girl is behind the counter.
“Hi!” she says with a smile from Port of Spain to Hicksville New York. “It's great to see you again! Where have you been?”
I'm her long lost friend. After two visits. Less than five minutes of commercial intercourse. And suddenly we're pals. Yowsah! What can I say, but EXCELLENT!
-->I wonder if it's full of shit dept: It's called The Colossal Colon, and it was on display at the Indiana State Fair. It's a 40 foot long model of the human colon. Visitors can crawl through it and experience what it must be like for a real live turd. No word on which politicians or talk show personalities have made the treck.
-->Really bad timing dept: I think it was Jim Haas who sent me the article about Greyhound Canada pulling its ads. The ad campaign featured happy bus travelers with the tag line: There a reason you've never heard of bus rage.
The ad was pulled after Vince Li, a recent immigrant to Canada, was charged with murder. The guy allegedly attacked another bus passenger, stabbing him several times. As the other passengers fled the bus, Li severed his victim's head, displaying it to the passengers outside. A police officer at the scene, said that he saw Li “hacking off pieces of the victim's body... and eating them.”
You can go to Mykel's homepage for lots of other interesting, weird stuff.