Taking Chances (Ch. 20)

The onset of rain and my forgetting to bring my little umbrella along, were likely the first indicators that something could go wrong today. My arrangements to go all the way to Niterói (a city next to Rio), taking a bus system unfamiliar to me, which would entail, getting off the bus in Centro, to then walk through parts of town I previously dared not venture, just to meet a girl who, though promising, I’ve only had one brief glimpse of, and the refresher photo she sent me, did appeared a bit too professional. Well, some colloquial idiom might be apropos today. But, will it be “nothing ventured, nothing gained” or, “a fool and his money are soon parted?”

On the subject of money, I only had 50 reals on me today. While this is an amount one could likely get by on, it begs for on increase in funds, should something unaccounted for occur. Yet, I avoid the ATM in the morning, all the warnings about robberies on the public bus system, leading me to conclude better to be deprived of 50 reals, instead of 250. Speaking of the bus, which my new friend Mariana put me on, it seems to be taking forever. The whole time, I am wondering where the alleged tunnel, I’m supposed to get off at, is coming up. Mariana had said it would take like 30 minutes, and I have been on the bus for over an hour now.

I go to talk to the driver and ticket person, inquiring about my stop, Praça XV (pra-sa keen-ze). They rapidly spit out a whole bunch of words, which I understand not one of. Fortunately, I do remember a word learned on the beach yesterday: “a trás,” which means either “back” or “before.” Their nods and hand gestures, in response to my repeating that word, would indicate we passed that place along time ago. At risk of ending up even further out in God-knows-where, I get off the bus in a neighborhood somewhere in Zona Norte (I think), that is beyond dilapidated. {*1} I wonder how many foreigners have ever made it here, and then, I start to wonder, should any have, how many of those ever made it back out. My worry is alleviated for a second, when I see a policeman stop his car to use a pay phone, but then notice, he seems in a hurry to get out of here too. I pray a taxi comes and comes fast; and, one does. But, we are a ways out, so the ride back to Praça XV, along with time spent stuck in Centro traffic, eat into my available funds.

At the docks, I call Gisele (the girl I am supposed to meet), to explain the delay. She tells me she will come meet me on the other side of the bay. Her giddiness of anticipation rubs off on me, and I tell her I will be taking the fast boat over. The catamarans (fast boats) run about four reals, while the slower ferry is 1.5. The difference may be negligible in US dollars, but like I said, my funds were now running low, so it was at least a consideration.

Off the boat, I look for a Brazilian girl with red hair (she informed me she just changed her hair color), blue jeans and a white shirt, but there are none to be seen. I wait patiently. Next to me, are two girls: one with red hair, a white top and a denim skirt, and she looks nothing like the girl in the photo; and her friend, wearing a denim skirt, blue shirt and black hair, that by some stretch of the imagination, could be. Roughly 20 minutes now pass. The entire time, the two girls I mention, keep looking over at me, giggling and carrying on. These two girls look more like 15 than 18, and I begin to fear something is amiss. I walk up and ask if one is named Gisele. But, instead of responding, they both just move away from me.

A few minutes later, I see them pass again, some boy in tow, all now looking back at me again. Am I the victim of some cruel teenage joke, ala “Ghost World?” {*3} Argh! The idea angers me greatly. I am ready to storm off, but holding on to some bit of hope, wander about the dock area for another ten minutes or so. Still, I fail to spot any girls matching the description. As a matter of fact, there are no people around at all now, even the slow ferry arrived and left already. So, I give up waiting, and move along, walking to downtown Niterói. I came all the way here. I may as well see the damn place.

The streets are bustling with activity. There is an open market set up all around the downtown streets, with a plethora of goods being sold, all on the cheap. I try to forget about my being victimized, but one thing isn’t adding up. There are so many beautiful women around on their own, even more so than in Rio. It would seem odd, with all this competition around, that a girl here would go to so much trouble, also considering the amount of time she had put in before this, just to stiff some guy. The girl with the yellow shirt alongside me is just too lovely; same with the girl in white pants and a pink top, that appears to have just got off of work.

I find a little local restaurant, far off the beaten path, where judging by the feel of the place, and the waiter’s surprise at my presence, I would gather Gringo customers are beyond rare. With my new vocabulary, I am able to communicate to the waiter, that I don’t eat meat, and maybe they could throw together something small, yet good, for me. Their definition of small differs greatly from mine (no way I could ever eat the amount of food sitting in front of me), but the total bill is ridiculously cheap, and the food is wonderful.

Walking through the shopping areas, I even find a cell phone, for a price cheaper than my renting one in Rio would set me back. But, I lack the vocabulary to ask if the phone will work in Rio, what services it comes with, or if they guarantee it — the little things, that one should know before making such a purchase.

My day in Niterói done, I count my remaining funds to discover, I have just enough for the boat across and the bus fare. My every attempt at various ATM’s resulted in “incompatible systems” or “international transactions currently off-line.” I also discover, I am bereft of a phone card, likely having left it behind in the prior phone booth. But, like I said, something about the day just isn’t adding up.

I should call Gisele before I leave, just in case I’ve been victimized by my over-active imagination. I figure, if I take the slow boat back and a non-air conditioned bus, I could still swing the purchase of a small phone card. The vendor, even though I know he understands me, makes the purchase difficult, poking fun at my bad pronunciation and feigning not to comprehend my words for “small” and “telephone card.” I ignore his actions, because just about every one else has been polite. Assholes can be found this world over. More pressing right now, is my need for a phone card.

I am so glad I made that call.

Gisele is thrilled to learn I am still in Niterói and comes out to meet me again. This time, I recognize her instantly when I see her approach the docks. Oh, my! Is she lovely. “Calm down my heart … don’t beat so fast…” {*4} She is clever, engaging, and should I not need mention again, lovely. She tells me her bus was held up in traffic, and she ended up looking for me on the docks for over an hour. She feared I had found someone else while waiting for her. Apparently, Niterói has a higher ratio of women to men than Rio, having roughly 35,000 more females. This is a lot for a city of its size (about half a million total residents).

Note to all my friends back in America, who complain that they can’t meet women, or can’t get laid: learn some Portuguese, and bring you whiny little lazy ass to Niterói. You will meet women. I can’t guarantee you will get laid, as I have found that Brazilian girls, while infinitely more approachable than American girls, are generally far less sexually uninhibited, usually waiting years longer before their first sexual congress, and sleeping with far fewer men during subsequent years (in comparison to said American counterparts). So, whether you “get laid” or not, the women you spend time with here, will be far better looking than what you are accustomed to, and I can guarantee, you will have a lot of fun trying.

Back to my girl, I am relishing her company thoroughly, staying in Niterói far later than I should, and risking a much warned against post-midnight bus ride from Centro back to Ipanema. One thing I feel bad about, is having come down from a wealthy country for a date with this girl, and the impression my asking her to buy me a glass of juice may have. Also, more to my benefit, her bilingual skills help me procure the cell phone I should have, in retrospect, bought months ago.

Eventually, she sees me off to the docks, where I take the slow boat home. On the other side of the bay, in the tunnel waiting for the bus, half an hour goes by and none of the passing buses seem headed in my direction. I am in a tunnel in Centro all by myself well after midnight. There is not a soul around, other than the occasional person who comes by and hops on the bus conveniently going in their direction. Everything I have read about Rio, would indicate I am asking to become a victim. A slew of taxis pass, but all I have is two reals (change included).

Side Note: I was to make a few friends among and become somewhat of a temporary celebrity among the beach hippies later, as from this experience, I came up with a song to sing, when my turn to either play guitar or sing came up. Sung to the tune of “Santeria” by Sublime, it goes: “I don’t practice Santeria. I ain’t got no crystal ball. If I came to Brazil with a million dollars, I would leave it with … dois reais.” [two reals]

In hopes of improving my situation, I leave the tunnel and start walking about Centro, hoping to find an ATM that will work, but none are even open. Last week, I ran into a German guy, who begged me to lend him 20 reals for the night, expressing his frustration with Rio’s 24 hour banking centers. It would seem, what I initially told you, was all wrong. {*5} The phrases “24 Hour” and “30 Hour,” as they apply to banking, mean absolutely nothing here. Ignore what I may have said before, it would appear that unless you’re inclined to rob someone, there is no way to get money after midnight in this town. So, not only is this exercise in roaming Centro’s abandoned streets stupid and risky, it is pointless as well.

I thought I saw The Celtic Rebel, walking in Centro later after dark. I thought I saw him standing in a dark tunnel waiting for a nonexistent bus. Was he mad? What was he doing? Was he looking for Lewis & Clark? {*6}

I return to the tunnel for another suspense-filled half-hour, and my salvation, eventually arrives, in the form of the 415 bus. The bus, gives me a suspenseless (in more ways than one, as the state of the suspension system makes every bump and pothole quite a jar to the system), albeit noisy, ride back to Ipanema, where of course, all the banks, are also closed.

I walk down the street, angered I don’t even have enough money to buy one beer. I eye the street people who I had been generous with previously, thinking they should now all chip in, as I am in dire need of just a few reals. Fortunately, at Emporio, I find Mariana, and am treated to what seems like the tastiest chopp ever.

We go out to the beach, where she says that despite her own lack of available funds, she’s sure to find enough dumb Gringos that will buy as beers until sunup. Yet, barely after we settle in on the surf’s edge (two beers already secured), the rain returns, hence like any Carioca might, Mariana runs off when the first drop hits her. But in all honesty, I don’t mind so much. I’ve got the surf, one beer, my thoughts and my music [in my head]:

Oh God, it’s raining, but I’m not complaining. It’s filling me up with new life … reminding me, of so many other nights. But, they’re not like tonight.

The wind in my hair, makes me so aware. How good it is to be alive tonight … and I’m not containing, my pleasure at being so wet, here on my own, all on my own … And, I haven’t felt so alive in years.

Reminding me of so many other nights. When my eyes have been so red, I’ve been mistaken for dead. But, not tonight.

Yes. Quite a few things did go wrong today. But, in no way at all, would I ever classify today as a bad day. Today, I kissed a beautiful girl. Any day you get to do that, is a good one.

 

Copyright 2002, Alex “foolhardy and manic, yet adventurous” Pi
[distributed on 05/27/2003 to two.reals@in.my.pocket.org]


 

*1: Zona Norte (the North Zone), is the industrial part of the city, north of Centro, and allegedly, far more dangerous.

*2: There is a long bridge that connects Rio to Niterói, but the boats that run from Praça XV, are usually a faster and more practical option.

*3: Ghost World, is a film I think I’ve mentioned before. I am referring to a scene where the two teenage girls, call this lonely guy who has placed a “was that you” ad in the personals. They claim to be that woman, and set up a meeting with him, just so they can see how pathetic he is and secretly watch him respond to getting stood up. [Oh, and they too, brought some boy along.]

*4: From “Once in a Lifetime” by Wolfsheim.

*5: See “She’s a Hotel Detective (Ch. 18)” from last series.

*6: Massively modified lyrics to “Looking for Lewis & Clark” by the Long Ryders.

~ by celticrebel on May 27, 2003.

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