Pedro Ávila

Somewhere over a storm-ravaged Curitiba in the south of Brazil…

We were a couple hours out of São Paulo when the pilot alerted us of the trouble straight ahead. Apparently he hadn’t factored in the weather when he filed his flight plan and now there was a mass of furious rage and hail in front of us and it wasn’t about to step aside for us to make our layover in Curitiba.

It’s very late, and it’s very dark. We have piles of hours behind us and we still have many left to go. It was going to be an epic night of obstacle dodging but I think we’d known that from the beginning. We were already more than thirty-six hours on the run and our bodies had not seen or felt comfort in any form over the last week. From São Paulo to San Francisco, then a drive to San Luis Obispo, Lafayette, and a flight back to São Paulo and now off to Curitiba and then Buenos Aires. By the time we were done we would have traveled roughly 25,000 kilometers, which is a little over 8 times the length of the United States, more than half way around the world. And we did it in about a week. With lay overs and a lot of driving.

This is insane.

We had left Brazil the previous Thursday for the United States, arriving early on Friday morning and driving the 4-hour suckfest down to San Luis Obispo for my brother’s graduation from Cal Poly. Say what you will about Pismo Beach and the surrounding economies fueled by former Hell’s Angels with thoughts of retirement and surfer junkies who’ve finally found their calling. Say what you will about Cal Poly as a school or San Luis Obispo as a town — putting two boys through the damn thing is an accomplishment for the parents of said boys as much as it is for the boys themselves.

So there was much to celebrate and I was damned if I was going to miss it.

The ceremony itself was a worthwhile event, better than mine in every respect. The Computer Engineering Department seems to care what people think about their school after graduation and my brother’s professors were all there, many of whom I recognized from my days. The Computer Science guys? Not so much. Still, I’m glad we went. It was nice to be in San Luis again though I felt removed from it. I guess college towns have the power to do that to you once you leave.

But shit, Sunday was another trek back north, just in time to pay the bills, feed the fish and celebrate some more. Monday morning was coming fast.

And when it did we caught the flight back to Brazil, arriving just in time for the Croatia game of the World Cup on Tuesday morning, which in another country half a world away, Brazil won, 1-0. Still got it.

But now, the darkness outside, the late hour, the many hours behind us and the others still ahead are not helping matters. Struck with fatigue, my partner-in-crime perseveres in her attempts at staying awake, still reading up on our destination at this last minute. Her attention is interrupted by the captain’s intercom, which is coming on as I type this to deliver more bad news.

When the fuel started giving way to time, the pilot soiled himself and the plane turned to the east, headed for Florianópolis and then continuing on to our layover in Asunción, Paraguay. There we were told that the layover would be longer than expected. Buenos Aires was covered in a fog so thick that people weren’t even driving on the streets.

“Nevermind landing,” said an bald mand with a briefcase and an American accent, “where can we get some food?”

The next few hours were clearly going to be long ones. We strolled around the dark terminal. It was lined with little bodegas that sold futbol jerseys, cheap jewelry and other souveniers but at 2 in the morning they were all closed, covered in thick canvas with tweed ropes tied around the bottoms.

Our stroll around that eerie place showed us that the ‘terminal’ was really just a tiny room about fifty feet by fifty feet, made larger by the labyrinthine look of the place in the dark, between all of the souvenir stands.

In any case, we saw no signs of help.

Hours passed; we waited, still in Paraguay. We alternated napping in short, unrestful bursts. Eventually we found some coffee that another airline was serving its stranded passengers. Not our airline of course, because Gol sucks a huge wang, but at least we got to partake. But still, in Paraguay, we waited. Hours passed.

A bald man with a brown leather briefcase, slacks, a short-sleeved shirt and about fifty pounds of weight he didn’t need started complaining to no one in particular that the airline should put us in a hotel. Guess where he was from? It starts with an ‘A’ and rhymes with ‘Captain America’. Yeah.

I wished he’d shut up or else spontaneously combust. Either one would have done the trick. Unfortunately, neither happened. He went to call a lawyer at one point only to find that the phone systems in the terminal at that hour don’t work. That’s a 3rd world country’s way of politely saying fuck you to loud-mouthed foreigners who can’t handle a little diversity.

Mind you, I’m not one to turn the other cheek but if I wanted a high-quality airline, I wouldn’t have flown Gol for fifty Reais. And just who would I complain to anyway? There was no one with the airline in the terminal and he was starting to sound more and more like a schizophrenic with every yelp. So we waited some more.

Let me say this, though: Fuck you, Gol, and Fuck you hard.

That’s about all I can do, short of not buying tickets from them. Fortunately TAM also had gates in that terminal and they are a little bit more humane to their customers, or as Gol prefers to call us, livestock. They must’ve done some research that found that harp music is a cheap way of calming down terminally-waiting passengers. They’d gone to the trouble of waking up their go-to harp-guy and brought in a bartender to hand out soft-drinks and coffee to anyone in the terminal. Lucky thing for Gol.

At some hour when the light was starting to come up over the horizon, they announced that we were going to give Buenos Aires another shot. In between losses of consciousness I boarded the plane, trusting it was the right one. I didn’t see a damn thing until we landed in BA.


Asunción, Paraguay – June, 2006

to be continued…

Pedro Ávila

I can’t always say what the right thing to do is in most situations. When you’re hungry though, and tired, and the sun has not yet set, the right thing to do is to choose a direction.

Hell, the extra miles on the rental are free, so you just go. That’s a typical evening for me when I’m working in Reno, and I chose east, at least initially.

I took I-80 for an hour or so, hoping to see a diner or some other wretched dive on the side of the road that I could duck into for some serious thinking and get away from the demons that so chase me these day. Instead, I saw nothing.


East of Reno…what could I do? Between Reno and Fernley there is nothing but a mountain pass that leads to the vast flat nothing that is the true Nevada desert. Roads winding through peaks with names like ‘Old Lonesome’ and towns like ‘Battle Mountain’. With so much nothingness out there I would’ve had no hope of escape and my own thoughts would’ve caught up to me. I needed stimulus.

So I turned around and headed south on 395 until I reached the intersection with 341 and 431. I took the latter to North Lake Tahoe, which is a fabulous drive and really gives you stuff to think about. Like, for example: Why am I out driving around like a fool when I could be hitting golf balls into an ugly man-made lake in the middle of the desert?

Later on my way back down from Mt. Rose and still starving, craving direction as much as nutrients, I continued on the same road until it became 341 and I followed the crazily windy path through the desert rocks and the dry brush. I knew I was in jack rabbit country out there and I kept a watchful eye for the fuckers. My client in Reno is from here and he knows jack rabbits. He tells me that these creatures of walnut-sized brains have so much to room to eat and fuck in the Nevada desert that they suffer from a condition otherwise only known to man: boredom.

“East of Tahoe, once you start losing the green around the roads, you have to drive like they’re coming,” he said to me just after lunch one day.

“Like who’s coming?” I asked him.

“Jack rabbits, man. They’re fucking everywhere here. You really have to watch out for them.”

“Like squirrels in Northern California, right?” I suggested, barely looking up at him. I knew he wasn’t going to like the comparison between the Oregonian northern stretch of California and the expanse of the Nevada bleakness to which he’d grown so accustomed since he moved here from Massachusetts in ‘78. But I wanted to prod him.

He looked at me in wretched disgust. “Fuck squirrels, man. You can see their little jittery tails from so far…and they want to survive. Not like jack rabbits at all.”

I looked up from my book, Heart of Darkness, with more interest now. “What are you saying? Are they missing some kind of survival instinct?”

His eyes glowed now that I’d asked him the right question. “No, no. See, this is how they get their kicks. They’re bored to death out here. What they do is stand by the road until they see a pair of headlights and then they get all giddy and spasmic. They wait until the last minute and then dart in front of the car, trying to make it across the road alive and usually causing people to wrap their cars around telephone poles to avoid hitting what they think is a cat of some kind.”

“Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said, exhaling and leaning back into his chair, returning his attention to his turkey sandwich.

“What do you recommend?”

“Keep vigilant on the road, and avoid driving in the dark. If you think it’s too late, run it over, though, man. Very few cats or dogs out here. Too hot. And nobody cares if you hit a jack rabbit. Let God sort them out.”

“Wonderful,” I said. “I don’t need more to worry about.” Then I thought about what he said a bit more. “How do you know all this?”

His eyes got giddy again and he dropped his sandwich and leaned forward. “I’m a geo-cacher,” he said, raising an eyebrow and nodding profusely with perverted smile on his face.

I’d heard the term before. A mousy guy from the Marina once at a party in Trevor’s kitchen where he keeps all of the liquor. The guy had grown up in Davis and was all up in arms about this thing they did when they went home for summer, hiding objects in a tupperware in the middle of nowhere and tagging it’s coordinates for other people to find using GPS trackers. Very strange.

“I see them when I’m out there treasure hunting. Sometimes I just watch them for a while and when you watch jack rabbits long enough, soon enough they’ll do something stupid.”

So I kept my eyes out for anything crossing the road all the way into Virginia City and tried to keep steady a sense of direction. Where was I going? I kept asking myself. What the fuck is ‘Virginia City’?

I had to see it to understand. I had to drive the barren highway 341, past the convenience store and the community church, into the winding hills of red east of Big Ditch. I had to see the red turn to fire as the sun dipped lower and lower in the sky. I had to keep driving on, towards a city most don’t know is there, where Geiger Grade Road dumps into the mouth the Spanish Ravine. To where silver miners roved and eventually just gave up. The result of the American Dream gone sour.

People have searched, worked like animals and prayed and stolen for their chance at the dreams this land allows. Foreigner assimilate features of our culture while we assimilate them into our whole, into our soup. Some lose their identity, their children grow up behaving like savage packs of desert hunters. Some of them take to vices such as drink, women, meth. Some take to solitude and for some it leads to internal collapse. The American fight is not easy and many fail. The successes are big, much like everything else in America, but then, so are the disappointments. So are the disappointments.

And places like this is where some of them have ended up. They may not have given up necessarily, but they’ve stopped pretending like they’re close, and now, like true Americans, they’re enjoying the ride.

Maybe that’s not a fair description of Americans, but rather of this last, aging, hipster generation. We’ll see. But I had to come out here to see it. And while I think I managed to avoid hitting any jack rabbits that evening, I wonder if that would’ve been worse than the sad conclusions I saw in that town out there, alone in a land of no bearings.

I parked the car and ordered a burrito and a corona in one of their dives. I faced east. As the sun dropped in the sky behind me, the shadows reached, reached out into the golden sandstones of the Nevada desert until the black night stomped them out.

I sipped my beer. It wasn’t that bad.

Pedro Ávila

It’s a good thing I don’t do this every day. It’s a good thing I have to choose what to write about and what topics to leave behind. Seriously. If this little piece of internet real estate were a reflection of the scattered and multifarious topics of thought that are constantly shooting between my neurons I think I might quickly have a lot of questions to answer from concerned people I know in the psychiatry business.

I’d probably lose any chance of holding a steady job too if word got out about how completely demented and indiscriminate all my thoughts add up to being sometimes. When you throw computer science and project management sales concepts into the mix of raw emotion, poetry, worry and dark delinquency that is already in here it becomes amazing that I can do half of what people accuse me of being good at without warping my face into a twisted explosion of confusion and conflict.

And that can’t happen, friends, as it would render me largely unemployable. And I’m a man who likes to be occupied, so the next thing you know I’d be going mad and knocking the hats off of strangers and scribbling gibberish on the windshields of cars parked at the airport. Besides, I have too many things right now that I just kinda need to get out of my head. So I may as well choose a topic and go with it.

Public transportation. Yeah. That’s a good one.

Public transportation is the apex of culture. Trains, buses, ferries, even airplanes – these are places where people congregate without the intent of congregation, but for the sole reason that they all have a common course. Anywhere else that people congregate it’s because they have something to share, something to observe, something to obtain. But not on public transportation. Here we’re all going somewhere, being ourselves with no one to impress, with no act to deliver.

Culture is about people, their differences and their similarities and the results of their interactions. Action-reaction; cause-effect. At the root of it lies understanding. Understanding of motives, of processes, of emotion; the irrational and the rational.

Knowing that and understanding it is a powerful thing, and nowhere else is there a better vantage point within civilization than on public transportation, where people are mostly idle, lost in a moment of self-something. Waiting to arrive.

Nowhere else are their faces so bearing of the signs and scars of whatever happenings have befallen them in their time. Nowhere to their faces tell their fantastic tales so clearly, so honestly. Nowhere else do you get such tall stories of happiness, confusion and suffering with so little else like politics, agendas and insecurities to muddle up the story.

A Native American man sits in the seat adjacent mine and I let my eyes fall slightly off the pages of my book to see his story etched upon his face. The woman in the green windbreaker with a mini-bottle of vodka and an unlit cigarette clutched in her trembling fists is still writing her ending. The girl behind me is an open book with her Uggs and shopping bags getting off at Powell station.

What a piece of work is man.

The rest of the train drifts, not just along the tracks but along the stories of the people. So many stories entering and leaving, so many unknown endings. It’s just as well. Many stories have no clear start and therefore no clear end. They just fizzle off the page when the paper runs out, and that’s not the kind of moral I enjoy.

… neither are posts like this one.

Pedro Ávila

So I’m at the gas station the other day, pouring MTBE hydrocarbons into my vehicle. I admit it, I use gasoline just like the rest of you mortals, and I also feel the recent upward swing in gas prices. It sucks.

Remember when gas prices dropped to a dollar and a penny a couple years ago? Gone are those times, eh?

But it’s all relative. Do you know how much gas costs in other countries? How much it has always cost in other countries? In Brazil, gasoline has cost — for as long as I can call myself a person — about R$2.80 a liter.

What the hell is a liter? You might ask. You and about 98% of all other Americans.

A liter is close enough to .25 gallons — in other words, there are 4 liters in a gallon.

The Brazilian Real converts to close enough to 2 Reais per dollar at the time of this writing, which is to say that a liter of gas costs around $1.40.

Multiply that by 4 liters to get a gallon, and we start getting to the very frightening and desperate conclusion that gasoline in Brazil, a country where the minimum wage of $350 per month is held by over 50% of the population costs a whole lot of money. Specifically, this means:

$5 a gallon for gasoline.

This is hella expensive, and Brazil’s condition concerning gas prices is pretty representative of most other places on the planet.

So my question to you people becomes: What the hell are you complaining about? One fewer latte per day ought to cover that. Quit your bitching.

Allow me to put it in perspective, as it was recently brought to my attention by my younger sibling: let’s say that gas prices hop to $2.80…oh wait, we’re already at $3.40…ok, that won’t work.

Speaking of which, remember when gas was about $2.80? Well, yeah. Those days are gone too.

But let’s go with this $3.40 per gallon business. That converts to $.85 a liter.

85 cents.

Those studying physics, chemistry, foreign languages or at least those of you that have already read the above tangent may already know what a liter is – for the rest of you, it’s the volume of a standard Nalgene™ bottle, or the larger Aquafina bottles with which Pepsi chooses to adorn their selected university campuses.

I have yet to hear people complain of the high cost of water, or suggest that we bomb small island nations to lower the high water costs to our own citizens. Maybe that’s because there is no OWEC (Organization of Water Exporting Countries, for anyone who missed the OPEC reference), or perhaps because that’s just silly.

You decide then, since you’re so good at voting in a president who knows what he’s doing. I digress.

What I have seen instead is people dropping a buck-twenty on a liter of water without batting an eye.

Water. $1.20.

Am I getting through to you? Is this starting to make sense? Because I’m still confused…

And let’s not forget that there is free tap water available in most places where you can get a liter of the precious liquid for $1.20, and that in the Bay, at least, that tap water is good stuff.

I’m not saying that oil prices are fine and people should just shut up and pump their gas. You’re paying for that oil anyway because the US is among the governments that most subsidizes oil prices. That keeps its oil addicts happy and complacent – ergo, quiet.

Nor am I offering a solution to the problem of inflated water prices (yes I am, actually – drink tap water and quit giving money to Pepsi and Coca-Cola). But if you think that gas is too expensive then consider riding the bus, walking, or biking to wherever it is that you need to go. It’s free, and 2 of the 3 options contain no MTBE.

…and if I hear an SUV owner complain I cannot be held responsible for my actions. Don’t laugh, you bastards. This is serious.

Pedro Ávila

Putting this in the front or the end (where it might be misunderstood as an actual disclaimer) would’ve made no sense, since it’s mostly a warning. That’s why it’s in the middle somewhere; where it’s least likely to be read. Lucky you.

The stuff I write in here is not a journal, per se, though sometime it takes on a similar form. Some of it is completely made up, and some of it is not. Some characteristics of the person telling the story are me and some are not.

I feel it necessary to say this before people who may read this think that these are all my thoughts or actions; that I spend too much time in strange hotels drinking variations of wine, bourbon, martinis and beer, often too much, and often far too alone for the comfort of society. That I dream too much, try too hard and that were I to fail I would fall so hard that my mind would snap and I’d end up a hermit in the south pacific, looking for coconuts with which to break crabs.

It’s not a pretty thought.

The truth is I’m getting some strange mail about these entries and this is my warning if you want to invest the time to peruse this place, lest you think I’m either in need of some serious counseling or else a sharp attorney very soon.

They’re just words.

… remember that if you venture into my head.

Pedro Ávila

Permit me an “aside” for my mind, you know, drifts, and I struggle to keep up.

People are animals of complacence. If one is comfortably seated and you push him, not enough to make him fall off his seat, but just to rock back and forth, he won’t come at you. He may say something, but really what he wants is for everything to be like the way it was.

You know — they sometimes call ‘em the good ol’ days.

If you want that man to stand, to not only say but to DO something, you’re going to have to push him so hard that he falls off the chair and never rocks back because you’re changed his way of life.

This is a metaphor akin to Plato’s cave, but with a rocking chair. Deal with it.

But it’s sort of the condition that America is in today. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying in Darfur for oil and inequity: I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me. Inhuman treatment of children in China is poising the Chinese to be in a position of claiming its credits and dismantling the west like a bankrupt business: I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me. AIDS and cancer are still killing people like they were a decade ago and politicians want to make childhood obesity a priority and call it ‘progress’ to remove soda machines from schools: I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me. The corporations that you and I support, along with the bazillions of people that simply don’t think about how much gas they burn and how responsible they are for worsening of the atmosphere are overheating of the planet and guaranteeing the ensuing results: I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me. The US Government is illegally and unrighteously tapping all lines of communication against the express wishes and mandates of the constitution for no good reason…I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me. An illegitimate President misled the people into supporting a war in Iraq for what today only vague reasons may exist: I don’t care, it doesn’t affect me.

Gas prices go up $0.50. Pandemonium. Radical change is demanded. Faulty the guilty, kill the sinners. It’s judgment time.

That’s the way it works, and goddammit, the leaders can’t be relied on to do anything because they’re animals just like the rest of you. They say that they’re fighting this war in Iraq so that they don’t have to fight it over here…that seems convenient, don’t you think? I’ll bet there would be a lot less support for this war and it’s troops if it were being fought over here…shit, if it was affecting anything here at all.

The truth is that in these times of so much fear, Americans want the borders closed because they like it in here; it’s not quite as real as the rest of the world, where gasoline has always cost $5 a gallon and so people have learned to use it more wisely. It’s nicer than out there, where people have known about the dangers of greenhouse gases all along, and where freedom of press and censorship are openly discussed, not blindly claimed.

I’m not about to announce a rally or try to incite movement in your hearts — if you didn’t already feel something before reading this then all you’re doing is shifting the focus of your obsequiousness. I am not a puppet master and my words are not the strings to which you cling — at least, they shouldn’t be. What my words ought to be is the fire that burns your ropes, the blade to cut your strings; the bombs that blast you free.

Think for yourselves. Vote. Speak. Act.


Or it’s all your fault.

Pedro Ávila


Goddammit, I hate Americans sometimes.

Every time I come back to this country I feel a rising disgust at being associated with these massive shit wads. The lack of worldliness, the fast food, the Coca-Cola, loud and exaggerated voices, the fat, superfluousness of everything. The percentage that represents intelligence, creativity, jazz, blues, explorers, independence and ingenuity is a very small number indeed. The rest of them, these twats, these ignorant and complacent gits… I can’t even form complete sentences around them, it’s just so many idiotic interpretations and faith in the wrong…….dammit!

And don’t get me started on the Christian right. Just don’t.

Breathe Pete. One, two, one, two, in, out, in, out…

That’s it. Easy, big fella.

Ahrggghhh! It’s no use, they’re everywhere, especially in Texas. God, I loathe Texas.

But not as much as these Christians. I sat there, entertaining dim-witted half-thought questions to fools with good intentions but not one original thought in the heads. It’s not a tragedy but it is ironic; horrible and hatefully so. The externalities of the ignorance of these people causes a rise in me that’s explosive and dangerous like sake and car bombs.

Anyway, I hate & I loathe, but I try to just sit there and not turn violent. That’s all you can reasonably ask of me in Texas. The swine across the isle…I snap occasionally when I hear them say things like “in Brazil it’s just easier to spread the work of God because people accept Jesus in their hearts when he tells them to,” or worse, “they’re not hampered by the stupid division between church and state.”

You think I kid.

“That stupid division is what’s kept this country running like a warm stove up until now,” I snap at him like a political piranha. But he goes on.

“people are so accepting and…”

“Ignorant?” I interject. He seems not to notice.

“…and nice,” he continues, blankly and uselessly. I have much to say but as usual, I try to keep it to myself. This doesn’t always work because things that need to come out, tend to. Nature finds a way, right? Look that up. It’s in Jurassic Park.

I look at him coldly. An innocent-looking child sits close by. His young, I assume, but something isn’t quite right about the look it’s giving me. I feel unsettled and uneasy. I prod a bit deeper.

“Has it occurred to you that religion, while it gives them hope and something to latch onto is also one of the greatest hindrances to their progress? People don’t need love, they need infrastructure. They don’t need god, they need health care. Your understanding of the causality of the situation is all wrong.”

“God made his children all equally lovable, but some need more guidance than others to find the strength in which to know Him.”

“You’re either absurdly tactless or tragically uneducated to say something like that,” I say, with malapert thoughts on my mind.

“Do you read the Bible, friend?”

Jesus Christ,” I blurt, not really jonesing for the reaction but glad to have it. His eyes swell with indignation at my impudent reaction.

That seemingly innocent youth next to him, a pupil faith assassin, looks at me curiously, obviously having caught more of what I so generously handed out. I look at her sharply and continue, now that the locks are flooding.

“I had loads of premarital sex,” I stab, gaging the small one’s reaction. “My favorite meat on Friday is red,” I continue, seeing the children eagerly identify me as a heathen who needs saving, their assassin’s eyes on me like a starving rotweiller, eyes fixed on the prize.

Let them come.

As they spring, teeth out and Bibles in hand I pull out my light saber and slice the first three in one burning motion. Their halves fall to the ground separated by mere moments of delay. I lay the rest of them spread eagle on the floor with the Necrominicon I carry with me for just these sorts of times.

At the climax of it all, looking down on the field of half-corpses and mortally stunned carcasses I realize that they were just children. Young, misguided, doomed children nonetheless, but it wasn’t their fault. If only their hypocrite parents could’ve thought for themselves long enough to teach the kids they would have had a more reasonable reaction to my powers.

Oh well.

Dammit, Every fucking time I re-enter this country, something like this winds up happening. Every TIME.

Houston International Airport, Terminal C – April, 2006

Pedro Ávila

There have been naysayers who thought I had not the sack that hangs between my legs to do the necessary to secure the goals I so arduously seek. You know who you are. And you know what?

Shut up.

I have faced, not once, not twice, but thrice the fury of the Brazilian salesman working on heavy commission. But I planned, schemed and executed beautifully, on time and under budget. In heavy traffic I crossed the Beast, found the places, got my wares and made it back alive, successfully.

And it wasn’t in the ease of the evening, after work when time is not a factor. And  it certainly was not on a weekend when I have better adventures to chase, more dangerous and less well-funded. No, it was during a maddeningly well-planned lunch hour that I sought my instrument, my talisman. With all my skills and wits about me did I face the insanity of crossing the Beast at mid-day, when the motorcycle boys are out in full force and when people are hungry. With all my innate sense of direction did I tell the cabbie where to go, in the rain, turning onto streets only known to me from a 300 mile orbit picture on Google Maps. With all my fierce ice-coldery did I stand in the face of the musical store sales-wretch and make him bow to my clear American Express Blue card, which apparently they don’t have in Brazil.

“I’m not sure we can take this clear, futuristic card of credit. I’ve never seen it’s equal.”

“Take it! Take it, vile scum! Feed from my credit, which is immaculate as it is foreign. You shall know no better reward (and I’ll get the points).”

“I cannot as I don’t know the card code. It’s written in some kind of alien language I can’t read.”

“Fool, the card is clear and you’re reading it from behind!”

“Ahh. I hear you master. Your power is great indeed. I will throw in a power cable and carrying case for you.”

“You are wise.”

And so it was that I bought my guitar.

Victory over the Beast, and I even had time to eat an esfiha when I got back. I am – and please understand that I say this with all my modesty – the shit.

…and my guitar rocks. Hard.

Pedro Ávila

Characters in this strange place on dark nights with little moonlight. With this job, with this existence, I don’t know, man. I feel like I wander into realities that were never really meant for me but through which I’ve been allowed temporary passage.

Taxi drivers in Brazil — cabbies — being what they are, would also make good bartenders. They know of all of the best places to eat for cheap, where the quality counts and the quantity is abundant. They are often rough but sometimes refined, and can lend a good ear in short bursts of 5 blocks. That’s a pretty tight skill to have.

“It’s all the same”, he said. “All the same. Don’t ever think you’re in the worse, because the guy you think is better off, isn’t. I know — I’ve been both.”

Wisdom, man, especially now, in these times. We spoke in vague terms, uncommitted and agreeable, but I left it all in the backseat. He said that’s how you win when you have all of this baggage and you don’t know where to start — you leave it in the car, in the back, and don’t take your worries home with you.

That sounded right. I’d sure like to believe him, but I just can’t imagine it’s that simple.

Or maybe I don’t want to.

We have, all of us, such disparate existences, such alternate realities. There are dark corners of this city where integrity is not defined by your character. It’s not defined at all, actually, because survival is too important to worry about integrity. There are other corners, other places where what matters is your power to obtain because it’s all you have left.

Or something like that.

What I know is that many times it happens in this country, that as I’m about to step out of the cab and am waiting for my receipt (since, you know, it’s a business expense), the cabbie asks me how much I want him to make it out for.

What do you mean,” I ask naively. “What does the meter read?”

45 Reais,” he replies.

Then make it out for 45 Reais,” I say. He looks at me with a confused look most times, though occasionally you get the guy that understands that you’re not of those guys.

Wow,” he’ll say, “usually they say to double or quadruple it. I don’t get many like you.”

Shit,” I say, “that’s too bad. If they’re government people, it’s likely you’re paying for it.”

What?” He asks.

But that’s a losing battle.

Once, it was late at night, one or two in the morning. I was headed back from dinner at my uncle’s house but the cabbie didn’t know that. He picked me up on a corner by a residential street and who knows what he thought I was doing there. Leaving home?

He must’ve thought I was a local of some kind. Business men who pay expensive late-night taxi fees in São Paulo are either government folk from Brasilia who don’t know the city or else foreigners who don’t speak Portuguese.

I was neither, of course, and I had done my homework, studying Google Maps until late hours of the night so that I would feel comfortable in this vast sprawl of concrete and narrow roads. It totally threw him off when I asked him to take me to a well-known and very expensive hotel on the ritzy part of town.

“Are you alone?” He asked me initially, which made me nervous. In a city like São Paulo, you never want people to know you’re alone.

I told him that no, I wasn’t alone. I was married.

“I know,” he said, “but are you alone?”

Oh. Hmm. Um.

How fascinating, I thought, and adjusted my butt on the leather bench seat of his taxi. This guy had absolutely no reservation about taking a married man to see a prostitute, even arranging it for him. And why should he? It wasn’t, I felt,  just about how much money he could make from it. It was his role as a courier to provide a full-service escort from point A to point B. And since he knew his client’s typical tastes from experience, of course I had been bundled into the same line of thought. It wasn’t a values thing, it’s just how the night winds wail in some places.

This strange reality tends to fade when the sun comes up, but weirder things come up; things in conference rooms on the high floors of corporate high-rises; things I don’t like to repeat. There are many kinds of evil in our world but the worst kind is the one that doesn’t traverse other people’s values; the ones that you may not be willing to do, but someone is. That’s when things get dangerous if you wander through these realities. At one point or another, I will have to consider that as an option, I think.

Pedro Ávila

Saturday started off as hectic as one would have expected when coordinating a trip between three families, only one of which is not loaded with the burden… err, blessing, I should say — of children under 6. It’s a goddamn miracle we arrived at the lovely little beach town of Cambury before 1 pm. A goddamn miracle.

Speaking of which, the boys and I were quite the fools back in the day when we traveled to Guarujá and payed a hundred Reais to squeeze into the maid’s room at the hotel for a weekend. Had we continued another hour north we would have found it well worth our troubles and adventures to be lost in the thickest of jungles of the Mata Atlantica bordering the nicest beach town yet.

Such is the folly of youth, I suppose.

Often times it happens that the universe is not cooperative and decides to turn things against one’s every whim. Sometimes though – sometimes the universe gets creative and events conspire to turn your way. I feel, friends, that this weekend was one such time.

I had every intention of spending the weekend surfing as much as possible on my birthday budget, though renting boards in Brazil is getting more and more expensive every time I’m here. I never really considered just chilling on the beach…I never really understood why people do that when there’s so much more to do.

But the universe conspired, remember, and all was set on track.

On arrival at our pretty little pousada, I went around back to explore the joint and its surrounding foliage, which is ample and thick, just the way I like it. I can only imagine what people must think seeing a white dude with long hair, an obviously-foreign look about him and poking around a maintenance area that has barely any room between it and the jungle. Suspicions of mischief must overload their minds.

Whatever their fears, they stayed away, and I am thankful for that. With few exceptions, in a place like this I’m pretty much anti-people.

While exploring I found an old dude with white hair and very short shorts waxing a surfboard with a grin on his face that could fit a kitten.

Alex,” he introduced himself, reaching over his wooden board to shake my hand. I took it.

Alex worked as a real-estate agent in Campinas and also ran a welding supply company. I think that’s what it was. I might have lost some of that in the translation.

Are you in the pousada for long,” he asked me.

Nah, just the weekend. Hope to get some surfing done.”

“Good,” he said. “This is the place to do it. Rodrigo runs a very nice pousada here – plenty of space to move around and everyone leaves you alone. My wife and I don’t go anywhere else in this state.

Wonderful,” I said. “That’s exactly what I’ll need this weekend.”

I asked him what the going rate was for board-rental in the area. It varies so much, I’d found, on other beaches, and the tooth picker and dick dragging locals usually don’t know shit about that kind of thing.

Why the hell would you rent a board?” He asked. “I’ve got 5 in that closet behind you.”

I looked at him in mild disbelief, waiting for him to tell me how much he was going to charge me for his boards. But it never came.

I won’t lend you this one because I just got it and want to try it out. It’s a big board too, shaped by a guy in San Luis Obispo in California. Great surf out there!”

I know,” I said, hiding my smile, “I’ve heard.” That was no time to show off.

So he gave me his long board and I headed for the sand, to beach where the waves were plentiful, fast, well-formed and over sandbars, not rocks or a reef. Sand is better than stones or coral in a situation like this where you’re surfing in a Speedo.

Later that evening, surfed out and tanked on a clear liquor that Alex had served up for me, I joined him and his wife, Amparo, in a conversation with the funny little man who owns the pousada, Rodrigo.

Amparo was a short, black-haired woman with the body of a 25 year-old but the sullenness of a woman 15 years her senior. She was the quiet type and we didn’t hear much from her throughout the night, but her exotic beauty complimented her stern appearance and she wore her age well.

Rodrigo, we quickly discovered, an Anarchist. How about that? I don’t think I’ve ever met one before. Alex mentioned that he becomes more anarchistic the more drunk he is but at this point he was pretty far gone and  he really wanted government out.

What Brazil is needs,” he stumbled, “isn’t fairness or fewer taxes or health care. We need to do what the Americans are doing! Terrorism!

I leaned back on the couch. Alex rolled his eyes. Amparo said nothing.

Look at how much unity it’s inspired in them. We need more terrorism in this country.

So why don’t you do something about it, you freak?” Alex said pointedly, clearly probing his friend’s inebriation.

I don’t think you realize what it takes to have good terrorists bother you,” I told him, very casually. “You have to work at it. You think it was easy pissing off enough people in the right way?”

Alex and Rodrigo looked at me with confusion on their faces.

You boys need more insight into the stealing that goes on the government. There’s too much hiding behind legislation and phony back offices in the Brazilian Government. If you’re going to have an anarchistic revolt full of terror and senseless violence, you have to get people there. You have to steal out in the open, lie to the people directly, in the press conferences, to their faces, and look comfortable doing it full of disdain for the law and with a middle finger out of the public. The only other way to do it is to invade enough middle eastern countries, but you don’t have the organization for that.

They seemed satisfied with this advice and mulled over it for the rest of the night but I got bored of festering unrest. It started to get disgusting when another idiot joined their conversation and really jammed a log under their fire. He spoke of military occupation and oppression of free thought as if it were the only solution, a polar opposite to our inn-keeper, Rodrigo.

Sometimes,” he said, “the only solution is to wipe out the trouble makers. Get rid of that scum.” Everyone looked aghast. I don’t think any of them had ever met so much as a neocon, let alone a tyrannical lunatic.

Their arguments ensued, mostly civilized, and mostly because Rodrigo passed out on the table a few minutes into it. I took the opportunity to sneak off elsewhere, to a place where the anarchists aren’t yet looming, but neither are the neocons, the armies of Jesus, or the Nazis. Fuck, man, I don’t need that on a weekend.