Food, drink, film and other random thoughts from The Lone Star State.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Rio - Missing Persons

Welcome to Miami International Airport!

I struggled in my Skyy haze to gather up my carry ons and the hefty party bag. I stumbled down the little corridor of the plane snickering for no apparent reason, hugged my friend goodbye and tried to focus on the little screen indicating where my next flight would be leaving. Nice, they moved it to another terminal, the one on the opposite side of the airport.

What the hell is that smell? Oh, right, Miami, I thought I smelled mold and Hi Karate.

Smiling and laughing to myself I trudged from gate to gate. About half way I had to stop. This will be a good time to check my phone messages, rationalizing my need to sit down again. I plopped myself next to a blue-haired raisin reading Vogue and fumbled for my phone.

Before leaving for Brasil, as we all know, there was hurricane Katrina. Since my family lived in New Orleans for many years before moving to coastal Georgia, we know many people in the area. One friend in particular, Mark, emailed me before Katrina's landfall to say he would be riding things out in New Orleans with his elderly and immobile parents. Naturally I was concerned but respected his decision. Of course, there was no way to contact him after the water hit the fan.

As my phone warmed up the little screen told me I had 2 new text messages. First one from my NYC friend, Dutch, with whom I was flying from Miami to Rio, informing me of the gate change. The next one read 'Mark and family are ...' with the little question at the bottom 'Proceed?'. Uh oh, do I proceed? What will the full text read when I open it? 'are fine', 'are missing', or would it be something else.

Honestly my worst fear would be to hear that they were missing. With missing there is an uncertainty in my analytical mind as how best to process. Do you assume the worst in the name of preparation? Do you assume the best in the name of hope? Missing means my mind would wander with possibilities, conjure up horrific images beyond the dramatic footage of CNN. With my fermented potato induced courage, I clicked yes to the proceed question. ' ... are fine and coming to Houston next week', revealed the full message. Fantabulous -- I'll drink to that! So I groped around in the party bag for another mini blue bottle of fermented potato juice and did exactly that. The anxiety of what might have been had somewhat diminshed my in-flight buzz, it was definitely time to revamp. Anxiety melted, I smiled at the blue-haired raisin who became annoyed with the click, click, click of my sending text messages, then I made my way through the rest of the terminal to find Dutch.

Dutch is still in his 20's. I have a hard time remembering the differences in our ages since Dutch is so far beyond his years in maturity and life experience. 3 years ago, in a two week time span he decided Dallas no longer offered him any learning experiences, so he picked up and relocated to Manhattan. Ballsy move for the boy from East Texas. He works full time, part time MBA student at NYU, persistenly meets new and interesting people, travels (mostly to South America) and now, he's buying his first apartment. Dutch was the sole organizer of our 5 person adventure to Rio.

Dutch was the lone person at the gate, plus at 6'3" hes usually quite easy to spot. We caught up and I shared my perfect start to the trip, revealing the party bag. 'Oh, thats great Jim, I will need something to wash down the Ambien', he laughed his booming infectious laugh, I laughed with him. He seemed a little disturbed that two other NYC friends, Jairo and Scott, had not yet arrived for the connecting flight to Rio. No worries, still an hour to go, maybe flights are backed up due to Katrina fallout? An hour and several unanswered text messages to Jairo later, Dutch and I boarded the 1130pm Rio flight, Jairo and Scott were missing.

I was seated next to a Rio native, a handsome older man that talked non-stop and fluently in both English and Portuguese. I learned more about Rio and Brasil from this man than I did in months of research. I couldn't sleep at all during the 10 hour flight so he was welcomed distraction and education.

I learned quite a bit of Portuguese from my temporary companion. I also learned that he, like many other Brasileiros of means I would meet later, have lived in other countries but always came back to Brasil. Many stories of he and his family moving to Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lisbon and Chicago to escape perilous financial collapse, governmental oppression and other violent ugliness, always ending with 'and then we came home'. I thought he was kidding when he told the story of his wife taking a grocery bag full of currency to Zona Sul just to buy standard groceries. He wasnt. Apparently at one point currency in Brasil had taken such a hit and inflation had become so bad that it took huge sums of cash just to buy the basics. They relocated to Chicago during this time.

In the wee morning hours I peeked out of my window to see that we had started flying over land again; scruffy plains yawned and stretched all the way to the horizon. A little later the popping in my ears told me we were making our descent.

A deep, penetrating voice came over the speaker in Portuguese -- "Bem-vindo a Rio de Janeiro"


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