Monday, October 19, 2009

The soft-serve guy

One of the highlights of any day here is when the soft-serve guy comes around. Think Mr. Softy, but instead of an ice cream truck, it’s a really old pickup truck. And instead of the Mr. Softy music that let’s you know he’s getting closer (or farther away,) you can tell when this guy is near by the sound of the diesel powered soft-serve machine. When I say diesel powered, think of a chainsaw. It’s ridiculously loud. When the soft serve comes out, the whole truck starts shaking violently. Whereas Mr. Softy has pretty decent brand-name recognition, the soft-serve guy’s pickup has a giant picture of those two babies from the Flintstones and the name “Bam-Bam” – not “Bam-Bam Soft-Serve,” just “Bam-Bam” – written on top. It all seems very arbitrary; I don’t really get it. We just call him soft-serve guy.

The soft-serve guy has the power to make or break any given day, regardless of how well that day has been going so far. This has to do with the fact that: a), his soft-serve is just delicious, and, b), you never know when he’s going to show up, if he’ll show up at all, or how long he’s going to stay there, if he’s even there in the first place.

Just imagine me, here in Ecuador, having a terrible day. I’m just about ready to beat somebody up, when I turn the corner and there he is. Yes! “What flavor do you have today?” I’ll ask. Like it even matters, it’s not as if I’ll turn anything down. Plus, he usually only has either strawberry, or rum. Twenty-five cents later, I’m euphoric. Running into the soft-serve guy is seriously one of the best things that I can hope will happen to me any day of the week.

But hoping I’ll run into him is the best I can do, seeing as how he runs a mobile operation without steady office hours. Which is really unfortunate if I’m ever just sitting around thinking about how great some soft-serve would be right about now. It’s never going to happen. He can pop up anywhere. Sometimes he’s driving through our community, but I’ve seen him as far as an hour bus ride away. Trying to look for the soft-serve guy is like trying to find a specific song on the radio. What are the chances?

Just as he has the power to lift me out of any crappy mood, the soft-serve guy can ruin even the happiest of days. Sometimes it’s worse than others. For example, this one time I was looking out the window on the bus and I saw him pass us going the other direction. It didn’t ruin my day exactly, but it definitely stung. What’s really bad is when you see him driving away from you down the road.

Shit! I just missed him! I’ll start to run after him. If he stops to sell some soft-serve, maybe I can catch up. And for a while it’ll be this weird sort of dance, where I gain on him, then he drives further away. I’ll get closer, but he doesn’t notice me so he keeps on driving. Eventually I just have to accept the fact that he’s gone, and he’s not coming back for me. This sucks because now I’m really far away from where I started and I have to walk all the way back. Plus, everyone’s staring at me for sprinting down the street, waving my hands like a lunatic. To top it all of, I don’t have any soft-serve. None. I could see it, almost taste it, but all I have is an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I know won’t be gone until tomorrow. Now that can ruin a day.

But even that wasn’t as bad as the worst soft-serve guy experience I’ve had so far. This one day I was sitting outside the house when I saw the soft-serve guy right down the block, totally stopped. I could have so easily just bought the soft-serve right then, and had a fantastic day, but Joannah was upstairs, and I felt guilty eating it without her.

I had to act fast. If I tried to get her to come down, the soft-serve guy would probably be gone by the time I came down. That’s just how it works. You’re lucky if you run into him in the first place. If you found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground, you wouldn’t run upstairs for backup.

You’re probably thinking, why couldn’t I have just bought her the soft-serve and gave it to her when she came out? Impossible. For one thing, I would have had to hold both cones in the same hand while I used my other hand to give him the fifty cents. Since the soft-serve is so fresh, the two would have gotten stuck together, making it really difficult to pull them apart. One of the best parts about a soft-serve cone is the way it comes out so perfect, every time. It’s how ice cream is supposed to look. Even if I could somehow get the two unstuck, the whole aesthetic would have been ruined. Also, it would have just been a huge mess. Better for us both to each be handed our own cone.

Ultimately, I decided to run up and get her. It was a toss-up, really, but I didn’t have any more time to deliberate. When she heard my shouting from the stairs, “Hurry! Soft-serve guy!” she ran down really fast. We were out the door maybe forty-five seconds later. Unfortunately, as you probably guessed, the soft-serve guy was nowhere in sight. Everywhere we looked, people were enjoying soft-serve.

This was about three weeks ago. Joannah and I haven’t spoken since.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

So this one time at the morgue ...

One time our host mom was gone all day. When she finally did show up that night, she wasn’t looking too happy. Apparently, her friend’s son had died in a motorcycle accident the night before. Our host mom had spent the whole day with her grieving friend. A few days later, she starts telling us all about how when there is a funeral in the community, everybody pulls together and helps out. Some people give animals, some make food, and everybody pitches in to pay for the funeral.

So after she tells this, I naturally assume this has to do with the guy who died just a few days ago. When I asked her, though, she got this really confused look on her face. “Remember,” I said, “the guy who crashed his motorcycle? The day you spent consoling your friend?” (Although, I should note, in my attempted Spanish it probably translated more literally to, “Remember, sad friend’s motorcycle kills son?”)

“Oh yea,” she remembered, “he’s fine now.” Apparently – and she told us this so casually – they thought that the guy was dead, but he woke up in the morgue after a day or two. Joannah and I just stared at each other, definitely thinking the same exact thing: holy shit, if we get into some sort of accident, and we’re not exactly responsive in the hospitals, they’re going to drop us off in the morgue! How long would they wait for us to revive before they start asking our neighbors to chip in for a coffin?

The guy actually wound up dying a little more than a week later in Guayaquil, (Ecuador’s largest city, about five hours from us.) There was another day of grieving. Then our host mom started the collection to pay for the funeral. True to her word, they raised enough to haul the body back to the community and to cover all the expenses. After the funeral she spent the whole day in the graveyard with her friend.

That night at dinner I asked if the mom was very upset. Yes, it was a ridiculous question to ask. It’s like asking the parents of a newborn baby if they are happy now that the baby’s born. But my Spanish is not all that great, so sometimes it’s either say completely ridiculous things or just sit there and stare. Anyway, the answer was no. The mother wasn’t upset at all. In fact, things are much better this way. Everybody’s happy. Apparently the son was a drunk (that’s how he got into both of his motorcycle accidents) who would steal from his mom and beat her up too. I’m not sure if this is a happy or sad ending, but the moral of the story remains unchanged: if you get into some sort of an accident here, and you can’t wake up, they’re sending you to the f´n morgue!