Chapter

El Salvador (Conclusion)

(Continuing from last week) After touring this vacant factory building in the El Salvadoran industrial park we returned to our armored tank … er, car as it was beginning to get dark. It was in a sketchy area and I was beginning to become a little uneasy. The problem worsened when our driver went to start the car, and nothing. No roaring of the engine as it came to life, no grinding of the starter, just “click.”

We got out and the driver opened the hood, as everyone knows you’re supposed to do under these circumstances. But as we waited for him to jiggle a wire, or kick the car as if this were a typical problem which he knew how to correct, he just stared at the engine as if seeing it for the first time.

It became clear that he had no inkling as to what the problem was or how to correct it. Having owned numerous, shall we say, vintage cars, it appeared that I was more experienced with balky autos than our driver.

I noticed that the battery terminals on both of our dual batteries appeared somewhat corroded and felt that it could be the likely source of our problem. I had encountered this very same problem back in high school, which necessitated me carrying Debbie, the cheerleader, through a field of sand spurs late at night because we … but that’s another story.

So I turned to our driver and said, “Looks like a battery problem. Do you have any tools?” He just shook his head.

About this time, I noticed some sketchy-looking folks, who apparently lived in this sketchy area, taking an interest in our predicament. Immediately, I had visions of being taken hostage and getting to meet the missing journalist. Thus, I became highly motivated to solve our transportation problem.

I asked our driver to open the back of the vehicle, where the only item appearing to be even remotely of use was a tire iron. Instantly, I recalled a similar situation in episode fifty-three of MacGyver. So I grabbed the tool and walked back to the front of the car, where I proceeded to trace down the battery wiring. Periodically I would utter, “Hmm,” or “I see,” in a knowing tone.

I placed one end of the tire iron on the center of the battery terminal and the other where the positive lead was fastened to a terminal block. I then turned to our driver. “Try cranking it.”

Vrooom, came the satisfying sound as the engine burst to life. Suddenly, I was very popular as I spiked the tire iron on the ground and broke into my little end-zone-like celebratory dance.

We returned to their offices and were directed into a lounge area where appetizers and drinks were served. It seems that they weren’t big on making things complicated.

On the table sat a bottle of scotch and a pitcher of water with a bucket of ice. You could have scotch on the rocks, scotch and water, scotch with ice and water, or just plain scotch. (I suppose you could have just plain ice and water, but I’m guessing that in El Salvador that would qualify you as a wussie.) It seems that our hosts were the sole importers of Monks Scotch and presumably were quite proud of it.

At the time, my cumulative lifetime consumption of scotch amounted to precisely zero. Nada. None. But by the time we headed out for dinner, I was making real progress on catching up for all those years of neglect, as were my two partners. I assume that’s why my business partner, Robert, decided that it would be a good idea to order oysters on the half shell.

Ordering raw seafood in the U.S. can result in problems. Evidently, in El Salvador they didn’t adhere to the old adage about eating oysters only during a month with an “R” in it since the temperature doesn’t really change much that far south. It proved to be a rather poor choice for Robert, as he spent about two weeks sitting in the bathroom upon our return home.

When we arrived at a nearby club after dinner, we were seated at a table. And as at their offices and at dinner, there sat a bottle of scotch and a pitcher of water, only no ice.

By this time, I believe I was beginning to speak in tongues with a Scottish accent which seemed to make my Spanish even more incomprehensible. I know this because we had only been there for a few minutes when several “ladies” magically appeared to join us at our table.

They spoke only Spanish and it was fun trying to communicate with them in my pidgin Spanish for about thirty-eight seconds, after which it grew tedious. About that time, even in my scotch-soaked brain it occurred to me that these ladies seemed really, really friendly. Evidently, they had been employed as a misguided attempt by our host to “entertain” us.

I excused myself to the restroom, after which I decided to explore the club. It looked sort of like a house in a regular neighborhood. I noticed a guy at the bar in the next room who seemed to speak English and struck up a conversation with him.

During my pretrip reading where I learned about the Sheraton kidnapping, I also learned that the South African ambassador had recently been kidnapped and murdered. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the man I was talking to was not only the club owner but the ambassador’s son. Small world.

He really was an interesting guy and we continued to chat. Before long, both of my business partners joined us. Evidently, they had also used up all of their pidgin Spanish.

I noticed the “ladies,” who had been left alone, were talking loudly and rapidly in Spanish. They made a few rude gestures at us before storming out in a huff. Maybe we hadn’t been friendly enough. Or given my poor Spanish, maybe I had unwittingly made an inappropriate comment about her platypus. I don’t know.

Anyhow, we finally said our goodbyes to the ambassador’s son and our host drove us back to the Sheraton. As we walked through the lobby, I kept up a running dialogue about how “Boy, do I hate journalists. Yeah, no journalists in our group, that’s for sure,” just in case the journalist kidnappers were lurking about. After I weaved my way to my room, I double locked the door and wedged a chair beneath the knob before pouring myself into bed.

The next day, we shook hands with our host, said our goodbyes, climbed back into his bulletproof Land Rover, and headed for the airport. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief when we landed back in the U.S without having been kidnapped or murdered.

I believe it was unanimous when we decided to abandon any thoughts of Central American partnerships.

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