Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dream 12/7/2009

I am involved in some real heavy shit. Deeply involved. I remember being on the top story of a parking garage. It`s open to the sky. It is nighttime.

I am being chased by a guy. He seems to be part monster as well as man.

I jump into a dodge van, grey. The keys are inside the ignition. I`ve only to start the thing to make it go vroom, vroom. It is the van of some sort of federal office. Dark grey. Shifter is the one with the big ball at the end.

I put the rhino into gear. The gear I choose is Reverse, represented by a capital "R" with a circle around it. I am zooming down the streets that make up the levels of the parking garage. At the front gate, I (the car) is recognized and the guard opens for me to exit. I blaze down the road.

I arrive at a large, monolithic building. Inside the first door, I discover a hallway. It looks like a depressing office building. I find Sterling, my brother, and tell him about all the deep shit that I`ve found myself in Federal shit. I`m up for Federal Grand Theft, Robbery, lots of money somehow, stealing an airplane, resisting and/or avoiding arrest, etc...laundry list.

I tell him that I just wanted to show people that there are those out there struggling to survive, though I know I`m not one of those people.

Sterling tells me to run. Why not? You can`t be holed up in a cell for the rest of your life. Follow me.

We pass by his wife, Kathryn. She is sitting on a table sorting through documents. She is doing her job. She says hello to me and blows Sterling a kiss with utmost class and reserve. We arrive at a cubicle amongst hundreds in a large office. My mom is sitting on the other side of the desk. Also there is a girl I used to date.

I start telling Mom about the shit I`m in. The speech sounds the same as it did with Sterling just moments earlier. There is part of me that is really proud of having sacrificed so much just to prove a point of injustice.

Dream 11/7/2009

There is a juice restaurant up the road. They only want me to get juice from there. I am having trouble finding the place. I am confused as to what part of town the juice restaurant is in. They keep giving me directions.

Dream 10/7/2009

(These couple of days I was sick. I don`t know exactly what it was, but I had some flu-like symptoms. I think this added to the visceral nature of the dreams. They really were powerful, and generally unlikeable. Very lucid.)

I`m walking into the market. I need a bus ticket to Otavalo, Ecuador. The market is 2-Dimensional. I am 3-Dimensional. The only thing I can buy is bunches of herbs, of fresh spices. Then I have to sell them. I finally figure out the dimensions problem. By sleeping sideways, I am able to interact on their dimension.

Then, I realize I can`t sleep well because my blankets only speak Spanish. Evidently, I do not speak well enough to manage with a Spanish speaking blanket.

Dream 9/7/2009

There is a guy that lives in our backyard on Sir Philip. (I actually used to live on Sir Philip street. It is in San Antonio. The "dream" backyard looks as did the "real" backyard.) I know that the man is some sort of "tribal man." For some reason, I keep thinking the word "tribal" describes the man. His forehead is quite massive. His features make me think of the word, "neanderthal."

My mom and I watch the man scale 100 meters up a tree, without use of ropes. It is impressive.

He meets me and my mom at the garage. He wants to say hello to her. He thinks that to do so he must kiss her on the lips. He is confused by customs. Mom calmly says, "No, like this," and offers her hand to shake.

I am walking along Joe Ben`s funeral. (Joe Ben is a character in Ken Kesey`s novel, Sometimes A Great Notion. In the book, Joe Ben dies drowning while stuck under a log. He and his family, the Stampers, are loggers in Oregon. Great book.)

At the funeral are hundreds of people. They are mostly chatting. I am meeting all of the characters from the aforementioned novel. I don`t, at the time, know exactly who they are. I just know they are from the novel.

I am walking along a row of restaurants. I want papas fritas. Papas fritas are french fries in a different language. None of the restaurants are offering papas fritas, or french fries.

Enter the US Embassy in Quito. (I have actually, in "real life," entered the US Embassy in Quito.) I tell the people that I`m to stay there until I receive my passport. The clerk tells me something has come up in the report. I know the report, although there was no such thing in "real life." He says it`s come up that for a time years back, I was drinking a lot of beers. He also says it looks like I didn`t have a job for about a year and a half. I tell him this: "No shit, it`s called college, and I was teaching full time."

A female clerk send me upstairs. I`m to have surgery to complete my eligibility for a new passport. The surgery will be on my leg.

I am with my big brother Sterling. (I actaully have a big brother Sterling.) We are, in total, a group of 15 to 20. The majority of the group is made of soccer and hockey teammates of his, that is, Sterling`s. The group plays ultimate frisbee at some sort of sports park.

I head to the parking lot to toss the ball with one fella. It is shaped and colored like a baseball. It bounces in the following pattern: first bounce, high-arched, thin parabola, gliding slowly. Second bounce, very low-arched, long stride, zooming past. Repeat. There is a little kid with his sister there. The little snot is 8 years old. His little snotty sister is 5. They are getting in our business. The little snot is telling me that we are doing it wrong. "You`re not supposed to use your hands," the little shit says. He thinks we want to be playing fùtbol.

"Go to hell," I finally tell the little shit. "Get the fuck out of here if you don`t wanna play baseball."

The little snotty shit`s mom goes bananas. She says she is gonna get me booted from the place. I tell her I don`t believe in hell, so the statements don`t really mean anything grave. This doesn`t appease the bananas mom.

She, indeed, kicks me out. On the way out, I pass a large beer hall. I look for my brother, Sterling, or any of his friends. I see a long, lanky friend of Sterling`s. He tells me that most of the fellas have already gone home.

Dream 7/7/2009

I am in a deserted town. Most people are dead. I find a restaurant. I sit and tell of the cabrón from the bus. (There really was a cabròn from the bus. He was drunk and during the night was either trying to get fresh, grabbing my thigh, or he was intending, feebly, to rob me. I told him I`d kill him.)

Across from me at the table sits Molly Ringwold. She has aged naturally but it is clear who she is. In the dream, I had just seen 16 Candles on the bus. (I haven`t ever seen 16 Candles in `real life.´)

Someone at the table asks if she has ever seen 16 Candles. She says that she was in the movie. Of course.

Shit, the person says, Molly Ringwold lives in our town!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

He Has a Hemingway of Giving it to You Straight

So, I have been reading Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway. It´s his book that combines descriptions of bullfights, bullfighters, bulls, really nice Hemingway honesty and assholishness. Towards the end of the book (just before the 40 some odd pages glossary) is somewhat of a stream of memories, each condensed to less than a full sentence, which, all together as a list, remind him of some of the better years of bullfighting in Spain. After this, which is really lovely in its own right comes the following words. I got what I got from it, which was quite a lot. You can interpret for yourself.

Keep in mind, I´m awaiting my departure from Ecuador tonight, after an incredibly beautiful and empowering 5 months here.

"I know things change now and I do not care. It´s been all changed for me. Let it all change. We´ll all be gone before it´s changed too much and if no eluge comes when we are gone it still will rain in summer in the north and hawks will nest in the Catedral at Santiago and in La Granja, where we practised with the cape on the long gravelled paths between the shadows; it makes no difference if the fountains play or not. We will never ride back from Toledo in the dark, washing the dust out with Fundador, nor will there be that week of what happened in the night in that July in Madrid. We´ve seen it all go and we´ll watch it all go agian. The great thing is to last and get your work done and see and hear and learn and understand; and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after. Let those who want to save the world if you can get to see it clear and as a whole. Then any that you make will represent the whole if it´s made truly. The thing to do is work and learn to make it."

Death in the Afternoon

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Two Negatives Making a Positive

I step off the Metrobus about 4 days ago. Within 5 steps, I feel something tap my left arm, where some people have biceps. I glance over and recognize what has happened. A bird has shit on my shirt. The bird shit is comprised of two forms of matter, that I can see, at least. The first is solid. The second is liquid. The solid is, from what I can tell, the shell or skin of a small berry or fruit. They solid pieces are a dark purple color, almost black. The liquid is, from what I can tell, just bird shit. Later in the day, after having flicked the solids from my shirt, the liquid remains. It looks like disappearing ink that just won´t disappear.

The next day, I´m wearing the same shit shirt. I´ve done nothing to address the non-disappearing ink. At this point, I´m still without money and I think being able to say that I´m literally covered in shit might help with the relateable part of my story...the empathy winner. I step off the Metrobus again. You see, the shitty day provided me with no concrete assistance, so I´m back to take another shot. After about 7 steps off of the Metrobus, the rain comes. I have slick sandals on, which is not to say fashionable. They prefer to treat water like it´s cousin, ice, when they meet on the sidewalks. The dirt on my feet has turned to mud. I am slip sliding away, while I jog to find a place to have a beer and some foodstuffs. I arrive at an Indian restaurant, having been craving Indian food for weeks, and realize something wonderful. The non-disappearing ink has disappeared. My assumption is that the water has washed the liquid bird shit off of my shirt sleeve.

For this, I can vouch that, in some cases, two negatives really do make a positive. Actually, it´s more like a neutral, but we´ll use our imaginations.

Dream 1/7/2009

We are a group. I am with friends. I don´t know who these people are as soon as I wake up. They are, for me in waking life, strangers. We are swimming in a natural swimming hole. We are having fun diving off of rocks. We are naked. Each one of us has a partner. Still, though, we are currently having fun as a group of friends.

I get the feeling that we are being watched. We move to the man made swimming pool. It looks like a resort that I´ve never been to.

In a flower pot which also doubles as a lamp, I find a camera lens. The lens has a red light on it. This tells me it is on and working. This means someone has been watching us swim in the resort pool. Somehow, I immediately know who it is that has been watching. It is the old, somewhat grumpy guy that lived at Shady Oaks Apartments. Shady Oaks Apartments is a real apartment complex located in Austin, Texas. I really lived there. The aforementioned Grump also lived there.

There is some sort of investigation that flashes across my field of vision. I see that he is into young girls. Young for me right now means 14 and 15. Specifically, he likes girls with strange haircuts. I see several examples of the weirdness that gets him off.

We plan to meet with the Grump to settle the score. We want to settle it once and for all, which is to say forever. When we approach him, he shoots the girl who is my partner. She is my girlfriend. I am her boyfriend. I know this. His bullets hit my girlfriend in three places. One place is the forehead. Another place is the right shoulder. The final place hit is the gullet. My girlfriend, with her three bullet wounds, falls to the asphalt. She is bleeding some, but less than you might think. She is still in her bikini from the swimming. It is blue. The blue is in the middle of north carolina tar heels blue and detroit pistons blue. It is similar to detroit lions blue.

A few minutes later the girlfriend says she feels fine. The bleeding from her bullet holes has stopped. We share stories that we´ve encountered which tell of people having survived bullet wounds to the forehead. We decide that she still may die. We decide that for what may or may not be the last moments of her life, we should have sex. She reminds me to be gentle, because she still might die.

Cultural Conservation as a Natural Act

This morning when I woke in the lovely Hostal Residencial Sucre, in Quito, Pichincha, Ecuador, I was pleased to hear from the adjacent Plaza San Francisco live music. I made my way down to the thing to check it out. I listen to a few songs, and then comes the dancing. I soon see colorful costumes and a large mix of people who comprise the audience. This makes me happy.

As I watch the various dances, performed by various indigenous groups, each representing a piece of the way of life of said groups. Some represented the tradition of neighbors helping neighbors build their homes, one at a time. Another represented the cycle of growing and harvesting choclo, maiz, corn. A third was an effigy to an herb used in traditional healing practices.

I enjoy these dances, and I enjoy the music. I feel more like I am in Ecuador than any other time when I hear the Andean flutes and see the brilliant costumes. I have been known to get teary at these performances, because I really meditate on how lucky I am to be spending time in Ecuador.

During the performance dedicated to the herb, a young boy of about five entered the "dance floor," as defined by the arrangement of the audience, a square of probably 8 meters by 8 meters. The boy, who we later found out was named Mateo, was a lovely little man with a long black pony tail and fairly dark complexion, and he arrived on the scene and began stomping along with the music. His steps were perfect. As intently as our eyes were stuck to the little guagua, so were his on the female dancers who were praising the Pachamama. He was so interested and so enamored with the steps of the dancers and with the music. Throughout the duration of the song, probably 8 minutes, Mateo stomped around the perimeter of the square, displaying not only skill in keeping the beat, but, more importantly, displaying pride in himself and his fellow dancers.

At one point, an older lady in the front row of the audience tried to grab Mateo. He escaped. On his next lap, she tried again, this time coaxing him to exit by putting a fifty-cent piece in his tiny palm. Mateo, not yet interested in finance, immediately threw the silver coin and continued his triumphant strut. At this point, I had a laugh, as did most of the crowd. As some of you might know, laughing and crying are actually quite close cousins, and I found myself unable to control the waterworks, so to speak.

It was such a wonderful thing to see. The crowd, the pride of the dancers, the pride and interest of little Mateito in his countrywomen and their traditions, his rejection of money in the face of cultural solidarity. Perhaps I´m reading very deeply into something that, as we know, could have been childish sponteneity. But I don´t care. It was wonderful and profound for me.

Cultural conservation, executed as naturally as I´ve ever seen. What a world?

Dream 29/6/2009

I am on some sort of farm. The farm exists in the nation of Holland. Batiste´s mother is here. I am not alone. I am with Batiste and Chris. We are getting ready to leave the place to travel.

As we walk along the farm to Batiste´s mother´s house, we ask for the flag. We ask for it with energy, and we ask for it repeatedly. Like this. "The flag, the flag, the flag, etc..."

A group of hundreds of people respond to our request. All of a sudden, a stripe of orange is raised up above the people´s heads. It covers one third of the people´s heads. Next, a stripe of white is raised, parallel and flush with the orange stripe. The orange stripe is exactly as thick as the white stripe. After white comes blue. It is a light blue. In Spanish, it would be celeste. Celeste is similar to sky blue.

Because we saw "the flag," we each get a small flag of our own. We are able to choose from flags all across the world. The flags are about the size of a postal stamp. Not one of us chooses Holland for our free flag. I choose Ecuador.

People are showing me their animals. They have animals on leashes. They use the leashes to keep control of the animals while they walk them. The animals are the following: pumas, lions, jaguars, etc...Walking their animals, the people are very proud. I have the red ass because I don´t think said animals should be domesticated in this manner.

The place is a village for people who do artesania. Artesania means artisan craftwork. This usually means bracelets and necklaces made out of string with wax on it.

Attraction Manifests Itself In the Darndest Ways.

So, I´m sitting in a restaurant in Loja. There is a girl that is so attractive here, I am nearly getting a boner. I am not dwelling in perversion, nor am I fantasizing about anything. Just noticing her beauty, my attraction needs a way to manifest itself. My body seems to think a boner is an option.

Being Filthy

I´m filthy. I have scabby sores on my legs which originated over a month ago as simple horsefly bites on Rhiannon farm. My Leatherman knife cut my finger (while attempting to open a bottle of wine in a hostal that outlaws booze). My feet are black and brown with Loja city grime. I am peeling. My hair is still full of sand. A black ball-point pen burst in my slacks´ pocket. I got shit on by a bird while drawing Iglesia San Francisco. There´s a spot from Patate on the leg of my slacks. I haven´t been in Patate in three months. Deoderant doesn´t work.

I really don´t feel bad about it. I really looked forward to a hot shower upon arrival in Loja from the beach. I have yet to follow through in over 72 hours in Loja. In an entire day of eating, drawing, walking, I wasn´t able to make it to the lavanderia to wash my clothes, cause I don´t give a shit.

I´m wondering what this means. What is it that keeps me comfortable, even more comfortable, a bit grimy? Is there some sort of ideological thing that it stems from? Am I just downright lazy? If there is an ideological underpinning, and I get a job wherein I have no choice but to bathe often, will I be violating something important to me? Think on that.

Church Crowd Loja, Ecuador

I´m sitting at the Plaza San Francisco, in the provincial capital of Loja, Ecuador. It´s a fairly nice Plaza, complete with a church, also called San Francisco.

As I sit, I´m thinking about what a Cuencan city guide said about mendigos, or beggars. I posted the quote, but it basically blames the beggars for their woes, and explains that they taint Cuenca with their country ways.

Outside the church, in the evening, I hear some sort of Mass going on inside. Outside have gathered the following three types of people:

1) vendors (of candles, milagros, paintings, jewelry, crucifixes, etc...)
2) mendigos (legless, old, crawling, filthy, sad, destroyed, etc...)
3) artists (I´m drawing the church with a bottle of wine in my bag)

Anyway, it kills me to think that anyone, much less an entire city, would have such a terrible attitude seemingly devoid of empathy such as that which was displayed in the brochure. For crying out loud, the fucking lady has no legs, she´s crawling around on the floor with shoes on her hands. Crippled or not, a buck is a totally different thing for me than for her.

PS. I forgot. There´s a fourth group present here this evening:

4) the PDAers (making out, groping, entangled, in love, in lust, both, nice).

Bunny Wailer and Seeing Everything in Ecuador

There´s a story told about Bunny Wailer that I have always found interesting. I relate to it in a way I think about my being in Ecuador, specifically that my being here is coming to an least for this visit.

Bunny Wailer was one of the three original members of Bob Marley´s music group, The Wailing Wailers, later The Wailers, and finally Bob Marley and the Wailers. Bunny Wailer was said to have metaphysical powers, and stories have been told about his ability to put curses on people.

Evidently, a record company stooge suggested to Bunny that the group name their second or third album The Greatest Hits of The Wailers. Bunny replied that if, indeed, the album should be called The Greatest Hits, then said stooge would never again hear anything better. He died within weeks.

The other day, as I planned the last few weeks of my trip here, I was pondering what I wanted to see. Obviously, in a country so diverse and beautiful, I am realistic in knowing I´ll miss a great deal. I decided that trying to rush through the last bit here, trying to see as much as possible is, in a way, telling the universe that I don´t plan on coming back soon, or even at all.

This is not the message I want to send to the universe. For that, I´ll not rush. You can´t make me.

On International Cuisine

Sitting in A Lo Mero Mero Mexican Restaurant in Loja, Ecuador. ´How unbelievably sad, I´m thinking, that no matter where you are in the world, you have to do without another place´s incredible food, right?´

Wrong, somewhat. Learn to cook the food, grow the ingredients, practice the methods, make it happen. What a joy the internet is to have so readily available?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Letter to American Express

So, I received money through a wire transfer from American Express. Finally.

The lady at Ecuadorian Tours, an AMEX affiliate, asked that I write a report explaining basically that they did nothing wrong. I have a hard time excusing ignorance, but I think the responsibility to communicate is that of the huge company. The following is the report.

" July 2, 2009

American Express
P.O. Box 981540
El Paso,TX 79998-1540

My name is Jay Cameron Allen, and I have been an AMEX card holder for about seven years in total, since sometime in 2002. My father holds several accounts and has been a loyal customer for over 25 years. I am writing to express my displeasure at the way a recent issue, or number of issues, in fact, was handled by various departments within your company. I will tell the tale in sequential order, as I think doing so will highlight and clarify my reasons for having become frustrated.

On Saturday, the 27th of June, I was staying in a hostel in the small town of Vilcabamba, Ecuador on vacation. As I was out, my entire backpack was stolen, which included, amongst other personal items, a laptop computer, an HD video camera, my passport, three credit cards, including my personal Green Card, and cash.

The next morning, the 28th, I was quick to cancel all the cards, and was given some quick advice as to how to address my problem of being left with literally no cash whatsoever. Luckily, I was with some travelling friends of mine, who were saintly enough to lend me what they could afford. Rest assured, however, on a backpacker’s budget, extra cash is scant if existent at all. The money they lent me was sufficient to travel to the nation’s capital, Quito, a few days later after dealing with the police.

On Tuesday the 30th, I entered the office of Ecuadorian Tours, located here in Quito at Avenida Amazonas and Jorge Washington. They are a travel agency with the power to issue replacement American Express cards to those who have lost theirs or have had theirs stolen. The process began at Ecuadorian Tours in the early afternoon.

After four hours or so, many spent on the phone with either my father in Texas or with American Express, we still have not received the authorization needed from American Express to issue the replacement card. The details told were many, however the main issue was that American Express continued to claim that a fax had been sent to authorize a replacement card, while I, sitting next to a quiet fax machine, knew that the reality was otherwise.

We spoke with various departments during this time, including the emergency services department, the CRUSH department, and various others. After over five hours of inaction, filled rather with conflicting stories from all sides, an email was received that authorized the issuance of said card.

The card was issued. To the best of their knowledge, Ecuadorian Tours explained to me the possibilities that the card offered. It was explained to me that the card can be used at ATMs of the Banco de Guayaquil, a local bank here in Ecuador. Sure enough, as I approach the Banco de Guayaquil ATM, I am comforted to see the American Express logo amongst the logos present. The card is thereafter rejected as invalid. I walk to another ATM. The card is again rejected as invalid. The office of Ecuadorian Tours is now closed, as it seems is the door of opportunity for me to pay for food or lodging. For you see, this is now three days after having been robbed, and getting sustenance has become a serious issue.

The next morning, I receive an email from my father. Without money, I have been unable to directly contact either my bank or American Express. He informs me that he has been told by American Express that the card is unrecognizable by ATMs because it has yet to be linked with my bank account in the United States. I, therefore, simply need to call American Express and link the two, so that the money will be taken out against my checking account with Bank of America.

To do this, I must find a place to use the telephone. I head directly to the US Embassy here in Quito, located at Eloy Alfaro and Avigiras. The plan is to deal with my stolen passport, as well as plead for assistance on a financial front. Before the Embassy opens its services to citizens, I walk a few blocks down the road, armed with what I believe to be a defunct American Express card and a few cents in my pockets. I aim to find a place where I can buy a piece of bread or two. As luck would have it, I spot a Domino’s Pizza, and decide that it can’t hurt to try the card there. As I expected, the multiple swipes on the card produce nothing. I suggest to the gentleman that he might try by manually typing the number of the card in. He does. It runs perfectly. I eat, finally. I now assume that the problem is the magnetic stripe.

Back at the Embassy, I discover that they are unable to assist me directly with cash, which I understand. They are able, however, to allow me use of the telephone so that I can complete the task aforementioned.

After another two hours or so, I complete the necessary link between the replacement card that I have been issued and my Bank of America checking account. To do so, I provide my bank account number and routing number for my bank located in San Antonio, Texas. At the end of this activity, I am asked to give the American Express representative a four-digit number that I will not forget. This will serve as my pin number. I understand, at the end of this conversation very clearly, that the pin will be good for a one-time withdrawal, within seven days of its issuance. The maximum withdrawal is five hundred dollars US. We are very clear about this. We are also very clear that this withdrawal can be completed at a Banco de Guayaquil, which as I said earlier, is the only bank of the area to have a direct link with American Express.

After speaking with Bank of America for another number of hours, I head to a Banco de Guayaquil near the hostel on whose floor I`m currently sleeping for a dollar a night, borrowed money. For you see, I have enough confidence in what I´ve been told that I want to be near a place to lock up the loads of cash I`m on the verge of receiving, finally.

The first ATM, as luck would have it, is out of order. The second ATM, around the corner, claims that the card, again is invalid. I go back to the first location to speak with a teller at Banco de Guayaquil, located in Quito Viejo on Bolivar near Garcia Moreno. The teller answers that, even though the magnetic strip will not work, they are not able to do a withdrawal on an American Express card. She directs me to the central location in Quito, at Rio Amazonas and Colòn.

I arrive to the bank at about 17:30, nervous that the offices will surely be closed. Luckily, however, I am able to enter and express my problem. I am told that with some form of identification, at this point my Certificado de Visaciòn from the Ecuadorian Embassy in Houston, I am able to make the emergency withdrawal of up to five hundred dollars US. I am, naturally, overjoyed. After waiting in the lobby for nearly an hour, the guard announces that the national system has died for the day, and that we`re to come back in the morning.

As I head home, I decide to try and coax vendors to use the same method which worked at the Domino`s Pizza restaurant earlier in the day. I am unable to do so. Many seem confused as to what restrictions and options they have being an American Express business. Some told me that it is impossible to manually type in the American Express card number, others that they had no way of communicating with American Express, and others that simply acted as though they were making an effort, which they clearly weren´t. Even the supermarket claimed that they were only able to enter manually card numbers for Visa and Mastercard, excluding only American Express.

This morning, the morning of the 2nd of July, I head back to the Banco de Guayaquil, again filled with the confidence that was incessantly offered me by American Express representatives across the gamut of positions, offices, and departments. As my number is called, I make sure all my documents are in order, and I, with confidence, request the one-time, emergency withdrawal that I have been promised countless times. I am greeted with confusion at first, then denial by the manager. He tells me that the Banco de Guayaquil has no power to give money by any means other than the ATM. He apologizes when I remind him that this literally means whether I sleep in a public park or not and whether, when I finally do get to sleep, my stomach will, again, be devoid of a true meal.

Being that I am still unable to make telephone calls, including collect calls, I return to Ecuadorian Tours to sort out the problem with the magnetic strip on the card. As I arrive, I realize that there is nothing this office, with the information that they have been given, can do about the situation. Luckily, they are willing to offer their phone for a time, so that I can attempt to sort the situation out directly with American Express.

I climb various trees through the American Express departments, which I am used to by now. Before long, I am given some information that, frankly, takes me for a complete shock. I am told that, paraphrasing the magnetic strip on the replacement cards is not functional, rather is put there to make it look like a real American Express card. I am also told that emergency cards have a five day period in which they cannot be used and that I should never have received the one-time, emergency pin number which had been given me the previous day.

Finally, luckily, I am connected to a young lady named Crystal ________. After hearing, nay, truly listening to my story, and having recognized my name and the case from earlier in the week, Crystal decides that she will do what she can to help me. She helps me to clear up the discrepancies that still matter at this point (though dozens still exist in my understanding, or lack thereof, of the process and the system). She decides that we will circumvent the Banco de Guayaquil altogether and instead look for a location nearby that will accept my weak forms of identification and accept the transfer. Within the hour, Crystal has found, along with a Spanish-speaking colleague, a nearby bank that will do just that. She provides me with the proper information, and within thirty minutes of receiving it, I have claimed at the Banco Pro Credit a transfer for five hundred US dollars. Additionally, Crystal waives the twenty US dollar fee that generally comes with wiring of money.

At this point, I am going to move on with the rest of my trip. I lack less than two weeks here, and I am not the type of person to let things continue to affect my mood after the fact. Finally, I am able to say after the fact.

However, there are some take-away points that I would like to share as a loyal customer, coming from a family of long-time, extremely loyal customers. In general, to quote a movie, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

This failure to communicate exists at all levels. This failure to communicate manifests itself, ultimately, in the suffering and emotional taxation of a customer. However, more importantly, something that only Ms. __________ seems to realize, is that said suffering and emotional taxation is affecting a human being. This failure to communicate has also caused my personal loss in any faith I had in American Express to truly be where they are needed in a time of true emergency. I almost question how American Express, both as a company as well as on and individual level, would define “an emergency situation.” I can tell you that if I am in an emergency such as this, a five-day waiting period is not sufficient.

There is a communication problem between American Express and the foreign entities bearing their name. Both the Banco de Guayaquil and Ecuadorian Tours are proudly sporting your logo emblazoned on their letterheads, advertisements, and storefronts. However, the fact is that there is a general, though simultaneously profound, confusion as to what the connection between the two entities is. I wholeheartedly deny that any malice was at play with my situation, robbery omitted. However, malicious or otherwise, the damage is still done.

For their part, Banco de Guayaquil seems utterly confused as to what they offer given the relationship they have with American Express.

For their part, Ecuadorian Tours seems utterly confused as to what they offer given their relationship they have with American Express.

I cannot help but put the onus on the entity, of the three, that I know and trust best, to be the leader in clarification of policy, as well as any changes thereof. That entity, as you might have guessed, is American Express. I do not fault the thousands of agencies around the world who have connections with American Express for the lack of communication.

Simply put, I trust you. I have trusted you since I became a cardholder, and likely before that day, as I listened to my father claim the faith he had in your company. I have, in the last week, lost a great deal of that trust. I do not think there is anything that can be said nor done that could ameliorate that damage.

I only ask, for those that experience similar situations in the future, that you take responsibility of leading the discourse on policy. The small businesses around the world that so proudly sport your logo have a right and a responsibility to understand what they can and cannot offer as an affiliate. Because I trust you, much like those who follow me in dealing with such unfortunate circumstances trust you, I implore you to take the lead in solving the problems of misunderstanding, conflicting information, and overall lack of empathy that exist, both within American Express and beyond.

Please, if you have any questions or comments for me, contact me by email. Until the 15th of July, I will be enjoying the little time I have left here in Ecuador, so I expect you will understand if the any reply does not arrive with utmost hastiness.

In addition, I would like to further and more explicitly recognize that Crystal ________, of the hundreds of representatives I spoke with, was the singular person to show empathy towards my plight, as well as to allow that empathy to manifest itself into solutions. Real solutions. This is what I expect from a company such as American Express. Please do not allow future problems to prove me overzealous in my expectations.


Cameron Allen
Card Member since 2002"

The nice moments from yesterday.

So, as I told a good friend of mine, I felt as if every corner I turned yesterday, I was struck in the testacles. However, the straightaways provided some good old Ecuadorian tales. Here are two of the highlights from yesterday. After thinking about them for sometime, I think yesterday was really a great day.

First, on the Metrobus (don`t know which route, too many to remember), I noticed a little kid, about 8, who was with his mama. He was sitting in the window seat and she in the aisle. I noticed him looking out the window, with more interest and intrigue than the entire bus combined. He still seemed so excited about what was going on, and the possibliities that the streets held for his peepers. It was really a wonderful thing to see. One of those times, as a teacher, when you realize that that`s your job: to preserve the feeling of inquiry and interest that that scruffy little nincompoop was demonstrating.

At one point, he saw something worthy of pointing out, and turned to his mama to share what he`d discovered. As tenderly as I`ve ever seen before, in a way he had probably done a thousand times, he noticed his mama with her eyes closed, and slowly drew his hand back so as not to disturb her. The way he did it was almost angelic, as you could tell how much he cared for his mother. At the same time, there was a sense of disappointment, for this thing he noticed outside of the window, to him, was of terrible importance. I was thinking that if I ever become a parent, or even as a teacher, I don`t ever want to miss moments such as this.

The second one is a little bit lighter.

I´m walking along the wall of the massive Centro Cultural Metropolitano, headed to the front door to check out the free exhibit on display. Having already seen a nice photo exhibit and a Marc Chagall exhibit based on the Odyssey, I had hopes of at least something quite different. I`m maybe not the biggest Chagall fan, but that doesn`t matter now, does it?

As I`m walking along, I see a puppy dog. In all likelihood, the rusty bugger is a street dog, whose general interests range from yesterday`s meat scrappings to that other dog´s ass...maybe twice. It doesn`t take long to realize that said pup is really focused on something which appears to be just inside the side door of the Centro. I`m thinking that a guard has bought himself a lunch, perhaps rice and a meat (national meal). Perhaps there is a child in the door, taunting the pupperoni with pepperoni pizza. Possibly a gutter punk is waving his mangy dreadlocks around to keep the dog so attentive.

As I arrive, I`m utterly surprised at what I discover. The pup is neither pining for pollo, praying for pizza, or deadlocked on dreadlock. The pup stands and peers into the windows of the library, simply watching people read. The pup just wants to know how to read. Or maybe he knows, and he simply needs to replace his library card, which might have been stolen. I felt much like the pup today, just needing a replacement card that would get me what I needed. Only what I was standing at attention for was exactly what interested the pup none, which was a nice plate of rice and beans, maybe with a little salad on the side.

As soon as I returned home to the Hostal Residencial Sucre, I did that pup right in the only way I knew how. I sank my teeth into a book for an entire evening, realizing all that I still had available to me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fairly long day in Quito after being robbed.

This is an email that I sent my parents about today. I was robbed on Saturday night of my entire backpack. Computer, camera, cash, credit cards, passport, pens, all of it.

Temporally, this is out of order. There is more that has happened in the last week. Still, here´s the day.

"So, I just made it back home. Here{s the odyssey.

I take the metrobus (.25$) to the last station north at about 9:15 AM. From the map I think I´m only a few blocks, maybe a kilo away from the embassy. I walk and I walk and I walk. I continually ask passersby (which are scant along the way) if I+ve arrived yet. Each one says really far, really far, bus this bus that. I decide to walk, knowing that by the time I arrive at the Embassy, I´ll look like something the cat dragged in. Ends up being probably about 5 or 6 kilos, and I definately looked haggard and wan.

Arrival is nice, though I´m early and have to wait. In the meantime, I walk down the hill to find a panaderia, thinking bread is probably the thing to, filling, and pretty damn good in fact. Of course, any damn European will bitch and moan about it, waah, the bread in (fill in European country) is so much better. Yada yada yada.

On the way down the hill, I spot a Domino´s Pizza. Fuck it, what can it hurt. By now I´ve decided that the magnetic strip is bullshit, which is backed by the multiple attempts made by the pizza man. Finally, I suggest that he type in the numbers, which he does without problem. He types in the 15 digits, and voila, we´ve got pizza. In fact, we´ve a small salad and bread sticks without the cheese. But you get the point. Okay, so we´re on board. We simply need to request from vendors that they type in the numbers, and we´re in business.

As I eat, which probably wasn´t a pretty sight to see, I´m thinking about the interesting circumstance of my poverty. Most places I cannot even enter, for there is no way in the world they would serve me. These are the small, hole in the wall places with the best Ecuadorian food. Rather, I have to look for the biggest, most heartless, most corporatized, and generally most expensive spots to enter. After miles and miles of road traveling, I´m looking more like I belong in the hole in the wall. Which is where i wanna be in the first damn place.

I head back to Embassy row and am happy to find that I´m third in line (some things went great today). After a few minutes waiting, inside and out, I talk with a nice lady at window 11. I explain the situation, aided by the detail of a sweaty brow, with convincing passion (I imagine). I also try to hide the fact that I´ve just minutes before stuffed my gut with bread and salad, and a free sprite to boot (burps aplenty).

She says that the Embassy is no longer able to provide citizens directly with money. I tell her that I´m pretty close to being able to draw from my AMEX, if I could only use the phone (puppy dog eyes). She connects me and we go through the BofA tree, which I´m convinced rivals that of the family tree of the human race.

Finally, we get to the right lady, and she asks for two small pieces of information. Bank account number and routing number. Lady, I lie, my checkbook was stolen along with everything else. Especially the routing number. She puts me to another lady. Lady two has a little more pep in her step and is game for some investigative work. I resist the urge to call her dick, realizing that her being willing to help might be more fragile than my sanity, which at this point is a chandelier, or perhaps a lovely piece of china, devoid of any food or solutions of course.

Finally, we discover the bank´s routing number. Funny enough, I remember the bank and opening my account, lo these many years ago, because I remember how stupid my dreadlocks (I guess they deserve that name) looked in the picture. Little did I know, nearly ten years later I would still be showing that picture to friends and neighbors.

With this information, we complete the transaction. Done. The card will give me money. I decide that, even if the magnetic strip is junk, I will simply enter the bank for a withdrawal. Ha, winner. Just as I´m thinking this, the nice lady comes back into the room, on the other side of the window, of course. She´s had a nice 30 minute break. We were friends until, when I proclaimed my lack of faith in anyone mentioned above, she responded, "It´ll work. It´s gonna work." I should have gotten her address, just in case it didn´t.

Second order of business, and second hour in the Embassy, I attack the Bank of America debit card issue. I´m trying to get an emergency card or emergency cash, of which you can choose one, sent via DHL or FedEx. We climb the tree again, and finally get issues resolved. At last communication, I´ve chosen to have an emergency debit card sent to me at a DHL office here in Quito. It should, if things go right (ha), arrive on Friday. That would give me instant cash from any cash machine, for a pretty charge of $5 bucks. This is going well.

Finally, the Passport. The office is closed tomorrow and the rest of the week until Monday, in observance of some sort of important date. Who the hell knows these days, anyway? I will arrive on Monday, with necessary documents in hand, photos, police report, etc...and we´ll commence the emergency passport application process. This process can be done in minutes, which means days. Hopefully before the 15th. I got the feeling from the people I spoke with that it wont be a problem to get at least the emergency thing by the 15th. By this point, however, the feeling I get from people is probably about as valuable as the proverbial fart into a windstorm.

Embassy done.

I take a cab, fat and sassy, to the last stop on the line, Rio Coca. The dollar and a half kills me, but a few cents less than the hike did on the way up. Worth it, at the time. From the station, I head back, fatter and sassier, planning to stroll victoriously to the Banco de Guayaquil to get me some dinero. I have decided to do this close to the Hostal so that I´m not carrying half a thousand big ones. By the way, the AMEX withdrawal is a one-time thing. From a buck to five hundred, once. Only once. Guess that settles it.

The ATM at BdeG says, "Sorry, I´m a fucker. Come back in a few minutes, and I´ll tell you the same...but don´t you wanna see for yourself." I go across the street, thinking the largest hurdles have been cleared, and purchase a bottle of water and a 20 cent granadilla (a really nice fruit, similar to passion fruit). I return to the fucker, and he repeats his mantra. I walk down the street to another BdeG. He tells me, "Your card is a shit. It doesn´t care if you eat or if you sleep in the street. It wants me to say ´fuck you.´" Wow, quite direct. Not beating around the bush.

I return to the first BdeG, thinking I´ll just go through the line to fix the problem. Easy, piece of cake stuff, no? No. They can´t make withdrawals on AMEX cards at this branch. "Colón y Reina Victoria."

Back on the metro I go (.25$), headed to where I´ve just returned. I walk for a while and finally find the building, which I actually spotted up in the sky as I exited the Metro. Fancy, maybe the central Quito branch. That´s like Madison Avenue or something. At 5:45 PM, I enter the large bank, just happy that I´m allowed to enter. I speak with a lovely lady who agrees to ask the jefe if my Certificado de Visacion (the only identification I have at the moment) will be sufficient to make such a withdrawal. She returns with good news and a ticket with a waiting number.

Lovely, I´m thinking, this will give me time to reflect, relax, and write a little bit. Besides, the building is nicely air conditioned, which is welcome by me almost any time of the day. After about thirty minutes, the little guard walks around the group of us and proclaims that "the system is off...nationally. No more business today. See you all bright and bushy-tailed in the morning. Deal?"

I walk through the Mariscal, a very touristy spot, yet am unable to find a place that will accept AMEX. Well, there were a couple, but I didn´t really feel like going to Galapagos or buying a tent. Specifically, the Indian restaurant there didn´t accept cards. Crap. Back to the Metro I go (.25), not having enough to make it home by cab. I´m entering the lair of lions, which is to say thieves, who love to lurk on the Metro around dusk, catching people on their cross town sojourn, tired, defensless, unexpecting, white. I want to have a sign that proclaims that "Man, I ain´t got shit." But really.

We make it back. I´m likely aided by the combination of the following in looking more menacing than ever: my musk, my general but powerful and visible filth, my molester glasses, my beard, and the ever present sweat on my brow. No problems.

I decide to try a few more places, knowing now that the solution to all my problems is simply that the vendor type in the entire number of hte card and hit enter a bunch of times. I start at a place that sells rice, beans, fried plantains. Their "machine doesn´t work like that," they say. The next spot tries, but only about half of the numbers. He tells me it doesn´t work. The third place is down, but would literally cost me $20.00 for satisfaction. No dice. How about the supermarket?

No dice. It seems Ecuadorian vendors have a real fear of doing it the old fashion way, which is sort of an interesting thing to think about.

In the time I´ve written this email, which isn´t actually as long as you might think, Don Jose, the jefe of the hostal has, without telling me, cooked me dinner. He´s not much of a cook, but he has just presented me with a huge plate of white rice, topped with some fried egg omelet thing. This is one of those times, I believe, when you just eat the fucking thing. I´m continually impressed by the hearts of those around me who I´ve met. I can only think that maybe this proves I´ve had some positive effect on them.

So, as we stand, we´re getting full of food. We´ve got a trip to BdeG tomorrow morning to try and get the 500 out. I´ve printed a copy of my passport, so that should work better than the Certificado de Visacion. I´ve got about 4 liters of water, all of which I need after today. I also have a plum, two pears, and two tomatoes. So we´re set for the next few meals...though I´m waiting for the splurge.

By 10 o´clock tomorrow morning, I should have money in my pocket. I just hope that by 10:15, it´s still there."