“It’s hard to know, when you’re in such a jam, which is worse—not having a place to sleep or not having a place to work. One can sleep almost anywhere, but one must have a place to work. Even if it’s not a masterpiece you’re doing. Even a bad novel requires a chair to sit on and a bit of privacy.”
—Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
One of the hardest things about traveling is finding a decent place to work. A lot of countries don’t have that lingering coffee shop culture that we have, with comfortable work spaces and a staff that leaves you alone. In South America it’s too much to ask for wireless internet, electrical outlets, a bathroom that is less than a quarter mile away, and a large selection of artisanal teas.
Most of the time I had to work from home (or hostel), but unfortunately I wasn’t nearly as productive. In the States I’ve had peak days of cranking out five hours of honest-to-goodness work, but I rarely got above two hours in South America. For my latest trip I took some pictures of my work spaces, which I believe you will find fascinating.
Finding a table and chair was sometimes challenging, so for my first city I used a trash can as my working platform. It’s here that I put the finishing touches on A Dead Bat In Paraguay. On a trash can. When the maid came by I had to remove everything so she could empty it.
My first Medellin apartment had a pretty decent work area. I started the trip drinking water out of bottles but eventually drank straight from the tap. I never got sick from it. My stomach was actually healthiest in Colombia (it got worse in Brazil and then fell apart in Argentina where my “Days Without Diarrhea” counter never got into the double digits). I’m okay now, thanks.
The desk in my second apartment was considerably smaller, but I lived near a McCafe where I could hang for a couple hours at a time. Note the kitty calendar hanging on the wall (thanks sis).
I stayed in this hotel for a couple days and converted the nightstand into a desk. My Portuguese books are stored at the bottom.
The desk was a little low so I’d have to hunch over to see the screen. There was a massive ant colony nearby that was drawn to the warmth of my laptop. Brazil has a lot of ants.
This is the niciest and most expensive hotel I stayed in during the trip ($70/night). Ironically, it was the only place that charged extra for internet and breakfast.
Vila Velha, Brazil
I moved to an apartment in a neighboring city, owned by a guy who worked at the expensive hotel. He had no furniture here so I went to a mattress store and bought a $40 foam thing that barely held up for my week stay. I didn’t get any work done here.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This was my home for the first two weeks in Rio until I found my favela shack. I had to revisit the trash can desk. I actually got a lot of work done here because the room was usually empty with my gringo dormmates sightseeing or visiting the beach. I’m sure they thought I was loser since I didn’t do much during the day.
For the first time in my life I lived alone. The apartment came furnished and set me back about $700 for the month (it was expensive because I was on a month-to-month contract). I dreamed of living alone for a long time, but it was surprisingly boring, probably because I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I had a lot more fun living in my Rio shithole with my dreamy Danish roommate.
In Cordoba I finished my third book. It’s about Colombia, and should be out in a month.
Most of the time it’s best to ask out a new girl without beating around the bush. “Do you want to hang out for a drink some time?” Yes? Okay great. But there are cases where you shouldn’t put yourself out there like that and need to feel around a bit more.
One good example is work. If there’s a girl you like (who I hope doesn’t work in your team/department), it’s best to find out (1) if she’s a drinker, and then (2) where she drinks at. It’s here you build some sort of commonality (“Oh I like going there too”) and then gauge her response for enthusiasm. High enthusiasm? Then you’ll probably get a yes if you ask her out.
Another example is at the gym. Virgle Kent wrote up a “How To Pick Up Girls At The Gym” piece and you’ll see that he attacks from an indirect angle. In both of these above cases you see the girl frequently and don’t want to make things awkward with a direct attack that doesn’t get the desired result. Uncomfortable vibrations follow.
I recently had to feel things out with this girl who worked at the Starbucks I frequented in Rio. It was my work sanctuary so I wanted to be careful about going hard and then getting rebuffed.
The girl gave me a lot of signs the first couple weeks, such as sitting at my table and chatting with me while she was on breaks. One day I told her about a champagne bar my roommate and I were going to later that night and how she should stop by for a glass (girls love champagne). She said yes and that we’d talk later but then she disapeared on me, leaving work before seeking me out.
Three weeks passed and while things weren’t awkward between us, our conversations were much shorter. I didn’t say anything about drinks again. When I only had ten days left in Rio I said, “Yeah my plan was to find a wife and get married to stay here but I failed. So now I have to leave.” She seemed genuinely upset and told me to write down my email address. Whatever, I thought. That night she added me on Facebook with the message “I found you.”
Should I ask her out again like I did last time? No. What I did instead was feel it out. Next time I saw her at the coffee shop she asked me how much longer I had left.
“Only seven days!” I said.
“Oh that’s too bad.”
“Yeah I’m getting ready. Buying some stuff, getting rid of books I’ve read. I probably won’t be here this week more than a couple times.”
“Are you going to come back?”
“Who knows. My only friend left last week though, and honestly I don’t even like the beach. :gay:”
“So what’s your work schedule like this week? You work every day?”
“Yeah every day except Sunday.”
“Oh that sucks.”
“But only until 6pm. I’m free at night.”
“Well if you want we can still grab drinks at that place I mentioned a while ago.”
“I’m free Thursday.”
“Thursday… that’s quinta-feira, right?”
“Yeah I can do Thursday.”
“Cool then I’ll have to get your number soon.” Then I grabbed my drink and found a table. I wanted her to feel anxious about when I was going to get it.
I danced around asking her out again until she put in enough effort that said, “You definitely should ask me out because I’m free to hang out with you.” This is an especially useful tactic on girls who have flaked on you in the past, because you don’t want to reward their behavior by asking them out over and over again. Unless it’s a straight-forward pickup like at a bar, club, or coffee shop (on a non-employee), it may be a good idea to feel it out to not only save face on girls who’ve dissed you before, but also avoid any potential awkwardness that may ruin spots you frequent. If she doesn’t take the bait by showing enthusiasm or availability, then forget it.
Another cute girl. She’s going to get her drink and then walk out the door. This Starbucks sucks.
No it’s good. You get a lot of work done because there aren’t a lot of distractions.
But look at her body, her long hair.
It’s hard to tell. Up close she could be a mess.
Wait, she’s staying. She grabbed the paper. Interesting, she’s sitting right next to me. This never happens.
Just stick to your work. There’s time for work and there’s time for play.
No this is an opportunity. She’s reading the sports section. Weird, why is she reading the sports section?
To see how many touchdowns her favorite football player scored. She obviously likes athletics… look at her body. She’s not interested in “writers.”
Get fucked. Okay I have to say something. What to say, what to say. Like it really matters anyway.
She’s not even looking up or making sighing noises. She doesn’t want to be bothered. She’s probably waiting for someone.
You shutup. She’s reading the classified section now. She’s bored. But yeah she’s probably waiting for someone.
You don’t even know how cute she is. You only saw her profile. She could be ugly.
So what? If I say something I don’t have to marry her. If she’s ugly then I’ll let the conversation die out. Okay say something now, she’s looking at the window.
“If you’re bored with the newspaper I have a book you can borrow. It’s very long though you may not get it done within the next fifteen minutes.”
Good job stud, she laughed. You got the magic.
Did you see her face? She’s 16!
She does look a little young. But she’s developed. You like that cute laugh though…
Whoop-dee-doo. Now what are you gonna do?
Shit I’m not sure. She didn’t ask me the name of the book. She could have at least asked. I would have asked. She’s giving me no encouragement.
Correct, because she doesn’t like you. Go back to work.
It’s done, she’s back in the newspaper, the classifieds. I won’t continue this.
You should have come up with something better. Wait, who is this slapdick?
It’s her friend. They didn’t greet with a hug or kiss.
Whatever. They’re talking about going to college. Congratulations you get snubbed by a high school girl. How do you feel?
The same. Look, if it wasn’t for me you’d never get laid. I’m sure she was just unnerved by our rugged appearance. She’s not used to talking to a real man.
Yeah, that’s it.
Alright let’s get back to work.
Giddy. Hey on the way home can we get a corn muffin from Giant? They’re so delicious.
In my coffee shop I sit next to a display case that sells a bunch of crap. Women get drawn into this case like a tractor beam and browse through it before ordering their drink. I’ve never seen a woman browse the case after getting her drink because then she would have to go to the cash register twice if she likes something. When walking in girls only see my back, but when walking out they see my Middle Eastern face. What does that mean?
Well when a girl wants me to talk to her, she checks out the case on the way out. She just stands there looking at the merchandise without really looking. If she’s cute I have an opener for this very situation: “You know some of those cups are of excellent quality.”
“No I’m kidding—they put me here and give me free drinks just to say that. ”
It’s very rare that a sober girl will give an obvious green light during the daytime (unless she is older and horny). Sometimes they don’t even make eye contact with you. What a normal girl does instead is give you a very small opportunity to say something. When you are moving away from bars and clubs you need to pick up on cues like proximity or else you will go on thinking no girl wants to talk to you and return to poisoning your liver just to meet girls.
If I have a feeling a girl wants to talk to me, I will be right most of the time even though I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my subconscious can pick up on things that I can’t. Thank you evolution!
I see him at least six days a week. He walks into the door and makes a pit stop by my table for two minutes of small talk. He thinks I’m a hard worker because that’s what it appears I’m doing whenever he comes in, but most of the time I’m staring at the screen thinking about what mediocre baked good snack I’m going to buy when I get hungry.
He gets the exact same thing every time. A cup of coffee and lemon pound cake. Sometimes twice a day. One time I joked that I just got the last piece of lemon pound cake and added how delicious it was. You should have seen the look on his face—it’s like his heart stopped! I never joked about that again.
His legs are thin like my wrist, but he never uses a cane. He walks slowly, his arms halfway outstretched to maintain his balance. Those steep curbs get him. He needs to hold on to someone’s forearm to lift his foot six inches off the ground. I told him I see men much younger than him using canes, and he smiled and said he doesn’t need one. Once you hold a cane, you hold it until you die.
He still drives, he brags, and I’ve seen him drive. With my teeth clenched I could barely watch him reverse out of a parking space and almost jump over the curb. It’s a miracle his car doesn’t have a scratch. Next week he’s going to Florida for a little vacation on his own. He will travel alone because he is alone. I told him that’s the only way to travel.
I looked him in the eyes one day and said, “When I become old I hope I become you.” And I meant it. And he laughed. I hope to be his age and independent, to be spared the brutal effects of aging that appear more cruel than death itself. To have every system of your body shut down unmercifully, to decompose before your last breath. I fear aging more than death, for in death there is no mirror to see how wholly unhuman I have become. I can only wait and see what nature has in store for me, but I hope that when my time is up, and I have lived my life to the best of my being and I’m nothing but an mere container, that I look at death right in the eyes, and beg it to take me. And it does.
My friend was born in 1917. He still has a long way to go.
I go to the same Starbucks next to a retirement community so I recognize many of the old people that come in. Last month a man came in with a walker. He was leaning it on heavy and struggling to move just a half foot at the time. He almost fell down while bending over to sit.
A year ago I remember him coming in on his own, walking a little slow but still walking, and buying one of those pink frappuccino drinks. He dropped it and I watched him grab some napkins to help the barista clean up the spill. He was upbeat then and I used to exchange a few words with him, but now he just looks down on the ground as a younger woman helps him around and gets his drink. He sits closest to the door, silent, with no color on his skin, and within a few minute he falls asleep. He just started coming in a wheelchair, and judging by pain I see on his face he won’t be coming in much more.
You think it’s going to come gradually. That one day you have trouble getting out of bed and think to yourself that in a year or so you will need a cane. And then in a few years maybe a walker from time to time. But nature doesn’t work on your clock. It comes when it wants to come. I know this man did not expect to decline as rapidly as he has, one year independent and walking around, the next year barely able to bring the cup to his mouth.
There’s an elderly couple I see all the time. They have to be at least 80 years old, with a bond that gives me hope that maybe one day I’ll find someone to live out my last days with. They’d come in, get their coffee, and read the newspaper for an hour before setting out. The woman always had trouble walking so the man would hold her arm, like you would see a young couple do at night. Then they started coming in less and less. I used to see them every day, but it’s been a month since the last time. I think I know what happened.
I ordered a tall Americano and a water at the cash register. I waited a couple minutes by the bar but the water never came. No big deal, I’ll just ask again.
“Can I get a cup of water?”
The Asian lady barista said, “Sure I’ll get it for you this time but next time can you get back in line and ask for it?” Suck deez.
That barista is actually a manager, and I’ve seen her give attitude to others and reprimand her subordinates in front of customers. After I got my water I briefly considered using my Pulitzer-worthy writing skills to write a letter to corporate headquarters, but that would take too much effort.
A large black man next to the bar sees I’m waiting for my coffee drink. “My drink is taking forever too,” he said.
We small talk for 30 seconds. I looked at the Asian barista and said to him, “You see that woman? I really hate her.”
“That’s my wife.”
“Haha yeah right.”
“No really, she is my wife.”
“Uhhhhhhhh yeah I’m saying that because I tried to get a water but she was not very nice.” It only took five seconds for me to regress into a beta male.
“Oh she can seem tough but this store is very busy.”
Phew, he’s cool with me hating his wife. I chat a little to alleviate my guilty feelings as my intoxicating charm wins him over: he ends up introducing me to her as his “homeboy.” He told her to look out for me in the future, so talking shit to a man’s wife may actually get me free coffee. I didn’t learn a lesson from this.
Dunkin’ Donuts has free iced coffee all day today. While I find donuts to be repulsive, I will hit multiple Dunkin’ Donuts to get as much free coffee as my little heart desires. If I smell like donut grease in the process, so be it.
Full Disclosure: Dunkin’ Donuts has paid me $10,000 for this post.