PREVIOUSLY: PART FOUR
In my entire life it had never occurred to me what the maximum speed of a city bus was, but I can now tell you it’s about sixty-five miles per hour. I know that because the bus driver gunned it during a three-mile stretch of freeway. He turned off the interior lights while barreling through tunnels and repeatedly changing lanes, probably without using his turn signal. The back of the bus was jumping and there were yelps from older women sitting up front who also uttered a few choice words. I’ve never been afraid of death, but I really had been hoping to check out Gheridge first.
The bus hit smaller streets and then slowly made its way through centro, the commercial zone of the city, a place every guidebook warns to avoid at night. Hundreds of homeless people were everywhere, hugging the buildings, either sleeping on cardboard or limping around with their meager belongings. The more we drove by the huge buildings, which were headquarters to Brazil’s biggest corporate giants, the more it felt like a city within a city, an underworld that I wasn’t supposed to see. I thought about how things must be really bad for a person to be homeless in Brazil and not even to be able to live in a shack perched on the side of a mountain.
“We’ve been on this bus for at least thirty minutes,” I said to Henrik. “Have you seen any train tracks?”
“I’ve never been to this part of Rio before.”
“Neither have I,” Henrik said. “It doesn’t look safe.”
“No shit, it’s deserted. My expectations for Gheridge are lowering.”
“Don’t worry about it. I have a good feeling about this.”
“You think Gheridge is like an oasis? A bar with beautiful, clean women that is surrounded by favelas on all sides?”
“Are you being sarcastic again?”
“I don’t even know anymore,” I admitted. “Hey, look—I think those are the tracks we’re looking for.”
They were indeed train tracks. Now we had to wait for the tracks to go over a bridge. The problem was that there were multiple bridges, all similar in size.
“How big is this bridge we’re looking for?” Henrik asked, looking concerned.
“Google Maps showed it as sort of big,” I replied. “It had arch supports, so I don’t think it’s one of those little interchange bridges.”
“Does it go over water?”
“I don’t think so.”
We were two gringos in the middle of a deserted part of Rio, looking for a bridge with arches while riding on the ghetto bus.
“Look at that bridge,” said Henrik. “It has arches.”
It did have arches, but it looked smaller than I’d expected. “I don’t think that’s the bridge we want,” I said. “Let’s keep going a while. If the tracks veer to the right, then that was the bridge.”
The tracks veered to the right. There was a “Fuck” and “Damn it” and then we got off the bus at least a mile away from Gheridge. Now next to a busy highway, we’d have to follow it back to the bridge.
“Come on, let’s start walking,” Henrik said after the bus had dropped us off.
“Hold on, let me think. You know we’re in a bad area, right?”
“It doesn’t look that bad.”
“Dude, it’s bad, and we’re both obvious gringos,” I said. “Maybe we should take a cab,”
“And how are we going to catch a cab by the highway? We’d have to get on a side street, but I can’t see one from here. All we need to do is walk that way for fifteen minutes and we’ll be there.”
“Okay, but take off your shirt,” I said while looking at a guy sitting on a small hill a couple hundred feet from us.
“What?” he asked.
“Just take off your shirt.” I removed mine.
“I knew you were gay!”
“Shut up. Whenever I’m in a bad neighborhood, I walk shirtless so the thugs will think I’m like them. No one has even been mugged with his shirt off.”
“Does it work?”
“Ask me if I’ve been mugged in Brazil.”
“Well, have you?”
Henrik immediately took off his shirt and his pale Danish skin seemed to glow in the dark. No one was ever going to believe that such a pretty boy was a thug.
He took the lead, walking several paces in front of me, going way too fast. “Slow down, Henrik, they’ll think we’re scared and trying to get away,” I complained. “Thugs walk slow. Just pretend you’re a thug.”
The guy on the hill was soon joined by two others, and not far behind us was a young man with a backpack, his eyes firmly planted on the ground. On our left I saw some makeshift tents made of green tarps, shelters for the homeless. Even though I didn’t have much in the way of valuables on me, my heart was pounding.
I wanted to keep looking back, but I knew that would have been a mistake. Then they would have known we had something worth stealing. Thugs only look back to see if there’s someone they want to rob, so giving frequent glances would only confirm that we were good targets.
What I did was stare hard at whoever was behind us and made sure they saw me looking at possessions like shoes and bags while verifying that the distance between us and what turned out to be a small flock of men wasn’t narrowing. Henrik was now well in front of me and if I was attacked he wouldn’t even hear me above the roar of the cars flying past us.
In the distance I saw a few convenience stores with people milling outside, and then, finally, the train bridge. Next to that was a wide road with various vendors setting up shop to sell beer and snacks. There would be many rock bars, with Gheridge being the last one at the end of the road. I looked back one more time and only saw the man with the backpack. The others had disappeared. We were safe.
“Should we ask someone where Gheridge is?” I asked.
“It should be easy. We’ll just walk down this road until we see the sign,” Henrik said as we put our shirts back on.
My body was sweaty and stinking of the street. I wanted to cool down. “You mind if we get a beer at one of these bars as a warm-up for Gheridge? That walk made me thirsty.”
It didn’t take long to find a dive bar. There were two guys and a transsexual wearing a choker that contained enormous spikes. It looked like a torture device. The barkeep was a large man with a beer belly that his wife-beater could not contain.
“Gheridge better be better than this,” I said.
“Don’t worry. My friend said Gheridge is a good spot. A lot of people go there. It’s going to be good.”
“How’s my breath?” I said, leaning in close. “I forgot to rinse with Listerine before leaving the house.”
We sat in silence for a short while. Henrik was more comfortable with silence than the average American, content to not say anything for most of the time. I broke the ice. “Carnival was kind of shitty, no?”
“I can’t say it was the highlight of my time in Rio.” He took a swig from a tiny glass that needed refilling after just a few sips.
“I think Carnival sucks,” I said. “Brazilian Carnival is for Brazilians, not gringos. Did you notice how much harder it was to meet girls?”
“Yeah, they were always with big groups of friends. They didn’t seem as open.”
“Exactly! Let me ask you this: when was the last time you fucked a girl that you originally met while she was in a group of four or more?”
“Fuck. Okay, how about another girl?”
I gave him not more than two seconds to think, then said, “See! When a girl is out with a big group, it’s much harder to get sex.”
“But you met that Argentine girl last week at the champagne bar,” Henrik countered. “She was with a big group.”
“Yes, but I didn’t approach her until she was alone outside.”
“Even so, I don’t know.”
“Look, my theory holds for most cases,” I insisted. “If a girl is in a group larger than three, there’s no use bothering unless you know how to make a straw rise out of her drink without using your hands.”
“You know how to do that?”
“No, but there’s a famous guy in America who picks up girls with magic. He wears goggles and a top hat and looks like a circus ringleader.”
“Does it work?”
“He’s considered the best pickup artist in the world. He even had his own reality show.”
Henrik laughed. “Only in America!”
The transsexual was making long stares at Henrik. “Looks like someone could be getting lucky tonight,” I said while elbowing Henrik in the arm. “You want me to make an introduction?”
“I think I’m okay, but thanks.”
We finished the large bottle of beer and went back outside. The crowd on the street had gotten denser with people who were hardcore grunge, or goth, or whatever you call it. No other color was acceptable except black. Girls had black lipstick, black nail polish, and black eye liner (the latter I didn’t actually mind). There were many spiky contraptions and chains.
I looked at Henrik and gave him a death stare, but he just put his hand on my back and said, “Relax, buddy. Wait until we get to Gheridge.”
“Yeah, I’m sure it will miraculously change at Gheridge.”
“Now that was sarcasm.”
On the bright side, we were the only gringos on the street. We got constant stares, especially Henrik, who was the only natural blond around. Everyone probably thought I was his Brazilian tour guide.
The road curved right and the sounds of people got louder. “I’m pretty sure Gheridge is this way,” Henrik said.
Then I looked to my left and saw a large pile of rubble. It seemed like the result of a missile or bomb attack. Concrete blocks were strewn about and I could see a gap where the main door must have been. Strangely enough, the rubble had become a hang-out spot, and at least three dozen teenagers had picked a concrete block to sit on, smoking and drinking. In the middle of the rubble I saw a young girl with black everything. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen, but she was absolutely stunning. I could easily see her natural beauty behind all that gunk on her perfectly proportioned face. And who had his arm wrapped around but a twig of a boy who I could have lifted with one hand. He also was wearing black lipstick and eyeliner. They started kissing.
“Look at that over there,” I said.
Henrik turned his head and said, “I’m used to that now. Brazil is weird like that.”
“Yup. Guys who would never get laid in the States are banging girls that are hotter than anything we have. Oh, life, why do you play such cruel tricks on me?!”
Our English was getting some attention now. Kids would look at us, only to realize that they were lowering their cool quotient in the process, then immediately look away.
“Well, we’re here,” Henrik said.
We stood in front of a tiny neighborhood bar with fewer people than the pile of rubble. There was rock music playing inside and a single pool table, but nothing more than a couple plastic tables and chairs. There were four or five ugly girls talking with guys.
Looking around in disbelief, I said, “Holy… fuck. You brought me all the way over here for this? What is this shit?”
“Strange,” Henrik replied. “This isn’t quite as good as my friend described it.”
“Not quite as good? The shitty juice bar next to our place has better-looking girls than this!” I took a deep breath. “Are you positive this is the right place?”
Henrik looked at the sign and said, “Yup, this is Gheridge all right.”
I looked at the sign myself, then looked at Henrik, then looked at the sign again. I stared at each letter very carefully, as if trying to change them with my mind. I closed my eyes for two seconds, then opened them again, but the letters didn’t change: G-A-R-A-G-E.
“Hey, Henrik,” I said, looking at the sign once more. “What does that sign up there say?”
“Can you say that word for me?”
“Is this a joke?”
“No, it’s not a joke. Just say it, please.”
He looked at it for a few seconds, then said what I already knew he was going to say. I nodded, then put my hand up to my face, not sure whether I should laugh or cry.
“You… stupid… European! That says Garage, not Gheridge! I never would have come here if I knew it was Garage! There’s no good bar in the entire world that has a name like that!”
“Are you sure?” He was scratching his head. “It’s not pronounced Gheridge?”
“No, Henrik, it’s not pronounced Gheridge.”
“But how do you explain the word garbage. Why are the endings the same but the sounds are different?”
“I don’t know, man. But that’s definitely not Gheridge.”
We both stood staring at the sign in silence, as if it was a monument of some sort.
“So, you want to go to Emporio?” Henrik finally asked.
“Yeah, I’m down.”
We each bought a bottle of beer for the road and caught a bus to Ipanema.
“Why are all these bikes unlocked?” I asked. The first thing anyone notices about Copenhagen is the bicycles.
“No, they’re definitely locked.” He showed me the small wheel locks that went on the back.
“But anyone can just pick it up and put it in a van!”
“Sometimes that happens, but you’ll get your bike back when the police catch the guys.”
“They catch bicycle thieves here? There must be no crime here then.”
“There’s quite a bit now,” he said. “We even have shootings between gangs, just like you do in America.”
“How many people die a year from shootings?”
“In Copenhagen? About ten. In the entire country, fifty or so.”
It was a world away from Brazil, or even the United States, but apparently such numbers were worrying to the Danes. They had even begun to have home invasions, something that hadn’t existed a few years earlier.
We sat down to eat at a kebab place to get caught up.
“I’ve started seeing a girl,” he said.
“Yeah, she’s pretty, incredibly fun, and has the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen. I really, really like her.”
“Tired of blue eyes, huh?”
“Yeah, I never meet girls with brown eyes here.”
“Is she good in bed?” I asked.
“We haven’t had sex yet. I’m taking it nice and slow.”
I smiled and said, “You know, that sounds familiar.”