The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Leftovers in a Traveler's Notebook
February 11, 1990
Leftovers in a traveler's notebook:
In Santa Cruz, Bolivia, just before Christmas, after flying all night, I sat in the airport, with not a soul speaking English, waiting for my next flight about as far away and all alone as you can get.
A woman strode toward me and asked, "Aren't you John McCormally?"
"My God, yes," I stammered in surprise. It was Pam Dehner from my hometown of Burlington, Iowa. I knew she and her husband Jim were teaching in Santa Cruz and planned to call them three weeks later on my way back through the city. Not only were they taking the same flight I was (on a short vacation trip), but when we boarded the plane, we found ourselves sitting together although I'd gotten my seat assignment in Miami, and they got theirs in Bolivia.
Things like that make traveling and life eternally interesting.
Missionaries working among the poor say that one reason the Catholic Church is losing out to fundamentalist sects is the Church's traditional permissiveness toward drinking. Alcoholism is the worst curse of the poor but there's seldom a church festival without drunkenness. It's the fundamentalists who promote Alcoholics Anonymous. If one wants to stay dry, he turns to one of the sects for a sober support group.
Dan Quayle may be persona non grata, but Batman is all the rage in South America. In Argentina, we saw kids in Batman masks and T-shirts, playing with Batman yo-yos.
In upscale fashion stores in Mendoza, Vietnam is the rage. The "in" style is old army jackets and sweatshirts labeled "USMC Fort Saigon."
The priest shortage in these traditional Catholic countries is well known, but it may not be all that important. Missionaries say people prefer their own service over the traditional Mass with a priest. One woman talked regretfully about "the energy that goes into the maintaining the institution like the hierarchy rather than into helping the needy."
The Animitas, those "houses of the spirit" that mark sites of traffic accidents, also show up in the poor barrios, marking where people have been murdered. In Chile, a nun said, "in the Pinochet years, every family has been touched tear gas, police dogs, disappearances, torture, death."
You can't drink the water, but I ate very well on my trip. You have to be careful. I ordered a hamburgueza because the word looked familiar. It was a bun with a ground beef patty all right, but on top of that was a slice of cheese, a slice of ham and a fried egg. Not exactly what my cardiologist recommends but it was good.
I had a lot of trouble cashing American Express traveler's checks even in banks and I vowed to take more cash next time. It made me realize that in that Karl Malden ("Don't leave home without them") commercial, you never see anyone cashing the checks. They always lose them never cash them.
I was disillusioned on another commercial. My United Airlines flight out of Miami to Washington never got off the ground. The captain kept telling us stuff about the radios. The young Chilean beside me couldn't understand a word, and my poor Spanish couldn't help him. So he did what any panic-stricken traveler would do. He pushed the call button and tried to ask the young stewardess. "I only speak English," she said huffily.
It reminded me that in three weeks in Latin America, no matter how dumb I sounded, no one ever said , "I only speak Spanish." They always tried to help or to find someone who could. So much for the Friendly Skies.
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