Will and Geoff see a terrible motorcycle accident from the window of a taxi in Medellin. They have no choice but to go on living their lives. Will discusses romance and cultural differences between the United States and Colombia. Text POD to (332) 877-9540 to be our friend (or sign up here if you're outside the US and Canada).
Weird trivia and stuff Will wants to say
- Apologies again for the heaviness here. This episode was originally intended to follow "The Classic," but the change in the order given last week's attack on the Capitol Building and my subsequent decision to release "Lessons from Santiago" means that we've got two seriously heavy episodes consecutively. I'm sorry. Next week will be lighter.
- Now is maybe the time to note that Gabriel García Márquez has had both a huge influence on my writing and just general structure of being a person and will be referenced, explicitly and implicitly, from this episode going forward. So too will magical realism. Expect some weirdness.
- Yudis is a brilliant and wonderful woman and deserves far more air time than she received in this episode. She was originally supposed to have a complete show dedicated to the circumstances of our meeting (which are hilarious and absurd and you can read more in this old blog post if you care to), but I had a hell of a time making that episode work, so it's scrapped. She'll be present in the future, if only I can figure out how.
- I'm addicted to this episode, but I'm also 100% sure this won't be a crowd favorite. I like it from a writing perspective - it's playing on two or three different levels at the same time, and I always enjoy that. This was material I originally wrote for a book (yet to be released, though drafted).
I hear with my little ear
[Sounds of the inside of a car]
For the first time in a long time, my seatbelt is buckled.
I’m in a taxi rolling down the hill and out of El Poblado on Calle 10A down to the Avenida - the main thoroughfare in Medellin, Colombia. To my left is Geoff, an endearing Irishman I met my first night in Medellin. He’s a handsome man, well-built and fit, with a sharp jawline and thin wire-rim glasses. He’s calm and speaks kindly of everyone, and he enacts these little Gaelicisms in everything he does.
“Oh, our man’s good fun,” he’d say. “We got pizza here - get involved, grab a slice.”
He’s glaring out the window now, his eyes glazed over, mesmerized by the dim flicker of distant traffic and hillside communas.
I didn’t buckle my seatbelt for Geoff. I sure as hell didn’t buckle it for myself.
No, I buckled my seatbelt for Yudis. She speaks nearly no English and I speak nearly no Spanish, but still, we sat on park benches and at restaurant tables and on the floor of museums, goofy grins plastered to our faces.
Anyway, one day we hopped in a cab and she said “Abroche el cinturón de seguridad,” and I said “I don’t know what the hell that means” and she said “use the rope idiota” and I said no and she folded her arms and looked out the window and I said fine and so after that, I always buckled my seatbelt.
And so now Geoff and I are on our way to meet her and a friend in a bar and my seatbelt is fastened.
I didn't know it then, but that was the beginning of a new trend for me.
Over drinks an hour later, I’d be glad it was.
[Theme Music Begins]
This is Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.
I'm Will Conway.
No big intro today. Just mortality, culture and paradox.
Text POD to (332) 877-9540.
[Theme Music Ends]
There’s this thing that happens to people from the U.S. in Colombia. It happens so often it’s almost a running joke. I’ve been in Medellin for a month. I was supposed to just be here for a couple days. But then… well, then I met a girl.
You say that to a guy who’s been to Colombia, and they’ll kind of laugh and say, "Yeah, that’ll happen." And then they’ll lob a stare over your shoulder and fall back into something of a haze, of that time they lost themselves in the same place for the same reason.
The boiler-plate explanation is that the women in Colombia are beautiful. And they are, but the reality is that explanation is a kind of shorthand for something more complicated. It’s that the women in Colombia are down-to-earth, practical and real but innocent and pure in the same breath somehow. It’s that they rarely wear makeup and yet they’re still stunning - inside and out. It’s that they’ve experienced the intensity and pain of life but they’ve still maintain some kind of purity that’s impossible to nail down.
It’s that in the United States, we live in a society so structured and secure that we strive for independence and authenticity but yet we never attain it because we button our shirts and stomach our demons. It’s that what is simply is in the United States - it's free from the vapid expression of magical realism and so miracles never happen and Gabriel García Márquez is an SAT question and nothing more. And buildings submit to city ordinances and fire codes and everything is neat and tidy. And so restaurants have names and people rate them on Yelp! and complain about their waiter who makes $14/hour. In Colombia, no one makes $14 an hour except those few who do and buildings are shotty and nothing has a name except for a fading green sign with too many exclamation points and roads can be asphalt but they can also be dirt and rolling hills are bigger than the cities and the world feels mightier than humanity and so people live in this symbiotic relationship with the natural world and with universal mystery and Gabriel García Márquez is a call sign, a code of conduct, a moral construct.
It’s that everything in the United States is as near perfection as it ever could be but yet people in their wisdom break it all, which is much the opposite of this place, where everything is broken but yet people make it perfect.
And so the passion you feel for this place - for this world where humanity is still at one with nature - is redirected to passion for a woman. The love of Colombia is embodied in a human with flesh and blood and hair and a big smile. And so I fell back into that kind of innocent puppy love of youth - that confusion of teenage commitment and the sepia sentimentality of pubescent authenticity.
Anyway, Geoff and I are on the highway now. Two motorcycles flirt with each other on the road outside. They skip ahead and then retreat behind us as taillights go bright. But then the traffic fades and we accelerate, the pair of motorcycles behind by only a few car lengths. Their engines roared and their headlights grow bright and I shutter my eyes as they prepare to overtake us.
They brush past with ease but, as they prepared to change lanes again, the cycle on the right turns a moment too soon. It nicks the wheel well of the cycle on the left. There is, of course, an eruption of sparks. But for a moment, it seemed like that's all there would be. And honestly, if a photograph had been taken in that fraction of an instance after the sparks diminished, in that quarter second of relieved suspicion in the ill-fated destiny of two Colombian motorists on a highway, no one would believe there was anything more to see than a peaceful joyride on a clogged artery of a Medellin thoroughfare in the early evening hours of an arbitrary Friday of an arbitrary September of an arbitrary year.
But that's not the way the world works. And so that moment was followed by all that could truly follow.
The biker who received the impact loses control of his helm and his handlebars jam in his gut. His bike loses its speed in a second but he doesn't and he's projected high above the highway. His bike, for its part, skids on its side beneath the motorcycle of his partner, flipping it end over end. The second man handsprings down the highway impossibly fast, his body exceeding all limitations in an effort to avoid peace with its maker. Sparks are sputtering from his boots and his wrists and his helmet, in turn, like a flaming trapeze artist in a doomed circus. And his partner lands just outside my window with a thud.
“Stop the car!” yells Geoff.
“¡Pare, pare!” I demand.
But the driver just grunts and doesn't even slow down for a second. And as we speed onward, I turn to the back window just in time to see the silhouette of the second man rise from the ground, stagger three paces and collapse again in the blinding headlights of an oncoming semi-truck.
This will sound crazy, but I swear I see a cloud of smoke rise from his body and whistle skyward. I blink twice and write it off. Must’ve been some optical illusion or something.
Anyway, I turn back around and look at Geoff, his jaw clenched and eyes look down at his feet.
And we just carry on. It's all we can do.
A few minutes later, our cab pulls to the curb, and Geoff and I sit there and don't move in silence for a long moment, our seatbelts still fastened.
Geoff says in a whisper, “That was rough.”
“Is this the place?” I say, pointing to a buzzing Aguila sign on a bar window outside.
“Yessir,” says Geoff.
I hand a wad of crumpled Colombian pesos to the taxi driver, unbuckle my seatbelt, and step to the curb.
[Guitar, bar chatter]
We walk into the bar and there's a man playing a guitar in the corner. We see Yudis and her friend sitting in a booth.
They stand, Yudis kisses me on the cheek and hugs Geoff. She looks quizzically at me as we sit.
“¿Que pasa?” she asks, her eyebrows high.
Geoff starts to speak and nothing comes but mumbled murmurs, and I think maybe it's for the best. Yudis looks to me and then back to Geoff.
“¿Que dijo?” she says to me.
“Nada,” I say, “Todo bien.”
I rubb her hand and ordered a drink.
"Una Aguila para mi, por favor."
[Theme Music Begins]
That was Baggage Claim: travel stories no one tells.
I’m Will Conway.
All right look, I know the last two weeks have been really heavy. I have a little bit of a dissonant ASMR thing going, for lack of a better term. Next week, we’ll all get a little relief, I promise.
In the meantime, I’m going to read three reviews today. If you posted a longer one, yours is coming.
“Gmoney 5” says, “Compelling, 5/5. Well-crafted stories with an unusual take on travel.”
Thank you Gmoney 5, but Gmonies one through four, get your shit together please. C'mon.
Amazing adventure stories says: “What's the podcast equivalent of a page-turner? 5/5, love this podcast.”
Thank you Amazing adventure stories. I don't believe that's your given name, but cool.
Finally, JohnEmotions says “It feel like you’re right there with him! 5/5 This immersive approach to storytelling is my favorite. It reminds me of the “theater of the mind” concept of old-timey radio, but with new stories from an interesting perspective.”
John, wow. That is exactly what I'm going for. Thank you.
Here's the deal guys, I need help spreading this show far and wide. If you like this show and want to know what you can do, please text FRIEND to (332) 877-9540 and I’ll get you set up.
All right, see you next Tuesday everyone.
[Theme Music Ends]