I Was Picked Up on the Colectivo
Since it was the only available seat, I took it and prepared to spend an hour awkwardly staring towards the back of the colectivo (bus). The backward seats position you a couple of feet away from the first row of people facing the front of the bus, so I spend the ride avoiding eye contact and hoping I don’t have dulce de leche smeared on your face.
For some reason it’s only facing the back of the bus that I experience bouts of nausea when the driver slams his brakes to a sudden stop or drops his lead foot on the accelerator, which occurs about every 3 minutes. In any case, I settled in my seat, earplugs in place, and practiced my best morning colectivo frown, trying to look less like a foreigner.
Two stops later, the older woman with a fur coat and perfectly coiffed hair directly in front of me was replaced by a man in his late 40s, with a full head of styled grey hair and dark thick brows. He was the stereotypical Argentine, dressed like a cock of the walk with a cream turtleneck sweater, brown suit jacket and tailored overcoat. I noticed him sit down, avoided eye contact and continued an inventory of the rest of the bus.
Mid-20s women with large trendy handbags and long hair, men wearing scarves and overcoats subtly checking out the women, older women appearing as if they had just left a salon and clutching their bags in their laps. After passing a church or two, which I noted from the quarter of riders which crossed themselves a few times, my Argentine suitor pounced.
“What country are you from?” he inquired.
“United States, is it that obvious?” I replied.
He laughed and said no, but stated he had narrowed it down to the US or England, indicating he had been checking me out. Now, I know that my blue eyes don’t give me away, but I am a white southern girl with petite features and a button nose. Although I’ve been mistaken a few times for one of the Irish descendants here (which usually have red hair and brown eyes), I could never pass for someone with Italian or Spanish heritage.
My colectivo Casanova continued his line of questioning, asking what I was doing here and what I thought of the city. We had the obligatory conversation about how lindo Buenos Aires is, and after I mentioned that the main difference between the US and Argentina was that they live to work back there and work to live down here, he pulled out a small pad of paper and asked me to write down my email address. I wrote down a yahoo account I haven’t used in 6 years, and swear I felt the disapproving looks of two older ladies a few rows down thinking the porteño equivalent of “ho-bag” or “skank-ho.”
He reached out his hand and said, “Gustavo.” Solid Argentine name. He asked what state in the US I was from, which led to a conversation I’ve had about 243 times since I’ve arrived. “Arkansas,” I said. “OH! Bill Clinton!” Gustavo replied, with gusto. As advertised by the recent news blitz, my former President is still an accomplished charmer, especially in the international political arena. I briefly wondered if “chamuyero” and “Clinton” were used in the same sentence in the Argentine press during the Monica Lewinsky years.
We chatted a bit about politics. I mentioned I voted for Obama and he gave me a thumbs up, wagging his hand at the mention of Bush. Between questions I broke eye contact, knowing he wouldn’t stop talking to me, but attempting to communicate some type of hint. He would continue to engage me in conversation and the older Argentine women behind him would raise a brow and glance my way.
His stop finally arrived and he got up, leaned forward for a kiss on the cheek, stating he would take me out for ice cream. I am at least 12 years his junior, and a joke about ice cream with a much older man just writes itself. In any case, I stole a glance at him strutting around after he got off the colectivo and had to bite my tongue not to burst out laughing, because someone actually tried to pick me up on the colectivo. I’ll create a special chamuyero folder in case an email arrives. If I do receive one I’m sure it will be exceedingly entertaining, or quite possibly the perfect souvenir.