6:50 a.m. on Friday, I sprawled out in the back of a Sahara-yellow truck. Cold morning air tasting of ocean salt whipped through my hair, as two construction workers drove me over the acres-tall Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Green islands interrupted the still silver water. A powerful sun hovered over the horizon, surrounded by a subtle pink sky. It was my first ride of the hitchhiking trip, and I felt so good I declared it..."The Trip to End All Trips!"
But then I realized that this name meant I would never go on another trip again. I didn't want that, so I decided, instead, that I'd shoot for..."The Greatest Trip Ever!"
Five hours, three rides, and 250 miles later, Joe from Cuba dropped me off in Miami, my destination. Joe was an excited, wiry little guy. When I got in his rusted car, he told me: "Man, people use'ta pick up hitchhikers all the time. But now, man, you might pick someone up and they'll rob you. But, ha ha, I'm not worried - I only got 3 bucks on me!" I joked, "I don't have much money either. We should try to pick up another hitchhiker who has money, and we can rob him!"
Joe's entire life revolved around scheming easy ways to make money. He was 46 and had lived well supporting a family, but he said, "I've only done about three years of work my whole life." He makes $75/week selling poppy seeds on the internet, which people buy thinking they can grow marijuana. "Then they find out it ain't opium, ha ha!" he says, "but I ain't never had no complaints - hey, it was only five bucks!" Joe also made $19,000 from insurance when he hammered on his Miami house in 1994, claiming the damage had come from Hurricane Andrew.
Joe even had a get-rich-quick idea involving me. As we rode down Florida's "Alligator Alley", I told him that some divers earn hundreds of dollars finding shark teeth in the Everglades. He pointed to swamps on the side of the road and said, "Hey, man, I'll watch your back for crocodiles if you wanna go swimmin' in 'dere. Just pick a spot, we'll pull over and hop the fence. You find some teeth, we'll split the money!"
Joe also offered up today's Joke of the Day:
"So, a guy says to a farmer, 'Hey, man, why does that pig got only three legs?'
Da farmer says, 'That's a smart pig, man.'
And the guy says, 'Oh, yeah, why's he so smart?'
And da farmer says, 'That pig saved my life, he saved my motha's life, and he saved my wife's life.'
And the guys says, 'Yeah, but why's he only got three legs?'
And da farmer says, 'Hey, man! I can't just eat him all at once!"
In downtown Miami, I searched for the Brazilian Embassy when, luck upon luck, I came across 25 contestants for Miss Brazil-USA 2000 - all beautiful and in tight clothes. I tried talking to some of them, but they were hurrying to catch a bus so they were only around for 25 seconds. It took approximately 24 seconds for me to overcome my paralysis from the eye-popping joy of the occasion, so I wasn't quite able to land the five or ten phone numbers I certainly would've gotten otherwise.
After getting lost, I later found the Embassy. I was given a gluttonous, heaping bundle of information on studying abroad in Brazil. Next, I went to a bar the guy at the Embassy had recommended. (Based on the staggering enormosity of the advice this guru had already given me, I would've listened to him even if he recommended I jump in the ocean and swim to Brazil!)
And his advice paid off again, because I met Marcia at the bar. Like many Brazilians, she has an excited, very happy personality. While she wasn't a candidate for Miss Brazil-USA 2000, she's a thin girl with a very big smile. Marcia grew up near the rainforest, where she took long trips on the Amazon River. One time, her boat nearly capsized at night, which would've led to her family swimming with bloodthirsty piranhas that can devour a cow in minutes. She agreed to speak Portuguese with me (the language I'm trying to learn for Brazil). I said to her, "Vei a praia?" which was the first time I ever asked a girl out in another language and had her accept. Although, to be honest with you, I didn't actually know that I was asking her out when I said that. I didn't really know what I was saying - something about the beach? But, hey, it worked!
Marcia and I split up for the night. After getting lost, I then went to a Latin-dancing club. This was the part of the Miami trip I was waiting for! Crazy Latinos were having a great time, smiling and contorting their arms in all kinds of complicated twists and turns that I could only dream of doing. I felt pretty unconfident in my dancing, but this didn't stop me from asking girls to dance. I asked and asked and asked for girls to dance with me. A few accepted, but I spent most of the night getting rejected. I got rejected by almost every young girl in the club, until it got to the point where there was hardly any girl I came across that I hadn't already been rejected by. At the time, I figured they were rejecting me because I was American and they just assumed I couldn't dance.
I left the club at four and immediately got lost. I got so lost that I considered sleeping in a half-built house. Just as I layed down to sleep, a truck pulled up to the house to drop off some building materials. I got really worried that I'd be found and chastised as a bum, so I climbed a ladder and hid on the roof. It was an odd moment: me on a roof of an under-construction house at five in the morning, praying that I wouldn't be discovered.
Luckily, after a few seconds, the truck left. I departed from the house, found the train station, and headed for Miami's South Beach. By the time I learned I couldn't get a room at the hostel, the sun was out and warm. I gave up on sleeping and walked to the koolaid-blue ocean for a "snorkel". When the water reached a depth of 10-15 feet, little bowls and branching twigs of coral began to grow. A four-foot barracuda in a school of white fish glared at me, two grey pufferfish with big eyes paddled by slowly, and a clay-red lobster hid in a coral cave.
I layed on the beach, where I reunited with Marcia at about twelve. It was a great day for "Date of the Week" XI. "It's a gorgeous day...It's beautifully, fantastically gorgeous!" said one guy I overheard. Marcia was in a good mood again. She even treated me to lunch. Now that's a great date.
In the evening, I checked into a hostel for a quick sleep. Rejuvenated, I took a bus downtown and met Marcia again at another nightclub. We drank a bit and started Latin-dancing. But, I could tell things weren't going well with my Amazonian date when she said, "Don't twist me. No twists." Just when I was about to make a move on the black-haired Brazilian, in the hopes of making this trip closer to "The Greatest Trip Ever!" Marcia told me she had to go to the bathroom.
I haven't heard from her since. I think she got sick or something.
I was very concerned for Marcia, but I nevertheless spent the night trying to convince Latin girls to salsa dance with me. I altered my tactics and started saying, "Quiere bailar?" hoping I could trick girls into believing I was Latin. A girl named Andrea agreed to join me. Alright, the moment I'd been waiting for!
...but Andrea and I quickly realized what was keeping me from having more dance partners. As it turns out, when I was finally given the chance to show my salsa moves, I learned that I actually didn't know how to dance salsa. All the Latin girls who'd rejected me on the weekend had been right to do so, after all. I was American, and - they were right - I couldn't dance.
I left the club, very sad. I didn't get lost this time, but the buses weren't running so I had a seven mile-walk to my hostel.
I hitched home the next morning. I rode with a Cuban guy who didn't speak english, and also with two Peruvian ladies. It was fun communicating in Spanish, although the Peruvians wanted to drop me in "Oeste (West) Miami", and I ofcourse needed to go to "Oeste Florida."
For 3 1/2 hours, I rode with Michelle - a 30-year old lady who hitchhikes herself sometimes. Her pride-and-joy is her daughter, Marena, who has a Portuguese father. Marena is a cute, chubby-cheeked baby of 9 1/2 months - if only she was a little older, I'd make her speak Portuguese and Latin-dance with me.
So, was this "The Trip to End All Trips?" No, thank god. There'll be other trips. Was it "The Greatest Trip Ever?" Hmmmmmmm...... no. But it was fun and even a little educational. And, like I said, there'll be more trips - so join me next time as I Latin-dance my way in search of..."As Minhas Ferias Meljores De Tudo Tempo!"
(translated from Portuguese, that's)...
"The Greatest Trip Ever!"
Mais tarde, Odisseias Moderno