Monday, March 25, 2013

World view: Guatemala; 1959 or so

Much of this story will not be told, but the part that I often remember best will be.    In ways, my childhood would classify as "privileged", but not os much if you were there.

Back then, if you wanted to fly Pan Am from east US coast to west. you had to fly all over the place, hopping around Latin America, eventually arriving in San Francisco.  I'm lucky enough to have experienced this prior to and after the universal use of jets by the airlines.

It is a toss up whether my favorite airliner was the DC-6 or the 747.  However I didn't ride anywhere on 747 until much more recently. I liked the DC6 at least as well as 707.  I wasn't in a hurry I guess.

The coolest stop was Guatemala City.  The main lobby of the terminal was full of shoe-shine boys and men.  People selling cool little knives, textiles, etc.  It was nothing for an 8 or 10 year old America kid like me, or my brother, to wander the place on his own, bartering over things and making friends with the shoe-shine kid.  I thought the shoe-shine kids were the coolest of cool.

Everyone really looked happy.  Except the occasional cop/military guy.  I couldn't tell one from the other.

I daydreamed about running away and becoming a shoe shiner in Guatemala City.  But I never did.

That is where I experienced my first tortilla.  We spent the night sometimes and the restaurants were the first ones I actually liked--judging from highly limited experience in life.

It was always my mother, brother and I on these trips.  We flew standby because of my father's job, but he never went, thank God.

I think we did well because we all had respect for people and weren't pushy.  They were always doing little extras.

If I recall, I think that airport was built on a cliff or in a canyon or something.  Pretty sure you could easily either fall off a mountain or fly into one.  We never did.

It never occurred to me back then that some would think that whole thing awful in some way.   It does now.  Paying truant children to shine your shoes!  One man had been there for most of his life.  He sent his son to a university in the USA off the money he saved all those years shining shoes.

One kid I remember was there the two last times we took that trip.  He showed me his method but I didn't speak spanish and don't know what was in the unlabeled bottle.

He didn't drink it.  He brushed it on my highly scuffed shoes after wiping them off with a cloth.  Then he did all the polishing and making the shoeshine rag sing.  Then it seems like he applied more of the clear magic formula.  No one could believe he made those abused shoes look good.  Back the you wore leather shoes ad dressed up to travel, and only spoiled kids wore loafers, which everyone knew were bad for feet and posture.  In other words I had one choice--tie up shoes.  But they stood tall whenever I left Guatemala.

After my first exposure to good jobs for kids in Guatemala, the main thing on my Christmas list was a shoe shine kit.  I never asked for much stuff, so I got things like that.  Sometimes.

I kept that kit for may years, shined my brother's shoes when he had a date in high school.  Had not I been otherwise trapped in my environment, I may have gone into the biz.  Of course, even then, they wouldn't let a 10 year old set up shop in Miami International Airport shining shoes.

And you wonder why I so reject most regulations which cross my credenza.


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Ballistic Mountain, CA, United States
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