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JUST ANOTHER MEETING
Or, You Can't Always Get What You Want,
I once saw a young man, essentially a kid so low on the totem pole his chin was dirty, interrupt a meeting. It was a gathering of Indian Chiefs, Presidents, and Legends, and the guy stuck his head in the door and spoke - to the gently perplexed amusement, at first, of the participants - about how his weekend had been, what he done, but what he really, really wanted to know from anyone present who could tell him, was why when he ate corn, why, when the time came, it came out of his ass whole...
A memorable meeting in Singapore: there was a man from France, a man from Poland, a man from China, a man from Singapore, a man from Sweden, this man from the United States, and I marveled that all spoke English. Memorable in that it proved the notion that English is indeed the language of business, and spreading worldwide.
When I worked in Santiago, Chile, every morning began with a ride downtown to the headquarters of the Heidleburg Corporation/South America. Inside was a long wooden table crowded by chain-smoking, well-dressed Germans. Individuals exhibiting through mere presence the precision, arrogance, and toughness that race exudes. As I always do I made an attempt - every morning - to communicate before enduring yet another hour of talk not the least of which I could understand, by simply uttering, 'Gutten Aben.' They always laughed when I did so; I thought they liked me. Of course later I would discover that Gutten Aben is 'good afternoon,' and that 'Guten Morgan' was the appropriate greeting. They no doubt appraised me as they did the Chileans we worked with, expressed to me one day by one of them as we sat in a car at the airport checkpoint, a young soldier resting the barrel of his AK-47 machine gun on the open window of the drivers side. My German driver, fluent in Spanish but pleading ignorance because of the perceived shakedown, turned to me and whispered: "Zey ah veddy stoo-pid pee-pol... "
Today in Culiacan, Mexico, I have another meeting. The machine I have been working on is working well, they decide to purchase four of the spare boards I have brought with me. There is concern about the bill and we call my office, and they find that the pre-paid portion is about used up. This is a newspaper, El Debate, and we arrive in the morning to work, go back to the hotel, and then come back in for the evening run at eleven o'clock. We are all tired. They are reluctant to release me, and we go back and forth about what to do. What time to start, what time to finish? When to release me? Great indecision.
After about a week working in Latin America it becomes difficult to continuously try to follow Spanish conversations. My skills are marginal, and require great effort. At times you give up. In this meeting I found myself drifting... mind on other things, the Red Sox beginning the World Series manana-
"What do you want to do, Don?"
I snap up from my fog. All in the room are staring at me. I'm unsure where in the conversation we stand. No idea what they have been talking about. I look at Gilberto.
"I want to go to Cabo San Lucas, drink beer and watch the women," I respond.
Their reactions vary; the ones who speak English laugh, one looks concerned, another seems uneasy with any humor inserted into the meeting. They confer quickly in Spanish, heads bobbing, and Gilberto looks back at me.
"Okay," he said. "We go to the beach."
Four of us pile into the small car and head out of the colorful, busy Culiacan streets, out into the flatland before the sea, large mountains bumping the horizon. The land is dry, hot. There is some cattle, but mostly vegetables. I am reminded of the name of Culiacan's Mexican Baseball League's entry: The Tomatoes. Onward we drive, following signs for Altata, and then Nuevo Altata. The dikes and pools of man-made shrimp farms are pointed out to me. We come to a new bridge, and are stopped by the policia, who retain our driver's licenses. And then we enter the brand-new resort being constructed on the peninsula.
The causeway looks like Florida's inland waterway, the channels with bright green flora falling down into murky waters, the sand portends the long beach ahead. We cross a row of sand dunes, and see four or five hundred yards of scrub land dropping into the Pacific waters, the scene like a blanket roll half unfurled. There are new, thatched roofed huts and buildings, we find our way to the restaurant.
Inside, or rather, under the thatched roof, there are thirteen - count them - thirteen souls to wait on us. There is one other table full. We order Tecate and Dos Equis and Pacifico, and without any input from me order all the food. It is marvelous, the first cold platter filled with octopus, jumbo shrimps, as well as other bits of mariscos I do not recognize but am told are various local fishes, as well as parts of oysters and smaller shrimps, all mixed with cut tomatoes and quacamole and onions in a vinegrette-ish oil. It is delicious.
It comes, as do all dishes in Mexico, with sauces of varying degrees of scovillocity; the bowl of crushed, dried peppers the wildest. The Mexicans marvel at my fondness for peppers; they indicate most Americans are notorious for not liking them at all. They tell me I use too much. I tell them that eating should be like watching movies: if it doesn't make you cry, it ain't worth it. Next arrives the pan of baked fish in spices, and, as most meals do in Mexico, with warm, foil-wrapped tortillas. Gilberto explains that the dish is a specialty of Solanoa State, but will be different at each place it is ordered. We order two, three more beers. The air is warm, the food spicy. Another plate of hot boiled jumbo shrimp finds itself edged into the other dishes crowding the table. The wind blowing in off the ocean cools; the American music on the juke box sooths. The specialty of Sanaloa is best tucked into the tortillas, with quacamole and crushed peppers, and some tomato, as well as a spoonful of mild salsa, wrapped tight. Followed, of course, with sipped Pacifico.
I marvel that my meeting with Gilberto Osuna Llanes, Gestion de Calidad, Alfredo Ernesto Laniga Lopez, Jefe de Mantenimiento, and Jose Luis Guerrero Flores, Jefe de Mantenimiento de los otro El Debate in Los Mochis, ends up in this wonderful setting.
Gilberto asks if I want to walk on the beach; I tell him no, that this is good, just to sit under the thatched roof among the newly planted palms, and look out over the long beach and its crashing waves. It is the Pacific Ocean, some one hundred kilometers over the horizon lies Cabo San Lucas, on the tip of Baja California. I sip Pacifico cerveza. Pacifico, if I understand it right, means calm. The Spanish word appropriate, tranquillo. The 'q', Gilberto tells me, pronounced as a hard, English 'k'. Tran-keelo. Relaxing. I sip and sigh as the warm breeze cools off the salt water.
"We have to stop meeting like this," I say, but they don't understand the English colloquilism, and simply nod respectfully. I laugh. I raise my glass.
"To las Medias Rojas de Boston," I say; to the Boston Red Sox. My three companions raise their glasses: "Salute!"
And thus went yet another memorable meeting. On the slow (a marvel in itself in Latin America) ride back to Culiacan, I muse of the events of the afternoon, and begin humming as we drive through the tomato fields... you can't always get what you wa-ant... you can't always get what you wa-ant, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need...