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Issue #7, Spring 1996
The argument goes on in lazy circles under the ancient fan that hangs from the ceiling like a great slow propeller, crawling through the hot dry air above the desk of the border official, taking us nowhere. As I argue, the tan-uniformed official pokes through my trunk of books, turning over the works of Shaw, Shakespeare, Aristophanes, a copy of Don Quixote, and many volumes more, as if seeking hidden treasure.
Taking a deep breath I begin again, in Spanish that is rapidly decaying in the heat. "Yes, Señor, I am willing to pay for the tourist card I need, and a little something for your trouble, but as you see, I have only traveler's checks, and if you will not cash them, I cannot buy the tourist card. Nor can I use the tourist card from the nation I have left, since they have already collected it on their side of the border. Nor can I use a passport because I do not have a passport. My travel agent (may his soul rotate forever on the baggage belts at O'Hare) assured me that as a U.S. citizen, all I needed to visit your two nations was a birth certificate and a tourist card." "And you have the certificate," says the border official, smiling up from the trunk with very white teeth, "so all you need is a tourist card!" And I tell him I am very willing to buy one, very willing. "So give me the money," he says. "But I told you," I explain, "I have only the traveler's checks." "But Señor," he says pointedly, the smile growing even sharper, "I have already explained, we cannot possibly cash your traveler's checks unless you have a passport or a tourist card for identification!"
I have a vision of being here forever, sharing this room with the fly that lands again and again on the portrait of El Presidente on the wall as if it were something to eat. This, I think, as the argument re-enters the cycle, is how Don Quixote must have felt as the vane of the windmill lifted him high into the Spanish sky only to plunge him back toward the fields below. "Señor!" The official tells me, in real or pretended exasperation, "Without a tourist card, you are not going anywhere." Then he stops to think. This is not a happy solution for him. The customs station is a two-room shack at the edge of a hot dusty road. If the gringo playwright cannot move he will stay here and continue to whine, as his gringo sweat drips onto the office floor. It is time to turn the screws. "I will help you, Señor," he says, "since you are unable to help yourself. You have confessed that you are a writer of obras dramaticas (plays), and such persons require a special visa to enter our beautiful country. The taxi driver will take you back into the country from which you have come to a village some kilometers from here where my cousin, Antonio, will supply you with the visa you need. The taxi will cost you fifty dollars American each way. The visa will cost you seventy-five dollars. I will have the boy move your bags across to this side of the road to go back the way you have come. Have a nice day."