Working at that Computer Place*

My little Suzuki work van. Hopefully the full weight of its diminutive construction isn't lost on the reader.

Just like driving on the wrong side of the road and consuming 19 boatloads of Twinkies per capita per annum, Americans once again threw caution to the wind, stood in defiance of the rest of the civilized world… and decided to misplace their summer break and stick it in July. The prevailing theory is that it had something to do with catfish hunting.

The implications of such a decision from the Clinton Administration meant that when I finished school I was stuck in Bolivia with nothing to do for 6 months before I could go to university and get that extremely useful Advertising degree. So I got a job at a local computer store. By local I mean in the city. At the time we lived about 1000 miles away (horizontally and vertically) in the foothills of the mountains in a little village called Chillimarca. Since Dad always selfishly grabbed the car he mostly paid-for, I was stuck catching the solitary bus down into the city every morning and there were no second chances. At a later date I’ll go into Bolivia’s transport systems at a level of exposition normally reserved for Paris Hilton’s every waking moment as seen on FOX, but for now we focus solely on the Trufi. Trufi’s (Tru-fee) are mini-vans designed, perhaps in some other country, to hold about 12 people. Comfortable most of time and still cheap. Since the Trufi runs from the outlying villages were somewhat rare, rides were usually, shall we say, filled above capacity. This brought on some degree of tension.  When I got to the bus stop there were already at least 200 school kids there as well as maybe 6 or 7 other business types heading into town. When the bus finally arrived at midday there were only about 2 seats left since farmer’s wives had grabbed the rest and the aisle was full of huge bags of vegetables to sell at the markets. All 204 of us (3 got stabbed in the rush) crammed into the ashtray on the bus and we were off down the hill, mostly powered by gravity at this point. Since we couldn’t get the door shut we’d lose some kids along the way to be ravaged by the rabid dogs on the street or other travelers desperate for a seat. It was like a scene from one of those zombie films, mostly because I still had no idea what the zombies were saying. Some 50 minutes later I’d be at work, fresh and ready to start the day; smelling like a toilet full of onions. You sat so close together on those rides you absorbed someone else’s BO via osmosis. One time I was squeezed in there so tight my butt cheeks merged and I had a compacted bowel for 6 months.

I can honestly say I wasn’t in the computer job for the money. ‘The Money’ was $60 a month, or something in the order of 25c an hour. I could have charged my sister that much just for protection at her daycare. I should have been making sneakers for Nike in Vietnam or some other workers’ paradise. I can more-honestly say I wasn’t in it for the fun of it either, since I got to clean keyboards key-by-boring-key for the first week, taking them all apart and then re-assembling once they were dry, hopefully putting everything back in the right spot. But after a while I rose through the ranks up to the upper echelons where I got to… drive the delivery van. It was as pictured above, except ours may have been blue. And smaller. I’m not really sure what the Suzuki people in Japan thought one might fit into such a van. Maybe they were designed for courier companies dealing solely in the transfer of old toenails and mice. Toenails and Mice sounds like a nice place to work. Anyhow, since I was the only one there with a driver’s license I was the natural choice. The fact that I was 6’2″ was just icing on the cake. The van was so small, every time I took my foot off the clutch pedal to change gears, I’d bump the wiper lever. Thanks in part to the obviously blind, handless Japanese man employed to install the jets during the manufacturing process, I’d spray dirty water all over unsuspecting passers-by on the sidewalk. I got in the habit of just doing all the deliveries in 1st gear and spending about $3000 on fuel a week as I sped around the city at 4 miles an hour.

When I wasn’t living the care-free, playboy-esque life of the hunchbacked delivery driver, I was in the technical department way out the back. Sales were up the front but you had to be attractive to work there. ‘Technical department’ may be pushing it somewhat, but the colourful characters made up for anything lacking in actual technical prowess. And we were unhindered by those pesky copyright laws other countries found so burdensome. If new boxes came in emblazoned with ‘new version!’ stickers, we just removed the sticker and the software and client was none the wiser. We had a list of new software they could pay to have installed if they wanted, just because our service was so good.

I was first partnered with Carlo, because he’d spent some time on an exchange program in Australia and was under the presumption that whatever sounds he was making at my face were English and we could understand each other. We stuck to Spanish. Another guy, Gussy, was a nimble little man who did electronics some of the time, and slept under the workbench for the rest of it. Which brings me to one of the greatest Bolivian inventions of all time: Siesta. I guess technically it wasn’t their invention, but introduced into the country by the Spanish Conquistadors. But unlike the flu, syphilis, and extreme snobbery, you typically felt rested and refreshed after a Siesta. Every day you got 2 WHOLE HOURS for lunch. That meant we could go to restaurants, get plastic surgery, fly to brazil… and still be back for work in the afternoon to sleep it off under the bench. Of course, it meant you finished work an hour later everyday, but you didn’t care, because it was easier to fight the kids off on the bus route in the dark.

*Intentional Ambiguity unnecessary; everyone who’s been there knows what I’m talking about.

Leave a Reply