Hotel Gringo comes alive every morning around 5:30 am. The bustle of half-asleep Southerners barking at each other is enough to awaken any unfortunate tourist who thought this out-of-the-way inn was a perfect spot to spend a good night's sleep and a quiet morning. For some reason, the decibel level required by Americans, especially Southerners, to communicate seems to be exponentially higher than that needed by the locals.
There is the inevitably slow elevator ride down to the first floor where breakfast is served. Since the cooks don't speak any English and the Gringos don't speak any Spanish (with one or two notable exceptions) the impromptu show, which changes every morning, is worthy of the best writers from Hollywood. A typical scenario would go like this:
Squirrel would usually be the first one to hit the tables. The two ladies in charge of breakfast would have barely started the coffee pot and would be still pulling the juices and fruits out of the refrigerator along with the various eggs, meats, cheeses and assorted offerings.
Squirrel is a Texan born and bred. He has all the Texan things and can cite all the NRA bulletins with utmost precision. In his mid 40s, Squirrel is more interested in sowing oats, even inside a protected covering, than understanding Venezuelan culture. His thoughts on the US is one that is extremely pessimistic because Americans have become too "politically correct" to stand up to the standards of his version of the Constitution. And of course, Texas will secede from the union any day now.
"Is the coffee ready?" Squirrel would ask, looking straight at the coffee pot with half-closed eyes.
"Que que?"(say what?) Would come the response.
"No, I don't want any cake, just coffee right now."
"No entiendo, senor." (I don't understand, sir)
Cowboy would be in the room by now and he would add his two cents. "Do they have the coffee going yet?"
"No, but they've got cake if you want it."
Now Cowboy is from Oklahoma. In fact, he's from one of those famously forgotten Oklahoman towns right next to one of those famously forgotten Oklahoman Indian reserves. He recently played the American Realty Roulette game and lost. He's been a trucker among other legal jobs and now finds himself in a friendly country with nice people and a chance to recoup some of his losses.
"Nope, don't want no cake. Here, let me try." Cowboy would then saunter up to the counter where the ladies were still setting things up. "Tee-any calf-fay, poor fay-vore?" The smile would be genuine and stretch way past both ears. Unfortunately, the accent and the exaggerated facial movements defeat any chance that the message would be understood. The deer-in-headlights stare from the cooks would only confuseCowboy even more. "Damn ladies don't even understand their own language," he would mumble under his breath afraid that they somehow might miraculously grasp his disparaging remark in English.
By now, the other gringos would be arriving and repeating the same scene as above, both the English and Spanish versions, with similar results. Dazed and confused, they would mumble their discontent and return to their seats to await their punishment.
The ladies would do their level best to attend to their customers and I saw a daily effort on their part to accommodate all the special individual requests. A few gringos actually tried to learn the basics so that they could at least order on their own, but for the most part, gringos relied on the few of us who could translate, tried erratic and spasmodic arm gestures when we weren't available, or sat as condemned incommunicados when their pleas went uncomprehended.
But Squirrel was in a class by himself.
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