This actually happened a few days after my arrival and it typifies the overall feeling of the middle class in Venezuela. I will make a disclaimer up front. I do not know the history of the various levels of crime in Venezuela, nor those of San Virgo, but I can say with great confidence that they can't now be anywhere near what I've seen in the US.
Three reasons I can say this. First, I rarely see a police car in the street here, unlike everywhere I've been in the US. I actually think there should be a greater presence of them, a statement I thought I'd never make anywhere in the world. I seldom see any emergency vehicle of any kind in use. Second, I read the newspaper daily on my way to work and I read about the local violence and crime. I also talk a lot with locals here about what they have heard.
Third, I have decades of experience in all types of cities and countrysides in the US. I have spent countless thousands of hours reading, watching and seeing the news all over the country. I have found few places where crime is as absent as what I've seen since I've been here.
Just a few nights after I arrived, Cowboy invited me over to Grandmas's Boso restaurant. He told me that the food was fantastic, the ambiance great, and it was only half-a-block from Hotel Gringo. He also knew a back way to it that shortened the walk even more.
So we started off on our small trek to Boso and the growing gringo contingency there. Rather than turning left at the end of the parking lot, we turned right onto that small street, which I shall name Pygmy Street, where only tiny cars can pass, and head off down the darkened path towards our destination. Apparently, street lamps are a premium in San Virgo.
Fifty yards later we turned left into a poorly lit parking lot which connects Pygmy Street with the huge Avenida de las Americas. Within thirty seconds we were on the main avenida and headed for Boso. This was looking like a great evening after a long and arduous day's labor underneath the hot gatire Sun. Unfortunately, sometimes the best laid plans of mice and gringos don't always work out.
There are actually two parts to Grandma Bosos's restaurant, unbeknownst to us. The wonderful indoor eatery with its wooden bar and great ambiance is only half of the place. The other half consists of an open airdining hall which allows the gentle tropical breeze to create a totally separate feel. Sitting at the corner table next to the street were fellow plant workers. In fact, the project head, Vishnu, of the other plant site, site B, and his right-hand man, Sailor, had just sat down to enjoy a seafood meal with their driver, Manolo, and his wife and newborn child.
"Join us," Vishnu says.
We hadn't even noticed the place nor the group until then. "Don't mind if we do," retorted Cowboy. With that, we forgot the other side and entered the door which lead to their table. It looked like this was turning into a "Meet the other site management" night.
Vishnu is a small man in his 70s who has starred as a leader since his days as a lieutenant in the Vietnam War. He has run Pemex regions in Mexico as well as plant constructions in China and elsewhere. His stories are both hair raising and inspiring. His Spanish is also quite good due to the years he spent in Tampico, Mexico.
Sailor is my age and has been around the world almost as much as Vishnu. His most recent exploit has been the fabrication of a series of power plants in Iraq. He's been there off and on over the past six years and has plenty of heart-breaking stories to tell about the horrors of a country at war. He is especially informative about the famous surge that started in 2007 and the difference in life in general in central Iraq it made. The fact that it took the US military super brains four years to acknowledge that Bush's "stay the course" was a recipe for continued disaster is not as obvious, apparently.
Manolo is their personal chauffeur and has been putting in tons of overtime taking the two around the sites, around town and to and from the airport. Vishnu, true to his humanist form, had promised him and his family dinner of his choice at the restaurant of his choice. It was to be a seafood night at Boso's for site B management.
Manolo and his wife represent the modern middle class in San Virgo and I believe all of Venezuela. The vehicles they drive give away the fact that they have money and are doing quite nicely, even under the archenemy President Chavez. They live in a very nice area of the city and are members of some rather exclusive private clubs around town.
We sat down next to Sailor and joined the conversations in progress which mainly consisted of how wonderful San Virgo is, how great the food and people were, and how terrible Chavez was. We were given menus to order from, but that proved a mere hollow gesture on the part of the waiters, an apparent feint to give us the impression we were actually going to be able to order food to eat. The evil waiters were probably chuckling wickedly in the kitchen at our attempts to actually procure a meal.
However, there were plenty of seafood appetizers coming and the food never did stop making it's appointed rounds to all seated. At least with one notable exception, me. I hate seafood. I have always hated seafood. I can eat fish, but put a shell on the critter, and it becomes as evil as liver. As the platters rotated around the table, I just kept passing them on, some to Cowboy and some to Sailor, as I tried furtively to hail a waiter and order some regular food.