El Salvador, The Saviour

The parking attendant was in his late 30s, heavyset, with a greying goatee.
Under his high visibility vest he wore an old Atlanta Braves Jersey and his cap bore the American flag.
“How you doin’ man?”
“Bien amigo, y tu?” I responded reflexively, barely realising he had spoken to me in English.
“I’m good man, I’m doin’ good,” he said as he waved a new Hilux into the dusty lot.
His position appeared wholly unnecessary, as the lot was half empty and the restaurant it serviced full.
“Where are you from, brother?” I said, subconsciously adopting his Latin American accent.
“Atlanta, Georgia man. Lived there for 25 years.”
“But you were born around here?” I asked, curious if an American citizen would choose to work as a parking attendant at a highway comedor in El Salvador.
“Yeah man, I was born here,” he said, looking at me as if no one had asked him anything personal in years. “Parents took me to the US when I was a kid.”
He attempted to conceal a grimace with a smile as he waved to the passenger of a taxi leaving the lot.
A stray dog lay in the shade under the tree in front of the comedor, and a collared dog leashed to its owner’s table lay a few metres away staring at the stray.
The restaurant served buffet style meals from a bain marie or made pupusas to order. $4US got me a glass bottle of coke, a pile of chicken, rice and vegetables and a couple of tortillas to wrap it all in.
It was the first thing I’d eaten since my post surf double latte and Nutella crepe in El Tunco seven hours earlier.
I should have known it wouldn’t be enough.
“Good food here eh?” I said to the attendant in a lame attempt to change the direction of the conversation.
“Yeah man. You liked it? I’m glad, man.”
“Good feed man. Real good feed. You think the coke is better down here man?”
He cocked an eyebrow at me.
I needed to clarify.
“The coca cola. It’s sweeter here than in the US I think.”
“Oh, yeah man. It’s made with real cane sugar down here. They use that high fructose corn syrup in the US.”
“Man I can taste that!” I laughed. I only drink the stuff in Latin America, I fucking hate it back home. Not just the taste, it’s just a trash drink.”
He laughed, too.
“I’ll take that high fructose trash and a home in America, amigo.”
His current life was apparently not one he had chosen.
“You didn’t leave because you wanted to, hey?”
“I was deported, man. They caught me selling coke and deported me for ten years.”
“They deported a citizen? How the fuck are they allowed to deport a citizen?”
“I’ve stopped asking those questions, man. End of the day I fucked up. I know that.”
“Did they offer you jail time in the US as an alternative?”
“Nah man. They didn’t give me any choices.”
I don’t doubt his story.
A parking attendant with an American accent in El Salvador has less cause to lie than the US Justice System has ability to not follow its own laws.
Or so my pessimism would lead me to believe.
“I’ve been here six years. It’s nice man, it’s quiet. It’s a beautiful country.”
“So you can go back in four years?”
“Maybe. If they want to let me back in. With the president we’ve got there at the moment it’s not looking so good, man.”
That Trump would be elected for a second term, let alone even completing his first, is a horrifying concept for most.
For the attendant it is more personal than political.
“Vamos amigos!” came the call from the bus driver, and I turned back to shake the attendant’s hand.
I get a low-five and a fist bump instead.
“My name’s Roberto, man.”
“Mucho gusto, Roberto.”
I fold myself back into the back of the Mercedes Sprinter van, as comfortable as you could ask to be for a $35, fifteen hour bus journey from El Salvador to Nicaragua.
The next morning, after getting home from his second job as a security guard at a local mall, Roberto might call his parents and lie to them about his life in El Salvador.
From his squalid one room concrete bungalow he would Facebook video call his parents and the cellular data charges would run him a full day’s wage.
When he speaks to his parents he would apologise again for squandering the opportunity they gave him by moving him to the USA as a kid, but he was now working towards owning his own restaurant in Santa Rosa De Lima.
He would console his mother through her tears and continue to speak in rounds over the deafening silence of his father.
He would go back to work at the restaurant after three hours sleep when it opened for the day’s lunch trade.
Another bus of gringos would be groggily unloaded for a cheap feed en-route to Nicaragua, and they would regard Roberto with as much interest as the stray dog lying in the shade.
In Atlanta, his state appointed attorney would compose an email to Roberto about federal legislation changes regarding felony drug charges and the negative consequences for him.
At LAX, a young Italian traveller would be caught with a trace amount of marijuana in her luggage, have her ESTA revoked and be put on a plane back to Mexico, where she flew in from.
And in a hostel in Leon, I would watch an american traveller use his credit card to crush legally acquired Xanax pills into lines on his phone, chasing the promise of an easy high.
Nothing changes, nothing stays the same.
But fortunately, none of it means anything you don’t want it to mean.


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