I sat grasping my backpack between my legs, my neck strained from stress, paranoia rushing through my blood. Some say that the pen is more powerful than the sword, but I would have traded the red mechanical pencil I held tight in my grasp for any sword in the world.
I sat confused and alone on a dark stretch of industrial Quito back road. Fernando told me to wait in the car. He was very vague and I was sure I had lost something in translation. Each passing person looked like a machete toting bandito.
The cool afternoon wind rushed through my open window as I wondered how the hell I got myself into this mess.
The morning had started like every other business day. My business partners, Zach, Alaena and I had breakfast of toast, jam and coffee. Then I left the hostel. Unlike other mornings, I was nervously heading out on my own.
The mission was simple: obtain a cashier’s check for USD 2,750 and proceed to Southern Quito to meet Fernando, the seller of our bus. It was one easy sentence ¨yo necesito cheque banco.¨
Nothing in Quito is ever easy.
Banco Pinchincha opens at 9 a.m. I walked in, greeting the chrome .38 snub packing, bullet proof vest sporting guard at the door. Four steps later I was at the sexy bank clerk. All women working at banks in Quito are extremely sexy yet highly unhelpful.
We had been in the bank just 2 days prior. They confidently informed us we could obtain a cashier’s check. Apparently Banco Pinchincha´s ability to process and create checks varies day to day. I left empty handed.
If I had learned anything in the last two weeks of scavenging around Quito in search of Lawyers, busses, mechanics, more lawyers and yet more busses, it was that you can never give up. If someone says they can’t do something, they most likely can and probably just don’t want to.
Two cabs and 3 different banks later, I was growing tired of this little game.
During this idle meandering I had gathered intelligence that the main Banco Pacifico was technologically advanced enough to do a Visa Cash Advance. I owned a Visa, this was a major breakthrough.
I casually strolled into Banco Pacifico, greeting the guard, this time he had a shotgun. He also felt the need to check me for firearms, apparently its standard operating procedure. I liked the other guard more.
Once again I walked up to the sexy lady hiding behind a thick façade of blush and red lipstick. The only thing separating me and my check was 3 inch bulletproof glass and every banks favorite word, NO.
There comes a point when the word NO is unacceptable. I knew that they could help me. I repeated my broken sentence, ¨Necesito, cash advance.¨ All I got back was a blank stare. Then it seemed that a little light flickered and in a flood of Spanish all the information on cash advances in the world rained out of this decorated bank teller´s mouth. I gathered enough and walked across the bank to the ever so conveniently located Cash Advance people.
The sound of cash running through a counting machine was music to my ears. I was so happy to get the money that I forgot to ask for a cashier´s check.
I walked out to the streets of Quito´s financial district with my backpack holding every cent I had in the world and confidently hailed the first cab I saw.
I sat in the cab with my backpack securely located between my legs. The cabby and I negotiated a price. As usual he assured me that he knew where the Condomino Chiriaca towered. As usual this was not the case. While we drove in circles, I could feel the 3 inch wad of cash in my backpack sending a beacon to every sewer dweller in a 2 kilometer radius. I was sitting bait.
Finally I figured out where I was, ¨Aqui es bano,¨ I yelled. I passed our negotiated price to the cabbie and down the street I went.
One more cab and a few more circles later I arrived at Fernando´s. He quickly ushered me into his van, and we were off to the bank.
My knuckles were growing white and began to hurt. This had to be a set up. It was too easy, where the fuck did he need to go so bad that he would leave me on this god forsaken stretch of asphalt.
According to The World Fact Book, the GDP per capita (ppp) of Ecuador is $7,400 as of 2009. In my backpack I held roughly what an average laborer in Ecuador would make in 6 months of hard work. Every scenario of death defying escape litters my mind.
I once read a book; the protagonist could kill any attacker with just a piece of paper. I was certain I could lodge my 6 inch piece of plastic pencil in an attacker and make a daring escape.
Luckily I didn’t have to.
I slowly slipped my red mechanical pencil back into my pocket as I watched Fernando approach his van from behind. ´´Vamos el Banco´´, he proclaimed. We drove forward leaving my fears in a cloud of carbon dioxide.
Fernando casually parked the van. We walked into the very bank that I had left 2 hours earlier with a wad of cash bulging from my backpack. I was searched again. We approached the same sexy bank teller presented her with a 3 inch wad of cash. She counted it three times, all smiles. Fernando got his statement and we exited the bank.
I smiled at the security guard with the shotgun as we strolled into the sunlight. It was just another day on the job in Quito.