Magic Kingdom, guest parking space. Next right.
The last time I saw that sign, it drew a feeling of elation from me, even as a supposedly mature thirtysomething. It meant fun, laughter, an escape from reality.
That was then. Today when I saw it, it meant entering a new reality.
We got to the service entrance in the middle of a fog worthy of Victorian age London and cold unworthy of Florida. I was wearing a hard hat and security vest and goggles for the first time in my forty-six years of life. The “sissy” hands many people pointed out with varying degrees of bad intentions would start a perhaps short trip into callousness. To say it was humbling was to say the least.
This is what happens when you move to a new country, even though in my case it remained my country. You start from scratch unless you’re incredibly lucky and manage to find work in your own field. But most of the time, you’re a blank face, a clean slate, but you still need to make a living. So you take what you can.
I tell this to Larry, my new coworker. He’s a tall, lanky kid, with a goatee and short, thick mane, the typical gringo catire ojos azules we Venezuelans usually make fun of. He looks like a surfer dude. Turns out I’m close: he’s a skater dude. Loves the Florida weather because of that. Been working for the Dutchman that owns the company that makes the greenhouses for six months. And as you might expect, he’s laid back and pretty darn friendly.
–How did you get here?– he asks. He’s 22, from Michigan. Or is it Minnesota? I only now remember that many Americans confuse “Venezuela” with “Minnesota”. Or so Joanna Hausmann says.
–He hooked me up–, I say, pointing at my GF’s friend’s husband, where we’re staying.
–That’s so weird… Do you plan on quitting journalism for good, doing this full time?
I look down at the wire I’ve been setting up for the past hour and contemplate the pain on my knees. –Oh hell no–, I answer with a smile. He chuckles back.
One thing I have been trying to do since I got here is keep talking to strangers, just to keep my interviewing skills sharp. Got Austin Kleon to thank for that little piece of advice. So I start talking to Larry while we pull the tarp over a few topiary figures in progress. Kermit the Frog listens intently.
He’s the oldest of four children, with a brother and two sisters, who both gave him five nephews. The company he –well, now, we– work for sends them all over the States to set up the greenhouses. He travels with his girlfriend of four years, although they’ve known each other their whole life; her mother is Larry’s mother’s best friend.
–We used to drink together growing up while our moms sat and drank as well– he tells me.
He’s the one in the family who earns the most, something he’s both proud and mortified of. –My dad had his own construction company for over ten years, till it went down. Now he works in fucking Taco Bell. Can you believe that? He’s 54, 480 pounds and working in Taco Bell. I earn so much more than he does. Unbelievable.
I involuntarily do the math –454 grams to a pound, so that means dad weights 217 kilograms. In a stressful job, as does mom, who works in a factory, I think. They both drink, so I wonder how long till Larry gets another scare.
–I just smoke weed, helps with my PTSD.
–Oh did you serve?– I ask before knowing how stupid the question was; he’s just 22, he doesn’t need to serve in the Army. Case in point:
–No, (a family member) died in my arms. Downed a whole bottle of (liquor whose name I didn’t hear nor ask to repeat) and I walked in to find him all blue. He had a smile on his face. That shit messed me up. So I smoke a joint right before bed, so I don’t dream. Those nightmares fuck me up.
His girl travels with him and has a pretty easy life, in comparison. –She went to nursing school, and worked at Target, but I make more money. So she just comes along where we go. Stays at the paid hotel, gives me my back rub when I get there. It’s cool.
At break time, I look at this odd little crew. Two Venezuelans and a Minnesota boy under a Honduran boss. In this little group, Larry’s the minority, but it’s just on this table. He’s got it easier. Darwin, our supervisor, has been here three years, and he’s trying to get his own company going. He sorta speaks English but with a heavy accent. Joel has also been here three years, with his wife and her four-year-old son, and they’ve both managed to find a house and two cars, working their proverbial asses off. And then there’s me, brand new, with less than two hundred bucks to my name. It pains me how much I still depend on what my GF has saved to make a start, so I am doing the opposite of complaining.
In the meantime, I’m glad I get to meet people like Larry, who make life a little more interesting. All I have to do is ask.