Monday, October 04, 2010

A (not particularly funny) comedy of errors

On the scale of "challenging," so-called "developing world" cities to live in, living in Sao Paulo does not compare to living somewhere truly heinous, like Port Harcourt, Baghdad, or Detroit. Generally, life runs pretty smoothly here, considering that it's a ginormous, crowded South American city. Infrastructure tends to be good (not great - let's not go crazy here), I think mainly because there are enough rich people with money to ensure that there aren't giant, car-swallowing pot-holes or outbreaks of crazy tropical diseases. Sao Paulo has Starbucks, tanning salons, and tart yogurt - all the trappings of a rich, prosperous and well-ordered city.

If you know anything about Sao Paulo, of course, you know that there is a gaping maw of inequality between the rich (those well-heeled Paulistanos who drive armored BMWs and wear Gucci sunglasses) and the poor (the masses of people who are forced to live in favelas, or who eke out an existence collecting trash and other debris to re-sell, for instance). There are Paulistanos who fall in between these two extremes, of course, but by and large, the middle class is not nearly as well-developed as in the United States, and income equality is probably one of the defining characteristics of Sao Paulo's demography. I live in a nice neighborhood full of well-off people who own tiny, sweatered dogs and who can afford to buy imported i-Pods, so it's sometimes easy for me to forget that in this city of 20 million people, there are many who live in poverty and whose day to day life is a real struggle.

The reason I'm telling you this is because I just wanted to preface the series of events I'm about to relay by letting you know that I do have some perspective on my situation and its relative cushiness, compared with how many, many people in Sao Paulo (and the rest of Brazil) live.

K. So while my life here is easier than a lot of people have it, it's also riddled with utterly Brazilian mishaps, which, cumulatively, are so irritating that my life FEELS much harder than it probably actually is. To illustrate, I'm going to list for you a series of things that actually happened to me, in chronological order, over the course of 24 hours last week, just so you'll have an idea of why living in Sao Paulo can, on occasion, bring me to near-homicidal levels of frustration and rage. Here goes:

7 pm: At work. I have my secretary call a taxi to come pick me up at 8 pm, since it is pouring rain outside.

8 pm: I walk outside to get my taxi. It is still pouring rain.

8:10 pm: no taxi. I call and am informed by a surly operator that the cab company "was not able to send a taxi for me." I am extremely upset by this news. They seem unconcerned.

8:15 pm: I find a taxi on the street, which barely delivers me to my apartment in one piece, after nearly careening into several other motorists. Apparently rain makes people here even more reckless drivers, a thing I never thought possible until I experienced it for myself.

8:17: I walk into my apartment and ask for my key, which I leave at the front desk every morning, since it has both the name of the building AND my apartment number on it (safe!). I am informed that the key is "missing." Fantastic. Desk guy suggests that maybe I forgot to leave the key at the desk that morning.

8:19: I take the elevator up 17 floors to my apartment, where the cleaning lady lets me in. I confirm that my key is not, in fact, there.

8:21: I take the elevator down 17 floors and inform the desk guy that my key is not in my apartment. He says it must have been "misplaced" and that he will, when he has a chance, look through the security footage to see what might have happened to it.

8:22: Taking advantage of the fact that I can't get into my apartment without inconveniencing the cleaning lady again, I walk a few doors down to Lojas Americanas, a combined variety store and Blockbuster video (read: clusterf*** of piles of underwear, towels, magazines and DVDs) to return some DVDs I had bought in error.

8:23: I get in line.

8:29: I get to the front of the line. I explain that I would like to return the DVDs. Girl who works at store says okay and disappears.

What feels like 10 pm but is actually 8:35: Girl reappears and tells me that they can't give me cash back for my DVDs and I have to take store credit. But it's not store credit that I can use at any time. I have to use it NOW!!!!

8:36: I begin to dash frantically around the store, trying desperately to use up the R$50 worth of store credit in what can only be described as a veritable post-apocalyptic, consumer wasteland of useless crap. It's like Supermarket Sweep, except I have to use my own money, and I have to buy stuff that I didn't want. I randomly throw things into my shopping basket: tampons, coat hangers, a brush. I linger for a minute in front of a shelf filled with bacon-flavored snacks but decide against it.

8:40: I rejoin the line.

8:43: I get to the front of the line and present my purchases. Girl rings them up and informs me I am R$5 short. Shoulda gotten those bacon snacks. "Why don't you get some chocolate?" the shop girl suggests, most unhelpfully. I reach behind me and grab a magazine that is devoted to covering the upcoming local elections, about which I care not an iota, and throw it into my basket. She rings me up again - I am R$2 OVER my initial budget. There are no words, except, of course: "f***." Seriously? Not only am I forced to buy a bunch of crap I didn't want, don't want, and will never want, but I have to pay EXTRA for it? COME ON, Brazil.

8:45: I return to my apartment building. Take the elevator up 17 floors.

8:47: The cleaning lady lets me in again. I tell her I am concerned about my key being missing. She agrees that it is a "disagreeable" situation.

8:55: Eat dinner.

9:30: Get into bed.

6:30 am: Wake up.

7:15 - 8:15 am: Work out at gym.

8:15: Walk into women's locker room, which is not air conditioned, and is approximately 468 degrees Fahrenheit. After showering, I spend the next thirty minutes feverishly sweating as I try to blow-dry my hair and put on makeup, which insists on sliding off my face and onto my clothes.

9:00: Leave gym in a sweaty, flustered mess.

9:10: Get on the bus, which is approximately 345 degrees Fahrenheit. After paying, squeeze my way through minuscule turnstile while carrying my gym bag and huge work bag. Lurch forward ungracefully as bus lurches forward, nearly colliding with a pole. Finally sit down. Even more flustered now.

9:30: Arrive at work. Repeat.

So. That's a typical day and a half in my life. Sad, isn't it? At least I can laugh (mirthlessly) at it now. Anyway. Better prepare myself mentally: I have to go to the grocery store tonight. Can't wait...

PS. They found my key. Silver lining!