Taken... In Argentina
“Have you ever seen the movie, Taken?” Rich’s head swiveled anxiously in the back seat of the taxi driving from the Buenos Aires airport where he and his buddy of 20 years, Derek, had just landed after a dozen hours of travel. The trip had been long-awaited, heavily planned, and much anticipated by both friends. Rich was born in Canada to traditionally Korean parents who ignored his annual coming-out party (“I tell them I’m gay every year at Christmas just to make it a fun tradition and they still try to set me up on dates with-“ he makes a face like he just ate a mouthful of bad kimchi, “women.”)
There wasn’t a whole lot in life that Rich took too seriously. The fact that he was visibly nervous in a newish taxi driving the speed limit at noon threw Derek for a loop. This was not the Rich that he had known since they were thrown together as undergrad roommates. Apparently, there was another side to his buddy. The Liam Neeson thriller, Taken, had lodged somewhere in Rich’s brain and the carefree man he knew and loved was quite serious about their present possible abduction circumstances.
Taken is the story of an ex-CIA officer charged with rescuing two girls vacationing in France who were abducted by two Albanian human traffickers. Rich thought that two grown men in the capital of Argentina, totally sober in the middle of the day, too closely resembled the movie.
“Yeah, I remember that" Derek looked out the window at the vibrant, colorful city. “But, dude, I think we’re cool.”
Derek leaned forward into the front seat with his map, pointing out the address to the driver who replied in perfect English,
“Yep, about half an hour away. Nice neighborhood.” Derek threw Rich a look,
“And, see, everyone speaks English,” Derek swatted Rich’s Español For Beginners book that took up a significant amount of space in his tote bag.
“NO GRACIAS,” Rich yelled back, as he held tightly onto the door handle and studied the map nervously every time the car made a turn or changed lanes.
“You,” Rich explained to Derek, “never notice your surroundings. I do.”
They got to their AirBNB without an Albanian mafioso sighting and settled in without a problem. The host of the apartment asked if they’d exchanged their money. Rich immediately assumed she was trying to rob them.
“I only have thirty dollars.” This was categorically untrue, Rich was a server at a very upscale sushi restaurant in Hollywood and carried more cash than a late 90s MTV rapper.
“Oh,” the host replied, “that’s unfortunate. Because our economy is so unstable, you can get three times the exchange rate with American dollars through a contact of mine.”
Rich's eyeballs came pretty close to popping out of his head. “This is how we die,” he mumbled under his breath. But, Derek was a businessman, and making 3x his money by engaging in nothing more complicated than an underground cash exchange sounded like a great ROI.
“We’d love to meet him," Rich glared at Derek. Derek shrugged.
Rich, a devout atheist, crossed himself and gazed to the heavens. The host texted rapidly and her phone dinged right back.
“He’ll be here in a minute,” she replied with a questionably sweet smile.
“Oh, so he’ll know where we live?” Rich was now sweating, removing his multiple travel layers.
But Derek had a habit of always thinking ten steps ahead of the game.
“We’re gonna give him all our money. Why would he come back for us? And, besides, we’re not ideal human trafficking victims. We’re 40. We’re dudes.”
Rich glanced in the hallway mirror, taking time out of being petrified for his bodily safety to be offended by Derek’s assessment of his personal desirability.
“Maybe you aren’t worth anything on the Silk Road, but look at me. Look at my complexion.” Rich’s indignation was abruptly interrupted by the doorbell buzzer. He jumped high enough to hit the ceiling. "Taken..." He mumbled under his breath.
The man came to the door looking a like young Lorenzo Lamas and quietly exchanged their cash for exactly three times the amount offered at the airport, tipped his Kangol hat, and left. Derek thanked their host and Rich dead-bolted the door behind her.
“ADIOS,” Rich yelled in a terribly offensive accent.
“Dude,” Derek laughed, “she has all the keys.”
Now Rich and Derek were three times wealthier than they had been thirty minutes ago and they set out to go have some fun in this beautiful South American metropolis. They ate their way through every neighborhood, including Evita's burial cemetery. (This was a solid example of Derek humoring Rich and Rich forgetting that it wasn’t Madonna buried there.) He played ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ on repeat on his iPod, to the point where Derek was ready to break the hot new gadget.
Rich spent his time drinking, taking photos of absolutely everything, and at one point, doing both at the same time and falling down a very steep flight of stairs, bashing his head open, but feeling better in time for dessert. He held tightly to his fear of being taken, especially in taxis...
A huge rave at an outdoor club coincided with their final night in Buenos Aires. They had seen posters advertising the event all over the city and Rich used his newfound language ability to decipher that it was going to be a really great party and ripped the flyer from a lamp post. They ironed their shirts and headed out for a night of fun. When they got into the taxi and showed him the flyer, the driver had an unusual response.
“¿Por qué querrías ir allí?” The driver side-eyed the men, clearly not happy with something they were doing.
“NIGHT CLUB. EL CLUB-O,” Rich yelled helpfully.
“Creo que eso es raro de tu parte.”
Rich pursed his lips, irritated with the driver’s pushback. He jabbed it repeatedly with his forefinger. The driver hit the steering wheel with his palms, “Bien!” Then he spat out a bunch of sentences that Rich seemed to understand.
“VAMANOS.” Rich squinted his eyes angrily at the driver.
“What did he say?” Derek’s usual demeanor of being mostly entertained by Rich’s antics was bordering just the tiniest bit on actual concern.
“I have no idea. But he’s kind of a dick.”
It was an exceptionally dark night, a fact that neither of the guys noticed until they’d been driving for twenty, then thirty minutes, the lights of Buenos Aires now only visible in the distance. Far into the outskirts of the city, even Derek began to get nervous.
“Dude,” he whispered to Rich, “ask him how much longer. This is getting fucking weird.”
Rich inched forward in his seat, “Perdóneme, HOW MUCH LONGER-O?” The driver glared at them through the rearview mirror and stepped on the gas with enough force to throw Rich back into his seat.
“Holy shit, man,” now Derek was visibly concerned, “what the hell is going on?”
He could see the wheels turning in his friend’s head. Rich covered his mouth just in case the driver could lip-read in the pitch black.
"Here’s what we’ll do: jump out of the car at the next traffic light. Then we’ll make a run for it."
Derek’s logical brain wouldn’t play along.
“First of all, NO. Then we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with cell phones that don’t work in a country where we don’t speak the language. And, two, do you see any traffic lights?”
Rich squinted ahead of them as the driver made a wicked left-hand turn, throwing Rich onto Derek’s lap.
“He has to stop at some point,” Derek was now feeling just the slightest bit guilty for laughing at Rich’s paranoia all week.
The driver took an insane right-hand turn, throwing Derek onto Rich. Rich was now glassy-eyed and sweating. The night seemed to get darker. The city lights disappeared. They were at the complete mercy of a stranger in a green Fiat in the middle of Nowhere, Argentina.
“You have your mace?” Derek mumbled. This seriously annoyed Rich.
The driver made the hardest turn yet and then immediately slammed on the brakes, sending the two friends face-first into the front seats. When they came to, they heard the oonst oonst oonst of house music vibrating through the small car and saw disco lights bouncing from every direction. They both felt relief wash over them like a summertime rainstorm.
Throwing their inflated cash at the driver, they jumped out of the car, narrowly missing the spit that he hurled aggressively at them through his window.
“I guess he was mad about having to drive so far?” Rich ventured. Derek shrugged, exhaling his emergency escape plans, desperate for a beer.
The guys ventured to the ticket booth, waiting in a line of neon-dressed partygoers. Derek looked around. “Does something seem off to you?”
“I’m just so happy to be out of that death mobile that I really don’t care.” Rich had a point. But something was off.
The line took forever and for every minute that they waited, someone gave them a strange look and said something that they couldn’t understand. After what seemed like an hour, they got to the front of the line. The green Fiat driver, for reasons they did not understand, was still parked out front, glaring aggressively at the two men,
“DOS TICKET-OS POR FAVOR,” Rich yelled to the man behind the counter. The man made a face.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO?” Rich yelled, waving his pesos. The man pointed to the flyer Rich was holding.
“YES, THIS PARTY.”
“Eres demasiado viejo para esta discoteca.”
“Ugh,” Rich grumbled to Derek, “he knows we’re foreigners and wants more money.”
“So what,” Derek shrugged since the week had been 66% off, “give it to him.” Rich fumbled around in his wallet and pulled out another bunch of cash. The man behind the counter pushed it back at him, aggressively tapping the flyer.
“Eres demasiado viejo para esta discoteca.
Rich turned to Derek, “I think he wants even more money.” Everyone in line was getting annoyed and the mumbles in Spanish were getting louder and louder. A pretty girl tapped Derek on the shoulder.
“Excuse me,” she said in heavily accented English, “what is going on?”
“The guy wants all our money,” Rich explained helpfully.
“Well,” the girl looked concerned, “how old are you?”
Rich looked around, supremely annoyed. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Um, well,” said the girl, gesturing to basically everyone at the rave, “this is teen night.”
Rich’s eyes opened wide and he looked around at what could have been the cast of the Mouseketeers.
“Oh,” he cocked his head at Derek, “maybe that’s why…” Rich trailed off.
Derek bore the embarrassment for both of them. “And how on earth are we gonna get out of here?”
The pretty girl seemed to understand. “You… taxi?”
She gestured to the green Fiat in the parking lot. The driver made eye contact with them. Then gave them the finger and drove off. The pretty girl turned to her friends, ripping off a speech in Spanish faster than Rich could even begin to pretend to understand.
“Benny’s mom? She drive? Buenos Aires?”
Rich and Derek shrugged and some part of them died inside as they shuffled with their heads down to the backseat of Benny’s mom’s car. She drove them to a bar in a young neighborhood near their AirBNB.
There, with Rich's Español For Beginners, the guys spent their final evening of the epic trip safely drinking Fernanditos with Benny's mom who understood just enough English to be able to laugh at them.