A few weeks ago the power went out in 3 or 4 adjacent neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. One of those neighborhoods my friend (aka Hobozero) lived in. This blog post is the second part of the story of us riding our bikes after midnight through the blacked out area, the Dead Zone. Do you need to read Part 1 to know what's going on. Nah...probably not. But if you want to read it you can check it out here.
Captain's log: South American Stardate: Friday June 4rd, 2010 - 12:00AM
Regardless if it's a weekday or not, midnight is early in Buenos Aires, and the four lane one way Avenida outside my apartment building was still bustling with cars and people. We merged onto it with our bikes and set off straight towards the Dead Zone, which sat in blackness 35 blocks away. The night was cool but not cold, and the sky was overcast with a fog that seemed to be getting heavier. Weather-wise, it was a good/eerie/unpredictable night to ride.
We pedaled on for about 8 blocks before my back wheel came out of alignment and the knobby tire started rubbing against the frame. My pre-ride tuneup equaled FAIL. After pulling off to a street corner and assessing/guessing how rideable my bike was I decided to push on and live with the knobbed vibrations and loss of acceleration. While it was much like riding with the brake on, my curiosity one-upped turning back.
As we got closer to the dead zone we began to notice traffic cops controlling intersections and huge generators dispersed along the thoroughfare to keep street lights and some random store fronts on. Further down we began to notice that the side streets were completely black and before long the only lights we saw were those of passing cars. We had made it to the Dead Zone.
There were not marauding bands of looters here like we had imagined, but there was a whisper of disquieting energy that hung in the night air. In general it felt somewhat unsafe to be out. Buildings rose up in darkness on either side of us, silhouetted against a greenish purple sky. There was almost no one out on the streets, and when someone was spotted I questioned to myself why they were out. My imagination haphazardly danced with the darkness and the only conclusions I came up with (based mostly of my collective exposure to American pop culture and the media) were that ONLY looters, terrorists and zombies would be out at 1 in the morning wondering through this eerie quiet darkness. Well that and two thirty-something white guys on bikes who just got done watching The Shining.
What were we searching for in the Dead Zone? Neither of us really knew, but we searched on. The further into the darkness we went the quieter it seemed to get. Down the narrow side streets only the echo of my vibrating tire could be heard. We eventually made our way to a bridge near Hobozero's apartment. It crosses over an old abandoned train yard. We paused at the apex and stared into the ghosted tracks and burned out cars below. Even if the power was on this place would be absent of light. Just then a motorcycle with two riders came up the bridge, killed its engine and glided in silence slowly past us. We drew a poignant stare. I thought to myself, "Zombies can't drive so they must be terrorists." Without waiting to see what they needed, we pedaled off in the opposite direction.
I should say that mine and Hobozero's riding styles varied at times. With exception of my back tire I rode for the most part in silence. In contrast Hobozero felt the need to yell out into the darkness during the quietest moments...and it was always magically entertaining.
As we rode on the fog fully settled in and a dense mist added a shimmer to the streets. It was about this time when the roman candle in my backpack began calling to me a la Tell Tale Heart. "We must light it soon" I yelled back over judder of my wheel to Hobozero. It was about 2am we when found a suitable launch pad - the middle of silent intersection. We surveyed the area, planned our escape route, and then sat in the shadows for a few minutes waiting for a couple of wayfarers (zombies?) to pass on by. Since my bike was slower we decided Hobozero would do the honors of lighting it and while I got 20 yard headstart. Within seconds of setting up, there was one flash and an echoing kaboom. I waited for balls of flaming neon color to fly up into the air but it never happened. What we thought was a Roman candle was actually a confetti bomb full of baby blue and white paper, Argentina's colors. We biked off mildly amused, but mostly disappointed in this uncharacteristically weak Argentine firework display.
Within a few blocks we found ourselves out of the Dead Zone and back in the bright lights of the metropolis. The mist now had officially turned to rain. Three hours of pedaling had us both starving so we decided to make one more stop for 3am pizza. We locked up our bikes, and ducked out of the rain into old dive bar. I don't remember its name, or the street it was on, but it had a great local feel. As we sat at our table by wall, in a dining room empty of patrons except us, we noticed an interesting photo hanging nearby. It was a black and white shot of an intersection crowded with cars and people somewhere in America. Upon further inspection we procured that it was a photo of Welch, West Virgina in 1940's. (A once bustling coal town that is now all but empty.) We wondered how this photo came to be randomly hanging in a dive bar in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After inhaling the pizza we biked home in the rain, my back wheel still vibrating. So did we find what we looking for tonight? Well, we weren't really looking for anything in particular. Maybe just randomness and/or chaos. The chaos (looters, terrorists, zombies) never really turned up, but the randomness, and exploratory hang time with a friend, was enough to make the ride worth it.
Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates
by Tom Robbins
Currently Listening To:
Song: Ode to Sunshine (listen)
Artist: Delta Spirit (website)
For more on how I first ended up in Buenos Aires check out the first post of Harmony and Dissonance.