I’m not talking about the broken architecture or the torrential downpours — both of which contribute so greatly to Buenos Aires’s visual character and can be filed under its curses and its charms. Last week, when flash flooding suddenly overtook the Palermo Soho block that contains my gym, I had to swim home for the first time since the summer before Bangkok’s Great Flood of 2011, when I found myself arriving in Pattaya mid-deluge. (Ironically, during the Great Flood, many BKK citizens escaped the water by heading a couple of hours outside the city center to Pattaya, a Thai town on the water.)
At the moment, my BA love/hate is being aroused by the law here and some of the colorful people who break it. Every country has its rules, and in every country I’ve called home since leaving the United States, one of them, as I understand it, is that you must carry official i.d. on you at all times.
Some say rules are made to be broken (or at the very least, bent), but that’s just rationalization to justify aberrant behavior. Now I’m no goody two shoes, and I’m above a lot of things, but in general, not the law, the purpose of which I like to think is more to protect us than to inspire the rebels within.
That said, the i.d. rule happens to be one that I’ve spent the last nearly seven years continuously breaking. It doesn’t work from a sartorial standpoint — I stopped using a wallet years ago because it creates bulges in all the wrong places — nor from a practical one: The more things you carry in your pocket, the more things that are likely to be stolen in a random street mugging. I figure that it would be better to lose some stray cash than a wallet filled with money, crucial cards, condoms and whatever else people are storing in them these days.
For the most part, it’s worked for me. I felt a rush of panic every time I passed by a police checkpoint in a taxi in Bangkok, but nobody ever gave me any trouble. I also never had any problem getting into any bar or club anywhere outside of the U.S. without i.d. I’m not sure how to explain this one. Either it’s all too obvious by now that I’m well over 18 (the legal drinking age in most countries other than the U.S., it seems), or doormen abroad are just a lot more lax with the rules than the ones in the U.S. (My i.d.-less best friend once had to show her editor’s letter of the latest issue of the magazine she ran in order to gain admittance into a dive bar in New York City.)
In Australia, I’ve never seen anyone but the most youthful-looking revelers be subjected to the i.d. treatment. In Bangkok, the i.d. rules in bars and clubs seem to apply only to the Asian clientele. Westerners just breeze past the points of entry. In Buenos Aires, it depends on where you go. Some places have strict i.d. rules, but I’ve always been able to sweet talk my way out of being held to them.
Until last night. I went with a few friends to a birthday party at a bar/cafe near my apartment (no i.d.’s needed) and afterwards, Roberto and I went to Plop, a club night where the majority of the crowd looks like they’ve only recently stopped sucking their thumbs, which means that the i.d. policy is strictly enforced at the door. I’d always been able to work my way inside without any hassle, but last night the burly doorman who resembled a human bulldog wasn’t having my excuses.
I thanked him for the compliment, but surely he must have realized that I’m at least twice the legal drinking age. For once, I actually wanted someone to incorrectly place my age between 35 and 40. But he wouldn’t budge. Then I remembered my friend and her editor’s page all those years ago. Since I generally don’t go out with magazines containing articles I’ve written (accompanied by photos of myself), I did the next best thing: I asked Roberto to Google me and showed the first page of hits (which includes a number of unflattering photos) to the doorman.
He was unimpressed, but he seemed to soften a little. After making us sweat it out for a minute while checking a dozen or so i.d.’s, he offered me a deal: Chocolate for entry into the club. Now I’d heard about bribery in Buenos Aires ever since I moved here. It’s the reason why I still go home smelling like cigarette smoke after a club night out despite rules against firing up in public places. The police looks the other way for a price.
When my apartment was robbed (again!) last year, and the police wouldn’t allow the woman I had hired to manage it to enter without my official notarized consent, one cop eventually offered to bend the rules if she’d slip him some cash. She declined the offer, with my complete approval.
I wasn’t about to pay the guy who claimed to find my abandoned back pack in the park several years ago either — he said he’d gotten my phone number from a document inside of it, and used it to contact me — when he said he’d only return it for a substantial sum. My passport and a few other documents were inside (another reason not to travel with i.d.), but I was willing to give them up to stand on principle. As the second U.S. President John Adams once said, “Always stand on principle… even if you stand alone.”
Last night, though, giddy on gin, I bent my moral compass and went to the kiosko down the block to get the bulldog what a he was craving. I wanted in, and 21 pesos (roughly $2.50) was a lot better than the going bribery rate at the Buenos Aires Police Department. As much as I look down at the BAPD for its crookedness, I’ve always secretly been comforted by the knowledge that if I were to ever find myself in seriously deep shit in BA, I could probably pay my way out of it.
I also figured that tomorrow it would make one of those great “only in BA” stories that in a few days, after I leave Buenos Aires for the final time, I can tell over and over, knowing I’ll never have to live through another one.