By Erasmo Calzadilla
HAVANA TIMES – What place is this? Where the hell am I now?
That’s me opening my eyes in the morning, trying to recognize the roof and walls around me. I have moved so many times, and gone around this country so many times that I’ve already lost count, and my North.
Oh yes, today I’m in a motel in a one-horse town, on the outskirts of Kansas City.
The phone in the room rings, a man talks to me and I don’t understand anything, as usual. It’s been four years now since I’ve come here and I still can’t hold an everyday conversation in English. I thought I was an intelligent person. I guess it’s because of the accent… a member of another ethnic minority, which adds another level of complexity to this puzzle.
Say it again, please!
The person on the other end is a nice guy and repeats what he said more slowly. However, it didn’t help, because I’m still in the same position. How frustrating!
But I already know what’s in the air and I apply the technique of guessing what he might be trying to tell me, and ask my interlocutor for confirmation.
“Sir, you’re asking me about payment for the hotel right? Has my company not been in touch with you?”
“Yes, Sir,” the kind front desk clerk says. “We let you stay an extra night, out of consideration, but you’ll have to pay today or leave before 11 AM. Try and get in touch with your company and resolve the problem, please.”
The story behind this scene
I’ve been driving an 18-wheeler in several states. I got a truck driver’s license a few months back. But without any experience or the guarantee of a formal school, nobody wanted to hire me.
That’s how I ended up falling in the arms of a Second Chance company. These are companies that accept the “undesireables”: people with a record of accidents or a criminal record, the wretched fired from other places, people with health problems and rookie immigrants like me… the scum nobody else wants. They pay a misery compared to the average wage in the sector. The trucks aren’t trucks, but scrap metal, and the company is disorganized and cheap on top of that.
I’m at the bottom of the well, starting from the bottom over and over again, like always.
I was already on the highway, with a US woman as my instructor, on the first trip of my brand new career as a truck driver. Then, as I was about to reach my destination, the machine lost pressure in the middle of nowhere.
We ended up stranded there for three days with temperatures at -10 below. The piece of junk was taken to a mechanic and we had a room rented for us at this 5* motel.
I don’t mind, I’m happy under a rock, but it’s the same odyssey every day to get our company to pay for our stay. Outside, you freeze, literally. Going outside with our baggage to see what we can find on our way isn’t an option. So, what can we do? Pay for the stay out of our own pockets?
We decided to stay locked up in the room because our electronic key cards have been disabled (if we leave, we won’t be able to get back in), with the fear of the police coming to kick us out, and with the hope that at some point our company remembers our existence.