Thursday, August 22, 2013

SUB UMBRO FLOREO:  I have only almost been killed once.

In 1996, second year of law school, I sent myself down to Belize.  Do a little scuba diving, saw some Mayan ruins, and do a little poking about for a novel I was trying to write.  Anyway, on my way to Caracol, the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, I stayed in a hut in the town of Douglas Da Silva.  I got there a bit late having lost myself a couple of times on the mountain roads there in central Belize.

I found myself a hut -- spent a half hour or so watching Comet Hyakutake -- and went to bed.  In the morning, I knew I had to pay for the hut (BZE$2.50) and get a permit (free) to get on the 10 a.m. tour of the ruins.  It was early - perhaps 6:30 - when I walked over to the ranger station to see if I could get my permit and move along.  I knew someone was there.  It was cold and smoke was coming out of the chimney -- it's high enough up that it's the only place in Belize you'll ever see a fireplace.

I opened the screen door and shouted a hello and heard a few folks in a back room.  So I wandered on down.  And saw the ranger and two men standing over a pile of $50,000 in cash.  Douglas Da Silva had ten permanent residents and a gas station that was open only if you called a number in the window. They all looked up, startled.
One man reached for his waistband.  To tuck in his shirt, I remember thinking, how polite!

The ranger held his hand up to his associated.  "Can I help you?"

"I needed to pay for the hut.  I got here late.  And I need a permit to go to Caracol."

"Follow me."  And we walked back to the front counter.  He took my money, spotted me the 50 cents.  "I don't have change."  And wrote me the permit.

I went on my way.

When you almost have a car accident, the adrenaline takes moment to work its way in.  As an evolutionary matter, this is fine.  A crack in the woods from a tiger.  The first sting of a wasp.  You'll be able do something about it.  Things are over and done with in a car accident long before the adrenaline does you a lick of good.

Here, however, that delay prevented me from being on a Dateline episode.  I was ten miles down the road, crossing the ford in my rented Suzuki Sidekick, when my heart rate immediately shot to two hundred.

No, brain, you aren't going to tell the rest of this idiot what he's witnessed.  Not until he's safely out of danger.  There is no other reason for a pile of cash to be in a place like this, but for a drug deal.  No other reason to reach for a waistband, but for a gun.  There is no reason he doesn't immediately recognize this, but for the fact that his body has decided that's the only way he's getting out of this alive.

I prevented you from showing up as a five minute bumper story on Dateline, my brain later told me. You owe me.

So, last week, when Walter White was threatening Saul with a trip to Belize, that struck me as pretty goddamned serious.  The Belize Tourist Board, however, wants the cast to come on down for a visit.  And they should.  It's lovely a country.

But for god's sake -- if you go -- be the one who knocks.


  1. Nigel from Cameroon12:08 PM

    Good and interesting story. Not sure I agree completely with your thesis that "Things are over and done with in a car accident long before the adrenaline does you a lick of good."...things can happen in the split seconds before/during/after a wreck-- or any other similar traumatic event-- that can affect the outcome of said event.

    There is a great book on these matters that I highly recommend: Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales.

    I think this community in particular would like it.

  2. The Pathetic Earthling1:05 PM

    That's a great book.

    But I don't *think* what's happening in your split second response is hormonal -- at least, it's not adrenaline -- your nervous system can react before you've had a conscious thought, but that's a different thing. I think.