This had now become our greeting for one another, and it was coming through on Wayne’s I-Pad with the help of the less-than-optimal wi-fi at the Plaza Hotel in Port Au Prince. It was my first shot at seeing Dave Hester, the biggest breakout star of the breakout hit, Storage Wars.
For the uninitiated, the show is about a group of people who travel to abandoned storage units, and they try to either outbid each other, or drive the price so high that their competition gets soaked. And Hester is the master. He’ll show interest in a unit, drive the price up by shouting “Yuup!” as the auctioneer spouts the price higher, and then he’ll bail after someone else offers $1600 for what is essentially a broken chair and a toaster cozy.
There we were, watching hiccupping Storage Wars over breakfast in the middle of Port Au Prince. At this point, I may have just seen it all.
Annie showed up to break up the party, and we were on our way to a shoe distribution at a school about twenty miles outside of the city. Wayne told Todd and I stories about these shoe gives, and how emotional they can get. I was excited to see it firsthand.
But first, we had to get there.
About three miles outside the city, my ass started vibrating. It was subtle at first, but it did not take long to notice the foreign “GUDDA GUDDA GUDDA GUDDA GUDDA” coming from the axle below my position. This was not good.
Soon, the “GUDDA GUDDA GUDDA” was joined by what sounded like a screech owl being choked. This was then followed by the smell of a full blown dumpster fire.
We were breaking down…in the middle of nowhere.
By a sheer act of God, our truck came to rest about six feet behind a man changing the tire on his own truck. Annie got out and immediately started talking to him. The man stopped what he was doing and sized up our dilemma. As he walked around the back of the truck, he inhaled, causing his face to contort violently. It was as if he got a whiff of Brian Fantana bathing in a vat of Sex Panther…by Odeon.
“This could be a while,” said Annie to no one in particular.
At that point, all of the emotion, the stress, and the over-stimulation proved too much. Todd got giddy. So did Wayne. Wayne’s friend Sammy spit out a perfect, “Yuuup!!!” And we were gone. I whipped out the camera and we acted out an impromptu Storage Wars episode…while broken down on a Haitian road in the middle of nowhere.
I almost wet myself as I tried to keep the camera still enough to shoot. Todd was tobacco auctioneering. “Sixteen hunid! Sixteen hunid now, who gi me seventeen, gimme gimme gimme seventeen.”
Wayne was losing weight by the amount of sweat and tears pouring out of his body. Todd was crying, too. Thank God for image stabilization on the camera, or I would have been hosed. Sammy flashed a mischievous, shit-eating grin. The scene was epic.
Some locals came around to see what the fuss was about, and they left with the same conclusion: we were baked. If they only knew that this was a natural high of finally letting everything go. It really was pretty rejuvenating.
When the fun subsided, Annie told us that the transfer case hadn’t been serviced since Adam was a boy. We needed some supplies. So the guy fixing his own truck called a friend, and they went off to a store to get us oil and fluid that would be enough to get us back on the road. This was Haiti’s version of Triple A…plus.
As we waited for the mechanics to come back, Wayne called us all over to see what I can only describe as one of the most remarkable things I’d ever laid eyes on. Three men were making furniture. By hand. With no power tools.
The saw looked like a long narrow blade held in place by a bowed piece of wood. Holes were made by hand augers. Sanding was actually being done by a piece of sandpaper.
And the furniture? Solid wood. If the table and chairs they were making were sold at a store in the U.S., it would set you back close to ten-grand. Here, though, Wayne said, “You could probably pick it up for about $300.”
Think about how long it actually takes you to make $300. For a lucky few of us, it’s an hour. For each of these guys, it’s about five months. That’s right: the average Haitian makes $750…per year.
Almost makes you want to hop a plane to buy some furniture, doesn’t it?
Just when the gravity of the moment started to move me, Wayne pulled a Wayne.When the guys got back with the oil and transfer case fluid, Wayne asked if he could take their motorcycle for a spin.
“Sure,” they said. Trusting souls.
You know who didn’t trust him? Annie. “I can’t recommend you do this,” she said.
“No?” replied Wayne.
With that he eased the clutch off…
…and stalled the bike. Now, none of us could recommend he do this, but Wayne was not to be deterred. He started the bike, let out the clutch, and eased into traffic…
…right into the path of a tap cab, which is Haitian public transport. It’s basically a pick-up with seats in the bed. I’ve seen up to ten people sandwiched in the back, and there’s an ingenious way to tell the driver where you have to go: you tap the roof when you need to get out. Hence the name tap cab.
This particular tap cab almost turned Wayne into a hood ornament. We took quick odds on if he would make it back alive. Thankfully, the tap cab didn’t kill him, but it did mean that Todd lost the bet. As he pulled the bike in behind the truck, we could do nothing but stare at him in disbelief.
As he got off the motorcycle, Annie started the truck. The “GUDDA GUDDA GUDDA” was no more. Forget Ms. Keller…these guys were the miracle workers. Annie paid the men and we were on our way.
As I watched the sheer gorgeousness of the landscape roll by, I had no idea that within the next two hours, I would not only witness a miracle, but I would discover the secret of why the earthquake was so particularly destructive to Haiti.