Monday, June 30, 2008

Henry's Story

As part of my training at Houston's, I had to write a short bio on one of my co-workers. Hank/Henry is one of our better servers. He gets a lot of crap because he's Colombian; he gives me a lot of crap because I'm the newbie. But what makes Hank Hank? I rolled silver with Henry a couple nights ago and asked him a few questions. Here's what I learned.

Henry left Colombia after a friendly game of dominoes went south, way south. Nineteen, high on life, Henry had gone all in against the neighborhood jefe, keys to his prize possession—a 1984 baby-blue Honda moped—on the table. Only Henry didn’t know that his buddy Tellez had been paid off by the jefe, who had been pressuring Henry to sell. The fix was in, and Hank knew it as soon as he drew double nines and double sixes back to back. He peered through the rich Cohiba smoke at his friend’s eyes when that double six came up; he saw the weakness. The guy who was supposed to be rounding this game with him had sold him out—probably for a couple of chickens and sack of rice. Hank did the only thing he could—he flung his burning habano into the jefe’s face and fled on the Honda. He never looked back, kept it cranked wide open, through the colonial streets of La Candelaria, around San Felipe de Barajas, past Ciudad Perdida. All the way to Venezuela.

Venezuela would be where Hank made his first million—his first legal million. He sent for his girl Blanca, and she arrived a week later on the bus with the $180,000 pesos—barely a hundred bucks—Hank kept hidden below the cajica carpet. They moved into a hotel and Hank got a job delivering pizzas with the Honda. That lasted a week, enough time for Henry to meet the right kinds of people on the west side of town. Hank got into the oil drilling gig just long enough to learn the ropes and save up enough for a down payment on a drill. Henry had always been more lucky than charming, and he struck a big, untapped field within a month. Mind you, this was long before Venezuela nationalized its oil; Henry savored his first true taste of capitalism. But Henry came home one night to find Blanca in the arms of another man, watching Amores de Mercado. Henry calmly lit his Cohiba, then kicked over one of the many barrels of crude that he happened to keep in his living room. He tossed the cigar into the inky mess and walked away. A hard year’s cash was tucked away in the nooks of that house, and the Honda was parked in the garage, next to a couple more drums. But Henry just didn’t give a damn.

He had to get away. He withdrew all his savings from his Swiss bank account and bought a sloop with a Bermuda rig. Shoved off at El Tablazo, cursed the waves, spat into the wind, let the sails do the rest. He landed at St. Martin, on the French side. He didn’t speak French, at least not at first, but he quickly found a job shaking appletinis for American tourists on one of St. Martin’s thirty-seven gorgeous beaches. Island life proved calm, lazy even. Henry grew restless. One night, a year after he’d landed, Henry locked up the cabana bar, threw the keys up on the roof, and hopped into his sloop. But this time, Hank knew where he was going.

The land of opportunity. The United States of America. Specifically, Florida. He’d heard about Texas, fuerte entre los fuertes, as the Venezuelan oilmen had called it, and he knew that he’d fit right in. But his little sailboat wouldn’t take him that far, so he had to settle for the Keys. Henry didn’t know a soul in the States, but at twenty-one, he knew two English words: appletini and adventure. He had no problem meeting people. He missed his family often, but he became so tight with his peeps in Miami that he couldn’t tear himself away. Spent seven years there, but never gave up on his dream of moving to the America of America, the Republic within the Republic: Texas. He gave all his belongings to a family of Haitian refugees and bought a one-way ticket to Austin.

All the pieces were finally falling into place for old Henry. What’s more Texan than Austin? Just to be sure he was completely immersed in Texas culture, Henry got a job at a joint named after another Texas city, Houston. And dammit, Henry loved it. Loved everything about Austin, couldn’t believe his good fortune. Hank figured there were millions of people out there who would kill to be in his position, but Hank had grown weary of his expat status. The choice to become a US citizen came as no real decision at all to Henry. As far as he could tell, only benefits awaited him, and hey, he didn’t have to renounce his Colombian citizenship, so why the hell not? The process proved difficult, but as of two weeks ago, Hank’s a bona-fide United States Citizen. Took the oath and never looked back.