The Switch

The sign was hung on the otherwise empty wall leading to the door that led to one of three stalls, each containing a rudimentary shower spigot connected to a small wired box. Above this was a little light bulb just dim enough to hide a clear view of the drain at the center of the cold cold floor that one dare not make direct contact with. Each stall was surrounded by three walls and a door... and outside these doors hung a sign - but who reads signs at 9am after a long night out with the guys? Not Simon.

I didn't know his name was Simon yet, but I could have guessed. Aren't all British men named Simon? Excluding those named Philip of course - but that goes without saying. I find it funny that fifteen years later, here I sit with a cat named Simon perched on my lap. Simon the cat was named after my favorite playwright, who's first name isn't Simon at all. It's Neil. This has nothing to do with Simon the Brit, named after god only knows who... probably some other Brit named Simon. They're all named Simon, aren't they? Excluding the ones named Philip of course...

Simon the Brit and I crossed paths in La Paz, Bolivia, in the Torino.


"El Gran Hotel Torino" had most likely been an impressive mansion when it was built in the 1800's. It stood three stories tall with elegant looking though relatively useless narrow balconies along the street-side of the building. A century or so later, it had been turned into a hotel. A damn cheap one in fact - but still magnificent. Inside sat a plaza with a restaurant, and two stories above the plaza was a ridged sheet of plastic to keep the weather away from the tables below. Many rooms of various sizes surrounded the plaza, with a third floor of rooms completely obscured from view on the inside by the plastic plaza 'ceiling'.

The Torino was popular among travelers, most of whom were constantly coming and going while speaking who knows what languages. It was a feast for the ears, but impossible to keep up with - so I didn't bother... but every now and then, I couldn't help but notice someone.

It was 9am on a chilly La Paz winter morning, and I was taking a shower. Down the hallway stumbled two men who'd obviously been out drinking the previous evening. They were mumbling about such festivities as they made their way into the other two stalls.

THUMP! Thump... Wham! WHAM! Scurry scurry... Trickle trickle...

- "Ahhh Christ! The bloody thin's no' workin'!!!!"
- "Whu's No' Workin?"
- "The water... I's all cold!"
- "Did'ye read th'sign?"
- "Wha'sign?"
- "Th'one abou' th'switch. Did 'ye flip it?"
- "Did I flip a sign?"
- "Oh bloody hell Simon! See the box above 'ya? See the wire danglin' aroun' it? Flip th'switch a' the end."
- "Huh? ...Oh! ...Ah yea' tha's better. I's workin' now."

The switch in question looks like something out of a Frankenstein movie, or a southern-state electric-chair. This is no light switch we're talking about - it's more like a lever, and it's huge. Hot water heaters are a rarity in Bolivia. Instead, they install a mini-heater between the end of the shower pipe and the shower head. Flipping the giant switch turns the heater on. Flipping the switch also makes the light bulb even more dim... Hhhhmmmm...

If there's one thing I've learned about traveling in the third world, it's this: When there's a sign posted in a language not native to the country you're in, you'd damn well better read it.

- "Ayooo Simon... You still showr'in?"
- "Yeah, I'm almos' done..."
- "Don' ferget that'che gotta flip th'switch again before..."
- "Y'din' flip th'switch before turnin' off th'water did'ye?"
- "BLOODY HELL!!!!!!!!!"

If they took the time to write it in English, I take the time to read it...

::::: | Monday, Jun 21 2004 at 11:12 PM
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