The quest for The Key

A retelling, somewhat curtailed, of Joseph Campbell’s mono myth. The face of this hero is less bearded than those of his myths.

I am sitting in a hostel room in Buenos Aires with no money, no food and only one key that starts the van. My aim is to solve all these problems in the next few hours, fears of being in a remote Andean village, hung-over trying to hot wire an immobilized 4×4 after a heavy night on local firewater leaves us with no key, pushes me to procure a back-up now… The me of the future will thank the me of now I am sure.

Another hour slides past on google, YouTube videos and badly handled Spanish telephone calls. This brings the following conclusions; a) yes it is possible to hack a solution to duplicating a transponder key for one’s automobile, it involves knives and glue and is, at best, 50% likely; b) there are no ‘certified’ Mitsubishi service centres in BA; c) there is ‘A Road’ along which cluster all of BA’s under-the-arches style mechanics and workshops.

Argentine ATM services restrict daily withdrawals, seems there are still capital controls in place perhaps to keep a rein on inflation. Knowing I’m heading to dodge town I ain’t expecting VISA payments to be likely. I stuff pockets with 4000 peso. I drive through the notorious one way streets and battle across 16 lanes of traffic (genuinely the worlds widest roadway) and straight into riots.

I should have clocked the massive police presence, the water canon, and the crowds. I had wondered what all the news vans were gathered to report. If I wasn’t anosmic the smell of smoke would have been another clue perhaps. . Happily, as I increasingly find, media and reality are so widely disparate that the ‘Chaos in Buenos Aires” was in fact a couple of bins on fire and a line of riot gear. Two streets away, silence and normality, and although I passed through the same area again minutes later, I still haven’t got rectilinear one way traffic patterns locked down, I rolled into the top end of the mythic Warnes street car town without being set fire to or stoned.

Spot the riot signs?

There are three shops stacked top to bottom with alternators. Next to each other. The next three all sell headlamps, a stock of thousands. Exhausts, suspension struts, wiring looms. And on it goes. Two kilometres of super specialist auto parts vendors. All believing that neon yellow garish font use increases the likelihood of competitive advantage. Maybe it does. Strewn along either side of the street are cars that came here to ‘get pimped or die tryin’. Looks like many didn’t make it.

Uncertain of my next move I abandon car in road and stride to…

Shop 1 – llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop  2 -llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop  3 -llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop  4 -llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop  5 -llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop  ’n’ (where n is large) – llave? Point at key. Shake of head, pointing and directions.

Shop ‘n+1’ a sign that suggests this is the key shop that also does programming, the essential step for vehicles with immobilisers. Empty. Back soon on the door.

In the mean time, I am in ‘tint your windows zone’ of Warnes. Might help add a degree of security to our van. Begin again.

Shop 1 – cannot do acrylic (the Dakar style window fixes are plastic, not glass) shop 2 – yes no problem 1000 pesos. (65 USD). OK, got a baseline. Progress.

Shop 4 yes, 500 pesos. and so on….

At “polarise your windows here” aka shop 6, I meet ‘Tony’. I like this guy. Flat out low frequency wave forms shunting into the street from his rigged up ICE. (Loud music)

A new stereo si? Yes but, I say, needs an old adaptor. More iphone translation though only 6% of battery left means I am pushing to be succinct. We visit three more shops. Decide to ‘fuck adaptor’ and ‘cut cut push push’ into a new unit. We haggle, good naturely, for a deal on a new stereo and speakers, he can do the window tint and offers to call around for key programming. I tell him I have a fixed budget so the cheaper he can get me the key job, the more I can spend with him. He grins. A few calls later his brother and I are heading to shop infinity + one.

Knives and glue. Two kids in the corner of a smoke and oil coloured workshop. But they have the $9.99 alibabaa.com chip reader and can clone the frequency for the key chip. I put down 950 peso.

Workshop of dreams

Back at ‘polarise your windows here’ the van interior is half on the street. Door panels are off, the dash is a spaghetti of cables and two guys are working on cutting tint film.

Gellan gets some ICE

The big moment. Key in. Expectant faces from the workshop team, the table of neighbourhood day drinkers on the pavement and, in my mind at least, the omnipresent stray dogs.

Click one – lights, click two – ignition light, click three – engine turns… and turns… and turns. Nothing. Fuck. It.

Switch keys, kick workmen out and drive back to key shop. It closes at five. We arrive at 5:02. At five thirty we have success. Hung-over Andean Andy is very happy. A shake of hands and roll back for the rest of the work.

As we drive I’m doing some maths. I don’t actually have enough cash to pay for all of this. It’s close, but not enough. So whilst cables are ‘cut, cut, push, push’ into the new unit, I’m stripping the van looking for paper money. By now the day drinking crew know all about the lorry crash, the break in, the Dakar rally. (Guess you had to be there man). They offer me a beer.

The big screen conversation is now with a group of about seven. We’ve moved on from money to jokes, politics, Tony’s touching story of his fight with weight issues, the recent ups and downs of the economy. House. On. Fire.

‘Tony’ and his amazo watch

I tell him I’ve emptied the van cash hunting, he smiles. I count it out on the counter, to the amusement of everyone now gathered at the back of the shop (it was closing time an hour ago and the nearby shop owners have come to poke their nose into the story). It comes up close, closer. I add melodrama with individual note smack downs. Tony chuckles, says he’ll throw the window tint in for free. I tell him I’d be begging the missus for beer money tonight but at least I have bass. Play to yer crowd yeh.

Handshakes and fist bumps. “You will always have a friend in Argentina Andy”

I pull out of car town, through a sort of MadMax collection of pimped yet collapsing wrecks, in perfect soft evening light. Music, for the first time on this trip fully audible. Smile on my face, rolling, as ever, with windows down and the system up.

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