No matter how much time I spend in Haiti, new adventures unfold in the most unexpected places. Today on a shopping trip to Port-au-Prince Lex stopped by the auto repair place to have them check his air conditioning. This was not routine maintenance; nothing gets attention in Haiti until it is broken. The air conditioner was kaput, which did not seem a problem until we got trapped in the snarl of Mariani Marketplace traffic and sat in sweat pools for the twelve mile, hour and a half trip to center city.
Conveniently (?) we had a bit of an mishap en route to the repair shop. A concrete truck clipped our rear driver’s side and smashed our brake light. Sure enough it was one of the Cemex drivers who poured the BLB roof back in July. So when we pulled into the auto repair yard we needed two fixes, and a quick call to Michel from Cemex took care of the cost of their damage. When you are with Lex, accidents are nothing more than cosmic opportunities to network with out-of-touch acquaintances.
The auto repair garage in Part-au-Prince has no garage. It is just a huge plane of oil-drenched earth behind a metal gate between the main road and the harbor, acres and acres of derelict cars that in any other country would be called a junk yard. There is a smattering of trees; each patch of shade represents the workshop where a particular mechanic and his associates toil. As we approach Lex’s guy the iconic Life Magazine photo of five guys hunched over the open hood of a car comes to life. A lot of eyes and arms wrangle with one engine. A pair peels away to assist Lex; he’s the kind of guy who gets immediate attention.
While we wait in the shade a vendor meanders by hawking floor mats, another has wiper blades. Hand held commerce thrives everywhere here. My favorite is the guy with a basket of 3-pack condoms and vials of energy boost. He sticks them in my face and pumps his arm with vigor, demonstrating the prowess he promises his customers. His excitement withers the moment I decline.
Among the wreckage is a battered station wagon with a vanity plate from the Haitian Association of Economists; no fiction writer would dare pen such obvious irony.
Like all workplaces in Haiti, the garage is a laconic place, repairs happen as they will, in and between casual conversations and loitering on bumpers. Welding sparks loop through the air, the occasional engine revs, it is a masculine preserve and the men within it are in no rush to venture beyond its gates to deal with a world far less rational than the internal combustion engine.
I have seventeen trips to Haiti. I have never been to the National Museum or Petionville or Labadi or the Plaine du Col de Sac or the Barancourt distillery. Actually, I’ve never been to any tourist attractions. But I’ve been to the garage in Port-au-Prince, which is not open to just anyone and is surely a more representative slice of Haitian male culture than any of the more famous sites offer.
The auto repair shop in Port-au-Prince