Rod Eime's nose for old Falcons brings him face-to-face with two not-so-plain clothed operatives.
One of the first things that struck me about Buenos Aires was Argentina's native version of the humble Ford Falcon. Back home we are all used to seeing a continually evolving family sedan gradually adopting the state-of-the art technology as it migrates to the automotive industry. You know; fuel injection, electric windows, self-cancelling indicators, cutting-edge stuff like that. Only in Argentina, the clock stopped at 1966 with the venerable XM Falcon locked into a feedback loop on the production line - sort of like one of them new-fangled vinyl LPs stuck on a piece of fly shit.
"I must get a shot of one of these for the guys back home. They'll never believe it!" thought self.
Still in a twilight zone of semi-slumber on the bus in from the airport, I did a quick census of the omnipresent Falcon. The 'proper' ones still had all the fair dinkum chrome work, but clearly they lapsed into a laissez-faire era in the '70s and '80s when leftover TE and TF Cortina grilles, head- and tail-lights were clumsily grafted onto the classic body work. Urgh!
I checked into my downtown tourist hotel, The Libertador, and tossed and turned for a few hours, as you do, before deciding to go for a walk instead of trying to synthesise sleep. (Yes, I know about Melatonin now, thank you!)
The sun was only just up as I strolled, camera in hand, toward the famous Avenue 7th July, the widest street in the known universe, or some such thing. BA was only just starting to stir, when along came a stunning silver Falcon. Here's my chance. Quick as you like, out came the 80-200 zoom and I lined up the Ford as it cruised toward me. Snap!
"Uh oh, he wasn't happy," I thought, as the driver spun his head around to hurl me a sizeable glare. But he kept going - or looked like he kept going.
A minute or two later, I stopped to observe some inconsequential street activity when . URROOORRUP this same Falcon came to an abrupt stop right in front of me. He'd done a deft lap of the block and, like a cruise missile, landed literally on my doorstep.
"Oh, shit!" Where do I run? Nowhere. What do I do? Stay visible, stay cool. This could get ugly, I thought as two goons, looking like overweight, overage Starsky and Hutch types purposefully exited the well-used Falcon and fronted me. And I mean FRONTED me.
The scruffy one in a tatty jacket with Brady Bunch grey/blonde hair came forward, fixed me a steely look and posed me something in Spanish to which I just shrugged my shoulders and said in my best "tourist" English, "Sorry I don't speak Spanish. Ha har.." Gulp!
My mind was racing. Who were these guys? Hoods? Hitmen? Gangsters? or just middle-aged louts? The dark haired one in the Vinny's denim jacket stood back, arms crossed to disguise his concealed hardware (I was sure) observing the unfolding scene. I could imagine the Partridge Family cast-off, now just a few inches in front of me, clicking his fingers and, like in a scene from The Persuaders, Tony Curtis casually pulls out a Browning and wastes me on-the-spot.
In contrast, despite my serious transgression, these guys stayed reasonably cool, and while maintaining a decidedly ominous demeanour, didn't appear prone to any unprovoked violence.
Starsky repeated his request, icy tone maintained, but this time in passable English. "You take my picture," he pronounced, gaze unflinching, "what for?"
"Yes (ha ha). I'm a tourist from Australia and this is a Ford Falcon," I said in stilted voice, pointing to their modest transport whilst still managing a convincingly idiotic smile.
"Yes, Ford Falcon," Starsky acknowledged, wondering I'm sure, just where the hell this was going.
"We have Ford Falcon too, but this one we stop making in 1966 (ha ha). I take a picture to show my friends at home (ha ha)." My nervous grin bravely maintained.
This seemed to lighten them up a bit. Starsky turned to his mate and gave him a fleeting, but universal look that said plainly, "We've got a right one here!" Did I see the corner of his mouth curl into the hint of a smile?
Stone face reapplied, Starsky turned to me again. Slowly but purposefully, he reached inside the corrugated lapel of his jacket and produced .a badge!? My inquisitor clearly expected a very different reaction as I expelled a relieved gust of air. Phew! These guys are coppers, the good guys right? This revelation came as an enormous relief. At least they weren't cranky hired guns looking to kill some time, or me!
By this time Tony Curtis was having a quiet chuckle to himself in the background and Starsky, almost chummy by now, put me through another series of short questions just for good measure; where was I staying? how long? Etc. I even proudly shared with them my Aussie drivers' licence which chuffed them both no end.
"You have a nice trip. Bye bye" And with big gaucho grins, they both shook my hand enthusiastically and scooted off into the slowly developing traffic.
That was the damnedest thing, I thought. Wait till I tell someone this story! And it wasn't long before I got the chance. After breakfast on the city tour bus I recounted my little encounter with our ebullient tour guide. When I got to the bit about the badge, his face froze, just after his mouth fell open.
"Oh shit!" he gasped, eyes widening, "The Secret Police!"
Then, drawing air
noisily between clenched teeth, he added; "You are very lucky
make you disappear!"