They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. I was already an hour late for my first day of school at the prestigious Universidad Católica Argentina in Buenos Aires. Lacking the linguistic ingenuity to come up with a clever excuse in Spanish, I decided that class was overrated and if I were to skip I could save the first impression for the following week. My desire to relax on a bench, which should not be underrated, was overcome by mid-morning impatience and boredom and I wandered East – probably the least popular cardinal direction in terms of exploration. The only people to be found walking the streets of Puerto Madero were police officers. I got the feeling that the neighborhood required a dress code. It bared no resemblance to the barrio that I called home. I peered into an enclosed restaurant patio where patrons sipped wine above white linen tablecloths. Strolling past a window washer in the Mercedes-Benz dealership and an apartment building security guard, I couldn’t help but wonder where these service workers lived. Did they also enjoy the pleasure of an hour’s journey to end up in a part of town that looked nothing like their own?
Eventually, the imported car dealerships and skyscrapers gave way to an unromantic boardwalk along dried marshland. A sidewalk parilla caught my eye. The menu featured an array of grilled flesh served up in the best possible manner- a sandwich. I turned North to discover that a similar stand could be found approximately every 50 yards. About 90% of the customers were wearing hard hats and the other 10% had one within arm’s reach. This was obviously the preferred lunch of the working class. They chomped on choripan and washed it down with Coca-Cola or beer (my clock read just past 12:00, so it was cool). It seemed strange they were eating so early in a city notorious for late meals. I realized that it was indeed a late lunch for them, the difference being that they were probably working before the sun had come up.
This was my first introduction to the disparities and contradictions of Buenos Aires. Here in Puerto Madero only one street created a visual dichotomy separating metropolitan Europe from working class Latin America. While both have their charm, I think I prefer my lunch with a hard hat and a beer.