Today I met a guy named Franklin. I was a walkin’ down a dusty road in Arica, north Chile, to check the waves at El Gringo – a heavy no-nonsense mother of a wave. So I’m looking out at the wind-blown surf when this guy, Franklin, who’s sitting there on his rusty white pushbike says in a thick American accent “Hey whatcha sayin’, you speak English?” I look over at him and his weathered face with its deep lines and ravines and on top, his slicked back grey hair and I say “yeah, I do”.
He produces his outstretched hand, gives mine a firm shake and introduces himself. Turns out he moved out here – the driest city on earth – four years ago, to retire. He owns a hostel, not a very successful one by the sounds but he doesn’t seem bothered by it. He points down to his leathery brown feet, encased comfortably in a worn pair of hacked-up sandals. One foot is perched on a pedal and the other firmly on the dusty road, supporting his body, which still carries an air of strength despite his years. “I came out here so I don’t have to wear shoes all the time or wear expensive clothes like everyone back home does,” he says. “You know what I mean?” I tell him I do.
“You come here for the waves?” he asks. I tell him I did. “This is a pretty mean place man,” he says. I like the way he says man. He says some other slang words that sound distinctly American, straight outta the sixties, and the beginnings of a smile creep upon my face. “I used to surf myself actually, not anymore though. Obviously the body gave up on me a while ago. Yeah man, nothing like this though.” He points out to the ocean as a washy slab detonates on the reef. “You kids today got some balls that’s for sure.” I neglect to tell him that if it gets above 4 or 5ft in the next few days there’s a good chance I won’t be paddling out.
We stay on the topic of surfing for a while and the entire time, I’m looking at his old eyes through the lenses of his tinted wire-rimmed shades. His specs combined with his tanned skin and his loose-fitting cream shirt – the top three buttons undone, exposing an impressive man-rug – give me the impression of wisdom. Definitely a dude comfortable in his own skin from so many years of being radical – a guy who knows what’s up. He tells me he was born and raised in Southern California, where his love of surfing was conceived. He served his country in Vietnam (I’m starting to love this guy) and when he came home alive he celebrated with a holiday in Oz where he spent his 21st birthday. “Man, that Kings Cross is one helluva place,” he tells me with a mischievous grin and a chuckle.
When he went back to the states he moved to Utah where he fell in love with the mountains, eventually giving the pro-skiing thing a nudge before becoming an avalanche technician guy. I picture him in my head detonating one of those avalanche bombs and walking away from the explosion, not bothering to look back at the destruction à la every action movie guy you’ve ever seen. I don’t catch how long he spent there but he tells me the mountains are cool but living by the ocean is where it’s at. I tell him I agree with him. He says only the Pacific side though, “it’s all about the Pacific, I don’t bother with the Atlantic Ocean,” he says. “Yeah,” I think to myself. “Fuck the Atlantic.”
He rattles off a bunch of other places he’s been but I’m left wondering why he picked Arica to spend his remaining years and how he found out about the place. I like to think he simply span a world globe on his mantlepiece and said he’d retire wherever his finger landed on it. As long as it was on the Pacific side. I wonder if he has a wife or kids. I feel like having a beer with him or something and for some reason I feel bad that I’m staying at a swanky hostel instead of his pad. But I don’t say anything. And I don’t ask if I can take a photo of him, because I think that it’d probably ruin the sweet vibe we’ve got going and he probably doesn’t know what a blog is. He looks at his watch and tells me he’s gotta go. He’s supposed to be meeting a mate who lives a few blocks away. He’s helping him restore a boat. He rides off with a “check you later man” (similar to how the stoner guy from Dazed and Confused says it) and pedals off down the road. And all I can think is, “fuck, if I’m half as cool as that guy when I’m his age I’ll be doing alright.”
*This actually happened yesterday, not today as the intro suggests. Today I surfed but more on that later.