As we drove past the consulate a third time we saw the police cruisers beginning to make their exit.
“They’re leaving,” said Steve.
“But they’ll be back,” I said.
I wanted to go home.
“Let’s just give it a try and see what happens,” said Steve. “We might as well,” he said, U-turning the van in front and sliding into the loading zone. I greeted King, the security guard and pointed at our van. I said, “If anyone needs help we’ll be right over there.”
He sent us two customers during the first hour. I helped both of these customers to give Steve a demonstration on how this would work. Finishing with the second customer I stepped outside to view the line and found a large mediterranean man standing beside the sliding door.
He said, “the guy there told me you can help with the forms?”
I said, “yes, Steve do you think you can help this gentleman?”
Steve said, “Step right in.” I closed the door behind them. Half way towards the line a small woman intercepted me, asking if I could help her with the form. I said, “sure thing, come with me.”
For the next two hours Steve and I were pinned into the van with a constant stream of customers. I noticed several people standing beside the van and typed as fast as I could. We had two computers, and when one of us was not busy with someone inside the van—and at this point the people who came inside were crouching, squatting, like Asian farmers, as they gave up their addresses and crucial details—the free person would go back to the front of the line at the security checkpoint.
We juggled the AC power cord between the printer, when printing needed to be done, my laptop, when it was running low on power, and Steve’s laptop, meanwhile ferrying people to and from our van, trying to remember to turn on the van every so often to avoid draining the car battery, and asking, “what’s the purpose of your trip,” and “Have you been to China before?”
When the van’s internal battery finally gave out, and the humming of the printer was cut off mid-page, the man I had been working with, a middle aged waspy guy who had accompanied his mother to get her a Visa form (she was waiting with her arms crossed outside), suggested we buy a portable power pack such as the kind he had on his boat. He was extremely excited about our business.
“Where could I get one?”
“Home depot,” he said. “I’ll buy you one, you stay here and try to help these people.”
He looked up the nearest home depot on his phone as I reached into my pocket to find some money for him. A thick wad of tangled bills spilled out and some fell on the ground.
“How much will it cost?”
“About a hundred bucks,” he said.
I gave him one-twenty. Fifteen people stood beside the passenger door waiting for help with their forms.
“It was $20, but now it’s $40!” I heard myself exclaiming, exiting the driver’s side of the van and walking towards the disorganized crowd. Some split away from the group, walked away. “There is a Burger King up the street that can help you faster than we can at this point, if you are near the end of the line!” I said.
I did my best to entertain everyone for the next little while.
The waspy guy returned some twenty minutes later with a power-pack that had ended up running him nearly two hundred and fifty dollars. He refused to let me pay for the balance.
When our last customer left the van close to 2:30pm I slid open the side door and saw Mike, the near-toothless Visa Consultant from the Burger King Internet Cafe, leaning against the building opposite, and clapping slowly.
“I’m very impressed,” he said.
“You know you can’t park there right?”
“It’s a loading zone,” I said, “who’s to say I wasn’t loading.”
I ignored him as he called after me, climbed in the driver’s seat of the van, and looked over to Steve. A pool of crushed up bills lay in his lap.
“What did we make?” I said.
“Well if I’m counting it up right,” he said, “less the hundred you gave to that guy and the ten we spent on Pizza…”
He shuffled some bills.
“How much!” I said.
“Six … Eighty.”
“That’s pretty good,” said Tull, stroking his beard. “All cash?”
“All cash,” I said.
I took 40 and slipped it into King’s palm near the security entrance, (“Smaht—") thanking him for helping us out through the day, saying we’d see him in the morning, him smiling hugely, and I was skipping back to the Van when I received a text from Steve’s girlfriend that said, “Genius.”