I had put an ad in the hat trade paper advertising with my new profession: "Hat block maker".
I got a few hits locally and started on my path. Then I got this phone call from a hat company in Colombia. They needed new blocks made; they wanted to revamp their look. So after a series of conversations I suggested that instead of going back and forth on the new designs, and since my tools were all portable, why didn't they fly me to Bogota and I could do all the work on their premises? They went for it.
I packed my grinder some wood rasps and my contour gauge. I was on my way. It was the early 90's and Columbia was going through some serious political turmoil.
The Paramilitaries were aggressive, the militia was running rampant. A perfect spot for an adventurous block maker.
I landed in the evening, and their driver picked me up. The city of Bogota was definitely a military zone. There were check points every mile and the streets were abandoned. We arrived at the InterContinental hotel in downtown Bogota. The driver checked me in and suggested I stay at the hotel and have my drinks and food in house. I did.
The next day the owner of the factory came to my hotel to discuss the new molds. We went out for breakfast and it was like we were political figures. We were accompanied with these two large, suited bodyguards. I thought this was very strange. “What’s up with the goons?” I asked him. He replied because he was an affluent owner of a large company, he was a target for kidnappings.
After our breakfast he took me back to the hotel and I sketched new shapes for a couple of hours. About early evening I was bored so I decided to walk in the town and check it out. Well, as I was walking out the door, the porter asked me where I was going. I responded: “into town”. He advised me to take a “hotel chaperone.” I nixed the idea and headed in.
There was a bus stop in front of the hotel, so I jumped on and took it wherever it was headed. I felt like I was an alien. Everyone stared at me. So I got into town, found the marketplace and had a bite to eat. It was late afternoon by then and people were scurrying around anxiously. There was a sense of fear and desperation. I asked the girl who had served me: “what’s with the tension in the air?” She responded there is a curfew and there had been bombings the last few days. So I grabbed a beer and explored. The evening was setting fast and the darker it got, the fewer the people I saw. Until at one point it was as if I had the city to myself.
Soon a group of military stopped me and asked me for my papers, but I hadn’t brought them. I told them that I was staying at the "Inter" and that they could verify my accommodations.
They started searching my bag, found my Walkman and asked what it was. I had been listening to some Talking Heads “Burning Down the House” -- the young captain must have known the tune and broke a smile, he muttered on the “road to nowhere" and we connected. He asked me to join him in the truck and we talked music all the way back to hotel.
He suggested watching the curfew, and if I ran into trouble mention his name: “Captain Javier Solis, like the singer. "