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Laziness in Panama: A Breakdown of the Mensajero

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Written by Matt   
Friday, 30 March 2007 07:27
It doesn't take long to realize that Panamanians, site not unlike North Americans, are inherently lazy animals: the fibers of their society built around values of convenience and languor. A good first indicator is the country's economic and social livelihood: a glorified shortcut! So while this laziness can be frustrating to ambitious people, cheap to others like me it can be a delight.

Just the other day, I needed to register for new car insurance. I envisioned Panama's version of the DMV being a humid office downtown where babies' cries and employee incompetence were just the tips of the pathetic iceberg. I envisioned angry people in long lines through which I'd have to wade, essentially flushing a few hours of my day down the drain like a newly-departed hamster. (RIP). But conveniently enough, I never even left my desk for the DMV because Carlos was able to help.

Carlos is what Spanish calls a mensajero and what I call a saint. He can do almost any chore under the hot Panamanian sun and he shouldn't charge no more than a cluster of grapes depending on the difficulty of his assignment. Looking to get your passport renewed in 24 hours? Carlos is your guy. Have an insatiable craving for butterscotch at 3 AM? Carlos will be there. His pudgy body and large nose resemble a black, overgrown smurf—one who has escaped the birdcage wrath of Gargamel and dedicated the rest of its life to helping lazy gringos practice their artform.

The best thing about Carlos' service is that you don't have to do anything. He'll show up at your office or apartment and tell you everything he needs to complete the task at hand, which in my case were copies of my passport, car registration, and United States driver's license. I didn't have my passport so Carlos took a picture of my face in front of a wall and asked me for my astrological sign. If you request something illegal though, you can expect him to ask to borrow your pistol. Carlos is good, but he won't put his life at risk.

He once was trying to track down a sparrow bird for me but got caught up in some pretty heavy business, if you know what I mean.

There are tons of mensajeros in Panama and all it takes is some asking around to find a great one—I personally know of a small team of three. The Paragons I call them. The good ones have lots of contacts and can finagle the desk woman if, for example, you don't quite qualify for that visa or if your car is missing up-to-date tags. If you're a busy person, they can save you valuable hours of standing in lines and if you're not a busy person, it can just be fun to continue doing whatever it was you weren't doing and use their service. Why? Because you can.

Whoever built Panama, did so for lazy people: dollar cab rides, insanely cheap labor, drive through ice cream and liquor shops, the largest remote control store North of the equator. It can be common, just as with other cheap services in Panama, for your mensajero to try to tap what he imagines to be your considerable sized fortune, maybe overestimating that which he might charge a Paname�o. But in the whole scheme of things, five dollars for several hours on a job isn't so steep. Try to ask someone in the States to go deliver your monthly rent payment and they'll look at you as if you asked them to sacrifice a small child. I sometimes even go as far as sending someone like Carlos to scout out a movie for me: deciding if it's worth watching and then coming back to deliver the report. We did that for the new movie 300, which is basically about a man who fights against lions, but Carlos said it wasn't worth the price of admission: four dollars and three hours saved by this guy right here.

Mensajeros are one of Panama's simple little delights. Things like personal drivers are readily available here too for around the same wage and to find the good ones, you've got to ask around. If you'd like Carlos' help with something, I'm providing his cell phone number below. He speaks Spanish and slapdash English, his vocabulary mostly comprised of words you might hear in a taxi like buddy and friend. His service is impeccable and compliments laziness in Panama to the tee. Tell him you're a friend of Matt so that he doesn't think you're a warrior trying to attack him.

Carlos the Mensajero: 651-284-99

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 23:11