Ed Colby: Getting lucky in Rio

On a Saturday afternoon, as I walked briskly down Avenida Atlantica, three brown-skinned girls beckoned from a sidewalk cafe. “Hey, come over and talk to us,” they teased.

Oooo-la-la! Was this a dream?

“I can’t,” I called back, not even breaking stride, “I have to get to the laundry.”

But when I arrived at that little hole-in-the-wall establishment, it had already closed for the weekend. They had my blazer. Worse yet, the dinner dance at the Copacabana Palace Hotel was that very night, and I was flying back to Colorado the next day.

This might sound hopeless, but it turned out to be the luckiest thing that happened to me last summer in Rio de Janeiro.

When I was a kid, we lived in that city of dreams. Last August I went back for a weeklong school reunion.

The problem with the blazer was that I had packed it in my suitcase right next to the duct tape, and sticky gray ooze from the side of the roll made a mark.

Maybe you don’t travel with duct tape, but I always do. I visited Africanized “killer bees” on this trip, and I brought along the tape so I could tape my pant legs shut to keep those little darlings out.

When I took the blazer to the laundry, the lady said she couldn’t get the spot out, but she could send the jacket to the dry cleaners. She assured me it would be ready at 2 p.m. Saturday.

On Saturday at 2 I ran into my classmate Kenny, and he invited me to lunch. At 3 Kenny said, “Let’s have dessert.”

I said, “Kenny, I’d better get to the laundry. I have no idea what time they close.”

I wasn’t in such a hurry that I took a cab, but still, I had this uneasy feeling.

Of course the place was closed. Not just closed, but locked up tight, with a pull-down, padlocked steel door. It was 3:30 p.m. When I inquired at the pharmacy next door, the girl said, “The laundry woman lives in Duque de Caxias. She’ll be back Monday.”

I clean up OK, but that night, at one of the most famous hotels in the world, at a party where I would have felt socially outclassed anyway, I was the only guy without a coat.

In the seventh grade Mark and I palled around. We chased water snakes and a certain blond-haired little girl.

That night at the Copacabana, Mark kidded me. “Oh, that’s a likely story,” he said. “You probably don’t own a coat. No, seriously, Eddie, I’ll pick up your blazer and the rest of your laundry on Monday and bring it back with me to Houston. Then I’ll just FedEx it to you. How’s that?”

“Mark, this place isn’t exactly right next to your hotel. It’s in Ipanema,” I said.

“No problem,” he said. “I need something to do on Monday, anyway.”

Before this reunion, I’d hadn’t seen any of my classmates in 42 years. Let me put it this way: When I first saw Jimmy we threw our arms around each other and bawled. But Mark and I required a little time to get reacquainted.

It’s true that at the “churrascuria” luncheon, Mark waved me to his table, and it’s true that we had dinner one night in Lagoa.

But the blazer really broke the ice. I told Mark he could have the shirt off my back anytime. I meant that, and I still do.

He wrote to me: “I was happy to collect your stuff … if by some miracle of UPS a pint of exotic Colorado honey appeared on my porch, then I would invoke the appropriate incantations to the applicable gods and have your debt dissolved forever. This way you would sleep better, and the story would truly have a sweet ending.”

Sweet ending indeed. I counted myself lucky, and the world looked right again.

[Beekeeper and ski patroller Ed Colby’s column runs every other week on Tuesdays. His e-mail address is]