Two minutes ago, I was in front of the Palacio de la Moneda, in Santiago, Chile, standing in the sun with well-fed stray dogs, looking for the window of President Salvador Allende's office, where he died in 1973. Now I'm in a dark room surrounded by women in glow-in-the-dark thongs and the smoke's so heavy I can hardly breathe. I'm in a tunneled strip mall in the city center, in an unnamed coffee shop marked with a single sign: abierto. Open.
My waitress's white g-string glows in the black light. Her stockings too, which reach up her thighs and connect via a proper six-strap garter belt. As she leans over to serve the suits on the other side of the room, she casually gives my side of the horseshoe bar a view of her bare bottom. Then she greets me formally, with two kisses, and asks me how I am, as if we were old friends.
This is a particularly saucy café con piernas, a type of coffee shop in Santiago where the waitresses wear skimpy outfits (the name translates to "coffee with legs"). These coffee shops are a Chilean cultural phenomenon, varying in degrees of nudity. They don't serve alcohol and they maintain coffee shop hours, closing around 8 or 9 in the evening. At some, the waitresses look like dreamy flight attendants—tight, red shift dresses down to their knees. At others, the windows are blacked out, the walls mirrored, and the waitresses wear little more than underthings.