Gualter’s grip

The Hollywood Pub sits less than a city block from the Pacific Ocean in Vina del Mar, Chile. It’s a cramped, shotgun building with orange highlights and iconic Tinsel Town photos on the wall. On a recent Friday morning, the place was essentially empty by 2am. By 3am, it was packed with people from all over the world. All of them barked orders. The blond lady wanted Ciroc and tonic with a lime. The long-haired former rocker wanted jack and coke on the rocks. Most people wanted beer and as much of it as they could get before the mandatory 4am closing time.

In the scrum at bar’s edge stood your humble correspondent. There was little time or need for pleasantries. Most everybody knew each other. It was every drinker for himself. We would all say goodbye to each other and goodbye to Chile when the bartender kicked us out. Until then, last call threatened. We are not the type to take such threats in an idle manner. I truly believed in the task at hand, but there was another hand task that was about to set me off course.

Sandwiched in between a support pillar and bar’s corner stood Gualter Salles. Most Americans won’t know the name, but Brazilians likely will. Salles is a Brazilian race car driver who has recently entered the poker world. Unlike many athletes, Salles has actually shown some skill in the poker world. He seems to enjoy it and, as a result, has been getting paid off in kind.


Salles on his way to winning some decent cash in London. Photo © Neil Stoddart
I developed a quick respect for Salles after discovering that he is not like most people on the celebrity roster, Salles is just as likely to sit around at a bar with the journos as he is to go out for a wild, high-dollar night. He’s just cool. Of course, anybody who has lived through what you see below is probably going to be cool most of the time.

Salles and I saw each other. Straining to hear over the din, we both went in for a handshake. Before I knew what was happening, Salles held my forearm in his grip I responded in kind. There we stood at 3am in Chile, pumping each other’s forearm like a dry well. He smiled. I smiled. It was awkward.

You might remember the Secret Handshake post I wrote in December of last year. I have a hard time with non-traditional handshakes. They change from generation to generation and region to region. As I stood there pumping Salles’ arm, I wondered if I was doing it right. Is this how Brazilian stock car drivers shake hands? Is it a germ thing? Does it come from years of maintaining a death grip on the steering wheel? He was smiling, so I couldn’t be doing it too wrong. Plus, I remembered the words of a friend in comments to the previous post. Human Head had suggested, “Don’t sweat the mechanics of the thing, man.”

Salles and I released our grips and turned back to the bar. I got what I needed and made my way to my table. I commented to a few friends that I’d just shared a fairly awkward and odd handshake with Salles. “I’m not sure if I got it right or if I missed completely,” I said and then forgot about it. I didn’t have long to say goodbye to my friends and wanted to get on with it. Half an hour passed in the noisy pub when a friend returned from a trip to the bar.

“Brad, you missed,” the friend said.

“What?” I asked.

“With Gualter. You missed.”

I looked around and everyone was giggling. And then it became all too clear. Whether by fate or mere circumstance, Salles and I had somehow ended up shaking forearms instead of hands and it was, in the kindest of re-tellings, just silly.

I don’t know who missed. My tired memory won’t let me decide if I grabbed Salles first or if he grabbed me. I only know that something compelled us to treat each other like a slot machines. We pumped each other’s arms like it was the right thing to do.

Maybe it was.

Yes, maybe it was.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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3 Responses

  1. Bam-Bam says:


    I hear you on the whole secret handshake thing. That’s why my defense has always been, to get it in first and take charge. I’ll settle for over-bearing idiot now, after so many not-a-clue-idiot moments in the past.

  2. Owen says:

    Man, the screwed-up handshake is one of my greatest fears in life. Twice my boss has asked me for a handshake “do-over” because we’d screwed it up so bad and I’ve been utterly mortified both times. If I’d been in your position with Salles I probably would have withered, wet myself, and fled the country in embarrassment.

  3. Da Goddess says:

    I’ll just pretend you guys made up a super new way to greet another poker player (see? Nothing up my sleeve!) and dub you the King of Cool.

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