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Sara Fasy

My Mexican Cars

Los Vochos 1981

 

When I married Pico, he owned two Volkswagen bugs, or "vochos". One was blue and the other was orange. Both were battered, but they chugged up and down the cobblestone streets of San Miguel like burros. Pico would take off for the fields of Tamaulipas for weeks at a time, tending to the onions and tomatoes he grew on illegally leased ejido land. I couldnít drive a stick shift, so I walked.

At the market, I loaded my mesh bags with oranges and chicken and vegetables. Both arms would feel half-pulled from their sockets by the time I crossed the fourteen blocks from the market to the house. When I passed Espinoís, the bus men would nasally singsong, "Cel-aya, Cel-aya" and the strawberry man would hold his big basket out and draw out the syllable of "Fraaaaysas!" The men boarding the bus would hiss, "GŁera!" They made jokes: "If the devil looks like you Iím going to hell!"

I wanted to drive again; I missed my red Mustang that Iíd had to sell after the wedding. How hard could it be to drive a standard? Clutch down, then let up as you slowly accelerate. Keep the clutch down to change gears.

I got up the nerve and drove to town. At the town square, the car stalled. I hadnít quite learned how to keep the clutch down while idling. I panicked, and asked the nearest stranger (who ignored me) to drive me out of the square, where cars were honking and drivers shouting. Bystanders laughed at me. I gesticulated wildly, begging someone, anyone, to get me out of there.

A friend of Picoís saw me. He laughed too, but drove me home.

 

The Cobra 1981-1995

The first time I saw the Cobra, when Pico and I had been married a few months, it was parked in the walled lot off Salida de Queretaro. It was a real camper, with a tiny sink and stove and two beds. When I opened the door to the bathroom, I faced a wall of marijuana bales stacked to the ceiling. "Oh." I said. Pico laughed, but his eyes looked startled. He closed the door gently. "I jost holding that for Arnie. He peek it up tomorrow. Doan worry, mi amor."

A year later, we drove the torturous highways to El Paso, twenty-two hours. I mostly read magazines on the comfortable little bed in the back, lulled into catnaps when the road was smooth. I had amoebas, and the medicine made me queasy. I was also pregnant but did not know that yet. Rock-strewn roads wound through the mountains and plains under the eye-scorching desert sun. It was nice to have our little camper bathroom, and not have to use the stinky Pemex bathrooms. My feet propped on the dashboard. Pico and I talked, about his business plans, about family, about the barrage of insects suicidando on the windshield. We smiled at each other a lot.

In El Paso, the immigration officials who asked for papers were rude and patronizing. Pico, used to being boss, could barely contain his rage. "You theenk I want to leev in your pinche pais? I haff land and business and servants! I leev ten times better than you!"

This was true: why would Pico want to work in the US, when his family owned a hotel and hot springs and land in Veracruz? He was connected and street smart and had beautiful manners when he wanted to use them. He was tall and curly-headed and looked Lebanese. But to the "migra", all Mexicans looked alike, and all of them were dying to marry a gringa and work scut jobs in the US.

The last good memories I have of the Cobra were when we made trips to Barra de Navidad with Richard and Mimi, when they were toddlers. In the balmy afternoons, an old man wearing a straw hat wheeled his cart into the compound and sold us delicious helado de nuez from zinc buckets nestled in ice. Pico trudged down the beach each day with one of the children, and returned with a brown-paper wrapped fish tucked under his arm. In the Cobraís tiny kitchen, I fried potatoes while he grilled the fish. I sliced avocado and jicama and tomatoes and drizzled them with lemon and salt. We drew in the sand with sticks, and swam over to the rocky promontory that was covered with black crabs. At sunset we clinked tiny glasses of cognac in a toast. Salud!

A dozen years later, a Xalapa lawyer named Abdon Pescina took possession of the camper. I used it to pay him for his dubious services as my divorce lawyer, after heíd exhausted my bank account. He had the underground connections to legalize it, since the Cobra lived in Mexico- as I had for fourteen years- on a tourist visa.

 

The Chevy Truck 1992

It was a lot of fun to barrel down the steep cobblestone street in that big white pick-up. The kids liked to ride in back when I took them to school. It seemed natural to have Waylon Jennings blaring as I drove to my aerobics class; the sound system was state of the art. This must be what being a big man is like, I thought. Power. It was nice to ride high.

One day though, the federales stopped me when I came back from the Club de Golf, hair still wet from a swim. Your papers, please, they asked. They looked inside the truck while I nervously reached for the truckís tourist visa in the glove compartment. I was wearing shorts because I was going straight home, and they made no effort to take their gaze away from my bare thighs. I handed them the visa with a smile.

"Juan Rivera?" they asked. "Quien es Juan Rivera?"

"Itís a friend", I explained. "Heís in Queretaro today."

They looked at each other and nodded. Then they told me what I already knew: since "Juan Rivera" was not in the vehicle with me, they were going to impound the truck. Pico will kill me, I thought. I pleaded, my eyes filling with tears. "Mi marido me va a matar! "

"No, no, seŮora. No se preocupa. You are too beeyootiful for your hozeband to be angry weeth you." There was nothing to be done. I knew we would not be able to pay the hefty fine and get the truck back, because "Juan Rivera" did not exist.

 

The White Vocho 1993

I like VW bugs. This was almost new, only a year old. Itís interior was a sturdy black rubber corrugated mat and black Naugahyde everything else. When we made the terrible move from San Miguel to Xalapa, when the kids were 8 and 9, Pico sold the car to a lawyer and bought me a used red Jetta. In the Diario de Xalapa, a month after Iíd moved there, I saw a photo of my vocho, with my name still listed as owner. The car was crunched into a telephone pole, and the lawyer killed.

 

The Red Jetta 1993-1995

Driving in Xalapa was worse than Mexico City: drivers cut you off, no one used turn signals, and they passed on the right. Iíd agreed to move to Xalapa if he would give me a "civilized divorce". Once there, Pico laughed at me, and reneged. "If you want a deevorce, you can leave- bot weethout my cheeldrens y no te doy ni un centavo!" Of course: it was going to be hell. So I looked for small escapes. We had rented out our San Miguel house, but from time to time I went back- I had yet another lawyer there, happy to make me promises after he got a fat retainer in hand.

Driving through Mexico City, running the gauntlet of crooked cops on the Viaducto Aleman, I listened to a tape of Frank Sinatra. It calmed me.

The Jetta made that trip often. I can still smell the mountain of garbage near Mexico City, taste the mixiote (lamb baked in maguey leaves) eaten at the wooden tables of the lean-tos in Rio Frio. The slightly beat but still jazzy Jetta loved the curves on the road to Puebla. After the divorce war heated up, I could make the nine-hour trip in six hours, fueled by adrenaline, cortisol eating holes in my brain with the fear of what would happen next.

The kids and I spent the summer in San Miguel. I had a plan. When it was time to go back to Xalapa, we left at dawn and instead drove north. Mimi and Richard were ten and eleven. I had told them, "I want to get a divorce in California. Papi might be a little angry, but I will call him- once we are there- and explain."

Richard said, "Letís go."

Mimi said, "Iím going to call Papi and tell him!"

But she decided not to call him. We stopped in Matehuala, the halfway point, and I slept in a hotel lounge chair for an hour while the kids played miniature golf. When we reached Laredo, the sky opened, rain exploding onto windshield and hood. The customs lady peered into the car, seeing two blonde children with a blonde mother. I donít think she even noticed the Guanajuato license plates. She waved us on with a smile. "Welcome to the United States".

"Dairy Queen!" I pulled into the parking lot. The front bumper, smacked too often on narrow San Miguel streets, clunked to the pavement. Lifting it up in the drenching sheets of rain, I managed to fit it awkwardly into the trunk. Tomorrow, once we were en route to California, I would get it fixed.


Sara Fasy is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, where her son Richard is a 2006 graduate. Her daughter studies art in Philadelphia. She recently published a story in Lumina, the Sarah Lawrence literary magazine. She has worked on the Alaska Pipeline, as a court interpreter in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, and as a realtor in Florida. She has lived in San Miguel de Allende and Xalapa, Veracruz for over twenty years. She is working on a memoir about Mexico.

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