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
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
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
"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.