Two for the Road
Two for the Road
SILVERIO, my driving instructor, is a short, smiling Mexican in his late 30’s. His smile gets broader when he learns that I speak Spanish, too, but he doesn’t really give me instructions on how to begin, besides shift to drive, turn the wheel all the way to the left and enter the real-life video game that is the city’s mutinous driving scene.
I am nervous, but Silverio is not. He is so not nervous that he doesn’t ask me to wear my seat belt, adjust my mirrors or look over my shoulder as we ease into traffic on East 23rd Street.
I have been a resident of this country for three years, and it is my green card that motivated me to become a driver, or rather, it was being stuck in Los Angeles without wheels. As I was walking in Beverly Hills, I was spotted by a police officer in a squad car. “ID?” he demanded, extending an enormous hand out the window. Driver’s license? Clearly, he found it suspicious that anyone would walk in the neighborhood. As soon as I returned to my West Village apartment, I booked lessons at the Professional Driving School of the Americas.
When Silverio learns that my mom is Cuban, he wants to know what will happen when Fidel Castro dies.
‘’You should buy real estate in Cuba,” he says. “Turn right here.”
“Just buy it.”
“No. How do I turn left?
“No,” Silverio says gently. “I said right. Just signal.”
Behind us is an army of yellow cabs, with angry drivers leaning on horns so loud that Silverio is now shouting. I wonder if any of the drivers are carrying weapons.
“Signal to your right again. Castro is a good man or at least he was, don’t you think?”
Three drivers speed past me on the left while I sit as rigid as a statue, ignoring their murderous stares and the insults I can see them mouthing.
Silverio may not live to see Castro die if he doesn’t pay more attention to my driving, but I decide to go with the flow. We start talking about food, the greasy, fatty, soulful Latino meals that Silverio’s wife, Columba, cooks for him in their apartment on East 138th Street. They have been married forever, Silverio says, glancing at my bare legs. I make a point of letting him know that I can’t cook.
By the time we reach West 120th Street, I see an exhausted-looking girl of about 16 with a baby. For the first time, I see fury on Silverio’s face, as if he instinctively held the girl responsible for such an early motherhood. As we drive on, I learn that Silverio once got a girl pregnant and refused to recognize the child as his, a decision he now regrets.
After a couple of lessons, we have our routine down. We talk politics and world affairs as we practice switching lanes. We discuss love and sex while working on my three-point turns and end up mixing all those themes when arguing about Cuba.
I am getting used to Silverio’s bouts of indignation. While struggling to drive, I listen to the eternal tale of the immigrant and the dream of finding abroad the means to live at home. He tells me about his feeling of being sanctified when his green card finally arrived. He shows me a photograph of his father, a farmer in Puebla, whom he adoringly describes as “as strong as a bull.” He daydreams about owning land and constructing a building in his hometown in Mexico, which he would rent out. He imagines a little convenience store or a restaurant on the ground floor.