Out in front of the largest warehouse big box retailers in Oaxaca (you will tar and feather me if I mention the name), you can usually find a truck driver willing to carry the goods you just bought to anywhere in the city or surrounding villages — for a price. This is an essential and valuable service for someone like me who is living here without personal transportation. But, I’d never done this before and true confession is that I had a large butterfly in my stomach.
The only choice this day was a skinny, motley looking 30-something young man in need of a shave, his red baseball cap with Drink Coors emblazoned across the front tipped at a right angle. He was wearing faux leather and metal. I did not feel confident. As we began negotiating the cost to bring my new bed to Teotitlan del Valle, he raised his phone to his ear to check the price with his boss. That’s when I noticed a pinky fingernail longer than a guitar pick and wondered what he used that for. His frame was thin and his belt was pulled tight around his waist, puckering the pants material. It was a January hot like an early North Carolina autumn, dry and clear. I needed to stand in the shade. We agreed on a price. Fair, I thought. Did I say I was confident?
I pushed on, went in to make the bed purchase with the help of Abraham my trusty Teotiteco taxi driver, and waited the 40 minutes for it to come out of the warehouse and arrive at the front door, where the Truck Driver would take over. There, standing next to him was a robust young woman with an about three-year-old boy in tow. My wife, he introduced her. My fear melted. Then, an Ah, perhaps a ploy, I thought, headline: Woman accomplice with child decoy and long finger-nailed man kidnap naive gringa in front of the You Know What.
I’m driving, she said, and climbed in behind the wheel. I joined her in the front seat of a beat-to-death Ford whose vintage I could not name. The windshield was a series of spider webs that refracted light through the pattern. Four crucifixes dangled from the rear-view mirror, one adorned with pearls, another with rose quartz beads. A decal of the chauffeur’s prayer in Spanish was stuck to the only part of the windshield that wasn’t shattered. I pulled the door closed using the half-open window. The inside panel was peeling off and by all evidence it had lost it’s handle some time ago. The child straddled the floor shift between us. He was crying and I pulled a quinciniera lollypop out of my bag. The bed went into the flatbed leaning against the modified rusting metal cage.
Whew. She’s driving to me Teotitlan and I sighed deep. We backed out of the space and exited the lot. Just before we pulled out onto the highway, a boy of about 15 years old jumped onto the back of the truck holding on to the cage, leaning against the bed. In a couple of blocks we stopped for a traffic light. A motorcycle pulled up beside us and there was the husband with the long fingernail. She made a right turn and drove through a residential neighborhood of narrow streets lined with simple block-constructed houses, landing up in front of one of them, turned the engine off and got out. Adios, she said with a big smile. Gulp.
In climbs husband, who proceeds to drive me to Teotitlan. I promise to go slow he said as we rocked over the series of topes (speed bumps) on the Ferrocarril road. I pulled out my knitting. Breathe, I said to myself. He talked about his father who moved to Garden Grove, California, 20 years ago, television shows that impress with images of the U.S.A. as a pastoral landscape with perfect people in perfectly clean cities driving expensive cars and living well. We talked about the reality of those images, immigration and lifestyle and poverty and jobs as we went from hustling Oaxaca city life into the calm of the countryside.
The bed was delivered without incident, of course. He dropped me off at my favorite Teotitlan restaurant for lunch on the way back. I paid what we negotiated plus a good tip. All was well in my world.
Is Oaxaca safe? Confirmation. Yes.
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