Holiday drive

“Venga,” the old Mexican barked through a nearly toothless mouth. His ropy arm reached for the taxi’s dented yellow and white door and creaked it open. “Venga, amigo. Venga,” he added more emphatically, lit cigarette leaving a miniature contrail as he gestured toward the beater sedan.

The Sands family definitely wasn’t biting. Rachael’s head shook tentatively, and my second-grader had gone into hiding, cowering behind mom. Something was seriously amiss, and the problem wasn’t the smoldering ciggie, the man’s lone brown tooth or the rusty import puttering before us. Nope, much more dreaded objects were threatening to derail our Navidad vacation.

Car dealerships call them “donuts.” Manufacturers are much kinder, naming them “space-saver spares” or “limited-use spare tires.” Motorists have been known to call the mini-spinners “dumb-dumbs” as they reluctantly pull the dwarf spare from the hatch and lug it onto the car’s wheel. We all know them, and we all fear them. They’re those teeny backup tires rated for a maximum speed of 45 mph and a top distance of 50 miles.

Our taxi just happened to be suited up hood to hatch with them. Yep, our ride to paradise boasted four of the little death rollers, and beach vacation or no beach vacation, we weren’t rising to the bait.

But the cabbie had different ideas, and being a true gentleman (and a true businessman), he stepped up and ushered my beloved to the front seat of that little turista trap. Now officially hooked, my offspring and I crawled in the back, just as a manufacturer’s disclaimer came to mind.

“For emergency use only,” a monotone uttered off in the distance. “Particularly dangerous on rough roads and in inclement weather. Excessive use can result in catastrophic failure and possible death.”

Unfazed, our driver fired up a fresh Marlboro (Philip Morris does rule the world), slid the clunker into gear and wobbled the buggy out onto the road. Skyler and I reached for our seat-belts, only to discover four fabric stumps where straps had once happily dangled. Rachael snickered, pulled the cab’s lone safety belt, went to plug it in and got a rude surprise. The belt would slide into the defective latch, briefly relax and then pop out violently. After the mechanism’s third failure, she flashed me that desperate glance known by husbands the world over (translation: “Now would be a nice time for you to man up and do something about this situation.”). Sadly, I could do little more than cross fingers, as I lay pinned beneath the fog of a partial language barrier, in the back seat of a moving taxi, and more than a thousand miles from home.

Relax, I told myself, the driver is way over-the-hill, estimating that he was pushing at least 70 años. Certainly he has a 40 km/hr disposition to match, my inner voice added. I’d also spied the rosary hanging from the rear view and noted that the cabbie had fixed a miniature portrait of J.C. to the reflective glass. I promptly unwound, knowing this good Christian

was duty-bound to shepherd us to our destination. Plus, we were just a few days shy of Christmas, and I presumed mini/rearview Jesus would bless the four donuts and see us safely to beach, bar and bedroom.

Just then the driver exhaled a blast of smoke and punched it, dashing my fragile hopes upon the cracked blacktop. The donut wagon rapidly screamed up to a shaky 60 mph and careened down the narrow, potholed road. The wrinkled ribbon of asphalt snaked in and out of valleys, through hairpins, over rickety bridges, around blind corners and inches away from the occasional feral goat or pig. A 200-foot sea cliff dropped abruptly off the two laner’s right side and a tangle of rainforest obscured the left. To make matters worse, all four donuts were soon squealing as Mr. Smoky jammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending a bus and tin-canning into a cement truck head-on.

As luck had it, our destination briefly appeared in the window when a sign for our village and a distance of 25 km showed. Rachael asked for a quick conversion to miles, but I shook my head, not having the heart to say the roller coaster would run for at least 15 more minutes.

The driver seemed hell-bent on beating my estimate and sent the four donuts screaming again, undertaking the most ambitious pass I’ve ever witnessed. A rented Hummer sandwiched between two long buses soon filled our right windows. Halfway up our second Bluebird, its passengers peering in shocked wonder, another yellow and white cab materialized in the oncoming lane. All five drivers answered with blasts of their horns, and we somehow bent reality as the two taxis briefly shared an impossibly small space.

Our driver took a puff and quietly stroked the rosary before skidding the sedan back into our own lane and burning down the highway.

Señor Taxi eventually managed to blaze through two small towns, catch air off a dozen speed bumps and burn through three more cancer sticks before squealing to a stop at our final destination.

Amazingly, none of the four donuts were smoldering, shaking or showing any sign of fatigue as we unloaded. The Sands family was a different story. Our fingers were white-knuckled, our hearts sprinted at unhealthy rates, and even mini-Jesus appeared to be shaking in the rear-view.

The driver, on the other hand, was anxious to get on to his next fare. I passed the viejo a handful of pesos and nearly said farewell before he interrupted. “Vaya, amigos. Vaya,” he waved us away frantically, sending us a happy distance away from that dented yellow and white.

– Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows