| The list
of International Words and Expressions is a short one. “Okay” or O.K.
is certainly one. Although there are various stories of the origin
of Okay, it’s widely accepted that it’s an American expression. But
Taxi is also universally understood, although no one seems to remember
its linguistic source.
once had a favorite taxi driver in Reynosa,
Mexico. He was a local celebrity of sorts which I didn’t fully
understand. He was middle-aged and graying, but he had a mustache
as dark as the shoe-polish mustache of the early Groucho Marx. He
was also getting thick around the middle – an occupational hazard.
The premier taxi stand in Reynosa
was the one at the International
Bridge. By premier – I mean the busiest. Tourists visiting Reynosa
for the first time usually took a cab to downtown before they realized
it was only a six block walk. Whatever arrangement the taxi syndicate
had with los choferes in Reynosa,
they paid dearly for the privilege of working “La Puente.” The bridge.
Frederico didn’t want to pay the baksheesh to use the reserved parking
for taxis, so he usually parked at a stand a block away. Sometimes
he was there, sometimes he was home, but if I asked for him by name,
the driver I spoke to would call Frederico's house and he’d soon be
there. On one occasion, the driver took me to Frederico’s house (at
Frederico’s request) and then waived the fare, saying it was his “pleasure.”
got to know Frederico on my thrice-yearly visits and he graciously
allowed me to practice my Spanish on him. I told him to feel free
to correct me, which I immediately regretted. Often we would arrive
at my destination without me getting to a second sentence. Frederico
would still be verbally diagramming my first utterance, even while
I was paying him off.
I told Frederico that I drove a taxi in Houston
and even though the working scenarios were very different, we bonded.
On one occasion, I asked Frederico what he had done in his pre-taxista
life (no one gets into the profession voluntarily). He replied in
English: “Watch my nose” and immediately turned to face me. I wasn’t
sure what was about to happen, but I usually do what I’m told. I watched
his nose. Nothing happened. But Frederico continued to look as if
he expected a reaction.
As noses go, his made Karl Malden’s look “pert” by comparison. I must’ve
shrugged and gave a confused look for he then demanded – “Watch my
nose!” Again, a confused look from me. Frederico sighed. We happened
to be passing just a block from his house, so he drove me down a parallel
street (Mexican taxis aren’t metered) and pointed into his backyard.
There, covering every square foot of space where there was normally
a dirt yard, was a boxing ring. He had been a prize fighter! It should’ve
been evident by the flat thing with two nostrils that was spread under
his eyes. He started making jabs at an imaginary opponent – something
I wish he had done earlier.
This also explained his celebrity status among the other taxistas
who were either boxing fans or were afraid Frederico might get annoyed
with them and kick their asses. I explained the subtle difference
between “look at my nose” and “watch my nose” and Frederico laughed
so hard I was thankful he wasn’t drinking anything - even though that
would’ve been something to watch.
The rest of trip was routine, but Reynosa
had recently upgraded its downtown with beautiful cast iron streetlights
which were then just coming on. The streetlights matched the numerous
benches and even kiosks – all painted a dark hunter’s green. Fred
started commenting on how beautiful they looked. I agreed. “Yes, that’s
the most beautiful bench I’ve ever seen. Wow. Stop the car so I can
get a picture of that streetlight.” “Como se dice sarcasm?”
Frederico pulled alongside a bench and pointed. I heard the words
“my daughter.” Surely his daughter wasn’t a park bench. I was asking
myself if benches were masculine or feminine in Spanish. After a few
more words, I understood that Frederico’s daughter was a civil engineer
and her design for Reynosa's
makeover was chosen over many other entries. (Either that or he really
did think that bench was his daughter.)
I was sorry I didn’t think to get a photo of Frederico standing under
one of his daughter’s street lamps – the glow of the father’s pride
would’ve dimmed the sodium vapor light.
July 13, 2014 Column
© John Troesser
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Relate Topics: Mexico
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