Almost daily as I ride the bus between the Hogar de Niños, where I’m teaching English, and my apartment, I encounter at least one interesting character.
One day it might be a disheveled old man who climbs aboard, recites poetry for a few blocks, and then puts out his hand for donations before getting off the bus.
Another day, it might be a busker with a slightly-out-of-tune guitar, who warbles one or two familiar songs, then heads for the rear exit, collecting donations along the way.
Or it might simply be someone down on his luck, who wagers that the bus passengers will probably open their hearts—and their coin purses—to him.
Invariably, these characters are polite, they pay the fare without complaint, and they don’t wear out their welcome by staying too long on the bus.
“The secret of joy,” writes the Mexican poet Luis Cotto-Vasallo, “is not to try and predict events but to act on the moment, making every unique second count.”
Bus rides are unpredictable. You never know if you’re going to be early or late to your destination. But if you keep your eyes—and your heart—open, something or someone on that ride will give you joy.
On a crowded street
an old man smoking a pipe
turns my thoughts toward home.
If you’re staying in a foreign city for any length of time, a reliable taxi driver is a godsend. I speak from experience.
When I stayed in Guadalajara for six weeks last summer, I hired a private driver to deliver me daily to the Hogar de Niños, where I was teaching English. The arrangement worked fine—until it didn’t.
About a week after I hired the driver, he didn’t show up. No call. No explanation. I had to scramble to find a taxi, and I was about 45 minutes late to my classroom. (Fortunately, my late arrival was not an issue for the rest of the staff, especially since I was a volunteer teacher.)
Then my landlady recommended Jorge to me. He showed up at my apartment every morning punctually for the rest of the summer. I called him again in December, and I’ve been calling on him ever since.
Last Saturday when I arrived at the airport, Jorge was waiting for me, along with his 2-year-old son. He explained that his wife was working, and that normally he’d be home with his son. “But here I am, because you are my friend,” he said.
In Guadalajara, it is customary to negotiate a price with the taxi driver before you get in the cab. I don’t bother to negotiate with Jorge. I just give him almost twice as much as the going rate, because he has never let me down.
Except for this morning.
We had agreed that he would pick me up at 9:15. Jorge is usually five minutes early, but by 9:25, I was starting to get worried.
Then my phone rang. It was Jorge, saying that he had been delayed by having to maneuver around two separate crashes on his way to my apartment from the airport. He said he’d be at my place in 15 minutes. And he was.
Traffic was horrible. I was late to my teaching assignment. But Jorge was determined to get me there, and he did.
Yesterday I carelessly left my apartment keys in Jorge’s cab. When he discovered the keys an hour or so after he dropped me off at the hogar, he took the keys back to the apartment and left them with the neighbor downstairs.
A good taxi driver is sometimes hard to find. But when you do, he (or she) is worth every peso you pay.
Little brown sparrow,
as the blind man taps his way,
guide him with your song.
Shoppers look for bargains, and encounter interesting people, at the Walmart Super Center on Avenida México.
As I park my Walmart shopping cart, and begin to lift out my purchases, I glance up and see a man with a yarmulke perched on his head. Peeking out from beneath his shirt are the fringes of a tallith.
“Huh,” I say to myself. “A Jew in Guadalajara.”
I grasp my heavily laden shopping bags to begin the arduous journey back to my apartment.
Near the entrance to the mall is a pay-station for the parking lot. There’s the man in the yarmulke, putting coins in the machine.
“¿Habla usted inglés?” I ask.
“Yes, of course,” he replies.
In a brief conversation of less than five minutes, I discover that there is a synagogue nearby, although it is somewhat difficult to find, and not at all open to strangers such as I, dropping in for Friday prayers.
I also discover that the man with whom I am speaking is a mashgiach, certifying meat as kosher from slaughterhouses in Guadalajara, meat that will be exported to the United States.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t stay any longer,” the mashgiach says. “I have an appointment.” With a wave of his hand, he walks quickly to his parked car.
Although my bags are heavy, I lift them with a light heart, for in speaking with the mashgiach, I have discovered a new side of Guadalajara: It’s one of the world’s great crossroads, where you can meet just about anyone from anywhere.
Which someone from somewhere will I meet tomorrow?
Little brown sparrow,
you have found a resting place
after your long flight.
When you’re traveling far from home, little things matter. Like fans, for example.
When I arrived in Guadalajara last night, the temperature was nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit—not unusual for this time of year, but warm enough to cause me to sweat as I made my way from the airplane to the baggage claim area.
By the time I arrived at my apartment an hour later, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that it was almost toasty inside. (What do you expect with no air conditioning?) I propped the front door open, and fished in my backpack for the one travel goodie I had vowed not to do without on this trip: a portable fan.
It’s a powerful little thing, housed in a steel frame, and it can stir up a mighty tempest. Thirty years ago, when I bought it, such fans were used to cool desktop computers. Then some enterprising soul figured out that these little computer fans could also move warm air from a wood-burning stove into colder parts of drafty houses, and started marketing them for that purpose.
It’s been many years since I needed to move hot air from a wood-burning stove into an otherwise unheated room. But I still have the fan. And despite the torrid weather in Guadalajara, I’ll be enjoying one small comfort from home.
The next-door neighbor,
stirring the air with her broom,
frightens three sparrows.