Our dealings with the town's Spanish residents are usually limited to brief conversations with store clerks and repair people, surface exchanges at best. But one day last week we experienced something new--a rare immersion into the other side of Taos.The Driver
On our way to an appointment to have our windshield replaced, we decided to stop at our local post office in Arroyo Hondo. As we were pulling into a parking space, a young woman in the adjacent spot was backing out. We stopped to give her some maneuvering room, certain that she was aware of our car. Then, in one of those sickening moments when you realize that something awful is about to happen, she turned her car at precisesly the wrong angle, connecting her rear bumper with our driver's-side quarter panel. Apparently unaware of our blaring car horn until the moment of impact, she emerged from her car looking dumbfounded. Meanwhile, Steve tried to open his door, but the dented quarter panel made that impossible, and we both had to get out on the passenger's side.
," said the woman when Steve, trying to control his temper, asked "Why didn't you stop? Why didn't you look where you were going? Didn't you see our car? Didn't you hear our horn?""No entiendo,"
she repeated, when I told her to turn off her engine. Summoning my long-buried college Spanish, I said, "Tenemos que llamar la policía y
for them to venir."
By now her little boy, about 5 years old, had climbed out of his car seat and was clearly intrigued by what I'd said. "La policía?"
he asked his mom,
then started jumping up and down in anticipation. "La policía! La policía!" The Translator
This is where I should point out that, while most Taoseños are fluent in Spanish, there are virtually no young women or five-year-olds here who can't speak English unless they were born in Old Mexico and arrived here less than a week ago. The New Mexico license plate on her car added to my suspicion of the woman's 'no entiendo'
routine, but when she rattled on in Spanish, I asked a local man who'd just pulled up in his pickup--both he and his vehicle appeared to be in their mid-seventies--to translate for me.
"She says it's her mother's car and she needs to go home and take some medicine. Her mother lives just over there," he said, pointing to a mobile home across the road.
"All right," I agreed, figuring that as long as her car remained in the lot it would be okay for her to leave. Besides, it would take at least 45 minutes for someone from the county sheriff's office to arrive, so there was plenty of time for her to go home and return to the scene of the crime.
As the woman and her son walked away, my translator friend turned to me and Steve and, trying to diffuse the tension by changing the subject, pointed out his own home on the top of the ridgeline less than a mile from where we were standing.
"I lived in California for a long time, but a few years ago I decided to return to Arroyo Hondo. My family owns all that land," he said, indicating roughly twenty acres on the hillside, "and my brother's family and daughter's family live there, too. I was born there, and I'll probably die there. In fact, I wrote a book about the history of Arroyo Hondo. Haven't you seen it on the post office wall? I'll show you."
We followed him inside. Sure enough, there was a large glass-enclosed display on the wall featuring his book: Arroyo Hondo and Its Beautiful and Magnificent People--Past, Present and Future.
The display included photos of Arroyo Hondo and a notice that there were four other books by the same author. We managed to express a polite interest in his book and asked him if there were still copies available. "Of course!" he smiled. "I think I have a few in my truck."
He returned shortly with two books. "The Arroyo Hondo book is fifteen dollars, but I'll give you this one for free," he said proudly, offering us a copy of Moe: A true story about a smart chimp who defied the courts and authorities to become a hero!
Moe himself was pictured on the cover, sporting a plaid blazer, striped surfer shirt, athletic socks and mocassins. Amazed at our friend's versatility as a writer, as well as his ability to coax spare cash from unsuspecting post office patrons, we shook hands and waved goodbye as his truck pulled away.The Deputy
Twenty minutes later the sheriff's deputy, Sergeant Peralta, arrived and gave us his assessment of the accident. "I'm not writing a citation for either party, since this is a parking lot and not a public thoroughfare. But I would say that both drivers are at fault." Sensing that an argument would be useless in this Spanish vs. Anglo situation, we nodded politely. "You should have given her more room as she was backing out," he continued.
Now Steve really had to bite his tongue. Since when does a person backing out bear no responsibility for checking for other cars in her path?
Sgt. Peralta seemed impatient to get on with his day and dismissed us with a curt goodbye after informing us that his report would be available to our insurance company in five or six days. His manner strongly implied that he did not want us to stick around for his tête-à-tête with Señora No Entiendo and her mother.The Auto Glass Guy
Feeling discouraged and annoyed, and knowing that our little fender-bender would cost us our $500 deductible, we drove to our auto glass appointment in Ranchitos, the heart of Spanish Taos. We were greeted by the owner, Mike, a kindly man in his early sixties. Mike sympathized with our take on the accident, incredulous that the sheriff's deputy considered Steve in any way to blame.
While Mike's employees replaced our windshield he told us his life story. Born in Taos, he moved to southern California to work in auto body repair and restoration. He did auto glass work for celebrities--Jay Leno, Linda Ronstadt, and Rod Stewart, among others--who drive classic cars. But like our translator friend, Mike missed New Mexico and decided to return to his hometown with his wife and three kids, thinking that Taos would be a better environment for his family. In one of those tragic ironies, his oldest son, seventeen at the time, was murdered in a drug-related incident in 2000, only two years after the family had relocated to Taos. Despite the devastating loss of his son, he said he tries to focus on "the good things in life," and his eyes shone with pride as he talked about his only daughter and youngest child, Tammy, a state track champion hoping to attend Notre Dame in 2010.The Classic Car Guy
While we were waiting for the windshield glue to set, a young friend of Mike's named Vito dropped by to inspect the glass work that Mike was doing on a '49 Chevy truck. Vito owns a body-and-paint business and does mainly high-end restoration jobs for wealthy clients. He and Mike often work together on classic car restorations, as was the case with the Chevy. Mike introduced us to Vito, who then offered to repair our car. He explained that he does occasional collision work when he has the time and that things were a little slow at the moment.
Our insurance company agreed that his estimate was reasonable, so we followed him to his shop a few miles away, just behind the St. Francis church in Ranchos. When Vito showed us the paint work he'd completed on his two current projects, a '56 Bel Air and a '68 Mustang, we knew we'd come to the right place. We arranged to meet the following day to choose the best paint color for our new quarter panel.
Thus ended our foray into the Spanish community--a satisfying conclusion to what began as a very frustrating day.
A happy addendum to our story: Vito took great pains to find an exact color match for our quarter panel (who knew there were six different shades of dark red metallic pearl?) and our car now looks better than new. When we returned to his shop to pick up our car, he introduced us to his wife and two adorable kids, took us on a tour of his 400-year-old adobe home which has been in his family for generations, and showed us his guitar collection and home recording studio. His band will perform at the Sagebrush during fiesta weekend, and we'll be there to cheer him on.