“When the bell rings you better hurry up and make it to the car. If you’re not there by the time I get there, I’m leaving you!” That was the constant threat to my younger brother when we’d get to school in the mornings… that is when I wasn’t trying to get him to skip with me just to drive over to Burger King for a breakfast croissant. I know, por eso estabamos como estabamos, but those little sandwiches of egg, melted cheese and ham were delicious. My mouth still waters thinking about them.
I never actually had the nerve to leave him behind, however.
The bell would ring and we’d both race to the car like our lives literally depended on it. We didn’t have time to talk to anyone, say goodbye, or take our time walking to our car like everyone else. Whatever corner of the school we were in, we’d power walk, sometimes run, as fast as we could, which in reality was more like hobbling, with our jumbo-sized backpacks stuffed full of books – we were both a little nerdy even though neither one of us would have admitted it back then – and try to make it across the street from Eisenhower High School to the apartment complex next door where we’d park our car every morning before going to class. They had an open parking lot that wasn’t gated and after so many months of our old beat up car being parked there the management probably just assumed it was one of the tenants. It wasn’t, but it sure did make our lives a whole lot easier.
If we didn’t make it to the car in time, we’d stand against the railing of the nearest stairs, the ones leading to the upstairs apartments, throw our backpacks on the ground, behind the bushes on either side, and pretend we were just chilling, waiting for someone to come by, or just watching the school buses to pass by. A few times we even waved into the air like someone in one of those yellow buses was actually acknowledging us, saying goodbye back.
Me: “Laugh… pretend like you’re laughing!”
Him: “For what?”
Me: “Just do it… hurry up!”
The school buses had to pass directly in front of where our car was parked in order to exit the school campus and they were all tall enough to let their passengers, our schoolmates, peer directly over the six foot high wooden fence that shielded our vergüenza de carro from them, and the rest of the kids in their own one-solid-color-cars, when they weren’t riding so high above the ground. What was worse was when we’d make it to the car, jump inside of it, and turn it on, just to see the first school bus driving by in front of us. We couldn’t get out of the car and run to the stair railings anymore – there wasn’t enough time – so we’d just sink down into the seats as low as we possibly could and laugh our asses off. All of the drama about the car was really an adrenaline rush.
The car itself was really quite the loyal little carcachita. My eldest sister had bought it for herself after high school and had fully paid it off before she gave it to me. That’s right, gave it to me! I didn’t pay her one single penny for the ride even though it was the first car she ever owned and I knew it was always going to be a little special to her. The hood was a rusted dark blue, the driver’s side door an almost forest green color that looked faded and old, and the rest of the car was a creamy, very light green, almost like a lemon meringue tone that I had always admired… even when the car was not yet mine. It was a Pontiac, four door sedan, that couldn’t have been younger than a 1991 model, but it got us where we needed to go and it left us both with so many cherished memories in that car.
I was so embarrassed and ashamed in those days that I never properly thanked my sister for the ride. Thanks, Lola! For letting me have your car and for giving me this story to tell. Maybe one day I can return the favor.