Roberto was my husband, brother and friend today. He is our taxi driver, our consultant with Mexican culture and our confidant in parenting twenty-something children.
We worked out a plan with Roberto. He would be our primary mode of transportation for our week in Zihuantanejo. We would call him for a hasty trip into town to pick up water or for a long ride out to Treconnes to sit on the quiet, uninhabited beach. But, it was in the last 24 hours that we got to know Roberto–and he got to know us.
To become a taxi driver in Mexico, you have to purchase your taxi license. It was about $325,000 dollars—not pesos. Roberto said he worked many jobs in the United States and Mexico and raised four children while saving up enough money to purchase his license. It took him sixteen years. His four children are all boys. They need school uniforms, sports equipment (mainly soccer), and money for the future. That doesn’t necessarily mean college; it means Mexican parents help their children with their futures—whatever that future might be.
Roberto was able to open locked gates, secure reservations, traverse private roads, and advise us on activities in and around Zihuantanejo. He took us to a gold market, tiptoed with us through a 140-year-old cathedral, and laughed at us while we pretended to smoke cigars with him. Paul and I rode along in the back seat of his taxi bumping and nodding. Roberto can do anything. We are believers.
Wednesday morning, Paul wasn’t feeling well. He’d had a cold since Sunday, but it wasn’t getting better. He had the chills, a head ache, running nose, and the beginnings of a cough. I should have paid more attention. It was my failing as a wife.
“l want to go shopping in Ixtapa,” I announced at breakfast.
“Roberto,” Paul said looking over at me, “Lesley wants to go shopping.” They were on the phone together. “Okay, I’ll tell her you’ll be here in 15 minutes.”
I shot out of my chair and made for the three flights of stairs to our room. Two hours of shopping without Paul! Thank goodness for his cold!
I sat in the back seat while Roberto drove the 20 minutes to Ixtapa. We joked and laughed and talked about Paul and his wife. I threatened him that he couldn’t sit in the car and wait for me to finish shopping—he wasn’t my husband, I told him sternly.
We arrived in Ixtapa and I looked around. There was nothing. There were about ten hotels and two blocks of shopping. I was so disappointed.
“Well, I’d least like to look at the beach,” I said.
“Okay,” Roberto said parking the car. “I’ll go with you.”
Wait a minute. I was going to walk on the beach with my taxi driver? I did. We parked our little car, number 623, and walked to the public entrance to the beach. We passed under a concrete entrance way and two men stood up and met us. Roberto held up his taxi license hanging around his neck. They nodded to him and glanced at me. In a rapid Spanish, Roberto stood tall and spoke right back. I understood enough to realize that Roberto had to justify our access to the beach. He was defending me. Like a husband would.
We walked on the beach, my heavy shopping tote bumping my leg with every step in the sand.
“Here, give it to me,” he said sighing and rolling his eyes.
We walked along until I realized that I was putting as much pain on Roberto as I did on Paul. They both hated walking on the beach, going nowhere, doing nothing, and carrying a rainbow-colored bag with giant handles.
“Oh no,” Roberto said grimly. “I will carry the bag.”
Back in the car, the air conditioning was struggling to get started. Sweat dripped from under my head and splashed on my shoulders. Roberto looked over his shoulder at me.
“Why don’t you sit up here? It is colder already.” I jumped out of the back seat and opened the front side door. The air conditioning blew my hair, and I shoved my face into the air vent. Roberto laughed until he started wheezing. It felt odd to ride in the front with Roberto and yet, it felt wrong for me to ride in the back and shout over the sound of the air conditioner.
“Okay, we will meet here at 12:15,” I instructed. “Exactly 12:15. Not earlier, okay?” I looked at him warningly. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand. Our deal was that he could work during the time that Paul and I were doing activities as long as we set a pick up time.
It was a glorious two hours. I recklessly spent 2500 pesos. I could not tell you how much that was, but every time I pulled out a 500 pesos bill and laid it on the counter I felt power. Later, after the furor of the day subsided, Paul informed me I spent eighty bucks. It takes so little to make me happy.
At 12:15 I was waiting exactly where Roberto and I agreed to meet. I had the rainbow bag and the five other shopping bags, so I kept alternating them from one side to the other. I kept hearing the sound of a horn beeping, but I ignored it. I was in the right spot. Finally, a girl selling dolphin tours came up to me and said, “Is that guy with you?”
She pointed. It was Roberto. He looked frustrated. I got in the front seat and threw my bags in the back seat. I think I hit Roberto in the head with the rainbow bag.
“We were supposed to meet over there,” I gestured towards the corner.
“Yes, but right here is the same as over there, just on the other side of the street.”
“That doesn’t count. You told me where to be.”
“it is alright,” he said staring out the window, his shoulders hunched.
We drove back to the hotel in silence until Roberto began telling me a long story about the Mexican cartel and how they don’t want people in Mexico doing drugs because they don’t want the shipment to the U.S. delayed. I was interested.
“What happens if you do drugs in Mexico?”
“You get your head cut off.” He made the slicing motion on his neck.
When we got back to the hotel, Lena the concierge, met us at the taxi.
“Mr. Paul is not well,” she told me.
“I’ll wait,” Roberto said.
Down at the pool, Paul was laying on a lounge chair. Every time he coughed his chest caved in and a whistle came out.
“Get up, you are going to the doctor.” Looking at my face, he knew not to argue.
Roberto drove fast, careening over the pot holes as we flew down the narrow streets to town. Paul laid his back against the head rest and continued coughing. His face was white. Roberto dashed in and out of the traffic and pulled in next to a pharmacy.
“Come, let’s get him in.” We helped Paul out of the car.
Within less than 30 minutes, Roberto got Paul into an examining room where the doctor took his blood pressure, weighed him, and listened to his heart and lungs. Roberto translated for us, but there times when he and the doctor talked vehemently to one another.
“He’s going to give you an antibiotic shot,” Roberto said steely-faced. “One each for the next three days. I told the doctor you are very sick.”
We were all quiet on the ride home to the hotel. I made arrangements for Roberto to pick us later for dinner. In the meantime, Paul was to rest.
It was at least 8:00 at night when we saw Roberto again. We wanted a quiet, fast dinner. No formalities, no linen napkins, no bucket to ice the wine. Just dinner so Paul could go back and rest back in the room.
“Paul, Lesley, we are friends, right?” Roberto seemed troubled.
“Of course, Roberto,” I said.
“Do you need something, Roberto?” Paul asked.
He pulled over onto to side of the road next to the beach and let the engine idle.
“It’s my son. The one who is twenty three? He told me yesterday he had something serious to talk to me about,” he stopped and looked at us in the darkness. “Is this okay to talk to you?” I let Paul answer. It seemed like he needed Paul more than me.
“We have serious talks with our kids,” Paul said. “What is happening?”
“He told me he was in love.”
“That’s great,” I said happy for the Roberto Junior out there somewhere.
“To a thirty-year old woman with a child,” he finished.
“Roberto, you love him no matter what, right?” Paul asked.
“That’s what I told him,” Robert said.
“Then that doesn’t make a difference.” Sometimes it’s scary how smart Paul is.
Later, after dinner, we sat on the concrete steps of El Centro where two local teams were playing basketball. I was cheering for the side with the purple uniforms and heckling the referees who were pretty loose when it came to calling traveling. I was happy. My husband was starting to feel better.
“Lesley and Paul.” We looked up at Roberto smiling and standing behind us. “Time to go home. We have a big day tomorrow.
Roberto rested his hand on Paul’s back for a moment as he helped him stand up. He patted him gently between the shoulder blades. It could have been a “you owe me for taking your wife shopping” pat, or “don’t go scaring us like that again,” pat, but I think, watching Roberto match
us step for step to the car, it was a “thank you for being a kind friend” pat.
We spent our last full day with Roberto on a tour of a gold and silver market in Petalan, walking rows of an ancient pyramid and playing field, and eating bowls of local pezole soup. When someone hands you the salt shaker without you asking for it, he is a friend. Best Wishes, Roberto. We will think of you, the boys, your wife, and, of course, taxi 623 that always met us with a rush of kindness. It felt like home.