Rosalita and Other Storied Wheels

The anthology is called Storied Wheels — the second in this series produced by SOMOS, the literary group in Taos. The first, Storied Recipes, contained recipes, naturally, and stories about food. (I wrote about my grandmother, Angela, and shared her kale soup recipe.)

Storied Wheels cover photo by Josie Lenwell

For Storied Wheels, contributors shared stories about vehicles they have known, good and bad; first cars; road trips; finding their way to Taos; and other adventures. 

The stories have such titles as My Baby Prius, The Teega-Teega Car, My Tio’s Cara Caballo, All the Speed You Need, and Trucking Therapy. You get the picture. This publication is a fun read.

The book was made possible by SOMOS board members Rebecca Lenzini and Prudence Abeln. Barbara Scott is the editor. Leslie Cox is the designer.

So what did I contribute? My story is called Rosalita, a true misadventure in Mexico. Here it is:

We called her Rosalita — a vintage VW van we drove from Boston to Mexico. Hank and I were newly in love and ready for adventure with my daughter, Sarah. Rosalita would take us there.

In Guerrero, Hank, bored from highway driving, turned onto a dirt road that appeared to be a short cut shortcut to where we were heading. Soon we were on a dusty trip with no certain destination in a foreign country.

We didn’t pass homes. We didn’t see people. Finally, though, we came to a sign. Hank put Rosalita in reverse to read it, but the right back tire slid off the road’s shoulder. He couldn’t do anything as the van toppled slowly onto its side into a brush-filled gully. Thankfully, we were unhurt. 

Our plan was for Hank to hike seven kilometers back to the highway to find a garage with a wrecker, while Sarah, then two, and I waited. But just then, a bus rumbled toward us filled with local folk and livestock, and decorated with plastic flowers and statues of Jesus and Mary. (Later, an inspired Hank painted Rosalita’s name in gold across her front white bumper.) 

The driver hung out the open window after he stopped the bus. His passengers gawked at the gringo family who’d overturned their van. The driver motioned for Hank to climb onboard. I told him to go. Who knew when another bus would pass again? I gave him my straw hat and most of our cash.

I searched inside the van for a blanket, papers, food, and water. Sarah and I found a shady spot but we weren’t alone for long. People came down a path, presumably from the village whose name was on the sign. They talked rapidly and gestured, but even with my infantile knowledge of Spanish, I understood that Sarah and I were in danger. Men with big hats and guns — banditos — would come after dark. They’d take everything we had. I must gather our valuables and hide. Now I was scared.

It couldn’t have been 20 minutes when a dump truck, heavy with chrome and a fringe of pompoms circling the windshield, barreled from the direction we’d come, its air brakes hissing as it stopped. Two men jumped from the truck’s bed with axes. The driver, their patrón, — dark-haired and all-muscle, and a gut beneath his T-shirt, — dismounted with Hank, who smiled and looked a little silly in my hat with the flat, wide brim. The bus driver had stopped the truck to explain we needed help. 

The patrón began barking orders to his men who chopped down two trees and stuck them beneath the van. Using the trees as levers, and a tow from the chain on the truck, they pried Rosalita upright and pulled her forward until her tires were on the road. I cheered. 

The only damage was a cracked mirror. Oil was still in the crankcase. The patrón acted as if nothing extraordinary had happened as he pocketed the cash Hank offered. He went his way with his men. We, too, were on the road, trying to get out before dark, crossing two streams and stopping once to clean the dust choking Rosalita’s air-cooled engine. 

We drove to the ocean and eventually to San Cristóbal de las Casas, where we rented a house. Rosalita rode high as we traveled to mountain villages, where the women doted on Sarah and sold us textiles. We left Mexico months later when we ran out of money and the federales made a sweep of the town, targeting foreigners. Ah, but Rosalita got us back safely again.

Want your own copy of Storied Wheels? You can order it at the SOMOS website  http://somostaos.org/publications


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