Taxi Tales #1: The Taxi Driver of San Cristobal
Copyright 2015 by Kiki Suarez
Editors Note: Kiki Suarez is an artist, story teller and psychoanalyst who lives in San Cristobal, Mexico. This city of about 200,000 inhabitants is in the southern Chiapas part of the country and fairly close to Guatemala. Born in Germany, Kiki has lived in Mexico for over 40 years. I was lucky to find her on the Internet while searching for Checker cars outside of the USA. This story will be the first of many in a series called "Taxi Tales."
When I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, some 25,000 people lived here and five taxis provided them service. Each was a huge American car from the fifties. Like cruise ships at a pier, they rested at the zocalo, the town’s central market. Their drivers sat as royalty inside the lovingly polished antiques, patiently waiting for customers. They were a tight group, the drivers, a sindicato. No one else had a chance to become a driver.
San Cristobal Street Scene with Taxis (Photo Source Unknown)
The king of the outfit was Don Enrique. He was quite fat, very talkative and in his fifties. He drove me several times and during the trips he told me the most amazing stories. He said he was a healer and claimed to have cured locals from cancer. He had also seen space ships land between San Cristobal and the Maya village of Tenejapa. I very much wanted to ask him details of the aliens’ craft, but then suddenly, Don Enrique died of cancer.
Our little town kept growing. During the Zapatista uprising, thousands of Maya Indians left their conflictive communities and came to live and find a new life in San Cristobal. With the move to a city they sought alternatives to tending milpa, cornfields, or to being poorly paid masons or poorly trained gardeners. Many had the same dream: to be a taxi driver!
Nissans had become available and were cheap. The dealerships offered easy credit. An exploding population with insufficient public transportation was about to be served. Like magic mushrooms growing on cow dung in the raining season, a hugely expanded taxi system seemed to appear overnight. The government, scared by the social upheaval in the surrounding countryside, wanted to forestall any possible aggression from the emigrants and produced taxi licenses as fast as they were requested. The sindicato of five was no match for the force of hundreds of new taxis.
Today our town is no longer little. There are 200,000 inhabitants served by 2,000 taxis. Willing drivers will take passengers wherever they wish to go. More people and more vehicles, of course, have produced slow, often jammed, traffic in the old narrow streets of downtown, but there is always a taxi on hand when needed. There is a lot of competition; taxis are cheap. Two US dollars will take me from my office the seven kilometers [about 4.2 miles] to my home.
The thrill of driving continues. Ask any little boy on the street what he wants to be when he grows up and two out of three will answer with great enthusiasm, “A taxi driver!”
The other day an older driver picked me up at my office. He asked about my work. I explained what a psychotherapist does. I continued on how it can be difficult to grow into a loving human being if we were treated harshly or cruelly in childhood.
”No,” he contradicted. “I don’t believe a bad childhood guarantees one will become a criminal. I am a Maya Indian from the Tzotzil community of Zinacantan. My father was absolutely terrible. He beat us every single day. We feared he would kill our mother or one of us during a rage. When I was just eight, I ran away from home. I came to San Cristobal, a long distance for a little boy. No one came after me. I met a mason asked him to take me in as an apprentice. I must have touched the his heart. He agreed and took me home with him. He taught me, fed me and gave me a bed. I was happier than ever before in my life. Then he got a job in Tuxtla and took me with him. I worked hard and grew into a teenager. In Indian communities there are no teenagers. There you begin working, hard, as a child. At 14 you are expected to marry.”
He went on. “In Tuxtla, I met another master mason and switched my apprenticeship to him. He also gave me a place in his family and home. I traveled and worked in nearly every Mexican state with this man. I got to know the country. I became a master mason myself. Twenty years later I finally returned to Chiapas and San Cristobal. I went to see my family in Zinacantan. They were all still alive. My father was old and was drinking less. Apparently his conscience bothered him about how I had been raised. He wanted to make things better between us and offered me a piece of land in the community. I didn’t want to return to Zinacantan, though. I did not want that land. I had met my wife in San Cristobal and wished to continue living here.”
“I am still with my wife. Our two children are grown, both studying at university. I earned enough money as a mason to buy this taxi. I truly enjoy earning a living as a driver. It’s much easier than being a mason. I’m getting older and need easier work. I need to be warm. I am happy, you know. I love my wife. I am proud of my kids. I love my taxi, I’m as content as I can be.”
We still have some way to go to my house. The driver asks me, “Do you still have your car in the workshop?” I had told him that my son had crashed my car a few weeks before.
“No,” I answer. “My car is fixed, but I sold it. I have an eye illness and can’t see well enough anymore to drive.”
Trees turning grey and dirty by Kiki Suarez
The driver is moved. I sense he wants to tell me something consoling, but apparently nothing occurs to him. Then he asks, “Do you know Don Luz, Mr. Light?”
I nod. Of course, I know Don Luz. Luz, light, is quite a common name for men as well as women here in Mexico. The Don Luz he refers to is memorable, though, because although named Luz, he was born blind. I don’t know if his parents named him Luz out of ignorance or out of hope for a miracle.
Shortly after I arrived in San Cristobal in 1977, one of Don Luz' many daughters invited us to her mother’s birthday party. Don Luz and his wife had twelve children; it was a huge family party. At the party Don Luz sang love songs to his wife. He had a remarkable voice. Back then he was the number one crooner in town. In those days, and even now, if a young man in San Cristobal was in love with a girl, he would serenade the girl in front of her house. But as not all men sing well, some would rent singers for their love serenatas. Don Luz was the most popular and he made his living this way. His divine voice not only brought him money, it also won him the hearts of many women.
Don Luz was a true heartbreaker. Shortly after attending his birthday party, I learned Don Luz’ family was even larger. He had, in fact, three wives, each with a similar number of offspring!
I had not seen him for many years. “Is Don Luz still alive?” I ask my driver.
“Yes!” the driver says. “He doesn’t sing as much anymore, but he does still sing. He must be in his mid – seventies. Do you know, Doña Kiki, that Don Luz has three families and more than thirty children? He must have over one hundred grandchildren by now!”
I nod and the driver continues, “I often drive Don Luz, I guess from one of his families to the other. The last time I drove him, I asked how he ended up with so many children. Do you know what he answered?”
I shake my head no. I am very curious now.
“He answered me, ‘I have so many children because I am blind. I cannot see what I am doing!’ “