07 April 2014

Guardian Angels

Curtis Sliwa and his beefy Guardian Angels began patrolling the New York City subways in the late ’70s, at a time when I was one of the many single women riding home nervously during those extremely violent years. The City authorities didn’t particularly warm to Sliwa and his group’s constant interference in their crime fighting but, frankly, New York City wasn’t doing such a terrific job on its own. So when I saw those red berets and those muscles come into my car on the subway I breathed a deep sigh of relief and blessed them for their interference. I arrived home safe and sound every night, and lived to write this paragraph.

Whether a Guardian Angel is as handsome as Curtis Sliwa . . .

. . . or as warm and fuzzy as Henry Travers in It’s a Wonderful Life . . .

. . . or as beautiful as this statue which Mark and I like to think is watching over our house, the truth is you don’t really need a fancy Guardian Angel, one with capital letters, to keep you from repeatedly falling off into the abyss in the course of the day. Sometimes the ordinary everyday good will of your fellow human beings, what I think of as lower-case guardian angels, is enough to do the trick. It was just this ordinary everyday good will — which, by the way, Brazilians seems to have in inexhaustible abundance — that kept the abyss at a distance from Mark and me the other day, in Rio.

Miserable traffic on the way in from Búzios — bad enough on the stretch from Itaboraí to Manilha, worse still on the city streets. Passel of miserable but unavoidable errands. Heat to roast a chicken without any help from electricity or gas. Around midday, we started up one of the steep, twisty streets leading to the semi-alpine neighborhood of Santa Teresa, Rio’s answer to Paris’s Montmartre, with a view to checking into our favorite pousada before the unpleasant afternoon errands we had planned for ourselves. But someone had other plans. The transmission — the old-fashioned standard kind in our car—fell apart.

Best I could get off Google Street View . . .
Enter Gustavo, the furniture store salesman, in front of whose store we rolled to a stop. While Mark went to scrounge up a mechanic, Gustavo came out and sat me down in one of his many chairs at one of his many tables (it was a furniture store, after all) and served me limitless cold water. Coke, if I wanted it. Probably cachaça, too, if I had asked. He warned that we were parked in a bus stop, but assured me he would talk the cops out of towing our car if it came to that. Did I need a bathroom? Internet? Anything to eat? I had but to ask and the world was mine.

Josevan's garage
Next to the rescue was poor sweating Josevan, the mechanic, who had walked with Mark the several blocks from the garage where Mark had found him. Josevan got under the car as best he could but to no avail. He announced that he would drive us to his garage, which to our amazement he did, in an overtaxed third gear and in heavy stop-and-go traffic. All the while Josevan kept up a reassuringly bright conversation and, at one particularly tense moment, with a honking truck driver behind us, he tried us out on a sing-along. At the garage he got another car off the hydraulic lift in order to work on ours, fixed the car in a jiffy, charged us a pittance, and sent us on our way.

Mind you, I didn’t say that Josevan was the world’s greatest mechanic, just that he was a typically Brazilian fountain of good will. On our second attempt to get up to our pousada in Santa Teresa, the transmission failed once again. We were on an incline, on another twisty, narrow street, pointing up. There was no way the car would go forward for us. We were blocking traffic. And, with cars parked on either side of the street, there was no getting out of the way by rolling backwards either. Out of the house closest to us came this elderly gent, who quickly sized up the situation. He moved his SUV, immediately behind us, so that we could roll into his space. He insisted on driving us and our luggage up to the pousada. He lent us his cell phone to call Josevan (Mark and I being the last people in Brazil and maybe in the whole of the Western Hemisphere to think they can carry on their lives without a cell phone.) And then, while we all waited for Josevan to get up the mountain, the elderly gent’s elderly wife served us a choice of tropical fruit juices and cookies.

OK, maybe Josevan isn’t just a typically Brazilian fountain of good will, maybe he is also the world’s greatest mechanic and that first time around he just slipped. He got us down to his garage again, in third gear, and by maneuvering the streets in ways that are hard enough to manage with all five gears in working order. He worked on the car for another hour. More money? Nah. Here’s what he asked: "Do you happen to have a bill from your country? Like a one-dollar bill? Just for good luck."

You can be sure we will bring this dollar bill with us next time we go to Rio.

No comments:

Post a Comment