Isabel has told me the following story several times. In my mind I have added a few details: Isabel dangling in the little car–above Santiago, from a long line attached to a crane, applying lipstick in the askew rearview mirror, completely calm and rather beautiful.
Here is the story as she tells it:
I admit that I am a terrible driver. It took me a long time to get a driver’s license. I eventually got my license in Chile only because the guy did not want to take the test with me. He was that scared.
In the 60’s in Chile it was a big, big deal to have a car. Cars were very expensive and many people did not have them. My first car was a Fiat Topolino. It was very small and very old. My second car was very small as well; it had three wheels and the door opened from the front. You had to get in the car from the front, which made it sort of crazy when you parked too close the car in front because you couldn’t get out or in. We called a car like this “huevito”, or little egg.
I have had more than 30 minor crashes in my life and a few that were more serious. One of the more serious ones was when I was in el huevito. I had stopped behind a military truck, and of course my car didn’t have an automatic gear and when I turned around and took my foot off the brake, the little car rolled slowly under the truck. Before I realized it, I was stuck. People were screaming and fortunately the driver realized what was going on because if he hadn’t he would have dragged me with him when he drove off. The soldiers got out and tried to pull me out from under the big truck. After a while they were able to do that but the front of the car was smashed and I was trapped inside. I was towed to a garage with the car hanging by a crane, which lifted the whole car up, with me inside. I had to call my husband and tell him there had been a “minor incident.” The car was completely crushed.
Really, the car was so small it was like a scooter with a shell around it. Actually, if you bumped the car, you could fix the dent with a hairdryer. The shell was made of plastic of some kind and heat would pop the dent back out. Not that time, though.
The good thing is that I have never had an accident here in the States. The traffic is so organized and people stay in their lanes, which helps. I am older and a better driver now, and I drive a safer car. Much safer.
For the record, Isabel drives a hybrid Lexus that looks a lot like my hybrid Prius. The day I recorded her telling me this story I had seen her in the next lane over as I was driving to work. I could clearly see her at the wheel, the dogs dancing around the front seat, Isabel holding a container of coffee; to her credit, no cell phone was visible. I recently bought Isabel a net barrier to keep the dogs in the back seat, but she says it doesn’t work. Instead, Dulcinea, Isabel’s scruffy mutt, uses it as a hammock, living a life of reclining comfort as she is chauffeured around town.