The snow in Fort Collins is thicker, more powder-substance than the slush that has fallen in Denver. Denver is where I’m heading, as I make my way up the hill to the I-25 South merge. My boot finds its’ way into a shallow puddle (hidden in snow, then a thin sheet of ice) as I follow the rabbit tracks to the hitchhiking point.
Wait time is low; altogether about ten minutes for a blue Smart car to pull along the shoulder. Inside is a hispanic man sporting a distinguished mustache, maybe in his late forties. I hop in and I realize that the man speaks a very small amount of English. I take this opportunity to practice hablo mi espanol. (speaking spanish).
“Hablo pecito anglais,” he says. He says that he is from the small Central American country of El Salvador. “Soy de El Salv-a-door amigo,” he says, with a rise on the “oor” part at the final vowels. “Trabajo mucho,” he says. “Mucho frio.” (he works much and it is very cold). Fredrico says that he has work for a roofing company that labors mostly in Greeley and Fort Collins as of late.
“Mucho frio aqai,” he says. (very cold here). “No mucho frio en El Salvador.” Before he migrated to North America for new horizons and dreams of a better life, he worked on farms in his home country, harvesting mostly beans and corns as cash crops. “Coffee es muy bien en El Salvador,” he offers as we pass through the cold, wind-weathered Colorado plains. Coffee beans account for 90% of the income that El Salvador brings in from exported goods.
We pass a total of five cars in the ditch, some of them missing bumpers, as we drive to Denver. Most likely they fell into the ditches while driving the previous night. Fredrico’s driving is fast-tempered as he shoots by in the fast lane, hugging the left shoulder as we cruise on by semi-trucks and roll over clumps of melting snow. Maybe this is how most people drive in El Salvador? I wonder. That’s the thing about driving in Colorado– many people are from somewhere else, so there is really no standard driving etiquette. People drive like New Yorkers, Texans, Californians, Michiganders, Coloradans (sometimes), and in this case El Salvadorans (is that what they could be called?).
At least a hundred black birds fly in groups, down to the ground, then back to the sky, then down the ground again, in a thick cluster to the west; I watch this and keep my eyes off the road, which I’ll admit makes me just ever-so-slightly nervous.
Fredrico says that he once attended a Carlos Santana concert and a guitar was given to him during the show. He says this with a smile and glisten of pride. Cumba music plays softly over his speakers, a swinging rhythmic style bass line carries the song. “This music from Mexico, no El Salvador,” he says. ” Food is no spicy in El Salvador. Mexico, yes. El Salvador, no.”
The language barrier between us only allows us to converse so deeply, but I can tell he is a good man. “Gracias senor,” I tell him as he sets me off along the shoulder of the highway. This is not an exit, nor could it be called an ideal drop-off point, but I’ll make do and don’t want him to go out of his way. He has a turn off to take after he sets me off, which is not an exit, only a merge. “De nada,” I tell him, later slightly regretting getting out at this spot.
I walk the quarter-mile or so along the highway. There are the whooshing sounds of traffic overtop my head as I scuttle underneath the turnpike. My boots crunch in the soft snow. The snapping of dry bushweed and frosted sticks.
I walk up a steep slope to the I-25 merge ramp, and the eighth car pulls over ( she almost didn’t) after I offer a gentle wave and smile. A woman wearing a fair amount of makeup (dark red lipstick) tell me to hop in the backseat ( she tells me the passenger’s door doesn’t open or shut anymore). And so I do.
“I missed all kinds of appointments today n’ shit,” she tells me. “This morning has been all crazy.” This wonderful woman seems chola to the core. Wikipedia defines a chola as an ethnic slur created by Hispanic criollos in the 16th century, the male version being a cholo. It’s hard for me to describe without sounds stereotypical, so I’ll just surmise that it means to be a certain class of Mexican-American. There is a certain attitude and demeanor that tends to go along with it, and this woman has it.
It’s only two exits to go, so we only scratch the surface. ” I had a doctor’s appoinment dis’ morning,” she says. ” I have cervical cancer and have already had four treatments on my uterus… I’m 35, but life goes on.”
She has a constant smile, studies me through the rear view mirror. “I picked up this hitchhiker twice one time, and our conversation picked up right where we left off. He was funny n’ shit.”
Then we arrive at the bus station and the fleeting glimpse is over. I thank her, she thanks me (for what I’m not sure yet), I hop out.