Juliana had been up all night, in her words, “throwing everything [she] ate,” and was unable to pick me up at my hostel. She was supposed to take me out to some
museums and then to the airport for my 7 p.m. flight. It would have been a great way to kill the hangover I had, spend the day with a friend and economically arrive at my taking off point.
Instead, I’m walking along Copacabana beach trying to hitch a bus for the 15-kilometer trip out there, time is ticking and it is seriously hot as hell. I’m standing there on the side of this six-lane boulevard, trucks, buses, all kinds of stuff racing by me, and I’m breathing exhaust. But it’s Rio, and I’ve been breathing exhaust all week.
Fifteen minutes go by. No bus. But a taxi pulls up. I think “great, he knows I’m a gringo, he’s gonna rip my ass off.”
“Aeroporto Galeão?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I tell him in Portuguese, “but I’m waiting for the bus.”
He makes his hands into a pillow and pretends to fall asleep on them. I’m not sure the meaning of this gesture, but it makes me lean my head in the window to hear what he has to say.
“Vinte Reais?” To Galeão? Think, Aaron… That’s like $7… Great deal… Get in the cab… So I do.
He explains that the bus isn’t going to come for another 45 minutes. I’d just missed the last one. He lives near the airport, so he’ll drive me there, drop me off and then go home to bed.
So we’re riding out there, past the beautiful beaches, past the fashion, and finally through one huge, far-as-the-eye-can-see favela. A favela is a slum, and about a third of Rio lives in one. The road to the airport is called the Red Line, and sometimes it gets closed because the police have gun battles with the favelados, or favela-dwellers, who live beside it.
Miguel da Silva, that’s the driver’s name, turns up the radio after about five minutes of awkward, broken Portuguese conversing. I look out the window.
And then it comes on, as if out of some deep recess of my brain. In the eighth grade, I had my first girlfriend. Her name is Jen Grentz.
Jen and I had a song. And as Miguel is rounding a slight curve and as the favela rises around us… Kiss me out of the bearded barley/ Nightly, beside the green, green grass… I lose it.
Here are three human beings: Aaron Kirschenfeld, Miguel da Silva and Jen Grentz. And we’re all in this little taxi cab on the other side of the world. Which brings up two points:
a) Sixpence None the Richer and their 11-week straight No. 1 hit are an indelible piece of my memory, and b) other people living in other societies actually do exist.
I’m guessing the latter point is the one I’ll get more into. At college, we do a lot of talking about this mythical thing called “other people.” They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are historical people, all dead now, who we get to “empathize” with, channel them really, get into their times and places. Some are remote people, anthropological study and some are the “public” half of that Public Policy Major. For econ you’ve got your consumers and producers and English your authors and characters.
But the hard thing for me, at least, is realizing that these are or once were living, breathing other people just like me. Petrarch saw the Earth in color with vibrant green and blue. He did not exist in a two-dimensional black and white sketching world like the one in which he appears in history text books. Just the same, “Latin Americans” are a diverse group of people, including cab drivers and people who like “Kiss Me.” They like to eat and drink like everybody else, past or present.
So yeah, I think this is important. People are just people, no matter which way you slice it, nothing more and nothing less. And sometimes you end up with them in taxi cabs and in unexpected moments.
And then you write a column about it.
Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every third Monday.
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