exact year is lost in my memory. I believe it was 1978. The place was
Managua, Nicaragua's capital city. At that time my mom was a typical Latin
wife in a one-income household with at least one in-house maid. She had
lots of free time which she filled with hobbies and socializing with other
wives of similar conditions. One thing she always did was to shop for
groceries at one of the city's big food markets. These markets are like
U.S. flea markets, only dirtier, noisier and in some areas, you really
needed to hold your breath... Having her own car afforded her freedom over the
trip's schedule, but it was a custom to do the shopping on the weekends. I don't
really remember if the frequency of the trips were weekly, biweekly or monthly, but I do
remember I went with her to "help" carrying the bags. Actually,
my motives were more self serving: Beg for stuff. You see, I never knew what it is to have an
allowance. I had to ask for everything I wanted, even an ice cream. Ever
since I had memory, I went to the market (either with my mom or my
grandma), to get comic books, some cheap but useful toys, and snacks.
to 1978: My grandma was living with us since her husband (my beloved
grandpa) died in 1975, and, therefore, she no longer had to go to the markets.
That meant I
accompanied only my mom now.
To get from
our home to that market we had to pass through the city's downtown;
destroyed by an earthquake in 1972, and deserted ever since. Since my
father was on active duty in the military and also, held a high
responsibility position at the city's water supply company; my mother
decided it was a good idea that I know how to drive an automobile, and she
took the role of driver instructor every time we went to the market. It
was a low risk proposition since she drove the car from home until we
reached the deserted downtown's streets. The topography of the downtown's
streets made easy the task of learning to drive. Very large stretches of straight, single way,
non-sloping streets with uninterrupted right of way at all intersections.
Did I mentioned also that these were mostly deserted streets? I took the
car from there until we were very close to the market. On our way back I
would drive again through the downtown's streets and she would take over
from there to the house.
I had to learn the basics: How to start a car with manual
transmission; how to use the clutch, the shift gear and
the parking brake. Once I learned how to start the car without jumping
forward or backwards, I had to practice how to engage the first gear and
initiate the run smoothly. When I finally could move the car, I had to
learn how to shift gears up and down while maintaining a firm grip of the
steering wheel. It took several trips to the market before I was ready to
travel the downtown's street without stalling the engine, bumping the
curbs or drifting towards the wrong lane.
I don't have
to tell you how nervous I would get every time such things happened. I
think that my mom got nervous too. Happily, she never lost patience with
me or let me knew what was going on inside her during my mistakes.
Naturally, my dad didn't know about the whole thing, and the occasional
little damages to the car, mostly due to the tires hitting the curb (which
resulted in steering and alignment problems), were covered during the
regular maintenance visits to the shop. I never had an accident during
these covert driving lessons.
That was my
first automotive experience. The car was a four door sedan, 1975 Fiat (I
can't recall the model name), with manual transmission. One day, while my
father went early to the office during a weekend call and the neighborhood
was virtually deserted, my mom allowed me to take the car (always with her
as passenger, of
course) all the way, from the house to the market and back. Only then I considered
myself graduated from "school". I had just reached age 13.
increasing unrest caused by the civil war brought the training sessions to
I spent the last quarter of 1978 in neighboring country of Honduras (where
we lived from 1967 or 68 until 1974). Upon return home in early 1979 my
mom never allowed me go with her anymore. I was almost a prisoner in my own
neighborhood. Finally, in June that year my mom, my brother and I fled
Nicaragua to the safety of Honduras. My dad had to stay due to his
military duty and was captured by the rebels shortly after they took
control of the country on July 19, 1979. I don't remember very well when I
got behind of a steering wheel again. Late 1979 or early 1980... But
that's another story.