It was mid-morning that school day when Mr. Machuca called us by name, both me and my partner in-not-quite-crimes, George. Lucky us, we had been selected for a special mission. What would it be?
Mr. Machuca had been our Spanish teacher that 8th grade, and it was my second year of attendance in that upscale private school. Mr. Machuca, who had the commanding voice of a military captain, was one of a handful of teachers who could put order into those feral teens that made up my junior high classmates. He made ample use of that imposing voice, often mixing jovial jokes that cracked us up, immediately followed by stern indications that made the room silent.
Those of you with average Spanish knowledge probably gathered that Machuca means “smashing”, a peculiar and intimidating name for a teacher to have. While our school wasn’t Catholic per se, our behavior was still framed by those cultural religious codes. All Latin Americans behave as such, it’s in the blood, understandable after 4 centuries of colony: the easily induced guilt, the overbearing father figure always on the lookout for the mischievous youth. To sin or not to sin, that was the question; and Mr. Machuca was always on the guard to make sure that we did NOT sin.
In the early mornings we would see Mr. Machuca arrive to school, either on his Vespa scooter, or driving his early 70’s Opel Kadett wagon. His vehicles were offbeat, especially in provincial El Salvador, and announced to the world that he was quite a character. When on the Vespa he would approach school, his tiny helmet on, while saluting and scolding students from the distance. Some preferred him arriving on the Opel for he didn’t have the chance to be so ‘interactive’ while on arrival.
The Opel was one of a handful I had ever seen in the country. A rare vehicle and not in the best of shapes. Then again, it was the mid 80’s and the poor wagon had over a decade of wear riding on those slim tires. I knew of Opels from mom, who loathed the brand, calling it the worst car she ever owned after a Hillman (Was mom a Car & Driver reader?). Probably too harsh a judgment on her part, as she had bought both vehicles used back when a couple of years of wear meant a big difference.
So, what did Mr. Machuca want from us?
- Ric, George! Here, take the keys to the Opel. I need you to bring me a pile of copies I left on the passenger seat.
Ok, easy enough. On school days, one wished a break from the monotony of lessons. Mr. Machuca wasn’t done with indications though.
- Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT open the passenger door! Open the driver’s door and retrieve the documents from there! The passenger’s door is loose, and it tends to fall off. Do NOT open it!
Ok, that was one set of indications one doesn’t usually get. Falling doors? No wonder mother reviled the brand.
We ran through the school’s hallways and exited the main gate. The Opel was at the dusty area that served as parking at the school’s back, an area filled with empty lots and houses in early stages of construction.
George approached the driver’s door and with key in hand, unlocked it. I grabbed the handle, opened the door and stretched across the driver seat. I grabbed the rather large pile of papers in my hands and slithered back out. As I was exiting, George’s distressed voice cracked the air.
- Ric! Help! It’s the door! The door!
I looked around, when did he get to the passenger’s door? And why did he try to open it?
- What did you do? What are you doing over there?
- I don’t know… I just wanted to see…
His face was red and sweating already (from fear I suppose). I ran to his side. His hand was holding the –barely staying in place- handle, while trying to grab the door’s edges with his other limb. I joined him, in desperation. I grabbed the edges and now, both of us were wrestling with the door, trying to keep it from coming completely loose. Not good. Mr. Machuca probably wouldn’t look too kindly on these two thick headed teens, who couldn’t tell the difference between passenger and driver.
We pushed, we wiggled, we shoved; those were seconds of horror and distress. Good thing no one was around to see the mess we had gotten ourselves into. Embarrassment is much more tolerable in anonymity. We gathered our will; better get that door in place before the whole mission goes to hell (and our grades too!)
A few more desperate moves and the door… suddenly seemed to click into place. Had it?
- Wait George, I think it’s fine now…
Not able to believe the emergency over, we stared at the door and each other. Our stiff arms started to slowly relax and let go; as we took our hands off, the door seemed to remain place. But was it really?
- You think it is ok? Is it secure?
As I asked, George was busy retrieving the dispersed copies. He wasn’t one to stay longer than necessary at the scene of the crime.
- Secure? Yes, sure, it is. Here, take these. Hurry, let’s go!
We rushed back, me occasionally looking back, hoping the door wouldn’t suddenly loudly fall into the ground. The whole event had lasted a couple of minutes, not enough to raise any suspicions. Right?
Back in the classroom we did our best to hold our tempers and not transpire the errand had almost ended in catastrophe. As we gave the pile of copies to Mr. Machuca, he queried:
- All ok? No trouble?
George and I looked at each other, probably looking guilty as sin, but just nodded affirmatively. All good sir! Class resumed. The remaining of the day, worrier that I am, my head kept spinning: “What if we didn’t get the door quite right? What if it falls midway to his home? Should I tell him, prevent Mr. Machuca?”
The Catholic in me won out. I kept the door-opening-sin for confession at church, and left Mr. Machuca clueless at the potential dangers of our rickety fix. After all, if an accident happened, the priest would be the one to absolve me, not Mr. Machuca.
This Kadett’s sighting brought me immediately back to Mr. Machuca’s school days, flailing doors and all. Much has been said on the Kadett in previous posts; I’ll only add that whatever impressions mom had on the brand, Mr. Machuca owned the car for ages and never complained about it. The car gave him years of service.
On this shot, I can’t hide the little Autobianchi’s photobombing. Presence revealed, let’s take a closer look at this beauty.
I came across both cars at a VW salvage yard I found a couple of months ago. It’s quite a place. The Opel hadn’t moved in some time, while the Autobianchi is a runner. It’s the prized possession of the salvage’s owner sister, and she has refused many offers from potential buyers who keep insisting in purchase. She loves her little car and it’s perfectly understandable. The tossable little runt is cute as could be.
As for Mr. Machuca’s Kadett, next morning he arrived on his Vespa. Once again, grinning and shouting. No mention of falling doors on his way home. Seems the repair we performed worked well enough. Last time I saw him was at high school’s reunion back in 2004. He smiled widely when he saw me, while my junior high classmates swirled around to greet him and reminisce of those long gone days. No comment on the Opel from my part during that meet. Some sins are better left in the past.
More on the Kadett: