CAPSTONE: Manolo Garcia: Collateral

By Felix Alarcon —

Max (taxi driver): First time in L.A.?

Vincent (passenger): No. Tell you the truth, whenever I’m here I can’t wait to leave. It’s too sprawled out, disconnected. You know? That’s me. You like it?

Max: It’s my home.

Vincent: 17 million people. This is got to be the fifth biggest economy in the world and nobody knows each other. I read about this guy who gets on the MTA here, dies.

Max: Oh.

Vincent: Six hours he’s riding the subway before anybody notices his corpse doing laps around L.A., people on and off sitting next to him. Nobody notices.

It’s from the opening lines of the movie “Collateral Damage”. Tom Cruise plays a swanky hit-man that hails a cab and lures in an unsuspecting taxi driver played by Jamie Foxx, into an evening assisting in the hit jobs. The overall theme of the film is about saving one’s self and at what extreme do we question the things we resign ourselves to doing; the existential question. It’s Manolo’s favorite film. “The taxi driver is the hero, that’s what I like about it.”

Manolo Garcia stands at approximately 5’3, a gnome of man with burly forearms and with a complexion that shows an intimacy with sun. The sun kissed Manolo stands outside the driver’s side with his elbows slightly grazing the top of the car roof, blowing tobacco-ed smoke into the air, as his car similarly does the same as it warms up.

He walks over to the other drivers huddled together with their backs resting alongside the ascending stairway of the Grove Street Path station. His awkward gait, demonstrates an unusual familiarity with the ground, like a trapeze artist that elicits perfect form and balance, but carries subtle strength. The type of gait that years of playing soccer can only bring lightheartedness in his step, a lift from the arch of his foot like a man about to begin a sprint.

Manolo is thirty-five years old. He shares a room with three others in East Newark. He works only two days a week as a driver and spends most of his time at his main job at a Wendy’s drive-thru window during the rest of the week. He landed the driving job, due to the entrepreneurial spirit of his uncle Marcos. The specifics of independent ownership reach muddy waters, when asked whose car is it. Manolo says, “Tio, owns it but I manage it.”

Manolo reaches out towards the radio tuner and the digital numbers descend, 101.9, 100.01, 98.3, until it stops at 88.3 FM. From the crackling subwoofer in the back and the antiquated door speakers, a saxophone screams out. It’s Charlie Parker’s “All the things you are”.

“This is nice. It’s relaxing. It makes time go faster,” says Manolo as his right index and middle finger tap on the steering wheel. He whistles after Parker’s fast paced arpeggios. He’s a little behind. It’s in three-four time.

“I only do this so that I can make a couple extra dollars and send it back home. I don’t use my money to spend on myself. You see I dress simple. I live simple.” He grabs at his Forty-Niner’s sweater and says, “This is three years old,” with a look of accomplishment.

Manolo says that he gets all types of customers. “Most of them are from the financial building over there and some are from the few bars and lounges.” He dislikes picking up the “gringos” that stumble out of the Powerhouse lounge or Biergarten because they “are huevones”. He’s had a couple close calls where he’s had to throw some of the rowdy customers from his taxi.

“They’re disrespectful. They don’t realize that this car is my and my uncles livelihood. It should be respected,” says Manolo as he steps on the gas to beat the yellow light. He makes it.

Click here to see Taxi Cab Confeesion — NOT

He arrived to this country through the vast network of his Tio’s and Tia’s. He says, “I didn’t have to go through what my uncles had to go through. They crossed la frontera. I was lucky that through some paperwork and the charity of an immigrants group I was able to get mi papeles.”

A majority of his relatives live in Flushing Meadows Queens, New York. A grin runs across Manolo’s face as he reminisces about summer barbeques and soccer at Corona Park. “Every summer, on a nice hot day, the family will get together and we’ll pack coolers of Coronas, ground meat, and chicken. The men will bring their broom handles that look like spears and dig them into the ground, to serve as goal posts. Skins versus shirts,” said Manolo as his head and eyes quickly dashed to the right and to the left, as if faking out a defender on the soccer pitch.

“I hope that my brother and sisters make it here. There’s no opportunity back home. If I save enough money hopefully I can start taking some classes,” said Manolo as he opened the glove compartment to pull out a wrinkly and crumpled Hudson Community College brochure. He didn’t notice that the course list was two years old.

He wants to be an accountant.

Manolo looks at the men and women exiting the Pershing Financial Building off Grove Street in their khaki overcoats and black and white schemed suits; the looming women in their business suits and exorbitant designer shoes which Manolo would make a noise with his lips when referencing them: CLICK CLICK CLICK.

“If I could land a nice job like that I would be set. I’d bring my sister, Eliza, over who is going to be in high school next year. She needs to have at least a chance at improving her life. Over there she’ll only end up doing manual labor or having kids,” said Manolo.

He’s been observant of the economic crisis that’s affected everyone. He says, “You see those two floors up there in the building, floors 15 and 14?” as he points past the windshield and at the financial spire. “They’ve all been fired. I’ve seen the FedEx trucks come and load their desk belongings off. I used to get a lot more customers from this building. The patrons would drive out to happy hours at bars or lounges, but that’s not happening so much anymore. I still get those reckless young ones that don’t really see that all of this might not last. They spend all their money.”

“Barack Obama hasn’t done much for us either,” says Manolo. He can’t vote and his English isn’t on par yet to communicate effectively to his “gringos”. He says, “They understand me enough. I watch the Spanish news whenever I can. So my English may not be so good but I know about what’s going with this country.”

People have always underestimated Manolo. His Tio had little confidence too. Manolo says, “My uncle let me into his business because I was ambitious and I am handsome,” he’d look into the rearview mirror and flash his teeth, unable to keep a straight face.

I asked him how he could relate to the taxi driver in his favorite movie “Collateral”. He said, “I don’t want to be a taxi driver or be working at a Wendy’s drive thru all my life. I got big dreams too. I try to help out people whenever I can. I’m doing this now so I can help my family back at home. And now I have to help those that have helped me get here and have helped me with this job. I’m lucky that I’m still healthy and strong. I’ll work as long as necessary.”

Manolo isn’t married nor does he have a girlfriend. He says he does his prowling at big family and friends gatherings. “I’m in a limited circle for finding true love. My circle is my family and friends and whenever they throw their parties I’m there. I’m not too concerned with finding a woman now. But I do imagine sometimes that I may pick up one of these ladies from the financial building and that she’ll see me more than just a driver. I know it’s unlikely but it helps pass the time. To dream of a life better than this and with someone from the outside world, outside of my small circle.”

Manolos Wendy’s shirt was neatly folded in his navy duffel bag, which wasn’t zipped all the way. He had the evening shift for the week at the Drive-thru. He wouldn’t be a taxi driver for this week but there was always next week.