Gringos in the Bronx

This is the story of how the expedition made it to New York City and, in a manner of speaking, a Caribbean island.

The team was temporarily down from three to two, with Jordan flying from DC to LA to surprise a special lady for the weekend (a story that will find its way into a special edition blog article). Remaining were Caleb and Peter (me), who had joined the expedition along the West Coast and had rejoined in Chicago, just in time for the Mishawaka breakdown and the epoch of Rob Zombie (see previous article).

It was Caleb and I who, with our worldly possessions in one duffle and ice cream scoops in another, boarded a charter bus from DC to New York City. Most noticeable was the change in hue outside the window as the color palette grew warmer and the air fell colder. Maryland’s green met Pennsylvania’s yellow met New York’s orange. Autumn was clearly on its way.

Once arrived in the Big Apple, we met up with Caleb’s Stanford friend and our host for the next three days, Marveliz. Marveliz packs a simultaneous Dominican/Bronx accent into a slender  5’4” frame and is a character. She gave us the option of staying with her grandmother or her uncle’s family; we figured grandma’s house sounded like the quieter option and took it. As she unlocked the Bronx apartment lobby, she casually remembered aloud, “Oh, I think abuela is having a party tonight.” Caleb and I chuckled at the thought of four octagenarians playing bridge. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

The door swung open to a hallway stuffed with people, rhumba music bumping, and a din of lively conversation, not a word of it in English. Uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends had flocked to Grandma’s house to celebrate the end of the week. Caleb and I were immediately aware that we gringos had no chance of blending in. At the sight of guests, that Latin hospitality swung into full gear. We were promptly introduced to every member of the family, immediate and extended, and were handed generous pieces of cake. I had lived in Argentina for seven months and was able to do most of the talking (again, very little English going on). It was Caleb who really gained us entrance into the family, though, by initiating a game of Jenga. Jenga was soon followed by dominoes, a Santos family favorite. Through some mix of intellectual prowess and beginners’ luck, Caleb and I found ourselves dominating. And just like that, we were in.  

Grandma, despite speaking only Spanish, doted on us like her own grandchildren. We woke up to breakfast in the morning: a traditional dish of mangú (mashed plantains with onions), with salchichon sausage, eggs, and fried cheese. Grandma was brewing us coffee like it was going out of style. Caleb and I were not used to being so well taken care of on the road. But every expression of thanks was met with, “Estas en tu casa.” Loosely translated as “you’re home now”, this phrase took me aback each time. If she had seen the aluminum box on wheels that had been our casa lately she might have reconsidered her words. But the fact remained that, like Mrs. Schneider in Indiana, she knew some road-worn travelers when she saw them and she simply wanted to make them feel at home. We couldn’t have appreciated it more.

It bears mentioning that the sights, sounds, and smells in this apartment were identical to what I’d experienced in my South American travels. Between the home décor, the Spanish exclamations, and even the cleaning supplies, we might as well have been in the Dominican Republic. And, as we kept repeating after we said our final adios, all because of an ice cream truck.

- Peter (aka Pedro)