Car Wash at Yankee Stadium
He took us boys to the new stadium to cheer for our baseball team, the New York Yankees, and our favorite slugger-star Reggie Jackson. We brought our mitts for long foul balls and dreamed of aromatic hot dogs with sauerkraut and mustard. He drove the biggest, longest, squarest car I have ever seen or sat in, his Lincoln Continental Town Car. At a red Bronx semaphore near Yankee Stadium, tall lanky dark men in white tank tops emerged from their bivouacs with buckets of soapy water and squeegees in both hands and hurry in both feet. Without inquiry or consent they washed and wiped every window on the enormous car, even the two little luxury-liner portholes. “You don’t say no,” Leon chuckled to us over his shoulder. “And you had better pay.” He did not say No. He did smile and say Thank You. And he paid. And he drove away and told us of a driver who said once “I don’t want you to wash my windows” and who got his windows washed anyway and who pulled away without paying and who got his windows smashed. He stamped a period on the story: “You don’t say no.” And his story stamped on me a fear of Black men with squeegees and clubs.
Sundown on Sunday on the Washington Bridge mid-town, and the Audi breaks down, and two white kids are standing scared by the Audi with its hood up and steam hissing, and wondering what to do, and wondering how long it will be before they get mugged on a Sunday night in New York. And this old Puerto Rican cabbie stops to see what’s the problem. A hose is cracked and steaming, and the brown cabbie takes me searching for an open auto parts store on a Sunday night with the sun going down, and store after store is closed, of course, but he keeps driving me deeper into mid-town and up into up-town and finally we find an open store, and it has the right hose, and I buy it. And the cabbie talks with me about my family and his family and my life and his life and my job as a student and his job as a cab driver and takes me back to the Audi and we clamp on the new hose and the car starts right up. And the cabbie smiles and waves good-bye and says buenas noches and will not take the money I am holding out to him, and he drives away and is gone. The nicest man I ever met. An old brown man helping a couple of scared white kids in trouble in Manhattan.
Sorting people, brothers and sisters, by the colors of their skin, by the shapes of their noses, by their eyes slanting up or down. Measures absurd and obtuse to weigh human worth! The squeegee washers want what I want. And the cab drivers and bakers and shoe shiners and hot dog sellers: they want it, too. They want family and love and affirmation and security and opportunity – and fairness. So, if you are looking for me, you might find me driving around town looking for brothers and sisters whose hoses are cracked, and taking them to find the open store, and we will chat and chuckle, and I will accept their thanks, but decline their green, with grace.
Roger Baker is a career municipal attorney and hobby writer. He is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road and A Time and A Season. Rabbit Lane tells the true life story of an obscure farm road and its power to transform the human spirit. A Time and A Season gathers Roger’s poems from 2015-2020, together with the stories of their births. The books are available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. See Rabbit Lane reviewed in Words and Pictures.