Here’s something new: I’m walking down the avenue on the way to my wonderful parking spot at seven-thirty on Monday morning, wondering if I should go see the “Sex and the City” movie because of the small role my car played in it (getting towed off the set before filming began), when I see traffic cones and a Men Working sign surrounding my vehicle. Now what? It’s Verizon, the telephone company. They have set up a tent over a manhole and spray-painted orange “T”s on the asphalt.
The good news is that I will not have to move the car, because the street sweeper will observe the orange cones and go around me. The bad news is that they might dig up the street underneath me.
The street outside the house where I was staying in Lajes das Flores, in the Azores, got repaved while I was there. I had rented a car—a red Nissan Micra, a stick shift, which meant I had to remember how to use the emergency brake in order not to roll backwards while roaring into first gear on hills—and parked it along a stone wall outside the house and watched the road works encroach. Finally, someone came to the house, and I didn’t need to understand Portuguese to know that it was time to move “o carro.” I parked it on the main road at the bottom of the hill. That day, the crew churned up the old road surface and plowed it under, and then oiled it, or laid glue on it, or something, to prepare it for paving.
I returned the car, without subjecting it to the road works, and the next day a taxi was supposed to pick me up, along with my housemate, at eleven in the morning for the trip to the airport. At eight, the road crew’s trucks started to gather at the bottom of the hill, and it became apparent that if we didn’t get our asses in gear and our luggage down the hill before they laid the blacktop, we would be marooned. Or we would have to roll our wheeled suitcases through pastures full of cow paddies and somehow get down a ten-foot stone embankment. One solution was to ask the taxi-driver to come earlier, but he arrived just as the workers had begun to spread the blacktop at the foot of the hill. My housemate tied plastic bags over her boots and made two trips, carrying her suitcases. I boldly rolled my enormous suitcase down the hill, leaving inch-deep tracks in the roadbed, and acquiring thick souvenirs of Flores on my shoes and luggage wheels.
The Verizon guy said those cones were just to alert people that they were working; it should be no problem to leave the car. The street sweeper appeared in the rearview mirror, and indeed he did not make me move. The guy behind me had trouble getting back into his spot, because he couldn’t pull up parallel to me and back in. He tried nosing in. In Flores, I would have been nice and pulled up into the crosswalk to give him room. That is because in Flores I would have run into this man again—there are not many people on Flores—and been ashamed of myself if I hadn't helped him. In New York, you don’t have to be so ashamed of yourself for not helping people, because chances are you’ll never see them again.
I am glad to be home, though I wish I could remain nicer. There are things about my time in the Azores that I feel nostalgic for. For instance, the Eclair feels funny because it has no clutch. I’m sitting in the driver’s seat pumping away with my left foot like a maniac, wondering what went wrong. And I miss the animals—the cows and goats and chickens and sheep and pigs and that thing that went “doing-doing-doing” in the night. A man in a suit carrying a ziplock bag full of birdseed comes up the street and empties out his bag at the curb. Pigeons and sparrows swoop in, and I remember that in Flores there was a bird that looked like a sparrow but hovered over the pasture beating its wings like a hummingbird.
A dogwalker goes by with a party of five dogs. The mailman fills a sack from the mailbox at the corner. The steel windowgate creaks open on the vegetarian restaurant across the street. And here comes a man on a scooter—not a motorized scooter, just an extra-large child's scooter, customized with a basket. He rides down the street in the middle lane of traffic, running the red light. I am back.