The Peruvians

One day back in the early eighties when i was working as a chauffeur in a limousine company, i was waiting out at the airport for potential customers and the woman at our main desk in the United terminal called me to say that she had some Spanish-speaking customers for me.

I went rushing over to the desk and, seeing no likely candidates, asked her where my customers were waiting. She indicated an elderly Chinese couple standing nearby. Well yes, i reminded myself, this is like that time i got an order for a German speaking driver and my clients turned out to be two women in saris. While you sometimes guess accurately, someone’s appearance is often no indicator of what language he speaks.

So i introduced myself, and we understood each other’s Spanish perfectly. They told me they wanted to go to Lafayette, which was $90, but they agreed and i loaded their considerable luggage and we set off.

Enroute, i learned that forty years ago, the couple had emigrated from Canton province to Peru, that his brother had immigrated to the Bay Area about the same time, and this would be their first meeting in all those years.

The address they gave me was in a subdivision so new that it wasn’t on my relatively new map, but there was a fire station near the first Lafayette exit, and firemen could always be counted on to know places that weren’t on the maps yet.

Still, my having to inquire made them a little nervous, and when i pulled up in front of an imposing brand new house in an upscale subdivision, they were reluctant to leave the car until i could produce the brother. So i walked up and rang the bell.

To my great relief, the door was answered by an older Chinese man, who when i told him that his brother was here to see him, burst into a great laugh and ran past me out to the car for a joyous reunion with much excited Cantonese conversation. When i’d finally got all that luggage to the door, i gently interrupted the reunion so my client and i could settle up.

As i was thanking him and wishing them a wonderful visit with his brother in his beautiful new house while he thanked me for being able to get them there safely, i happened to glance at the American brother.

No inscrutable Oriental here. He was standing there in slack jawed amazement that this white driver and his brother could be chattering away like magpies in front of him, and he couldn’t understand a word we were saying. Wrong, wrong. Somehow all wrong. Shoe doesn’t fit on this foot.

So of course i wished him a happy visit with his brother. In English.

And then said goodbye to the couple in Spanish.

Sunday morningHere’s a Sunday morning newspaper shot:

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