As I prepare for my flight fly back to Los Angeles I’m reminded of Rosa, the young woman I helped when I flew into LaGuardia Airport last week.
She was in the back of a yellow cab—the curbside back door thrown open—being talked at by the taxi driver (still in the driver’s seat) and the taxi dispatcher, who loomed on the curb.
It was clear that she didn’t understand what they were saying—it didn’t matter how many times or how loudly the dispatcher with the Caribbean accent annunciated, “Address!”
Finally, she scooted out of the backseat and hopped down to the curb to have a one-on-one with the dispatcher. The line of people waiting for cabs was growing and she and the dispatcher were clogging things up, so I leaned over the short fence separating us and asked her if she spoke Spanish—even though I already knew she did.
I explained to her that they needed her dirección.
She produced a square of cardboard that looked liked it had been cut from the back cover of a spiral notebook. On it was written the words “Groeber Street / Calle Star.” These are the words she had shown to the taxi driver, but these cross streets didn’t exist—not even in the Bronx, where she was heading.
I asked her if she knew the building number. She unfurled a piece of loose-leaf that was a palimpsest of pencil and ink. The scrawls paid no attention to ruled lines. Words ended and seemingly spat phone numbers up and across the paper.
She pointed to a four-digit combination written in pencil. I read the numbers out loud to her, then plugged in “1936 Groeber Street” into my Waze app. The address existed—but somewhere else in the country.
Her name was Rosa. She was shivering. It was November in New York and all she had for a coat was this thin pleather thing, zipped to the top. She was tiny, scrunching her shoulders to protect her thin neck from the cold. Although I couldn’t tell her age—Central Americans have this ageless quality about them—I knew she was young. I gave her a pair of gloves I never wore but had stowed in my bookbag.
I asked her if there was someone we could call.
She picked out one of the phone numbers on the paper and I dialed the number. I gave her the phone and told her to tell the person to speak to me in English. The little Spanish I know, I’m better with in person, where I can see lips.
He said his name was Davie. I explained the deal: we needed the address. He gave me a different set of numbers and a different street name than what was written down.
“Lobe-air Street,” he said, in a thick Latin accent.
I tried to take it one letter at a time, but I couldn’t understand him, and every time he finished spelling the word, the street name had somehow morphed. Was it “Luber” now? “Grober”?
Thankfully, Davie had the idea to just text me the address.
While Rosa and I waited for his text, I asked her where her luggage was. She didn’t have any, except for this drawstring backpack that was completely flat. She looked like a school kid who hadn’t been assigned homework.
I asked her if she was hungry and offered her the snacks I had packed for my flight. She took a banana.
Davie’s text came through. I couldn’t understand how they had fucked up the pronunciation of the street address so badly—but the place did exist.
I took Rosa’s banana peel. We got her in a cab. She was grateful. I didn’t ask for the gloves back—and she didn’t offer them. I can only imagine what was on her mind. New country. Freezing weather. She doesn’t speak the language. No luggage. She doesn’t know where she’s going. No one—not even Davie—coming to pick her up from the airport…
It was only as the taxi was pulling away that I recognized the shadiness of the situation and thought, what the fuck world was I helping Rosa get to?