When I first moved out of the dorms I rented an apartment as a summer sublet. The landlord, Lester and his wife, Maria were two of the warmest and most wonderful people I have ever known. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that they became foster parents to me.
Lester had polio as a child in Iowa and as a result had a badly deformed leg. Nevertheless, he often could be seen around the neighborhood riding his bicycle. He worked at the Art Institute of Chicago. I can honestly say I never met anyone who had as deep a knowledge of such a wide diversity of subjects as he did.
Maria was of Hungarian-Jewish extraction and had been born in Budapest. Her mother was one of Sigmund Freud’s first pupils. (Those of us who knew her were convinced that mama had committed major malpractice in the process of raising her only child).
They were very typical of the socially liberal Hyde Park community in which we lived. But Maria went above and beyond the call and gave new meaning to the term “left of center.” Way left. Were the world indeed flat, she would have long ago fallen off its western edge.
In 1965 Cesar Chavez had organized the grape pickers into a strike force – protesting their poor wages and working conditions. Maria not only boycotted grapes but threw in bananas and apricots as well.
In the early 1970’s he organized a similar and larger protest – this time focusing on lettuce. Not to be outdone – Maria similarly boycotted cucumbers and tomatoes. She was a small woman with an indomitable spirit and although we disagreed on many things I loved her dearly. (The attempt to improve the migrant workers’ working conditions was one thing on which we did agree).
As things happened, my summer sublet turned into an opportunity to rent one of the other apartments in their six flat brownstone and I lived in their building for five years.
A few years after I had purchased a condo and had left this cozy environment, Maria called to say that she and Lester were retiring to Santa Fe and had sold their property in Chicago. Although I was sad that they were leaving we spoke by phone every week.
During one of these conversations, Maria told me that she had purchased two season tickets for the Santa Fe Opera and would like me to join her for several performances. Well, I loved opera and had never been to Santa Fe – so why not? I began looking into making arrangements for this little adventure that summer.
Because of the excellent public transportation in Chicago, Lester and Maria did not own or need a car when they lived there. As it turned out, Maria didn’t know how to drive. But she learned quickly when they went to Santa Fe where a car was a necessity.
When I left on my trip I decided it would be far easier if I rented a car at the airport in Albuquerque rather than asking them to make the long drive to pick me up.
My second night in Santa Fe, she and I were going to the opera. Lester prepared a simple early dinner and we decided to leave a little early as Maria said that, as it got close to curtain, the lines of cars trying to get in the opera’s parking lot became very lengthy.
As the two of us were heading to my car, Lester said, “The opera is only fifteen minutes away. Just go out the driveway and make a left. When you …”
That was as far as he got before Maria chimed in, “Lester – I know how to get to the opera. You don’t have to give us directions.” (I had gotten used to this sort of banter between the two of them during the time I knew them in Chicago and was wise enough not to get involved).
As soon as we got to the car Maria said, “Go out of the driveway and make a right turn.”
“But Lester said to go left,” I responded.
“Just listen to me – I know what I’m doing and how to get there.”
So I followed her instructions and forty-five minutes later we arrived at the opera.
When we got home, Lester asked what I thought of the performance. I had been enthralled with the opera’s setting – the sides of the opera house open to the night sky which was filled with stars. And the Verdi was wonderful.
Then I said, “I didn’t realize Santa Fe was so big.” I explained it had taken us three-quarters of an hour to get to our destination.
Lester just smiled and said, “Oh, let me guess. You didn’t make any left turns on your way, did you?”
I hadn’t thought about it until he made that statement – but he was correct.
The state of New Mexico had been the first to give Maria a driver’s license – at the age of 68. Four days after receiving this she was making a turn into the Plaza. A left turn. As she completed this simple maneuver she was broadsided by another vehicle.
Although the other driver was clearly at fault, Maria came to the conclusion that making left turns resulted in car accidents. Unless there were absolutely no alternative she always plotted her course so that she could make right turns only and get where she was going.
And that is the power of fuzzy thinking – elevated to its very best.