“And how long have you been driving a cab?” I asked him.
“And before that?”
“I sold lingerie. But after I left that behind, I knew I couldn’t sit in an office all day. You put me in one of those buildings – ” he pointed to a high rise along Avenida Rivadavia, “And I’ll be dead in 10 minutes.”
Ricardo wasn’t the first taxista who’d told me this. Like so many of his fellow cabbies, he’d taken up driving in search of freedom – freedom from a set schedule, an ever-present boss, and a predictable workday.
“I never thought about it before,” my novelist friend said after we got out of the cab, “But in a way, taxistas are the new gauchos. Their cabs are their horses, and their passengers are the cattle. And they’ve chosen their profession because they want to be free above all else.”
Freedom, it seemed, was the theme of this particular excursion, which was only appropriate in light of the fact it was May 25 – the anniversary of the Buenos Aires-based Revolución de Mayo of 1810.
Although Argentina didn’t officially declare independence from Spain until July 9, 1816, people still commemorate the Revolución de Mayo with pride and fanfare, regarding it as the first step toward the country’s freedom from European domination.
During the week leading up to the holiday, vendors sell flags, pins, and ribbons in Argentine blue and white – and restaurants start advertising locro, a rib-sticking stew made with corn, hominy, peppers, and leftover beef or pork parts. On May 25 – a.k.a. El Día de la Patria – locro is the country’s celebratory dish of choice.
Eager to slip into the patriotic party, we’d asked Ricardo to take us to a good place to eat locro when we got in his cab. He’d thrown up his hands in despair.
“Why are you asking me?” he wailed, “I have no idea!”
After a bit of prodding, we were able to convince him otherwise. Soon we were speeding down Avenida Rivadavia from Balvanera to Flores, toward Ricardo’s Sunday steak house of choice. As we got closer to our destination, he asked us what we were doing in Buenos Aires.
We’re writers, we told him. The city is our muse.
“You’re writing about Argentina? You want to write about Argentina? Mirá, if you tell people the truth about this place, no one will believe you,” he said.
“Exactly,” my novelist friend responded, “Fiction is almost unnecessary here.”
Ricardo threw up his hands again, turned off Avenida Gaona and stopped in front of a corner restaurant shrouded in a black awning.
“Feliz Día de la Patria!” we said, climbing out of the cab. He laughed and sped away before he could witness our delight at the restaurant he’d chosen for us.
Not only did La Tranquerita ooze neighborhood charm – in honor of May 25, they also happened to be serving locro.
We grabbed a sidewalk table behind a plastic curtain that protected us from the street. Next door, a group of ten men worked their way through to steaming bowls of locro. Half-full bottles of red wine dotted their table. The Lanus-Rosario Central game on TV was no match for their competing shouts.
Across from us, a father and his 7-year old son sliced through morcilla [blood sausage] and a double rack of ribs.
Behind us, two boys from the neighborhood joked with the waitress and ordered choripanes (sausage sandwiches). They finished their food and disappeared just as our locro arrived.
Silence reigned at our table as we savored our May 25 stew. Rich pork, hearty corn and hominy, and sweet-spicy paprika and red pepper comingled in a harmony so soulful that not even the hair on the pig’s leg that landed in my bowl could deter my bliss.
We scraped up every drop of Argentina’s national dish – in the name of freedom-loving taxistas everywhere.
Boyacá 996 – Flores