Ramiro is my next-door neighbor. He’s Mexican. Came to the States when he was my age. Eighteen. Now he’s eighty-one. Pretty old, but cool. He came with nothing. Now he owns his house and has a dump truck to haul dirt. That was his business. Well, not any more. He’s retired and the truck is pretty beat-up. I hope it can make-it out West and back. There’s this used bulldozer I found online. I just got to convince him to take me because he won’t let anyone else drive his truck.
Oh, I should tell you, I was born in Honduras. We came here when I was seven. Just my mother and father and brother. I miss mis abuelos but Ramiro has been like a grandfather to me and he knows dirt and dirt movers.
There he is right now drinking a beer on his back porch. I can’t wait to run over.
“I found a bulldozer on the internet!” I shout. “It’s Army surplus and it’s free. We just have to go get it…in Nebraska.”
Ramiro slowly puts his beer down on the step. “We?”
He can be slow sometimes. You have to get used to it. And usually I don’t rush him. But this is a hurry-up deal. The first one to get there, can have it. And it’s four states away. I know he understands my problem. How hard it can be in another country. And that I want to start my own business. I’m sure he will help me with his truck and trailer. I just need to let him get used to the idea.
So, yeah, here’s us, three days later, on the way back to Michigan. A World War II bulldozer, army green and rusty, sits on the trailer behind us. Ramiro is driving. He insists. Only he knows how to keep his truck running. It needs his gentle touch. So, my job is to read maps and keep him awake on the long drive through cornfield after cornfield.
I check the fuel gauge. “You know, we’re down to half a tank of gas,” I say. “We could stop at that gas station up ahead.”
“It’s not a Shell station,” Ramiro replies.
What can I say? It’s his truck.
A little later, Ramiro starts to fidget and wiggle. It’s all the coffee he’s been chugging. I bet he really has to go. “So,” I say, “let’s stop to empty one tank and fill another.”
He closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Keeps me awake. Your talking too.”
So, I keep talking. First, about the bulldozer. I ask if he has any more of that ugly orange paint he used on his truck. He nods. I’ll paint the machine when we get home. Hunter-orange. Like the clothes deer hunters wear so no one shoots them. As if anyone would shoot a bulldozer. I chuckle to myself. Reminds me of a joke about a farmer. His cow was killed by a big-city hunter who couldn’t tell a cow from a deer. So, the next year, before hunting season, he painted names on his animals in big letters: COW, HORSE, PIG. It worked. No dead animals. But when he went behind his barn, he found his tractor full of bullet holes. It had big letters: DEERE on the hood. I open my mouth to tell the story to Ramiro. Hey, I’m running out of things to talk about, okay? But I notice how his mouth is shut tight and how he is staring straight ahead, hands squeezing the steering wheel. I remember that he never laughs at my jokes. And maybe now would not be a good time.
I glance at the fuel gauge—quarter tank.
Next, I tell how the dozer could scoop out a pond behind our house. Then I could stock it with fish. And I could catch some for supper while I watch the sheep come down to drink.
“What sheep?” Ramiro asks. “You don’t have any sheep.”
“Not yet. I’m going use the dozer to clear some land along our road. Then, sell the lots for maybe a strip mall or houses. Who knows? Then, buy some sheep. Then have mi madre make yarn for socks and scarfs from their wool. Then sell them on the internet. How does that sound?”
“Sounds like you want a lot.”
“Sure do. Then with that money, I’ll buy some low land near the freeway they’re building. They move a lot of dirt.” He gives me a funny look, like ‘tell me something I don’t know.’ I happen to look at the gas gauge. “Oye, bue! We’re almost empty. We need to get gas.”
“I know my truck. Don’t worry.”
I try not to worry.
“You work with dirt, right? Maybe you could help me. Give me some ideas. First, I scrape the good dirt off that land I just bought—the top soil. You could haul it for me. Then I sell it to a landscape company for making lawns. Then I get the road builders to bring their dirt to fill my land back up. They pay me to dump. I smooth it out with the dozer and sell the land.”
“Why?” Ramiro asks.
“Why? This is America. I can make money to get my cousins, my family here. To live good. To live better.”
Ramiro stares at the road. Nods. “But not all at once, m’hijo.”
“Not all at once?” I shout. “You talk to me about taking my time?” I shake my head and point at him. “Hey, none of my plans can work if we run out of gas. We get stuck on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, ain’t no tow truck big enough to haul us. And me with no money even if we could find one. And for what? To drag us to the next gas station?”
Ramiro stares straight ahead.
“We’ve been on empty for ten miles. And just passed a gas station. Why are you doing this, man?”
That’s when the truck coughs and dies. I’m mad. “Damn, Ramiro. Now, look. We’re stuck between farm fields. On top of a hill…”
“That goes down around a curve,” he added. “Let’s put the truck in neutral and see what we find.”
So, we slowly pick up speed. Go down the long curving road into a small town. There is a Shell station on the corner.
Twenty minutes later, over hamburgers and pie, I ask, “Now what did that prove?”
Ramiro finishes chewing. Sips his coffee. “A lot. You need patience. You need to trust that good things will happen if you don’t rush. And don’t get greedy. You only need enough to get you home. No more.”