A Little American Goodwill

With some effort, the doors creak open and we slide across the butter-soft, heavily-worn white tufted leather luxury of 1950’s bench seats, three of us in front, three in back. We ignore the whiff of mildew. Sixty years of Havana’s tropical climate have done this beauty no favors.

Our ride is a white and turquoise 1957 Dodge Coronet convertible, one year younger than me, and ten years older than the car I learned to drive on, a cherry red 1967 Dodge Coronet station wagon. The first (and only) car my father bought brand new. Oh, the stories these bench seats could tell. The stuff of legends.

All week, we’d watched Americans sailing down the Malecón, Havana’s winding seaside boulevard, in similar vintage American “boats”, the oversized, round-fendered, gas-guzzling, pollution-emitting harbingers of yesteryear, each featuring a hood ornament as pronounced and ornate as the maidenhead of any ship.

Finally, on our last night, after eschewing the “touristy” nature of both the cars and the Malecón all week, we give in to a Havana Tourist Trifecta: A ride down the Malecón in a vintage American car, our destination sunset drinks at the storied Hotel Nacional. Can you say, cliché?

“Is this your wife?” Our handsome, nattily dressed driver asks my husband, Jonathan, nodding to Sara, our travel buddy, seated between them.

“No,” Jonathan says, looking over his shoulder at my friend, Elaine, and me nestled cozily in the back seat with Sara’s husband, Jack. “Those two in back are my wives. That’s how it works in the US.”

"You have two? I have none. What's your secret?" 

“Yoga,” Jonathan replies with a shrug.

“Maybe I need some help.” Our driver responds, incredulous. "Sir, can you lend me one? ”

“See the one in the middle?” Jonathan says, gesturing to the back seat. “I’ll let you have her as a gesture of international goodwill.”

“You Americans are really generous,” he says, his white cowboy hat quivering as he suppresses his laughter. “So what’s my wife’s name?”

“Elaine, or Elena to you. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she can dance salsa.” Jonathan supplies, as if he needs to sell our driver on this bargain.

Elaine pipes up, “This is all great, but if you can’t dance, I’m out.”

“I’ll learn,” he says with a saucy wink at Elaine via the broad rearview mirror. “I’ll learn.”