Hitchhiker's Cuba

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"My professor was Michael Bolton," she says.

I almost veer off the road.

"Michael Bolton?" T/N says.

"Yes, yes, he is very good. I love him."

Is it possible? Was Michael Bolton ever a teacher of English in Cuba? We hit the main drag of the Malecon. The ocean is bursting against the wall, spraying the waves up and over the road, 30 ft. high. It's almost dark. T/N wants one more shot at it.

"So, wait, Michael Bolton was your English teacher?"

Yuricema bursts out laughing. We laugh too. She asks T/N the English word for "Ojala!" T/N translates, "I wish!"

She had been trying to say "My preference is Michael Bolton" but said instead "My professor is..." She had one of his albums, but she loaned it to a friend, and then he claimed never to have seen it. Yuricema rolls her eyes to underline how stupid her friend is. We offer to send her a new Michael Bolton tape. I throw in that we'll send her whatever Michael Bolton stuff we can find. Posters, books, everything. "Very easy," I say. So easy to send wonderful things from America! She is beside herself. She gives T/N a pre-emptive gift--a wallet-size plastic calendar featuring an advertisement for a new kind of Vaseline. We thank her. I picture the sending of the Bolton care package. She will be so happy. She will never forget us. No one will ever forget us. Cuba will not forget us. We will come back, with not only the Michael Bolton stuff but a bigger car. No, a fleet of cars--and buses. We will sneak into the country from America, this time with legions of drivers--there are more of us coming all the time; it's getting so easy, embargo or no--and with enough buses and cars to get everyone everywhere they need to go. With our dollars and new tires, we will empty the roadsides and move the people place to place. The cars and buses will be huge and shiny, and we will flood the roads with them, get this place going--faster and faster, no more waiting for anything. Cars for everyone! We'll bring in some trains maybe. Hovercrafts, monorails. It'll be great. And all we'll ask in return is some hearty thanks and a nice beach to enjoy when we're in the neighborhood.

We wind our way through the dark streets of Old Havana, as Yuricema directs us to her home. When we get there we realize she lives a block from our hotel, the Hambos Mundos, a bargain at $120 a night. She gets out of the car and asks if we'd like to come in. We decline. She smiles.

"Don't forget me," Yuricema says, getting out and backing into her doorway. "Because I will never forget you."

Oh, just you wait, Yuricema. You haven't seen the last of us.

Dave Eggers is editor of the literary magazine McSweeney's. His book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius will be published in February

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