A Car, a Cuban, and a Chance: the Day Travel Saved Me $500

If you know anything about travel, you know that the lessons you learn out in the world can always be brought home. For example, learning a new language can get you out of (and into) a whole mess of situations. Here’s a story of the day my Spanish saved me a good chunk of change.

It was about 8 PM, so pretty pitch black outside. I got in my car, began backing out of my driveway, and felt a thud. Oh, no. I had hit something.

When I got out of my car to check out the damage, I found out a truck had been parked just outside my driveway. Like, close enough that while my car had hit it, my car still hadn’t totally left my driveway.

Then I met the driver.

Well, I heard the driver. I heard moans and huffs and “how could you do this to me?”-esque things. As it turned out, the driver of this truck didn’t speak much English. While I began taking fault and reassuring him that it wasn’t actually that bad, he got really….excited. He immediately began demanding I call the police (well, holding his hand up like a phone and saying the word “police”) and cursing me.

Fine. I called the police. Who was I to not? I mean, yeah, this guy had parked his truck that was so important to him right in front of my driveway, but I hit him and I was just trying to meet a friend and, you know, hopefully not get beat up or something.

Once I got off the phone with the police, I went back to calming down this very angry man. I could tell from his accent that he spoke Spanish, so I switched it up in the brain and continued in a weird, mangled version of Spanish, since I wasn’t prepared and was also really stressed.

You know what? He started calming down.

Then a neighbor came out, assessed the situation, and started handing out his cards. Turns out he owns an auto body shop, and he could get the guy’s door fixed no problem. He gave me a quote: with cash, $500; with insurance, it’ll be much higher, and my insurance rate would go up.

Once he left, I explained the damage to my Spanish-speaking friend. I told him that a new door would cost $500. The first thing he said was that we don’t need the police anymore. Sweet!

Then he demanded the $500. Uh, what? Maybe I’m weird, but I didn’t feel comfortable giving this strange man $500 and just calling it a day. Problem is, I’m a bad liar, so I stumbled around trying to find a reason behind not just producing the money.

I told him that I don’t have $500 right now, maybe after I get paid. No, no, he said, I need it now.

This is where I started to get lucky – he started haggling with me!

He brought it down to $300. Yeah, still feels iffy, right? $300 is a lot of money, and I didn’t know how legit this guy was. Even though he said he would leave me alone once I paid him for his door, who was I to trust him?

He kept haggling and haggling, until he broke: “soy Cubano. No tengo mucho dinero”. All of a sudden, I saw a hint of desperation in his eyes. Okay, this guy was legit. I mean, I still didn’t get why he cared so deeply about this truck that he had left haphazardly in the street, but that didn’t matter anymore.

He brought it down to $100. I weighed my options. Well, this guy was so desperate for whatever he was trying to get out of me, he had decided he only needed $100 from me. He had allowed me to call off the police, which meant my insurance rate wasn’t going up. I’d never tried to haggle before, but something told me that this was as good as it gets.

Fine. I told him I needed an ATM, so I got in my car, he got in his car, and he followed me to an ATM. Still kind of on the sketchy side, but you take what you can get. He waited outside while I went and got the money, I handed him the $100, and he walked away without even checking it.

And you know what? I haven’t seen him since.

So tell me, have your foreign language skills ever gotten you out of a messy situation? What about other things you’ve learned while traveling?


  1. Hi Jamie,

    Sure helps to know un poquito de espanol in these lands 😉 Glad you got out of it a C note short. Little damages methinks.

    No major league situations like this but I got myself into a few wacky moments speaking Spanish. 1 stands out in Nicaragua. A guy who knew only Spanish started talking to me in his hood. I glided through to visit the supermercado. 1 hour later my odyssey of seeing him hit up places for free smokes and booze had ended, and we parted ways. If I spoke only English the union dissolves instantly, but since I kept chatting in Spanish the journey had some sails on it.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


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