Sunday, March 11, 2018

Pick Me Up, Put me Down

Thanks to modern technology, I find myself more often waiting for cars while staring at my phone tracking their movement than standing on a curb hoping like hell to wave down someone passing by on the street. There are pros and cons, yet a year and a half in, the ability to have someone come and get me has become so ingrained that I cannot, nor would I want to, recall the time of desperation standing on the street at 4 in the morning hoping to flag someone to get me to the airport. Technology is novel and wonderful, and I plan to continue to embrace it.

There are some fascinating side effects of jumping into cars with strangers, including the randomness of the conversations one might have. The last trip, which included a stay in the upper portion of Appalachia, provided a better opportunity than most for unusual car talk.

"Are you "

"Yes, yes, thanks so much."

"No problem." I hand over a bag with one hand and it almost slams into the ground when he takes it from me. "Wow, heavier than it looks." He gives me that up and down look that I recognize as one that says, holy fuck your strong.  I smile and get into the backseat so we can head to our location.

"This is a great area. Are you from here?"

"No, just passing through. I'm hear for work."

"This is where I want to be. I'm doing this driving right now so we can save up, so we can move out here soon."

"Where do you live now?"

"Well, you see, we live in this town, about 20 miles from here, but like, all our neighbors are like criminals and, it's just kinda awful, you know. Like my next door neighbor, right. He's about to go to jail for maybe 7 years, right. Robbery. But here is the thing. Here is the thing. It's like, this hairdresser the guy he couldn't afford presents for his kids, she was free cuts for Christmas, you know, since he couldn't afford anything. Just doing a good deed, and this guy, when he goes to get the cuts he sees all the presents she bought for her kids and I guess it just pissed him off. He broke in later and stole all the presents and it didn't take them very long to figure out who did it. And now, what, he goes to jail for 7 to 10 years over something like that."

I sit in the back and listen.

"Then, then there is the guy on the other side of me."


"Yeah, he invited his mistress over and I guess things got heated cause he ended up strangling her with an electric cord."

Somehow I manage to react not at all.

"It's like, I live in this neighborhood where everyone's idea of a good time is just like having a fight and shooting things. I go to a bar here in town, I can have a drink, talk politics, have a good night, you know?"


"But like there, man, I was at this bar, you know, like right before the election and all, and this guy...I was just talking to this guy and he was saying something and I said to him, like 'Well, maybe Bernie Sander's isn't that bad a guy.' And this guy just loses it at me. He grabs like the two bucks he put on the bar for his beer and just throws it my face and screams at me 'Here, take my money you commie son of a bitch since you are just going to take it anyway!' and then he, like, stomps out and even the bartender there was a little surprised. Yeah."


We pull up to my stop and he gets my bag and the door.

"Well, good luck with the work towards the move."

"Yeah, yeah."

He turns and drives away and I stand there thinking and head into work. Later I offer to take a car to get real coffee since whatever it was being served was something meant only for the strongest, and most concrete of stomachs.

The driver in this car speaks with a long slow drawl that reminds me bit of Stuart McLean from the Vinyl Cafe, with a voice that is somewhat nasally and a bit of a draw.

"Yeah, I've been here twenty years. I drive all day to get me out of the house. I love my wife and kids, you understand, but I also love being away from them."

"I imagine."

"I make good money driving, though. The other day I drove to New York City."

"Really, that must have been some fare."

"$400 dollars. That is the maximum allowed. And I said to them, I said, 'If we are going to go to New York, let me change over to my other car, a Mercedes, and we can go faster. And they said yes, so I take these two Chinese students and I drive them to New York. I drove trucks you see, so I know how to drive 80. I used to make that run all the time. I asked them, 'Do you mind if I drive fast?' and they kept saying faster, faster. Three hours and 30 minutes. The map said it would take 4 and a half hours, but I used to drive that stretch all the time. I know where all the cops are, you see, and I was able to take them right there."

His speech amuses me, the sort of drawl and lift to the end as he tells his story.

"Do you mind if I book you as a round trip, I'm just running in to get coffee and then I'm right back out."

"No, you don't have to do that. I'll take you for free. No reason for you to pay 15 dollars just to get some coffees."

And he does give me the ride back for free.

"It's not so bad, this place. Been here since I got back from Afghanistan. Here is a picture of me, 1984, when I was a gunner. I had another gunner in here the other day. It was good to talk about it."


"That's why I'm glad about our president right now."

I stay perfectly still. I know for the area, this is to be expected but there is always sort of a shock whenever anyone admits voting for the current administration.

"I see."

"Well, it's the Korean situation you understand," he says, looking at me in the mirror. I think to myself, you have no idea.

"But you know, if it wasn't him, if it was her, it would just be the same situation. But honestly, now, old Kim doesn't know what to do. I mean, he's totally unpredictable and I think that's a good thing."


"And here you are."

I thank him again for the free ride and grab the coffees and head into the hall wondering about the small towns in America. The conversations are reflective of the macro and micro needs all explored between the pick up and the drop off, and most likely repeated a hundred times a day until all there is the reality of the stories to strangers and passerbys who can only sit and take it all in.

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