It’s around 3:30 a.m. and this guy gets into my cab. He sits up front. He smells like crack smoke. Everyone knows you can buy crack in this part of the city. That’s not any kind of secret.
I ask how his night has been and he tells me, which somehow leads to him noting that I seem sad and stressed. I ignore the comment because I don’t want to get into it, but he continues to prod, telling me I needn’t be afraid, that my secrets are safe with him. I roll down the rear windows so the air can flush out the crack smell. He has a big meaty face from which soars an oddly captivating, almost seductive, voice, like he should be narrating movies or something.
It’s not a crack smoker’s face, I think.
I don’t like talking, and I especially don’t want to talk with him any more than I want to hear what masquerades as wisdom inside his head. I don’t like the wildness in his eyes. It’s unthreatening, but untrustworthy. Call it instinct. His candor has unnerved me, in part because it was eerily on point. And though I don’t get into it, I think of it, of her, and the whole terrible mess again comes alive inside my head I privately remind myself I am still here.
I. Am. Still. Here.
Perhaps sensing a shift, he digresses to more generic questions, ones I have no reason not to answer other than to be rude, so I answer them politely.
Are you from here? What high school did you go to? How long have you been driving cab?
But I begin to sense this is leading up to something, that there is a rub to all this. He says there is something he wants to tell me by asking if he can tell me something. Sure, I say, but then he backpedals because he doesn’t think I will believe this thing he has to say once he says it. He asks me to promise not to think he’s crazy, but it’s too late for that, I tell him.
He finds this funny.
I keep my eyes planted on the empty streets connecting the slum we left to the one we are going to. The world is peaceful as it sleeps away the hours between the bars closing and the sun rising, hours that tend to bring out people at their worst and the worst in people. I’m curious about what this rider was up to before he called for a cab. He didn’t exit an apartment; he emerged from the darkness. Strange rules the night so some times, maybe most of the time, it is better not to know too much.
This felt like one of those times, but he kept on talking.
Taxi cabs have all of the voyeuristic allure of a church confessional, which is why, I suppose, they feature prominently in pop culture, especially on television and in movies. It hasn’t been surprising then that people want to hear about the crazy experiences I’ve had since I began driving cab a few weeks back. There have been more than a few, but what I find craziest of all is the level of intimacy strangers moving through space in a confined space can achieve in an oh so brief moment.
A cab ride can be like Snapchat for friendships. Here and gone in an instant.
One of these split-second friendships blossomed two weeks ago when a young female rider asked me to slow down because she thought she spotted the only black guy she had slept with smoking outside a North Frances Street bar.
It wasn’t him, but we both agreed he looked like Drake.
I fucked Drake, she said, and we laughed a good hard laugh.
I rolled up outside of her apartment building.
She tipped me five dollars, the end.
Sometimes I counsel. Twice couples have been in the process of breaking up during their ride home. Both times the women did all of the yelling, occasionally looking to me to affirm their point. Once I picked up a guy whose girl left the bar with another guy. He cried and berated her as he dialed her number repeatedly even though it went straight to voicemail every time.
Why would she leave with him? he kept asking.
Occasionally women done up more for seducing than dancing step with tussled hair from the shadows of luxury apartments to hop a ride in the wee hours to one in a poorer neighborhood. Sometimes they volunteer they were visiting a friend. Most ride quiet, faces buried in their phones, as if ashamed by the obviousness of it all.
Sometimes shit gets esoteric. Once, a young man with a degree in mathematics drunkenly bemoaned how no one knows math before asking me if I knew how to work with fractions.
I know how to get a common denominator and that you add and subtract across and multiply and divide the numbers diagonal from one another.
Diagonally? he lamented. What is diagonally? Describe diagonal for me.
Um, I began, it’s any point between horizontal and vertical?
No, he said, unamused. There is no such thing as diagonal.
A surprising number of older white people have asked if I am afraid of driving into the black neighborhoods.
No, I’ve said each time. Why would I be?
More often in the wee hours people are running from something, escaping. One girl, cute with tattoos and spiky hair, called a cab after her boss’s girlfriend suggested a threesome.
Fucking my boss would be too weird, she explained.
Another guy called for a ride after his buddy began smacking around his old lady.
I can’t sleep to that, he said. I gotta work in the morning.
One night a young female who I later learned was a stripper dipped into the cab as a man in a Black Lexus accused her of stealing money from him and threatening to call police.
Let’s go! she said, sitting behind me.
I drove and the man, who looked a little like Anton Chigurh, followed for several miles, but quick-thinking on my part and an assist from a fast-moving semi helped us elude him. The girl, who recently moved here from a small town up north, peeled $60 from the stack he had offered to give her if she performed a service.
She thought it wiser to take his money and run.
I dropped her off at the 24-hour Wal-Mart and added the dirty bills to my stack.
Cab driving, I realized that night, is some times morally ambiguous work.
Every once in a while a rider, like the guy next to me in the wife beater, flips the script and wants me to open up and share pieces of myself with them.
It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it, he says in a deep baritone. You just seem like you could use a friend.
He returns to the thing he wants to tell me.
I’m going to tell you, he says, meaning it this time. You won’t believe me, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
He pauses for a moment.
I’m God. Or I’m at least one of God’s messengers. I’m convinced of it.
I can feel him looking at me as he tells me this, but I keep my eyes on the road.
My best friend lost his faith and today I helped him find it, he continues. I can do that for you, too.
But I’ve already sprung back like a weed, without God, I want to tell him. I’m here following what has to have been the brutalist winter in the history of winters. There may have been no Wall, no White Walkers, but it stamped out miseries befitting the Seven Realms. That I survived it is remarkable only because I tried so hard not to. I never expected to see summer. But he doesn’t know this.
His psycho-babble at lasts begins to really annoy me, so I tune him out. He is slowing down, anyhow, crashing right there next to me.
He is silent the last couple of miles, slumped, head resting against the window, until we arrive at the address he had given dispatch. I tell him the fare and he tells me he doesn’t have any money.
My head begins to spin.
I drive for the money, not the company, I tell him.
Parked on an unlit road illuminated only by the vehicle’s high beams, he says, I’m giving you something better.
You’ve got to be kidding me! I say. Isn’t God against stealing?
Brother, he yawns, everything will get better. No good deed goes unrewarded.
This wasn’t a good deed!
Part of me wants to fight, but more of me just wants him and his crack smell gone.
I want to ask why he gets to wake up every day, but no words come out.
Besides, he is already outside the cab.
Though he probably doesn’t mean to, he slams the door shut before slipping back into the darkness, like some kind of ghost, while I sit there alone on the unlit street, no fares to pick up, thinking about how summer is just around the corner and how that used to mean something.