A friend recently posted on Facebook, I am going to have to start noting down anecdotes related to Central PA cab drivers. Methinks you would have plenty to contribute, Chris?
I told her to name the time and place, and I would be there. Then I went through my mental catalogue of 2010-2011.
There was Rick, the Hawaiian who accompanied his wife when she enrolled at university. He dropped me off in front of the wrong building on the night of my arrival. It was 11.30 p.m. and my soon-to-be roommate had to send her boyfriend out to look for me and my two suitcases in the parking lot that resembled anything but Hemingway’s clean, well-lighted place.
There was the pervert, who didn’t take a lot of coaxing to tell me that his favorite cab moment was when two college girls made out in the back seat for, he thought, his eyes only. He had fallen from bank manager grace because he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut. My guess was there was more to that story.
There was Mike, the grandpa with the English degree who not only recited Chaucer to me, but helped me rescue a friend who had locked herself out of her house at 2 a.m. That was a fun detour before my Megabus ride to New York.
There was Jay-Jay, the Betty-White sweetheart who dared to fall in love with a younger black man, despite the wishes of her racist sons who wanted her to stay forever married to their abusive alcoholic father. I wrote about her on my old blog. Her energy was just amazing.
Then there was Danny from the bottle shop.
He could have been my age. I called in a cab on my way to a trailer park barbecue [another blog post altogether]. It was May, perhaps some three weeks before my scheduled departure from the States. “So, you’re finally getting deported,” a friend would tease me on my last night. It sure felt like it. My last month was a frenzy. The hourglass was dripping its final grains of sand, and my imminent transplant back home would be painful, jarring, and ultimately unsuccessful. I was out of my mind. I couldn’t sit still, and yet I was paralyzed.
Danny had one hand on top of the steering wheel. His complexion was slightly sallow, his eyes ensconced in two dark circles. His T-shirt might have been dark red. He was that kind of savannah lion who had seen enough shit not to ever flinch from a fight. Someone who could inflict a lot of pain if he had to, but given the choice, he would have declined.
“You wanna tell me about that ink?” I asked.
He had a full sleeve of abstract patterns on his right arm. Nothing decipherable, yet the lines were clear and the color unfaded. Impressive.
“I got that while I was in the service overseas some years ago. Most people have an exact figure or shape that they want, to me it was more about the time and place and who I was with. I got them all in different places. This one was London, this one Barcelona, this one in Frankfurt.”
“My thoughts exactly. I’m thinking about getting a tattoo here before I leave, any good places you can recommend?”
“Sure. There’s that place on B. Avenue, they’re really good. And if you tell them Danny from the bottle shop sent you, I bet they will give you a discount.”
“Thank you. I’ll go and have a look.”
“Nothing sexier than a tattoo on a beautiful woman. Strawberry mint?”
I took the candy. And the recommendation.
I would see him the next day, reading in my favorite coffee shop window. He drove by in the cab, and I took it as a sign. I went into the tattoo shop an hour later and made an appointment for Friday the Thirteenth. Danny’s name did get me a discount.
I would ask another driver about him some weeks later, just like I asked about Jay-Jay and her love story even though I never saw her again. The driver made a funny face, as in why would a girl like you ask about someone like Danny? but what he said was “Um, yeah. Danny’s a little… high strung.”
Danny was a wounded beast, only his fellow cab driver didn’t know it.
We chatted some more on our way to the trailer park. Just as we turned off the main northbound road and onto the dirt, I asked the unassuming question “Are you from here?”
“No, from New Mexico.”
“So what brought you to Pennsylvania?”
“My highschool sweetheart. She’s from PA so we moved here after I got out of the service. We were going to get married and were planning a life together. She got killed by a drunk driver.”
I had never visited my friend the barbecue host, but I felt the car make its final turn. The leaves shone a leathery green in the four-o-clock sun. Frodo the black lab mix was barking insanely, clearly on canine overload between chasing bees and having to greet a new guest. There was the clunk of bocce and sizzle of the grill, Harleys reclined against trees and trailers, and one four-wheeled metal box of messed-the-fuck-up smack in the middle of it all. I swear the forest spun.
He said it so matter-of-factly. In the soft voice of a man who has accepted melancholy as part of his TGAC sequences until the end of his days.
Futility ran down my neck like a stream of rancid mud. I wanted to scream. Make him turn the car around – hell, make him turn the planet around and maybe turn back time. Offer… something. A beer. A listening ear. A foreign shoulder to cry on. All ego-options, quickly scratched off the list as inanely, insultingly stupid. There was nothing, except for the black dog barking like crazy through the muffle of the car window, scratching at the door for me to get out, get out, get out now. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
“I am so sorry,” I said with my reluctant index finger on the door handle.
“That’ll be $12.50.”