She worked late often and had become quite familiar to a whole host of the car service drivers. Outside of work, these were her most regular companions for that very long stretch of time in her life when she worked so hard.
She never talked much: They all knew exactly where she lived and there was never any need to give them instruction. She was also usually beyond exhausted and wanted to enjoy the quiet darkness of the car. Sometimes she worked on her blackberry. Sometimes she brought the NY Times crossword, which she would save as a treat for herself to work on during the journey home. Sometimes she sprawled out and drooled on the leather seats in a dead slumber.
Remarkably, her silence never stopped any of the drivers from talking to her. They all carried on conversations that didn’t seem to require her participation. They chattered on about the weather, traffic, sports and any other inane topic of their choice. A favorite trick was to recount the last time the driver had picked her up and mix it up with one of the other topics, like so: “Ms. X, the last time I picked you up, it was snowing, remember? And the traffic was terrible. I think it took us two hours to get there last time, Ms. X.” And so it would go for the next 30 minutes, all without more than a one or two word reply from her.
Because the cars were dark and she wasn’t particularly friendly, the drivers were mostly known to her only by their car numbers. And even then, she wasn’t paying a lot of attention. It was not unusual for her to flop into the back seat and be greeted by some driver like she was a long lost relative. He would ask questions that contained real true facts about her sad small life and completely freak her out.
Then there were the drivers she could actually remember and not for any good reasons. These were the creepy drivers who edged on the fringes of insanity or incompetency in one way or another. To amuse herself, she assigned these drivers names in her head.
1. Doppler. So named for his atrocious style of driving, which almost always made her carsick. He would speed up to slow down in constant repetition, a pattern that acutely piqued her insides when coupled with the flickering of lights and the stench of car fumes inside the Tunnel. The Doppler also had no real regard for lanes of traffic and would careen across the yellow lines as a matter of routine. She would clamp her jaw, grip the car seat and pray to arrive safely home.
2. Music man. Polite and meticulous about his car and his customers, he always had a bottle of water and a magazine in his car, like you might expect at the doctor’s office. He seemed to know more about her every time she got into the car…almost like he had been gathering facts about her in his spare time and making a profile. Things she honestly didn’t remember telling him. He also paid close attention to the ambiance, always asking her if she was warm enough and what kind of music she wanted to hear. She could not have cared less about musical variety at 3 am but usually grunted out some kind of answer. This must have bothered him because he once left CDs in her mailbox of music he thought she might enjoy. Without a note. On a day he didn’t drive her home. She had been glad she wasn’t home when he dropped by.
3. The Giver. This man always had a gift crammed into his messy car for her, and usually one he had been carrying around for a while. Sometimes it would be a box of gummed up or half-melted candy. Or maybe a crumpled magazine with some random article he wanted to share. Other times it would be leftovers from his dinner: a pork bun his wife made that she MUST try and so forth. Or some videos that he wanted her to watch. And because she desperately wanted to make sure she got home and didn’t end up in a ditch, she always accepted every gift.
4. Bloody Hands. This driver wore white gloves when he was driving. He probably wore white gloves when he wasn’t driving too. He was overly earnest and spoke in a high sing-song voice that shattered any tranquility that existed in the immediate world around him. On an especially brutally cold and snowy winter night, his car got a flat tire. She was annoyed by the unexpected stop and wanted him to call another car for her but he refused. He did not want to give up the fare. He was nearly in tears and so she agreed to wait. He didn’t want her to stand out in the cold so he insisted she stay in the car while he jacked it up and changed the tire. She reluctantly got back into the car to wait. Every once in a while, his head would pop up in the window. With a maniacal smile , he would hold up his gloved fingers and yell through the wind and snow, “Just five more minutes.” But even she knew at some point that it was taking too long…. And when the car thumped down unexpectedly, his happy face appeared again. Now he was shouting something she couldn’t understand at all – and his white gloves were dark with blood. She rolled down the window to hear him better. He grinned madly and said “Just five more minutes!” He had broken the jack midway through and crushed his fingers. This time, she made him call for another car – and urged him to go to a medical clinic. And out of some strange guilt, she gave him all the money in her wallet, too.
And then she finally left that job and all those drivers, too. But she sometimes did miss their quirkiness and the strange little ways they would try to take care of her even though she didn’t take the time to learn their names.