Crazy Man in Black Car
I was awake an hour earlier than my alarm demanded. I had to catch an early flight and I often stress a bit that the alarm won't function - we put a lot of trust in those - or that I'll sleep right through it. I lay in bed a few minutes reliving the trip. I had flown to NYC to attend the opening at an art gallery. A former student had a show.
At the last minute, I got up, showered, packed - which means throw-things-in-the-suitcase, and eased the door shut quietly - it was early Sunday morning. In the lobby, the security/keycheck guy noticed my searching eyes and said I could just drop the key in the box, motioning to the waist high metal box with the top slot and labeled Key Drop. Nodding my thanks to him, I did just that.
There was a light rain, but the car was already there waiting. As I approached, the driver rolled down the window and said,
Having taught in Mexico, I had heard this pronunciation before. I nodded yes. The side door of the SUV slid open - I set my suitcase on the floor of the back seat and walked around to the other side. The driver got out to close the doors. When he sat down, I thanked him for being early.
Driver: “Yes, 5 minutes. You go to Newark airport?”
Jim: “Yes, United Airlines”
It became clear a few words later that the driver was not a native English speaker (Jeem was the first clue). His phone screen displayed Asian characters (fascinating how our pocket computers allow work in a variety of languages). He went on up 8th Avenue, took a left on 35th, and over to the Lincoln Tunnel. Somewhere approaching the entrance, he turned around and asked,
Driver: “You pay cash or cah?”
I paused to translate, and replied: “Cah.”
He called the Car Service. After a brief wait, the dispatcher answered.
Dispatcher: “Car Service.”
Driver: “This two one two nah.”
Dispatcher: “Yes, go ahead.”
Driver: “Customer pay cah.”
Dispatcher: “Can he hear me? Passenger?”
Dispatcher: “You want to pay the toll and tip with a credit card?”
(I had paid for the car online when booking).
Dispatcher: “What is the num…”
Jim: “I don't want to pay now - not until the end of the trip. I don't tip until the service has been performed.”
Jim: “He's not here, I'll go get him.”
(Muffling my voice to sound more distant): “Sir, the phone is for you. Dispatch, he's on the toilet, he'll be here in just a minute.”
Dispatcher: “Where are you?”
Jim: “Oh, here he comes. Sir, its for you.”
Dispatcher: “Driver, where are you?”
Driver: “We at Lincoln Tunnel.”
Dispatcher: “Were you in a bathroom?”
Driver: “No. Tunnel.”
Dispatcher: “But the passenger sa…”
Driver, interrupting: “He crazy man. Crazy.”
Driver: (To me) “You, I don't drive you. You crazy.”
Jim: “You want me to drive? I'll drive. Slide over.”
Dispatcher, louder: “Driver, you can't let the passenger drive.”
Driver: “I drive. I drive. He crazy.”
The rest of the trip out of the tunnel and through New Jersey was uneventful. The driver periodically checked on me in the rearview mirror, but didn’t say another word until we got to the departure curb lane at Newark airport. He motioned his card reader back to me. I swiped my card and got to tip amount. I enjoyed the earlier banter with the driver. I tipped the driver a bit extra. I handed the reader back to the driver. He was very appreciative. His entire demeanor towards me relaxed. He smiled and wished me a good flight.
© James Robert Watson, PhD, 2016, 2022