|Crazy Man in Black Car
A short story based on actual events.
Lee was awake an hour earlier than his alarm demanded. He had to catch an early flight and he often stresses a bit that the alarm won't function - early risers put a lot of trust in those - or that he'll sleep right through it. He lay in bed a few minutes reliving the trip. Lee had flown to NYC to attend the opening at an art gallery. A former student had a show. Lee used to live in Manhattan and return trips 'home' always put him in a better mood. The energy of the city and its people work magic on him.
At the last minute, Lee got up, showered, and packed - which means throw-things-in-the-suitcase. The door shut quietly as he eased into the hall - it was early Sunday morning. In the lobby, the security/keycheck guy noticed Lee's searching eyes and said that he could just drop the key in the box, motioning to the waist high metal box with the top slot and labeled Key Drop. Nodding his thanks to him, Lee did just that. As he walked through the lobby, Lee said,
"Good morning, sir. Have a good day."
There was a light rain, but the black car was already there waiting. As Lee approached, the driver rolled down the window and said,
It was a terse staccato request from the driver. Having taught in another country, Lee had heard this pronunciation before. He nodded yes. The side door of the SUV slid open - Lee set his 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, Lee thanked him for being early.
Driver: “Yes, 5 minutes. You go to Newark airport?”
Lee: “Yes, United Airlines”
It became clear a few words later that the driver was not a native English speaker (Li was the first clue). His phone screen displayed non- English characters (fascinating how our pocket computers allow work in a variety of languages). The driver 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: “Pay cash or cah?”
Lee paused to translate, and replied: “Cah, card.”
The driver called the Car Service. After a brief wait, the dispatcher answered,
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?”
(Lee had paid for the car online when booking).
Dispatcher: “What is the num…”
Lee: “I don't want to pay now - not until the end of the trip."
Lee had been burned enough to avoid tipping before service has been performed.
Lee: “He's not here, I'll go get him.”
(Muffling his 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?”
Lee: “Oh, here he comes. Sir, its for you.”
Dispatcher: “Driver, where are you?”
Driver: “We in Lincoln Tunnel.”
Dispatcher: “Were you in a bathroom?”
Driver: “No. Tunnel.”
Dispatcher: “But the passenger sa…”
Driver, interrupting: “He crazy man. Crazy.”
Driver: (To Lee) “You, I don't drive you. You crazy.”
Lee: “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 Lee in the rearview mirror, but didn’t say another word until they got to the departure curb lane at Newark airport. The driver handed the card reader over the seat. Lee grasped it, swiped his card, and got to the tip amount. He enjoyed the earlier banter with the driver but felt that he had made the driver uncomfortable, so he tipped the driver 25%. Lee handed the reader back to the driver, who was very appreciative. His entire demeanor towards Lee relaxed. He smiled and wished him a good flight.
© James Robert Watson Email Text
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