Tuesday, September 25, 2012


"I'm not going far," the man said apologetically, giving me the name of a church a little more than a mile away.

Short, long distance, it doesn't make a difference to me. You don't get to pick and choose your fares.

"How long will it take?" he asked. He had an accent from somewhere else, someplace across an ocean. "I'm supposed to be there at five."

"Hard to tell in this traffic," I answered for what should be less than ten minute ride. Rush hour was just ramping up. "You might be a couple minutes late."

He sat quitely. I couldn't tell for sure, but I felt he was watching me.

"You don't seem like the other drivers," he said. "You seem... different, calmer. The other drivers all seem so angry, so in a hurry."

That put me on alert. The guy didn't look threatening, but his comment and his manner creeped me out. Was he trying to make a pass at me?

"I just drive part time," I told him. Most drivers work 12-hour days five or six days a week, I explained. They have no life. They hardly see their kids. They're tired and understandably a little cranky.

"Sure, sure," he said, then falling into silence.

"Do you believe in God?" he asked.

Oh, no, I told myself, he's one of those. I wanted the traffic to clear. I wanted him out of my car. A part of me told me to pull over and kick him out, tell him to get another cab. He wasn't threatening, just annoying.

"No," I said. "I don't believe in God."

 "Don't you worry about what will happen to you," he asked, "after you die?"

Now I was feeling agitated, angry and definitely in a hurry.

"No, I don't," I said.

"But how do you know what to do in your life? What guides you?"

"Easy," I said. "I just try to make the most of every day and treat other people as I want them to treat me," I said. "You know, the Golden Rule."

"Hmm... interesting," he said. At this point I was expecting him to hand over a pamplet or launch into some passage of scripture. Another silence.

"How do you meet people?" he asked. "How do you make friends?"

Who is this guy? Forrest Gump?

"I do things," I said. "I have hobbies, I go places. The usual."

"Yes, yes," he said. Silence again.

"Could I be your friend?" he asked in a thin, almost inaudible voice.

This needed to stop. "No," I said sternly. "I won't be your friend."

"I'm sorry. It's just that I am new here and very lonely."

We were near our destination and I was relieved. Whatever this guy wanted, whatever he needed he wasn't going to get from me.

"That's okay," I said, pulling up to the church. "You'll make friends."

He paid me, opened the door and said, "Thank you. God bless."

As I pulled away I saw him sort of wandering, walking to the side of the building as if looking for some way to get inside. Perhaps he was unsure he was even at the right place. Maybe he didn't know where he was? Maybe he didn't know where he wanted to go?

For a moment, I felt sorry for him.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Short stories

Signs of the times...

I do not drink. They operated
on my brain. No home. No job.
Please help.
Offshore fisherman out
of work. 4 kids.
Whatever you can spare.
God bless.
Just smile if you can't
spare any change.
Have a nice day.
Homeless. Hungry. Desperate.
Please help.
I want my bailout!!
I'm no Rothchild [sic]
I don't need millions.
Spare change.
Iraq veteran
Need $$$ for food for
me and my dog.
Bless you.
Really bored
and in need of
a cold beer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Breaking Out

I'm in White Plains, New York, a suburb whose only distinction seems to be its proximity to the city. At one time the town may have had some sort of character. Today it seems to be nothing but glass office towers, an enclosed shopping mall, parking garages and gigantic walls of stone. White Plains today seems to be some sort of retro-futuristic ideal from the '60s urban renewal movement--a hub for commuters and a monument to suburban living.

It's morning, and I'm on the street, searching for a Starbucks. My smartphone tells me there's one up the street, just around the corner. I walk in that direction, cross the street, and continue along the sidewalk. But there's nothing here. No Starbucks, no storefronts, just a noisy four-lane boulevard on one side and a huge wall lined with some scraggly looking ash trees in a trash-strewn moat. Where am I? I look down at my phone. I seemed to have walked past my promised Starbucks. No, not just beyond it it. The map shows me it's not even on the street. It's behind the wall, in the mall. I continue walking, expecting to find an entrance to the mall. Nope. Nothing but stone. It's like the reverse of being in prison. You have to break in.

I give up, retrace my steps back to my hotel, another monstrosity made of pre-formed concrete and a few potted trees. I gather my things and hail a cab.

"To the airport?" I ask.

 "Yes, very good." the driver says in slightly broken English. He puts the car in gear and we pull away. We pull out onto the boulevard, make a turn and go through a light.

"Do you have an address?" he asks.

He can't be serious. If there's one place that every cab driver in the world knows it's how to get to the airport.

"No," I answer increduously. "Do I need to get another cab?"

"It's okay. It's okay," he pleads. "I get you there. Do you have an Iphone?"

As it happens, I do. But obviously this is not a good sign. We are moving, the hotel is somewhere behind us. We are away from the center of town, away from a place I might get another cab. I then notice something on his dashboard.

"But you have a GPS," I declare impatiently. "Don't you know how to use it?"

"Yes, yes," he says. "But please..."

So now I'm not only in the middle of some unfamiliar place where there are no other cabs, but he has got me feeling sorry for him.

"Okay," I say. "Give me a sec..."

I am now trying to operate my phone in a jolting cab, trying to type out directions using my fat thumbs on the tiny keyboard. I am trying to make corrections. I am getting frustrated. I can feel my jaw tighten and my forehead throb.

"Keep going," I tell him. "Make the second the left and go straight. You can't miss it."

I recline and exhale a deep breath. I aimlessly look out the window at the blur Colonial houses surrounded by manicured yards on half-acre lots when I can hear tiny bleeping sounds. I look up and see the driver holding his phone in front of his face as he races through a yellow light.

"Are you texting?" I ask in a stiffled shout, trying to keep myself together.

  "Oh, you notice," he answers sheepishly.

"Keep doing that and there's no tip," I say sternly. He understands and rests the phone on the center console, but I almost instantly regret not making him stop.

The phone rings.

He picks up cautiously, as if I might grab it out of his hands and throw it out the window.

"Yes," he says quietly, then resting it back on the console.

 "Where are you?" a voice demands over speakerphone. "I have a meeting."

"I am coming to get you," the cabbie says, ignoring the fact that he has a passenger. "I am very close."

"How long?" the voice asks.

"Not long," he answers. "Five minutes, maybe ten... tops."

"I'll have to get another cab," the voice answers, hanging up.

That's it. I should make him stop. Get out. Call the police. Call this asshole's boss. Get him fired. We've all seen the news stories, seen the television ads. Texting and driving is more dangerous than drinking and driving, more dangerous than drinking and doing drugs while driving. If I don't speak up he's likely to drive off the road and kill himself, kill someone else, kill some little kid.

But I don't I don't say anything. I just sit there, in silence, steaming. His phone continues to beep. He doesn't pick it up, but I can see his head turn each time to see who is trying to contact him.

"Twelve dollars," he says stopping at the terminal. I dig out my wallet and consider what I should say, what words might let this jerk know my displeasure, or what words might make me feel a bit better about myself. I open my wallet and pull out a ten dollar bill. The cabbie's head is turned. His brown eyes are wide, almost apologetic. I pull out another two singles.

"Thank you so much for helping me," he says.

I pull out another two singles, gather the bills, slap them into his opened hand and almost leap from the cab.

I just want to get out of White Plains. I need a cup of coffee.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Life lessons

Like the swallows of Capistrano they have returned, lugging their overstuffed suitcases and footlockers, blocking streets with double-parked moving vans and prompting bursts of loud profanity and blaring horns from the long lines of vehicles trying to get around them. Ahhh... the sweet sounds fall. The students have returned. To a cabbie, it marks the end of a long and plodding summer, the end of scrapping over the handful of tourists and the end of hours spent sweltering on a cabstand. The frenzy of activity, the noise, the bursts of anger and car horns... is the sound of money. The college students have returned.

To mark the occassion the local TV stations have sent out squadrons of television vans to Harvard Square to do what I assume will be their annual fluff piece on the migration. They have lined up battalion-like, taking over one of the taxi stands in the middle of the square.

A middle-aged man and what I assume is his son hop in the car. They need to go to a Target store in Somerville to get junior some furniture for his dorm room.

"What's all this for," Dad asks, pointing to the TV trucks.

"Uh, there was a big cheating scandal," son answers insouciantly. "One hundred and twenty-five kids, all in the same class."

"No kidding?" Dad says. "What was the class?"

"Government 1310."

"And what's that?"

"Introduction to Congress," the boy answers sullenly.

"You gotta be kidding me!" Dad shouts in laughter. "How prophetic is that? Maybe they should all get extra credit! Do you know anybody in the class."

"Sure, both my roommates were in that class."

"Were they in on it?"

"No. The school sent letters to all the suspected cheaters. They didn't get the letter."

"How did the cheaters get caught?"

"It was a take-home exam and they all worked on it together. Apparently some turned in blue books in which the answers to a question were the same verbatim."

"Wow. You think if you're smart enought to get into Harvard you'd be smart enough not to cheat off someone elses's test by copying it word-for-word."

"Dad, these weren't the best and brightest. The class was a gut. Most of the football team was in the class."

"Oh, boy. There goes the season for the Crimson."

"I suppose," the boy answers glumly.

"Well there's a bright side to this, son. It looks like there'll be a lot dorm rooms opening up. Keep your eyes open!"