It was pouring. The city was just canyons of rain. Angry horns screaming to GO GO GO before the light changed. It was wet. Everywhere. It was early Wednesday morning and the city was angry.
My previous fare had regaled me with tales of his father’s dealings with the Winter Hill Gang. You run into a lot of these people in Boston. Everybody knows somebody somebody Whitey-adjacent or formally Whitey-employed or Whitey-murdered. His matter-of-fact monologue mainly consisted of body counts with heavy amounts of the words “f*ck” and *like” thrown in. Admittedly and sadly, I use those two words on the daily. But he had a quota.
It was a tense car ride. 45 minutes from Dot to Cambridge and my passenger stopped only once to briefly answer his phone and lie about how close he was to work. He was thuggish, but used an umbrella. He used “gay” as a descriptor for people, and I always find it off-putting when someone rough-appearing isn’t using it in a derogatory way. I was waiting for him to drop the “F” bomb (the other one) but he didn’t. I didn’t know if he was rough trade, or Tom Toughie-misunderstood, or just bad news. Rough trade and bad news can be much the same. Rough trade is just the gay version. You’ll probably get something sweaty out of it but keep an eye on your wallet.
“This f*cking gay guy Juan, he like works in the kitchen and like makes all the f*cking food.”
Then there was this one:
“Yeah my uncle used to like go in town and mess with gay guys. But then this one huge f*cking gay guy beat the f*ck out of him and raped him (!!!). He put it in his book, though.”
Wait, book? I’m just avoiding the rape portion of that declaration.
Yeah, Tom Toughie was a reader. Mostly he read books about Whitey Bulger and picked them apart for truthfulness. He was also offended that his family barely got a mention in any of these tomes. Tom reasoned this was because his father knew someone who knew someone who convinced Whitey’s people to lay off collecting from him.
I was raised in the woods of suburban South Weymouth, and mainly stayed in my room drinking chocolate milk and reading comic books (or so my brothers would tell you). This sort of thing isn’t in my wheelhouse. Everyone I know is (mostly) on this side of the law.
We segued from “True Tales of the Boston Mob” to his junkie uncle. His junkie uncle had destroyed my passenger’s catering business. He “f*cking like stole all the f*cking money my father invested and didn’t bring in any f*cking clients. He used to go on these fake f*cking business meetings like. But he’d go and just get high with his girlfriend. Like. F*ck. Like. F*cking. Like.”
Uncle Toughie had six kids, two of them twins with a “f*cking 400 lb. bald girl that he’s banging so he can like f*cking do drugs with her.” He didn’t mention until later that she was undergoing chemotherapy. I had previously gotten the impression that her heroin use might have inspired her decision to eschew hair as well as increase eating (He also mentioned she used to be “110 f*cking lbs.”). He wasn’t ready just yet to allow for cancer treatment, though. He also thought she might have shaved her head.
“She’s like one of those types of bitches who will just, you know, shave their f*cking head to be different and sh*t.”
I was grateful for “shit.” It changed things up. Also, right after his description of “those types of bitches,” I almost asked “you mean like Britney?” But didn’t. I would have ended up “like this f*cking gay Uber like f*cking gay driver.”
I let him off at a cafe near Kendall Square. He stomped off under his umbrella to make angry sandwiches. My car felt lighter afterwards. No, he didn’t take my wallet.
I pulled up in front of one of Boston’s classier hotels. The doorman ascertained I was the Uber guy, and quickly strode up to my small car with two large pieces of luggage. He opened my trunk. I didn’t tell him he could, so I felt a little violated and just a bit nervous that something awkward might be in there. Like comic books, or chocolate milk.
My trunk size is barely big enough to fit comic books or chocolate milk. Braving the rain, I relieved him of the luggage and fit it into the backseat. I would be traveling with two. He insisted on opening the doors for these ladies. One I hadn’t unlocked yet. Our car was purchased because A) it was cheap (as far as cars go) and B) my husband liked the color. Chevrolet calls it “jalapeño.” Uh huh. Picture lime green with a little radioactivity. It looks like an M&M of a color no one wanted. It is a small “jalapeño” car with nary an extra feature. It does not have power locks. Rain filled my jeans as I hefted luggage into the back seat, and then had to sprawl myself across the front seat to unlock the door and let one of them in. Everything was dripping and crammed all of a sudden. The doorman just sort of shook his sadly and backed away. I’m basically the Peanuts character Pig Pen except, instead of a dirt cloud, I move in a maelstrom of awkward. Two out of three of my encounters with other human beings (including my spouse, family and friends) will involve some sort of component of weird and uneasy.
I tried, though.
“Guess you guys ordered the small car, huh?” I said brightly (oh, J.) to the curvy blossom in the back as her friend situated herself. She was sort of…stuffed…against their luggage.
To my relief, she laughed heartily.
“I guess so. Gee whiz, you are the first nice Uber driver we’ve had in this city!”
Her accent was trills of delight. She was like the lost cast member of Designing Women. A steel magnolia, blonde and brassy in my backseat. I loved her.
They were off to Logan. It was 9:30 AM. Google claimed I could get there in 10 minutes. They were flying separately and Backseat’s flight was at 10:30 AM.
Her friend was equally friendly, but a little quieter. Older. Mom-type.
We commiserated about cranky Uber drivers, and I confirmed that yes, you’re sort of supposed to be friendly. An Uber driver they used during a side trip to Salem was “Spanish” and “didn’t speak a lick of English.”
“He didn’t have any goddamn clue where he was going. He didn’t speak English! He just kept laughing and nodding at us! You guys are supposed to know English, right?”
“I supposed it’s encouraged, yes. Do you speak Spanish at all?” I asked.
“Yeah – burrito,” she deadpanned. I didn’t know Southerners could deadpan.
Her companion cackled at that.
“And chimichanga. That’s about all I know.”
They had obviously made it back from Witch Country despite being unilingual. I asked what they had seen while they were in Boston. I asked this because I guessed rightly that I would receive scads of data. I needed scads of data because I was lost. I had somehow gotten lost. Was I in some sort of fugue state? As mellifluous tones from the backseat judged the Boston Tea Party Museum as “cheesy,” I began to internally panic because the entrance to the Logan Airport tunnel wasn’t where I left it. Where did it go? My directional sense is…not a sense, it’s more of a vacancy. I travel via landmarks and Google GPS. Google GPS is my bestie when I drive for Uber. Apparently, it was the Google GPS lady’s day off. Or she was using at work. She kept stalling and then losing my location. Even those handy signs with the airplane symbol seemed to be mocking me and leading me into stupid new directions.
Combine my inability to find the correct way to the airport with gridlock traffic, fogged up windows, and pounding rain. People were leaping out of the burning building in my mind. Much of my existence runs via anxiety. I’ve learned a few tricks to hold it at bay. They work. Sometimes. Breathing ten times slowly (but not obviously) wasn’t helping as I inched the jalapeño M&M down incorrect roads.
“…and we got this harbor cruise ticket WITH the ticket for that attraction. So it was very convenient. And then we ate at Legal Seafoods because you’re sposed’ to, but I wasn’t very impressed to be honest.”
Turn. Wait. Rain. Horns. Roll forward a few inches. We had gone two complete circles. Look kids – North End, Bell and Hand.
I learned that Mom in the front seat sold furniture in Mississippi for “the #1 Independent Furniture Retailer in America.” Her store was so big that it used to feature a basketball court. They quickly took it out because children were leaving their drinks all over the court they had gotten at the in-store snack bar. Mom in the front seat was happy about the decision because she once received a basketball to the head at a high velocity. Her neck still pains her sometimes. There’s still a makeshift movie theater that the store received some sort of fine for because they were a makeshift movie theater.
“I don’t know why,” Mom in the front seat said. “It was the perfect place to put your kids while you were shoppin’ so they could watch Spiderman or somethin’ ”
“It was also a great place to make out,” offered the backseat blossom.
We all chuckled at this. My chuckle was phony because my mind was on fire with my failure to find the F*CKING AIRPORT RAMP OH MY GOD WHERE IS THAT RAMP I HAVE GONE IN TWO CIRCLES IT KEEPS MOCKING ME THE AIRPLANE SHAPE IS LYING.
Mom in the front seat was no fool. She could sense something was up. She had stiffened a bit and begun peering at my iPhone. It’s locked into a holder that’s stuck to the windshield. So everyone can see what a mistake this whole Uber-driving venture is for me.
I made a few excuses.
“I think they’re detouring us here.”
“Yeah, this traffic is brutal. We just have to get past it down this street.”
“Boston drivers are the worst, huh?”
We ended up in a parking lot somewhere in the Seaport District. I could see that giant Hood Milk bottle that marks the entrance to the Boston Children’s Museum across the water. It shone through the rain, a bright beacon that wasn’t meant for me.
I was of two minds. Keep driving around blindly and find that tunnel. It has to be around here somewhere. You’ve gotten on it a million times. Just be quiet and they can chatter “how he didn’t have a damn clue where he was goin’” over a pre-flight cocktail. Just be a guy about it and do not openly concede defeat.
Or you could be honest and hope for sympathetic patience. ‘Sympathetic Patience” has been one of my besties for some time now.
“Ladies, I gotta admit something. I’m lost.”
They immediately spoke up.
“Yeah, I figured that since I saw a sign for 93 somethin’ with a little airplane beside it and you didn’t go that way.”
“That’s alright. You’re the only nice Uber driver we’ve had. It counts for something.”
“We’re just gonna go home and never forget this. We’re gonna talk about you for years to come.
I enacted their future holiday reminiscence for them:
“Remember that time we were in Boston and that Uber driver? Oh lord, he was nice but he was SO DAMN STUPID.”
We all burst into laughter. I left out the accent those because I didn’t want to mock them. I was absurdly grateful for their congeniality. “Absurdly Grateful” is another one of my best friends.
I continued to mock myself and mock the fact that I’ve lived adjacent to this city all my life and suddenly couldn’t locate the airport because of… inclement weather…low blood sugar…mean people honking? One of those?
My down home goddess in the backseat activated her GPS. I’m not sure which one she used. It was a very robotic voice. Good, robotic will mean logical and correct. It was. It got us to the airport. I noted that my Google GPS suddenly started agreeing with it. Before that it had been somewhat of a blank and just kept repeating “Congress Street, Congress Street, Congress Street” over and over. Fool. Jerk. Stupid. A**hole GPS.
The subject of coin was brought up, and I assured them it would be no charge.
“Oh no, we gotta pay something!”
“Ma’am, you guys being so patient about this is payment enough. Please.”
This is probably a good thing because what should have been an $18 ride came to $57 and change. It was a long road to Logan Airport that morning.
As I got out to grab their luggage for them, Mom in the front seat mentioned something about “giving you a little money.”
“Are you crazy?” I asked dramatically.
She seemed to be briefly taken aback, as if I was yelling at her. I didn’t have time to inform her that I am drama.
“I’m the worst Uber drive you’ve ever encountered. No money.”
“But you’re the nicest one,” she offered. I ignored her and got the bags on the sidewalk. Bidding them farewell, I got into my jalapeño stress-mobile and motored off. I laughed aloud, my face bursting red over the whole thing. Looking over, I noted that Mom in the front seat had left a neatly folded $5 bill on the dash. Thank you, ladies.