That was a red light. Damnit. It’s raining hard and getting dark and the piece of paper with the directions on it has gotten wet and is now blurry and the dome light in my car is not really bright enough to read by. Let me pull over. There’s a spot along the curb. Where am I? Can’t see the cross street sign. Maybe if I wait here until the next light turns a full cycle, then somehow karmically it’ll balance out?
Luckily, there were no cops around. I’ve had a perfect driving record since moving to Los Angeles and I’d like to keep it that way. My last ticket was here in New York, but it didn’t carry points. So, it doesn’t count.
Wait, what is this woman doing? She’s looking right at me. Where have I seen her before? Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. This is that lady who got into my car once as if I was a taxi and asked me to give her a lift. She didn’t really seem crazy, just a bit odd. Besides, I’d often thought about making a little money by giving people rides. While driving through Manhattan at night with no pressing place to be, I’d pass by the people trying to hail cabs and wonder if maybe I should just pull over and offer to take them wherever it was they were going. I’m sure they’d tip me as if I were a cab driver. I’d thought about doing that plenty of times, but never did.
This lady just got into my car one night as I was sitting by the curb with my engine running, just as I am now. She was well dressed, very chatty, about the same age as my mother. I thought it was a funny situation, but didn’t see the harm in helping her out. I’d like to think someone might do the same for my mom if she needed a ride, so I said sure and drove her home. She did not tip me when she got out of the car, which got me a little annoyed, but I wrote it off as my mitzvah for the day and waved goodbye to her while I waited to see if she got safely in the door. The doorman took it from there and I drove off.
Here she is again. What are the chances of that? Sure enough, she’s getting in my car, talking to me as if we were old friends. This time, she knows my name. She’s calling me Christopher. Did I tell her my name the last time? Could she remember it from… when was that, anyway? Maybe I really do know her, and she is wondering why I’m not being more friendly? Why I’m not calling her by her name? She does look familiar. Maybe she thinks I’ve forgotten her name and is being polite by not pointing it out?
She tells me she has a doctor’s appointment on Sixth and Fifth.
“Do you want me to drive you to Sixth and Fifth?”
Maybe, if we actually don’t know each other, she’ll take the hint that perhaps she should tip me as if I were a cab? She might be just a little nutty, or she might be the kind of person who is in the habit of asking people for free rides, and this just happens to be the second time she’s done it to me.
“Doesn’t this bus go to Sixth and Fifth?”
Oh. So I’m not a cab. I’m a bus. That would explain why she didn’t tip the last time. She doesn’t want me to drive her, which must mean she thinks I am another passenger on this bus. Okay. So, she’s a little batty. What am I supposed to do, ask this friendly-slightly-crazy lady to get out of my car and find some other way of getting to her doctor’s appointment? In the rain? After dark?
I pull away from the curb and start heading downtown. I assume she means Sixth Avenue and Fifth Street, and not the other way round, but am afraid to ask this question. Something tells me I’ll get the kind of answer my grandmother would have given. Grandma never knew how to give directions. She’d tell you to drive this way. Pass the clock. Turn left at the tree. You’ll see it after the house with the door.
You’d be convinced that grandma had no idea where she was taking you. Maybe she knew how to drive herself there, or maybe there was no there to be found. How much of what was in grandma’s imagination and how much of it was real was a thing which often veered far from any reasonable certainty. So you’d drive along, humoring her. Or so you thought. You’d turn left at the tree and there it was, right after the house with the door.
Perhaps it was the grocery store. One of several grandma visited on each shopping trip. We used to laugh at the way she would buy bread at one place, staples at another, produce at a third. Working at the A&P as a cashier, I thought it made more sense to go to one place for everything. One stop shopping. Supermarkets were designed to save you from travelling all over town in order to buy what you needed.
Now, as an adult, I laugh at how I find myself shopping exactly the way grandma used to do. I buy bread at one place, staples at another, produce at a third. At least I do know how to give directions. As for the lady in the back seat of my car, I’ll have to trust that her imagination is as accurate as often as grandma’s was. That when I get to Sixth Avenue and Fifth Street, there will be a building that looks like it could be a doctor’s office.
This time, I won’t expect a tip. I’ve already decided I’m doing a good deed, and will pretend that I’ve just forgotten her name as I wave goodbye. Then I’ll get back to the wet paper with blurry directions and hope I can find my way to where I was headed.
Of course, I could always just turn left at the tree.