For several days my car hadn’t been starting. I decided to take the day off from work to get it fixed and had to take a cab to get to my lifeless automobile. This journey was perhaps the most traumatic experience my fragile psyche had to deal with to that date.
My driver was an old man who looked like he could have been hired by Yellow Cab based on his experience pushing a shopping cart around city streets in a stupor. His hair was matted. His rosy nose and urea-enhanced eyes reflected the inner-strength of a man who wasn’t afraid to show his liver who’s boss. As I fastened my seat belt, I silently prayed he at least wasn’t drunk right then. His sour demeanor soon revealed he couldn’t be. We sat at the outlet from my neighborhood waiting to turn left as traffic whizzed past us going both ways. He muttered at the “fuckers” streaming by in the far lane each time there was an opening on the other side.
I’m used to sitting there for minutes at a time waiting to get out, but he was having none of that. He lurched into the street, apparently after making some sort of calculated bet that the driver of the car speeding toward us in the left lane would value his life enough to switch to the right. When it became apparent he didn’t, my driver let out a louder, more gravelly “fucker!” and swerved in the other direction, leaving us sandwiched between two lanes of traffic, coasting toward the median. After the fucker passed us, we/the driver sped out into the street. His back left tire hopped over the median with a pop, then a shhhhh, which slowly diminished as we approached Elliot road. I asked him to stop at the convenience store there. He looked back at me, amused at what he was about to ask.
“As I fastened my seat belt, I silently prayed he at least wasn’t drunk right then.”
“Which one, the Circle Jerk?” he asked.
Yes, the Circle Jerk.
I took my time inside the store. When I came out, I found him hunched over his open trunk, removing tools and throwing them on the ground.
“Guess what happened?” he growled. His tire was completely deflated. I wasn’t worried about the delay. I knew it could take a long time for the repair guy to get to my car anyway.
I lit a cigarette and struck up a conversation with a guy getting off a payphone. He said he had called someone to get a ride. I told him my car wasn’t starting and feigned knowledge of car-words by telling him I suspected it was my alternator. It turned out his car was broken as well. He had run over a fire hydrant. I asked him if his axle was broken. A surge of pride overwhelmed me when he explained that yes, his axle was broken and that his car only drove in circles.
We looked at my driver, who was spitting and cursing at the tire.
“Looks like a fun guy,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied, noticing the driver’s face had gotten a little redder than it was before.
“As he wiped the sweat from his eyes, I noticed he wasn’t panting, but wheezing.
It seemed he might vomit at any moment.”
My new car-word friend’s ride came, and I was left alone, staring nervously as this man struggled now to get the bolts off of the tire. Sweat poured down his face, and his butt crack glistened in the afternoon sun. He began to shake and looked disoriented. I asked him if he needed any help, but he refused with a raspy, beastly gurgle and returned to the tire with even more determination. I kept back a safe distance.
Once he removed the tire, he found the car was too low to accommodate the spare and let out another string of gargled curses. He started to shake more violently as he jacked the car up higher. He tried to put the spare on again, found it wouldn’t fit, and cursed some more. He seemed to be rapidly deteriorating both physically and mentally. After another round, he finally managed to slip the tire on. He immediately stumbled into the shade.
He leaned against the wall with his hands on his knees, his eyes looking like those of some wild animal who’d just been shot with a tranquilizer dart. As he wiped the sweat from his eyes, I noticed he wasn’t panting, but wheezing. It seemed he might vomit at any moment.
“You look like you could really use some rest,” I said.
“Don’t ever get emphysema,” he gurgled back, returning to the tire.
As he screwed the tire into place, I imagined myself leaving the scene in another cab, and him leaving the scene in an ambulance.
“Are you sure you don’t need some help?” I offered. He was shaking again and looked like he was about to pass out.
“No, I just need to get these bolts on.”
I thought to myself, that if there were ever a good time to willfully ignore what someone had just said, this was it. He looked like some primordial man enraged by possession of the desire, but also the lack of ability, to use tools. He cursed some more. I decided to maintain my safe distance. He was almost done, after all.
“He sat wheezing for a few moments before starting up the car and speeding us away.
With one hand, he pulled an inhaler out of the glove compartment and sucked back a few puffs.”
I felt a sense of relief as he finally lowered the jack. Then I stood back in anticipation as he found he couldn’t budge it loose. He threw his wrench down and kicked violently at the jack, nearly falling over as he screamed, “God fucking!”
He managed to kick the jack out of place and then, standing 10 feet away, flung his tools into the trunk. He let me help him pick up his deflated tire and throw it in as well. He got back into the cab, and I followed, wondering if he should be driving. He sat wheezing for a few moments before starting up the car and speeding us away. With one hand, he pulled an inhaler out of the glove compartment and sucked back a few puffs.
We were silent until we neared my destination.
“Fucking emphysema makes you get winded just thinking about doing something. Thank God it’s the end of my fucking shift,” he said, still wheezing.
“That’s good,” I said, “You really look like you could use a lot of rest.”
“I’m going to rest alright,” he laughed. “With a bottle of fucking Bacardi!”
I chuckled and smiled. Then we fell silent again. Awkward.
When we got to my car I paid him and included a pretty big tip.
I got out, stood by my car to wait for the repair guy, and lit a cigarette.