Getting around town via Lyft and the local buses has made living in L. A. a lot more like living in New York. When I go out, I’m face-to-face with people, people I have to talk to and interact with. I’m suddenly much less in my own little world—my late, lamented car.
Ahh, my sexy ride! My ’74 Monte Carlo coupe had a long, strong nose, a cute lil’ boot, a big, powerful engine and handled like a race horse. I could parallel park with my pinkie, sprint off the green light and weave through traffic effortlessly. She glided low to the road, heavy and smooth—she felt safe, despite her awesome power. And yes, she used a shit-ton of gas!
But not long ago the sad end came. There was no glorious leap forward at the green light but rather a weak sputtering, a pathetic limp across the intersection to the right curb beyond. The transmission was gone, I knew. And I knew it would cost a fortune to repair. I’d fixed and replaced all of it before, but this time it somehow felt different. How many times had I been stranded over this last year? I didn’t want to admit. It went against every instinct I ever had, but it was time to let go.
This morning I geared up for a multi-stop, two-campus (errands included) ambitious outing day. Driver One was a curly-headed young man with wire-rimmed sunglasses and thick silver chains on a bronzed neck, calm and friendly (yes, people can be this way while driving!) We soon picked up a man in a yarmulke in front of the Jewish Community Center. He was from Spain, he said. In no time we were all discussing travels in Europe and beyond when the Spaniard answered his phone, and I was treated to the beautiful sound of a baritone Castellano until we dropped him. Then we arrived at my credit union.
Driver Two was from Maracaibo Zuila—in Venezuela, it turns out. I got to practice my Spanish a bit… but we’d be picking up a François, so maybe we’d switch to French. François was an economist, and headed to campus, like me. We talked mostly in English, our economist laughing away at the notion that his PhD was something to be impressed by. The Venezuelan became deeply philosophical and earnest, and then dropped me off. I was ready for my workout!
Driver Three, an Armenian man who barely spoke English, was so apologetic because he needed to stop for gas that he kept offering to buy me something to drink from the mini-mart.
“No! I have water, thank you, and an apple.”
“You want apple juice?” he managed.
“No, no…I have an apple”—I pulled it out to show him.
Still wondering if I paid extra for that ride because it was a sleek black Lexus sedan and the fare was a bit steep—but boy, that big car felt smooth though! He attempted small talk about the weather but it took me a while to catch on since he said something like “You…hur…wadder” and kept pointing out and across the windshield towards the sky. Once I understood, the language teacher in me went right into equipping him with a few handy phrases for weather chat. Finally to campus two, to teach Arabic class.
At this point I was ready for a quick, quiet ride home after class, relishing the notion that I’d not be approaching my parking-restricted block on Wednesday, trash night! bulky plastic bins all crowding the curb, at near ten in the evening, praying for a place to park. Dare I make a stop at Target, and do two rides?
Driver Four called, totally confused, and my phone battery was totally dying. By the time she reached me, she was aflutter with apologies. A lively African-American 30-something with masses of gold-brown ringlets and a mile-a-minute voice, she finally heeded my call to relax… it was OK, she found me, I was in the car—yay! I mentioned that I’d considered making a stop but didn’t know how to work the app for it yet, and she insisted that we’d take me shopping because she was so very sorry I’d had to wait.
By the time we rolled down my block she’d offered to put me in touch with a Kia auto sales guy she knew who has integrity, mentioned she’s a casting agent and also is looking to teach some sort of ‘industry’ job at a local college, made sure I knew this driving gig was just that and nothing more, picked my brain about my job and background (art) and gave me a speed course in selling artwork to online producers of everything from fabric to wrapping paper. There wasn’t a parking space to be seen.