I was doing my usual, cruising the city, waiting for a ride to blip on my phone, but the night was slow. I was driving in circles and the boredom made the time pass painfully slow. I pulled over to park and I called Queen, because I didn’t want to waste anymore gas and checking-in with her made the long nights bearable.
The phone rang a few times, and I anticipated her voicemail. I started thinking of a silly message to leave, but she answered.
“How’s your night?” we both said at the same time then laughed. I could hear her smiling through the phone.
“Don’t smile too hard.” I smirked.
“Whatchuwant? I’m still at the studio.”
“Just checking in, it’s slow tonight.” I didn’t want to rant about concert traffic or the aftermath of surviving a yelling bout between a drunk mom and daughter, so I asked her about her night. “What’s up with you? Not much going on out here.”
Her tone changed. “Bae, can I call you that? I know it’s just been a couple weeks. Don’t take it personal or get scared because of feelings. I’m thinking about working with a management group.”
I took a deep breath, knowing that Queen had expressed she wanted to be an independent artist and keep her money and the rights to her music. “I thought you wanted to be independent and keep ‘yo’ s***’.” I said it like she does with extra –it on the sh**.
“I do, but that’s not fast enough for me. One of the reps contacted me after my last week and said, I was dope.”
“That’s what a manager always says.”
“You right, but still, this is a management group, and it could lead to something. All of their artists are touring and they have good advances.”
I didn’t put much thought into what I said next, “Why do you keep going back and forth on the independent thing? Stop being wishy-washy.”
Queen took a few breaths. I heard her breathing through the phone. “You can’t talk about that considering your current situation. It ain’t like you go it all figured out.”
I paused and probed my mind. I was a driver. I was figuring things out, too, but I was consistent. “That’s not what I meant. If you keep going back and forth you won’t get anywhere.” I thought about what I just said, then realized I was digging a deeper hole. I heard her tapping her nails against the phone then and I decided to change the subject. “We can talk about this later. Let me think about it.”
“OK, we can talk. I don’t want to get upset right now. I’m here for us. I’m still at the studio trying to finish this song. Be here in the morning. That’s what I really need.”
I was a bit vexed, but I played it smooth. “I need to get a few more rides, and I’ll pick you up in the morning. It’s dry tonight.”
“Ok, King, call me later.” she said. Then we both waited for the other to end the call. “You going to hang up?” she asked.
“I’m trying. I can still sort of hear you, though.”
“I’m not either.” I looked around at the empty city streets. “Literally.”
She laughed. “‘You’re silly, but I’m still mad at you. Don’t try to make me laugh.”
“OK, I have to get back to work.”
I said, “OK,” then I ended the call.
The street lights and random bug noises kept me company until I got a pick-up at a nightclub. It wasn’t a premium trip, but I was glad to get some work.
There were two gentlemen. One appeared to be White. I called him Mr. White. The other appeared to be Black. I called him Mr. Black. They entered the car without incident, and thankfully, they didn’t reek of alcohol.
Before I started the trip, Mr. White reached and tapped the center console, “This ride is going to take a while. Do you have time? If you don’t, we can change to another driver. I will tip you very well.”
I thought of how slow the night had been, but I didn’t want to get a long trip that was a waste of time. “How much are you spending?”
Mr. White flashed a large wad of cash and placed a fifty-dollar bill on the center console. “This is just the start.”
I imagined meeting my nightly earnings goal with a single trip and driving home early. “OK,” I said, and I started the trip.
“Awesome, go to this address…”
We drove to a late-night spa. It was one of those places with a neon sign that you pass at night and wonder how they remain open, considering you never see cars or people at the place during the day.
Mr. White placed another fifty-dollar bill on my center console and said, “Wait here. We’ll be back.” The two entered then returned moments later. Mr. White was the first to comment. He let out one of those disappointed sighs, “If you pay for something, you should be satisfied. Here is the next address.” Then he placed another fifty on my center console.
It was another spa. Just like last time, Mr. Black and Mr. White entered and moments later they returned. This time, Mr. White asked me if the meter was still running. “I want to make sure you get paid.”
“Yeah, it’s running,” I said.
He gave me another fifty. “OK, here’s the next address.”
I grew concerned because this was the third location, and I began to wonder if he was just picking up money or robbing these places and getting back in my car. I was a driver not a get-a-way driver, and I didn’t want to explain any of this to the police. I was a bit hesitant to continue.
“How many more of these spots are there?”
“Countless. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a big tip at the end.” He placed another fifty on the center console.
“We’re good.” I said as I put the car in drive. As we continued, I pondered how many more of these late-night spas existed. They were in plain sight on public streets with obnoxious signs inviting patrons for massages in the middle of the night. It seemed obvious to me, and I wondered if this was part of a police sting operation or if they were on a hidden camera show to see how I’d react to strange trips. I didn’t see anyone trailing my car, and they didn’t have on strange clothing that looked like a hidden camera.
At the next destination, both gentlemen went into the spa. This time, Mr. White returned, alone, and stood outside the car. He motioned for me to lower the window.
“Is the meter running?” he asked again.
“It’s running.” I showed him the counting timer on my phone. “I’ll be here when you come back.”
“I need to wait here. Is that fine?”
I looked around for strange cars or out of place people, “Yeah, that’s fine.”
Mr. White opened the front passenger door and took a seat next to me. After he shut the door. He started moving around like he was uncomfortable. “You got a sunroof.”
I sild back the sunroof cover.
“Oh that’s great. Can I recline this seat a bit?”
“Sure.” I said as I kept watching for any strange movements outside the car.
He felt around the seat adjustment levers and found them. “Crazy story, I just met that dude at that club tonight. I was like, hey, let’s go to a spa, because the girls at the club weren’t being cool.”
“They weren’t vibing, that’s tough. Plenty of fish in the sea…You should go in too. I’ll wait here. The meter is running. No worries.”
“Oh…No…You know… sometimes…you get… coke d***.”
I furrowed my brow and tilted my head. “Never heard of that.”
“You know…” he said, “when you get really horny, but your junk doesn’t work.”
“Oooohh,” I said with a long nod. “You need a blue pill. There is a drugstore up the street.”
“Nah, it shouldn’t take him long. These girls are good. I’ve been a couple times.” Mr White took a deep breath. “You know, it smells like a farm in your car.”
I lowered the rear windows. “It’s been a long night.”
“Don’t worry about it. A lot of people get in and out of your car. I probably smell like a nightclub. I know you guys are trying to make a quick buck, it’s cool. You from around here?”
“That’s cool, I grew up on the Northside. Now, I travel 45 out of 52 weeks a year. It’s good to be home.” He stared out of the window then smelled the air. “It was tough when I was a kid. My mom is white and my dad is Iranian. Somebody always had s*** to say.”
I thought about the difficulties I faced for existing then I thought about what I knew about Iran. The only thing that came to mind was the word, TERROR, and I remembered where I learned this word.
“You’re right, some always has s*** to say.” I told him
“Yeah, s*** is s***, no matter where you’re from.”
I started to ask him about recent news reports about his country. They were always about war and bombings. This was the problem, knowing only the things news reports tell you about places. “Do you ever take trips there?” I asked.
“My dad’s from Iran. My mom is from the states. I have dual citizenship. They usually don’t allow such things, but with enough money, anyone can figure out a way to make it happen.”
“What’s it like? I usually only see news reports about Iran.”
“I used to go when I was younger, but now the passports, no ones getting in or out. You go there, they may not let you come home. I like Brazil. There’s no strip clubs in parts of Brazil. You go to the beach and you take girls to your hotel. You ever been?”
I thought of the short list of places I’ve traveled, “No, never been.”
“It’s beautiful. You rent a condo on the beach, it’s amazing. Beautiful girls, warm nights, but don’t get attached. Sh–’s crazy sometimes. You bring a girl to your hotel then make sure you sleep on your pants. If you don’t sleep on your pants, you will wake up and your wallet’s gone.”
“Is Iran like that?”
“No, it’s a strict place. Not a place to disobey laws if you’re not wealthy.”
“Just like the states.”
“You’ve got a point. S— is s—, right?”
“Isn’t there some kind of war going on there?”
He grunted and stared out of the window, again. “Hey, you got a mirror?”
I pointed to the visor on the passenger’s side of the car. “ There’s a mirror in there.”
He started fidgeting like he was in a hurry or missing something. “I can’t use that, but lots of things work, a book, a magazine, a card, anything.”
I remembered the vehicle manual in my glove box. “Open the glove box.”
He opened it and then looked at me for guidance.
“Use that manual.”
He grabbed it then reached into his pocket. He pulled out two one-hundred dollar bills. He gave me one. “That’s for your trouble.”
I thought it was a kind gesture, and I folded the cash and put it into my pocket. “Thanks.”
“No, thank you,” he said as he placed the manual on his lap. “You don’t mind, do you?”
I didn’t think anything of his question, and I said, “No, I don’t mind.”
“Ok, great. You like music?” he asked.
“Everyone likes music. I think Stalin even liked music.”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “Can I play a song?”
“Sure,” I said.
“I have the perfect song. I listen to it every morning.” He searched his phone then connected it to the auxiliary cable. The song played. I didn’t recognize it. Later, I learned it is called Country Boy by Aaron Lewis. The song was about a guy that grew up on dirt roads and loved rural areas and wearing old t-shirts. The singer also explained that he was American and that he loved his country and guns, and no one will take his rights away, because his family fought to protect his country.
I thought of drones flying over Iran.
“Hey, can you turn it up?”
I twisted the volume knob and the guitar strums filled the car.
Mr. White took a small bottle from his pocket and tapped a line of cocaine onto the vehicle manual. I wasn’t sure what to say.
“Is this cool?” he asked.
I looked around for cops and considered the tips I had received. I took a deep breath. “It’s cool.”
He separated the substance into small lines with a credit card then he snorted them with the other one-hundred dollar bill he had taken from his pocket.
His face grew red. His eyes sunk into his head. He turned to me and said, “I love this song.”
I raised the volume of the sound system, again.
He reclined his seat and looked toward the roof of the car. “It’s better when you can see the stars,” he said. “Can I see the stars?” he asked.
I opened the sunroof.
I saw his eyes trace the stars above then he turned to the flashing neon sign of the spa. He checked the area for other buildings then reclined his seat even more and looked back to the sky. There weren’t many stars visible because of the light pollution, but he seemed mesmerized by the few that were bright enough to see.
“At night, in Iran, from my Dad’s house, we can see all the stars. There is desert and stars for miles…desert and stars.”
Mr. Black emerged from the spa and entered the car like nothing had happened. When he settled, his demeanor changed. “Yo! Why are laying back like that? You know f*** dat. She called me, ‘Captain America!’”
Mr. White sprang up, “I love America!” he said then he yelled then faded back into his seat.
“What’s up with him?” Mr. Black asked me.
“I’m good! I’m good!” Mr. White said. “Let’s drive him home.”
I drove Mr. Black to a public transit station. I drove Mr. White to a large home with a gate. A tip notification for another fifty dollars appeared on my phone. I dusted the cocaine residue off my vehicle manual and placed it back into my glovebox. I was driving when I saw a text notification.
It was Queen: YOU MISS ME?
Thanks for reading. You can check out parts 1-6 here.