My next passenger had a strange house. It was hidden by trees and a bit of a way from the roar. The porch sat on top of a three-car garage, and the front face of the house was made with thermal glass, the kind you find on skyscrapers. The glass mirrored the clear blue sky and was framed by the reflections of swaying trees. I forgot about my problems with Queen for the moment, but the peace was interrupted when the passenger sprinted out of his house and began tugging at the trunk of my car.
He was wearing a red baseball cap, a faded blue t-shirt, and shorts. I hit the trunk release latch and proceeded to help, but he fitted his bag into the trunk and closed it before I could get both legs out of the car.
“Can you wait a minute?” he called to me. “I have to turn on the alarm, and I need to leave a note for my wife.”
I stood there, half-inside half-outside my car, as he rushed up his porch and back into his house.
I yelled out, “OK.” and slid back into the car.
While he was gone, I took another look at his glass house. The windows were sloped at a 45-degree angle, off-set by a balcony that sat above a garage. On the porch, there were wood leaf fans along with several rocking chairs that were still as a mountain.
Off to the side, a small distance from the house, I noticed a few large tree houses. Each was latched onto a separate tree and connected by bridges suspended above a small creek below.
The creek was lined with sloping hills of ivy. There were string lights draped along a bridge connecting the structures. I counted them, 1-2-3. The third, according to me, had windows and a french door. It looked like something out of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. I didn’t think much more of them at that moment. I was much more interested in the skyscraper glass.
He sprinted back to the car and said, “Thank you, most drivers are impatient.” He huffed a bit and closed the car door.
“No worries. Patience is a virtue.”
“Can’t argue with that,” he said as he settled and caught his breath. “I have to be at the airport in 30 minutes. Can you make it?”
I started driving. “It’s twenty minutes away. Traffic is light. We’ll get there early if you tell me the story about the glass on your house.”
“Haha, fair enough. It’s been years since I bought it. An architect designed and built it. The glass was supposed to go on the side of a skyscraper, but the fabricator added the wrong tint, and it was unusable for the project. The architect paid to have it hauled away and built the house with it.”
“That’s neat,” I told him. “You don’t see that often.”
“The house has no walls inside and a completely open floor plan. It’s better than any of these MCH, Modern Contemporary Homes, they’re building these days.”
“Yeah, the square houses.”
“Yeah, those things. Some of the designs are unique, but most are copycats. Did you see the tree houses? You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but that is the number one Free-Air & Bee in the world.”
I laughed. “Really?”
“Really.” he said like he was placing the final brick in a wall. “When I was little, I always wanted to build a treehouse, but what I built, amounted to a cardboard box in a tree. When I got older, I built something worthwhile. I call them Mind, Body, and Spirit. You can look it up.”
Of all the stories I lived while driving, I thought this was one of the wildest. “I thought they were for your grandkids.”
“My grandson likes to go up there when they’re not booked. Once, he almost fell out. We don’t go up there often, but people from all over the world stay in those treehouses. But enough about that, what do you do when you’re not driving?”
I took a long breath and started watching the each line that passed on the highway. “Honestly, that’s the number one question passengers ask me. It’s right up there with how close we are to the destination and how much do you make per week.”
“This must be a profitable job,” he said then laughed. “Not unless you’re a bank robber in your spare time, or you could be a serial killer and this whole time you drive people to their death.” He laughed again. “If I was going to do it. I’d use those mints you got there or that water. No one would suspect it. Ha, ha, I’m just kidding.” He laughed again. “People like murder stories and stories where people do awful things to each other. Someone could make a movie called the mint and water murderer, but you gotta do something else. You’ve got to.”
In my mind, I saw Queen asking me the same question: What else do you want to do? I drew an empty bucket from my mental well, and my response was still the same.
“I’m just out here making money. Nothing special.”
“That’s honest. It’s just that you seem like a deep thinker. Are you a philosopher or something like that? I bet you hear a lot of stories.”
I thought of the notebooks I could fill with stories from passengers, “I’m not a philosopher, just a guy in a car.”
“Oh, you’re more than that!” He leaned toward the front seat. “I really like writing and acting. It wasn’t until I built my tree houses, and used the extra cash to retire, that I was able to focus on what I really loved.”
I thought about putting words on paper for the rest of my life.
He interrupted my thoughts. “It’s funny that you say, you’re just a guy in a car. I don’t agree. That’s what people say to make sense of what they’re doing when they’re trying to find themselves. Don’t ever believe any of that bull****. Just keep listening and get some courage. That’s all you gotta do.
Honestly, it takes more self-discipline to do this than a lot of other jobs. You make your own schedule, you keep your own hours, you’re accountable to yourself, no one else, and you have one of the best ratings I’ve seen. You’re doing a lot better than most. You just gotta go out on a limb. Then you’ll really make something happen.”
He checked his phone. “ Aww man, flights delayed, but keep driving fast. I can read when I get to the airport. I used to manage organizations until I made the tree houses for Free-Air & Bee. The technology came along at the right time, and I went out on a limb and made something that really pays the bills.”
He placed his cellphone in his pocket and took a notebook from his bag. “There is a book you need to read if you write. It’s hilarious. It talks about finishing your work Bird by Bird.”
He wrote the title and gave me the author’s name. He asked me to send him a copy of my book if I ever wrote one.
“I don’t like writing,” I said.
He kept talking about writing. “You can write mysteries, suspense, or that romance stuff. I don’t do erotic lit, warn me if you write that kind of stuff. I’ll give it to my wife. She likes it. You could probably write about real life and the things that happen everyday.”
“Sounds boring,” I said.
“Not the way I see it. I bet the people you pick up tell you a lot of stuff. Change the names and embellish a little bit. You might have something. Really, go out on a limb and see what’s out there.”
I glanced at the clock on my dash. It was early, so I thought about getting breakfast then filling the time with work, just to be productive. He started with his phone, reading and thinking out loud while he responded to his Free Air and Bee clients via text.
“I told that woman she cannot stay for three weeks. It’s peak season…”
As we continued, I couldn’t get my mind off my passenger’s advice. It made me think of an old story from school, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” The author’s name came to me later, O’Connor. Regardless. I knew there was more to life than paying bills and cashing out, but at the moment, that was the immediate challenge. It was the only target yelling pick me, pick me. I laughed inside as I glanced at the map on my phone and and another trip automatically queued as I drove to the airport. I thought of how easily the device made it to administer a plan or at least suggest one. I wondered if a suggestion was as strong as a push, pull, or nudge in a predetermined direction.
When we arrived at the airport, he exited the car, and I helped him retrieve his luggage from the trunk. When he had his rolling suitcase on the ground, he looked me over. “Let me know if you ever decide to write a book. My email’s on that slip of paper with the book title. It may be something. Even if it’s not, at least you got something to show the grandkids.”
“If I ever write one, I’ll be sure you get the first copy.”
“That’s a start. I’ll hold you to it,” he said as he walked off.
I drove away from the airport and started taking trip after trip. There weren’t any stories, just routine rides. Before long, it was dusk and the sun’s rays beamed down making everything golden. My car was steamy. The funk of 20 or more people had filled the car and the outside air was stale with smog. I found a department store parking lot where I could wait on another trip.
A few people strolled by, and a few sparrows picked at chicken bones near a discarded styrofoam food container. I saw a cab driver park then he emerged from his car. He gathered a water bottle from his trunk and placed a mat on the ground. He washed his hands and feet then began his prayers. I wondered whether he was praying for life, providence, or both.
Another trip alert sounded and I watched the timer tick down to silence. A warning that I would be logged out of the system if I missed another trip appeared and I deleted it. I imagined picking up another passenger, watching them enter, cataloging their clothes, their mannerisms, their advice, all to watch them leave. I envisioned a car door opening and closing a million more times. The one constant, the sound of my voice, it had life until it faded away.
Another trip alert sounded, but a call from Queen interrupted it. She had sent several texts earlier. The last read:
THIS IS THE LAST TIME I CALL YOU.
I looked over the phone, my hand hovered above the option to accept or decline. The alert faded, and I said, “Hello.”
Posted in: Life Cycle of an a UB3R Driver