by Gwendolyn Verner
Damn it! 5:40. I missed my train. I'll need to take a taxi if I'm going to make it to the Drury Lane by 6:30. Wouldn't you know it, not a taxi in sight.
As I step off the curb to see if a cab is approaching from the other side of the street, I spot a moving light. "Thank you, God. If I miss this play after convincing my boyfriend to stand in line for over three hours to get tickets, I will never hear the end of it."
As the cab slows down and approaches me I begin to reach for the door and, sticking my head into the cab, I am overwhelmed by the sights I see--a psychedelic wonderland! I'm talking about John Travolta, "Staying Alive" psychedelic-type world with strobe lights blazing, spitting red, green and yellow in furious sequence. As the rest of my body catches up with my head inside the taxi, I begin to look at the taxicab driver.
To my surprise, the person driving the taxi is surely not the face that is on the picture in the card holder. I am talking about a guy whose name turns out to be Ali Ali, but the picture was Juan Hernandez (you see what I mean, like night and day).
After a brief hesitation I clear my throat and say: "That picture must have been taken when you first came to this country. You look so different."
As I wait for a reply, I begin to look around in the taxi and, to my amazement, there is a mini "7-11." I mean there are condoms, rainscarves, candies, potato chips, wet-ones, hair spray, gum, newspapers, men and women's cologne, deodorant, chapstick, magazines, books.
By now he is peering through the mirror and notices me looking around and says, "What you want, I got!"
He grins the biggest grin I've ever seen, and continues: "Pepsi, Pepsi. No Coke, but if you want Coke--the powder--I can get that for you, too."
I am momentarily stunned into silence.
"Where to?' he asks, without taking a breath after the litany of offers.
As I begin to tell him the address, he motions with his hand, "You need a phone?"
Still in a state of shock, I continue my surveillance. He points to a fax machine. I notice a food carousel which, at the press of a button, displays pizza-puffs, White Castle burgers, apples, oranges, soup.
"All for your enjoyment," he says with the wave of a hand.
So, I say "No, thank you. I think I'll just enjoy the ride."
As I move my briefcase, I notice yet another prop in this psychedelic wundervan: a mini microwave. It seems as though this psychedelic taxi driver is also a psychic. He reads my mind, saying that he has popcorn.
"Butter," he says. "Extra butter, lite and regular. I take American-Express, Diner's, Visa, Mastercard and good old American dollars," he barks. "Pick out something. I know I have something you like. Candy? Mints? Look around."
Further reading my mind, he continues: "Don't be so uptight, I will get you there on time. We have a good little ways to go. Relax. Nothing is that bad. It's Friday, time to say 'screw the boss' and let your hair hang down. Boogie!"
With his last words, he begins to move his right hand back and forth, snapping his fingers. I actually have to smile at such a sight.
Moving along swiftly now, he asks, "Are you married?"
I reply, "No."
He asks, "Why?" Then, the inevitable: "A nice looking woman like yourself? Come on! Do you have a boyfriend?"
Because I do not answer, he continues with what is increasingly becoming a modern-day inevitability. "Don't tell me you like women?"
That, of course, is an icebreaker. "Yes," I say sharply, blinking my eyes and craning my neck like an albatross in heat. "I do have a boyfriend and I do not like women in that way. If you must know, I'll be getting married in four weeks."
As he looks up in the mirror (still smiling broadly) he says, "I knew you had some guy. You don't look like the type to have a woman for a lover. You know what I mean?"
By now, I am saying to myself, "He has a lot of damn nerve asking me questions! Who in the hell is he, with a fake ID?"
So, I say to Mr. Fake ID, "Who is that in the picture?"
He smiles and, looking into the mirror, says "That's me. Don't it look like me?"
I say to him, "Not unless your father is Juan Valdez!"
With that, he lets out a loud laugh and says, "Okay, okay. I have been here in the USA five weeks and I needed a job so my friend Juan Ramos asked me if I wanted to work his cab at night."
I asked him, "Won't they know its not you in the picture?"
He replied, "Naw, all passengers want to do is get to where they're going. Just keep them talking and they won't pay any attention to the picture. So, here I am. You know, before tonight, you're the only person who has questioned me about that picture?"
Then as if an afterthought, he shouts, "Man!. You could be the police or something! Are you?"
Now I'm smiling and say, "Don't worry. Your secret is safe with me."
As I start to gather my briefcase, papers and umbrella, a uniformed doorman begins to open the door. I lean over the front seat and say, "Let me give you a piece of advice, Ali Ali. The next person you pick up, make sure you turn the meter on."
While I'm exiting the cab, I do a mental count of how much money this four-wheeled psychedelic wonderland has saved me. My ascent from the cab is momentarily interrupted as I bellow, "There is a God! Let's booogieee!"
I slam the taxi door, snap the fingers of my left hand and keep on stepping.
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