Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Taxi Ride

Bailey Farms, near Osinning NY, where the
training for Amherst Writers and Arts took place.
I heard the sound of a car horn. “That’s my taxi,” I announced to the two remaining writing workshop members.  We exchanged quick hugs and I ran outside. A chunky, dark haired man was standing next to the black, oversized car. The driver and I exchanged greetings. I noticed he cradled his cell phone in his hands. He offered it to me as if giving me a gift.

His face had an open, childlike expression and he asked me, “ Please, you find the map to the airport?” I took one look at the old mobile phone and knew I was in deep trouble. I couldn’t figure out how to use my own iPhone and I was suppose to figure out this alien device? I quickly got on my computer and prayed that the WiFi access I used during the week could work here, outside, on the driveway. I Googled directions to JFK Airport from Osinning, New York.  I offered up a little prayer that the map would stay on my screen, and said with false confidence, “Let’s go! Take I-678 South.”

I settled into the back seat of the car.  The driver pulled onto the highway. The back seat was so spacious it could qualify for an apartment in Paris. The old suspension of the car rocked me into a feeling of comfortable contentment. Then I remembered a small detail. “The woman at the retreat center said that you take a credit card.  Right?”

“No, ma’am. Only cash,” he answered.

“I have no cash. We will need to stop at an ATM machine.”

“Okay, ma’am.”

“Good,” I thought. “He’s from this area.  He will know where to stop.” I settled back into my apartment size, gently swaying back seat.

“Are you from around here?” the driver asked.

“No,” I answered. “You won’t believe this.  I teach in India.  I am from India.  That’s why I don’t know how to get to the airport. Where are you from? What’s your name?”

“My name is Paulo. I am from Guatemala. I live here eight years. I buy this car.  It is my business,” he answered. Paulo looked at me in the mirror. “I saw a T.V. show about India.  Montañas in India. Como se dice…?”

We lapsed into a comfortable silence. Then I noticed signs for the Taconic Parkway. “Take this exit!” I shouted. “Go south! Go south!” The big boat swerved into the correct lane at the last moment.

“La Himalyas!”  he exclaimed with jubilation. “The show was about a girl. She went up into the Himalyas all by herself in just a jeep. Big tanks of petro on the back of the jeep.”

“Oh, yes.  The Himalayas.  It’s really cold up there.  I haven’t been there yet.  Do you see the Cross Country Parkway?  We need to go east.  EAST!  That exit there!  EAST!”  We slid past the east exit.

“No worry,” my trusty driver said as he exited west into a grey, tired town that had seen happier days. Paulo and I kept careful eyes out as we maneuvered our car through one-way streets, u-turns, and false highway exits.  At last we found a sign for Cross Country Parkway East.  Our car was once again heading toward JFK Airport. We continued on down the highway and through a tollbooth. I began to see signs for John F. Kennedy Airport.

“We need to stop at an ATM machine,” I reminded the driver.

“Yes,” he said without one suggestion of how we should accomplish that important task.

“Oh my God. What should I do?” I thought. I knew that Paulo could not drop me off at the airport and wait for me to find an ATM. The authorities would never allow it.  Should I have him drop me off while I find an ATM and he drives around?  Should I beg someone to lend me money?  Should I get out, collect my bags, and run? We were getting closer and closer to the airport. Suddenly my 59 year old brain remembered Yelp.  I could Yelp a near-by bank.  On my phone, I saw there were four banks on Liberty Street in Jaimaca, New York—the last exit before the terminal.

“Quick,” I instructed my driver. “ Get off on Liberty.  There are some banks on that street.”

The driver pulled off the highway onto Liberty Street.  I slunk low into my black leather couch and reminded myself that this was one of those times I need to let go, take a deep breath, and believe in all things bright and beautiful. “Get a grip, Nancy,” I lectured myself. “Stop acting like a 1950s girl with all your fears and prejudices.” I sat taller in my seat, reached through the two front seats to show Paulo my Yelp map.

“We need to keep heading west on Liberty to reach the banks,” I said as I prayed the banks had an open ATM machine.

Paulo inched the car down the road.  Suddenly my heart took a happy leap. A man in a neon orange turban.  A woman in a turquoise sari.  An Indian spice store.  “I’m home,” I sighed.  “It’s all going to be okay.”

“LOOK!” Paulo pointed.  “An ATM!” 

Paulo pulled over. I jumped out of the car and ran into the convenience store. The smell of tandoori chicken greeted me. “Where is your ATM machine?” I asked the man.  He pointed to the machine. I quickly withdrew the money I needed and headed back to the taxi. As I hurried to the car, I looked up. The store across the street was “Kohinoor Kitchens.” I smiled, nodded, and thought, “It’s like I’m home.”

My driver and I reached JFK Airport. I paid him his fee plus a good tip.  That day, Paulo and I were on a quite a journey together. You could look at it as a crazy ride to JFK or you could look at it this way: There were two travelers in that car searching for something more to life—a Guatemalan immigrant living in New York, U.S.A. and an American expat living in Kohinoor City, Mumbai, India.

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