Sunday, November 20, 2005


I've never mastered cold weather fashion. Had I the resources and the guts, I'd wear fur. In fact, I saw the coat I want in a shop window in Paris last month. I liked it because the fur was on the inside, with an elegant narrow strip facing out where the coat closes in the center. But, fur is frowned upon where I live, and I'm not up for that particular battle.

So, on Friday morning when the cab arrived at 5:50 A.M. for my ride to the airport, I debated. With high winds, only a light dusting of snow cover, and temperatures in the single digits, it was cold. Normally, I'd go for layering, with multiple sweaters and several scarves under the heavy wool coat I inherited from my father-in-law. He was a big man, over six feet tall and close to three hundred pounds. I've never understood how he actually fit into the coat, but I love the weight of it and am glad to have it. I usually then stretch a lime green fleece band over my ears, top it with a bright red wool hat from my father, slip my feet into thick Smart Wool socks and sensible Rockport hiking boots, and complete the ensemble with black wool gloves. It's a comical get-up at best. But, since I was heading to a trade show in Kansas City (KC), Missouri, where it's much warmer, I opted for more fashionable attire--an elegant black top coat, leather gloves, and the new low-heeled black leather boots I bought in France last month.

The cabbie was on time--never a guarantee--and we fell easily into conversation. I'm always intrigued by the stories cabbies have to tell, and I asked mine about the longest ride he's ever been asked to undertake for a paying customer. I imagined he'd tell me about a trip to one of the neighboring Dakotas, but instead, he recalled that when he first came to the United States (from somewhere in eastern Africa), he lived and drove a cab in Nashville. One day, a woman with three large suitcases hailed his cab and asked him to drive her to New Jersey. He wondered why she didn't simply fly there. It would be much less expensive than the $1,500 he'd charge her for the journey.

The woman answered with a long story about high blood pressure and a failed Internet romance. She'd come to Nashville that day to meet the man whom she'd been dating electronically for a year. He had dumped her the minute he met her in person, and she wanted to go back home. So my cabbie accepted the proposition, with the proviso that they would convoy with a friend who wanted to drive a new car to his girlfriend in New York City. The woman agreed, and the three of them set off that day.

The trip to New Jersey from Nashville is about fifteen hours, and the woman sat quietly in the back seat of the cab the whole way, smoking one cigarette after another. When they stopped periodically for gas or a meal, she refused food and drink, and never once in fifteen hours used the bathroom.

Somewhere in Virginia, the trio ran into heavy fog. Suddenly, a deer leapt onto the road, taking out the headlights of the cab and damaging the front grille. Wanting a police incident report for insurance purposes, the cabbie and his friend pulled over to call for help. The woman became visibly agitated, shaking uncontrollably and demanding that she and her bags be deposited down the road a stretch, where the cabbie could pick her up later. Though perplexed, the cabbie did as she requested while his friend called for help. The police arrived, the cabbie got his paperwork, and the two friends were on their way in short order, picking up the woman at the agreed-upon spot.

The rest of the trip passed without incident. The convoy crossed into New Jersey, and the woman directed them to her suburban home. As they drove up to the house, three large men in black suits--three very large men--moved forward shoulder to shoulder across the front lawn. The woman, completely calm, seemed to be expecting the giants. She stepped out of the car and pulled out her bags. One of the black-suited behemoths stepped toward the car and said to the cabbie, "Get out of here now. And don't look back."

In a flash, it all came together. This was a drop. Drugs, cash, the cabbie could only guess. He took his payment--$1,000 in cash, the rest in a personal check (which later bounced)--turned his car around and didn't look back.

In wide-eyed wonder, I exhaled. "Wow," I said. "You guys see it all." The cabbie chuckled ruefully in agreement. We wished each other safe passage and parted, he to another fare, me to the KC-bound DC9, which roared down the runway, lifting up into the skies as if we weighed no more than a feather.

No comments: