The Limo Driver’s Diary
by AJ Profeta
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
This is the day I remembered what Leonardo Da Vinci once said.
I was on my way back to Connecticut after an early-morning run to LaGuardia. Dawn was breaking over the Hutchinson River Parkway as I approached the Westchester County line.
I was trying to settle in and prepare myself for another long day of shuffling self-important yuppie business types to and from New York airports. So help me, if I had to hear one more conference call dotted with corporate speak, I was going to have to fight to keep from tossing my breakfast. Terms like “I reached out to him” so he could “get his head around this” and “produce a positive R.O.I.” are so blatantly phony, they make my skin crawl.
I was thinking about the next passenger who would greet me with “how are you?” when he couldn’t care less when I cruised around a wide bend and was temporarily blinded by the sunrise. Automatically my right foot went to the brake as my left hand went to the visor.
Just as my vision cleared, I was startled by a thunderous roar coming up on my right. A maniac in a Nazi helmet and outlaw colors blew by me — he had to be doing well over a hundred.
“Jesus!” I screamed. I got that iceball-in-the-stomach feeling. Soon I collected myself and settled in at my comfortable and safe sixty miles an hour.
A short time later, I came up on the snake-like curves of the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich. Again, the morning sun caught me by surprise. Again, coming around a bend, I was blinded by the now stronger, larger dawn devil. Again, the automatic hand-and-foot thing slowed me as I hoped it wouldn’t take more than a split-second to see clearly.
Brake lights! Hundreds of brake lights turning my entire world panic-red. The worn brake rotors on my Town Car tank made the whole car shake and shimmy as I braked harder.
About three seconds after I realized I was not going to crash, I saw him. He was sprawled face-down on the shoulder, motionless, his Nazi helmet securely covering a brain that had just had its last thought.
A thirty-something woman stood in the shoulder, talking frantically on her cell phone. The trunk of her car was pushed in, nearly covering the rear windshield. An ambulance was screaming up behind me. A few cars had stopped near the mangled Harley, and several people were now running toward the victim.
I snailed past the body slowly enough to read the lettering on the back of his leather jacket. It read: IMMORTALS. BRONX, N.Y. The only thing immortal about this guy would be the carnage of this scene, frozen in my memory.
Second run, New Canaan. I picked up a couple going to JFK. Not a pair you’d expect to see walking out of a two million dollar home in one of the wealthiest towns in America: the mid-fortyish wife had more make-up on than you’d see on stage at a KISS concert, and I remembered my ex-wife wearing her hair that way twenty years ago. Her husband had a shaved head and wore two large gold hoops in his ears, a black shirt, and black jeans—I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew the IMMORTAL. It turned out they were very nice people, and my heart went out to them when they told me why they were flying out west.
It seems their son was undergoing major surgery as we spoke. He’d been involved in a terrible car wreck, and I could tell that they weren’t sure he was going to make it. I felt clumsy. I didn’t say anything for fear of tripping over my tongue.
The husband asked me if he could smoke. The company’s policy is “Smoke Free,” but there was this overwhelming sadness that permeated the Town Car like an all-encompassing fog. I just told him to crack the window. For the rest of the one-hour ride, I concentrated on my driving and kept my mouth shut.
When we arrived at the airport, I popped the trunk and got their bags. He shook my hand and said, “Thanks, I really needed a smoke.”
“No problem,” I said. “I hope your son is alright.”
JFK. Caught a break. Dispatch called on the Nextel and told me to wait an hour at the airport, and I’d have a pick-up back to Norwalk. This one turned out to be a severe reality check for me.
You see, I’m one of those guys who hasn’t quite grasped the fact that at fifty-nine, I’m rapidly approaching senior citizenship. People tell me I look younger, and I know I think younger than my years, but, sooner or later, we all have to face the truth, and sometimes, that truth can hit you like a brick in the face.
When the dispatcher gave me the name of my passenger, I recognized it: Pangaski. If it wasn’t who I was thinking of, then he must be a relation. How many Pangaskis could there be in Norwalk? Anyway, Jim and Jack, the Pangaski twins, played saxophones in my former brother-in-law’s rock band. Since they were identical twins, wore the same type of glasses and were pudgy, I could never tell who was who. The only time I could tell one from the other was when they were on stage, because Jim played the alto sax and Jack the tenor. Anyway, I’d met them at a local gig more than twenty years ago; they were both going grey, and in their mid-forties then. I looked forward to a pleasant ride to Connecticut talking about good time rock ‘n’ roll.
So I’m rolling by the terminal, looking for a paunchy grey-haired guy with glasses. Suddenly, a thirty-something couple with a six-year-old starts waving at the car. What’s up with them, I thought—and then the brick hit me. Too much unnoticed time had passed me by. This guy must be Jack or Jim’s son and his young family. I felt a little like Rip Van Winkle.
After they’d gotten in the car, the dad confirmed he was Jack’s son, John. Jack had passed two years ago. Since John had grown up around the band, though, we still had that to talk about on the ride to Norwalk. We arrived at their home safe and sound in less than an hour. I retrieved their luggage and we exchanged good- byes. John shook my hand and made a comment about what a small world we live in.
“Yeah,” I said, “You never know what kind of curve life is gonna throw at you next.” He was nodding his head in agreement, when the annoying beep from my Nextel interrupted us. “Well, gotta run,” I said, sliding behind the wheel.
Dispatch told me to head into Manhattan to pick someone up at the Harvard Club. On the way in, I thought about the day. I had started thinking it would be boring. Then I remembered what Leonardo once said, when he was near the end of his life — “I am still learning.” I’m not sure what he meant by that and I may not be as old or as wise as Leonardo, but this fifty-nine-year-old-stuck-in-a-rut limo driver learned a lot about life today.
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A.J. Profeta’s short fiction has been published in several science fiction, horror and literary magazines. He lives in southern Connecticut with his wife, Mary Ann. He is currently working on the final edit of his first novel.