Can I get a lift?

Nathanial had a plan. He told me so as I rode in the back of his Ford Fusion, nearing the end of a long day of travel. I’d been on two delayed planes, a short tram, a packed bus to the pickup lot at LAX, and finally jumped in a Lyft back to my house. I’d been in transit for seven and a half hours by the time I threw my luggage into the back seat. I slouched in after it, happy to be in a row to myself without the rush of jet engines 15 feet outside the window.

“Ah, you’re headed to Venice?” Nathanial asked genially, tapping “GO” on his cell phone’s GPS map.

“Yes,” I said meekly, looking up from my lap at his phone, then the rear-view mirror where I could see Nathanial’s eyes navigating traffic. I hoped my soft “Yes” would communicate my excitement for a ride of silence. But a few seconds later, Nathanial asked where I was coming from. And the holidays. Then about work.

“You like your work?” he asked. “What do you do?”

“I do like it,” I said. “I work in digital media.”

“Oh,” he said, “Well this is the place to be! Are you arriving or getting back?”

“Getting back. I was at home for the holidays. I just got here in September.”

“Oh, it’s a temporary work assignment then?” He asked, mis-understanding. “Well LA is a beautiful place to spend the winter!” I didn’t have any interesting in correcting him, so I nodded in agreement.

“It’s true, it’s beautiful here.” I said, hoping to signal the end of the conversation. But before I knew it, he was telling me about his career as a Lyft driver.

“Yeah, I like it.” he said. “I mostly drive nights. eight to four, those are my work hours.” But he wasn’t planning to be a Lyft driver forever. He began to outline the small and lucrative driving company he was about to start.

“I am quite certain this next year will be the best of my life,” he said. “That’s the way it seems. I make 2,000 dollars a week driving for Lyft, but in the next month or two, I’ll be making 28,000 a week. I’ve got to buy a new elite SUV, then I’ll be hiring about eight drivers-“

As he described in great detail the cost and profit analysis of his fledgling company, I looked up to the mirror again, and studied his face for the first time. He was Black, in his late fifties, with lines creasing his eyes and cheeks behind a blue medical mask. He had a high voice, and talked very methodically, annunciating each syllable with intentionality. He was born and raised in LA, which was a surprise as he spoke with what seemed to be a slight southern accent.

“Yeah,” he said, drawing out the word with a sigh. “I’ve never made much money. Well, there was a time I was making 375,000 a month! Running a company selling TV and radio ads to attorneys. But ah, it didn’t last long cause my financial backer’s company went under and left me with nothing. Yeah, that was hard to get over, ha, I still get made about that sometimes.”

“Mm,” I said plainly.

“Yeah, I worked in sales for 35 years. I got pretty good at it. That’s how I’m going to run the new company. I won’t be driving, it’ll mostly be talking for me! Cause we’ll be catering specifically to business and high profile cliental in LA. People who, when they need a car, need a car! Mostly pre-booked rides. So a lot of talking, a lot of scheduling.”

As he drove and talked smoothly along, he pivoted to family, and told me about his wife and kids.

“I met her in Denver,” he said, now winding his way along the darkened side streets off the freeway. “I moved there when I turned 19, and married my wife at 22. We moved back to LA, because that’s where the business is. Not enough people for business in Denver. Or in Santa Barbara, oh I love Santa Barbara… I spent a few years there with my grandma growing up. And I loved it. I hate LA, I love Santa Barbara. But not enough people. So we moved to LA. And I thought that was going to be okay. That was the plan.”

He trailed off. “So what happened?” I asked.

“Well she left me.” He said. “She left. We divorced when we were 27 I think. Or 28? She went back to Denver. She’s got a lot of family there, so she went back. I thought she liked LA, that’s where we agreed to be. But no.”

“And what about your kids?” I asked.

“Well that’s the hardest part of all. She took them with her. And I stayed. Cause I don’t want anyone to try and change my mind.”

“Do you ever see them now?” I asked, not quite sure why.

“No.” He said. “No, I don’t. That’s the hardest part of all,” he said again. “I’ve got an estranged relationship with the kids now. But I’ve got a plan up my sleeve to deal with that, too.” He drew out estranged into two parts. Es was long, and stranged spat out like he didn’t want to think about it anymore. Estranged.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said sincerely.

“Well, I’ve got a plan up my sleeve,” he said. “I plan to be successful enough that I’ll start to buy some properties around here. Enough to give my kids some – maybe some apartment buildings, condos, things like that. You see, they’re doing real well for themselves, but I don’t think they’re making seven or eight figure incomes. So I’m going to try and lure them out here with that.”

He didn’t say anything more, and the streets lights passed rhythmically as we drove in silence for the first time. He made a left turn, then stopped at a light.

“I am quite certain this next year will be the best of my life,” he said again, more softly this time. Almost dreamily.

I watched his eyes in the rear view mirror, slightly widened, staring straight ahead at the road. He seemed the most confident man in the world as he drove me through the streets of Venice. As he pulled up to the house and put the car in park, he seemed so sure that everything would work out. As if it were already a fact, already fate.

He tapped “END” on the map on his phone.

“Thank you,” I said, swinging the door open, “Good luck with everything, I wish all the best for you.”

“Oh thank you!” Nathanial said, turning around. “Sorry to talk at you the whole time,” as if he’d just realized there was someone in the back seat with him. “I love to talk!” He said with a chuckle.

“I appreciated hearing it,” I said, stepping out and grabbing my bags. “Have a good night, and good luck with your plans.”

One Reply to “Can I get a lift?”

  1. Well told. I was entranced reading this.

    I suppose by way of feedback, I felt like you were unsure how you wanted me as the reader to feel about him by the end of the story. It feels like a different effect than if it was intentionally left to me; a little less sure. But I can’t put a finger on what exactly did that for me.

    Man. Good stuff.

    -LS

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