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.”

The Honeysuckle Lounge

The honeysuckle bush was busy. A crowd of insects buzzed and gossiped among the buds. A couple here and there shared a flower as the waitress flitted around, and a large group of hummingbirds at the back laughed boisterously. Down in the mound below the bush, the bar was full of the chatter and talk of the neighborhood folk enjoying their drinks as they waited for the game to begin. It was a lovely spring afternoon, and the sun had finally burst through the gray, Sunday gloom. Everyone was cheerier with the sun out and about, even in the dark bar where just a few narrow shafts of light cut through the open windows.

A groundhog in a red striped scarf crashed through the front door of the bar, and several mates who seemed to know him gave a warm shout. Behind the bar, a lovely chipmunk named Dakota scampered left and right, filling drinks, sliding glasses, and ignoring a pair of leering weasels who snickered every walked their way. And in the corner of the bar, a very wide robin sat slumped against the wall, dozing with a large empty pint glass gripped in her wing.

One small, grainy, boxy television hung above an end of the bar where the quarter-finals were soon set to broadcast. The volume in the bar grew steadily as people clad in red and white filtered in. Grins were clear on many of the faces waiting for the game, and drinks were passed around to all the newcomers. The door opened again, and a shaft of sunlight split the room in two momentarily as a couple of ferrets walked in, giving those inside, if there were to look, a glimpse of a tall squirrel outside with his back to the bar.

He seemed to be waiting for something, as he looked left and right down the road. He kept pulling out a scrap of paper from his pocket, unfolding it, glancing down, then repocketing it, as if just to reassure himself it were there. As he stood, he overheard the waitress amongst the flowers with a pair of fat bumblebees who had just buzzed their way to the honeysuckle bush. “I’m sorry, every flower is full!” The waitress said with a smile, her tiny wings nothing but a blur and a buzz.

He shifted his feet every once and a while, his tail twitching with impatience as the time passed and the rest of the crowd passed into the bar. Soon he heard the room quiet for a moment as the TV crackled to life, then cheers erupted through the open windows as the game began.

He waited like this for a while. The yells and shouts of outrage and jubilee came every once in a while from the bar, until the sun stooped low over the trees, heading quickly for the horizon.

The Honeysuckle had nearly emptied when the game ended and the crowd began to thin, grumbling and sidling their way through the door to trudge home in the dusk. If the team had won, the crowd would have stayed for an hour or two celebrating and gabbing, but no one much felt like staying to drink after such a miserable match. As they left, no one seemed to notice a scrap of paper on the road near where the squirrel had been standing. Stamped into the dirt, hard to see now in the darkening gloom, with the outline of a very large paw print, and the words “Honeysuckle Lounge, 3 PM, bring Lucile.” barely legible.

The last of the crowd made their way out as Dakota cleaned up. A while later, she finally switched off all the lights and locked the front door behind her as she walked off into the night, clutching a jacket tightly around her.

She didn’t notice the note in the dirt either. And the rain that came that night washed it away, along with the very large paw print, and the scent of any squirrel, good or bad.

Coffee trip (short?)

Every Sunday for the past several months, my sister Theresa has driven an hour and a half to the café she used to work at in Madison, WI, and works the day – in what would normally be the job for three separate baristas. It’s a sweet little coffee shop, connected to a bicycle company and storefront. It’s very similar to the café she worked at and managed for years in Chicago, called Heritage. I think she’s hoping to work at every coffee + bike partnership in the Midwest before she dies.

This past Sunday morning, I woke up early enough to feel more accomplished than usual, and found myself wanting to leave the apartment. In the middle of winter, during a pandemic, working from home, ventures out the front door are a rare and exciting occurrence. It had been a high of 10 degrees for the last week, often hitting negative 10 or 15 in the nights – but this morning the sun was shining merrily and the icicles dripping feverously outside the kitchen windows confirmed that it now gotten to the mid twenties.

I decided a drive would be nice, and, having run out of beans a few days before, I decided coffee was the perfect excuse. I donned my favorite leather boots, black gloves and a scarf and locked the front door behind me on my housemate still fast asleep. The birds seemed to be chirping louder than usual, just as excited by the sun as I was. When I got to my car, I found the accumulation of five days snow and ice that took many minutes to scrape away.

Once the engine had been started, the ice had been scraped and the car rocked from snow ruts it had been stuck in, I got on my way. I had intended to drive just a few minutes to my favorite local shop, Interval Coffee, just a half mile or so from my apartment. But with music playing and the cold morning still a little exhilarating, I decided I was up for a little more of a trek. Go over to Canary Coffee? Maybe even something down south of the city a little bit? Or out towards the suburbs?

As I kept driving, option after option slipped by – not unnoticed, just uninteresting. I kept driving, quickly finding myself driving onto the ramp leading to 94 west. Driving and driving and driving. Until snow covered buildings turned to snow covered houses, which then turned into vast snow covered plains of grass and farmland.

After an hour and a half, I pulled up in front of Café Domestique, the small shop my sister Theresa works at every Sunday. As I walked in, the bell above the door was drowned out as Theresa gave a scream in delightful fashion, and burst out from behind the counter. We chatted and laughed as she made me a latte.

“Well,” I said, “I’d just wanted a drive this morning my gal.”

“That is wonderful news!” She said back, beaming underneath her mask.

Just then, the bell above the door tinkled again, and another one of my sisters, Kim, walked in.

“You’re joking.” I practically yelled, starting to cackle with laughter.

“Oh my god!” Kim yelled back, “I guess we just had the same idea this morning! I just felt like driving this morning.”

“I’M SO GLAD WE ARE ALL HERE!” Theresa absolutely screamed behind the counter, throwing her hands in the air.

Kim and Theresa live together. I live half a mile away, a three minute car drive – yet there we were, meeting accidentally an hour and a half away. I half expected to look out the window to see Lauren and Ryan, the two siblings missing from our faux family get together, strolling up the street and into the café.

The three of us looked at each other chummily for a few moments once me and Kim had gotten our drinks. The sun was shining and the coffee was warm. Then Theresa said, “So… we actually don’t allow anyone to stay in the store right now. It’s carryout only.”

The image is not mine, and was found here. Also, this story isn’t real.

Space Race (short)

“The red light flashed more insistently, begging for her attention. Ignoring it, she changed gears, pressing down on the throttle – a shutter coursing through her seat.
“Come on now,” she cooed through gritted teeth. “One more lap.”
Her engine shook again, the port repulsor sputtering as an orange light flared on to join the red warnings and indicators decorating the panel in front of her. As she glanced down at the monitor showing two ships closing in behind her, static flashed in her ear, the radio com bursting to life.
“Jenson’s coming up quick, Ferro’s team not far behind. It’s almost yours, but you’ve just gotta widen the gap on the cruiseway.” The static clipped out with one more burst, leaving a pounding in her ears.
Her breath quickened.
Hand on the gear, shift to 7th.
She pulled hard on the throttle, making the last turn and shooting through the giant flashing checkpoint before the Polaris Cruiseway, a straight shot for 5,300 kilometers.
Shift, shift.
She felt the blood rushing to her head, one hand on the throttle, one on the gears. The engine tore with a push of her hand, blue light exploding behind her as she accelerated up to 200 kph, her ship rocketing through the checkpoints rings floating in space like a bullet spiraling through the barrel of a gun.
Roaring faster, she saw the 2 blinking lights on her screen, the ships close on her tail, but starting to gain on the straightaway.”

I wrote this back in April (with a few edits tonight), and just found it again tonight while looking for something else in Google Docs. I think it’s fun!

A Glimpse of the Sea (short)

Since he was a boy, he’d heard tales of the sea. That endless lake that stretched out past the ends of the earth, past imagination, farther than time itself. Folks passed through the mountains every few years saying they’d come from the sea – with strange tales of salt so plentiful it blew in the wind, and fish that swallowed boats as big as homes.

He loved listening to the strangest tales, trying to pictures the small lake on the edge of his village stretched out ten thousand fold over the entire horizon, but it was very difficult.

As he grew, he still thought of the sea, but the ponderings came fewer through the years. It was like a dream he kept trying to remember, but would forget before he could write it down. The thoughts of the sea slipped through his mind like sand, and other things grew in importance, leaving room for a little else.

His wife took the place of his sea, then his child. Then another and another, wave after wave rocking the peaceful voyage of their home.

His children grew, ebbing and flowing in and out of the home, until finally the tide left at last, and they moved on to their own seas. His home bobbed peacefully again in time, until he thoughts of the sea returned, and he’d talk to his wife for hours about his dreams of one day venturing across the land to the forgotten shores.

She laughed and smiled listening to his recollection of the strangest tales shared in the village pubs by those strangest visitors claiming the sight of the sea as their own.

She laughed and smiled for many years, until at last the waves of time took her away, too.

And now alone but for his dogs, he sat and dreamed to see. The village and the lake and the faces of the earth had now come to enough, and he set off one day with barely a word.

He and his dogs plotted up and down the mountains, always marching west. For two years, the slow tide of travel carried them, their old bones creaking all the while. Until finally, he tasted a speck of salt on the air.

On top of the world (short)

Billy sat on top of the world.

Every day he’d climb onto his throne, and gaze down at civilization below him, rearranging and reorganizing the landscape. Day after day he watched the people grow taller, and feel himself rise with them. Week after week, Billy saw further across the earth. The seas and the lands opened themselves up to his gaze, stretching out farther all the time.

Billy took his instructions well, and helped to shape the civilization he gazed down at each day. Until finally the instructions ended, and Billy climbed off his throne. With a sense of sadness, he saw his own seat taken apart before him, and laid to the ground.

He strode home with a feeling of finality.

The next day, Billy marched back, and found his throne rebuilt on the ground. He climbed back in, and looked about him – but all he could see the were the pillars for people that he’d help to erect – blocking out the sight of the world he’d help to build.

Slowly and surely, though, his throne rose. With each passing month, the pillars around him shrank as he again cleared their roofs, and gazed back down, sitting on top of the world.

He loved sitting on top of the world, but he didn’t like climbing up and down. Billy felt secure in his crane, but not on the ladder.

Boy + Dog (short)

He ate a measly dinner out of a shallow tin bowl, the dog sitting at the foot of his chair. It took both of them some time to finally reach their fill, and neither of them made to move positions even after they’d done so. They sat for a long time, quiet, listening to the wind outside. The smell of the logs smoldering filled the small cottage, and the air was full of the slanting, flickering rays of light coming from the black furnace in the corner. The boy slid his finger around the edge of the bowl, thinking he would not be called boy anymore once he was back across the ridge in the spring. And the dog, laying at his feet, thought about the boy as well. She was a large, burly thing, with an ugly face that made most of the men laugh. But goodness her eyes were bright, and her legs were strong. She was beautiful in the boys’ sharp eyes. They both soon fell into sleep, barely moving at all before finally getting up, closing the small furnace door, and collapsing into sleep.

Waking before the sun was up, the boy cooked several eggs before grabbing his pack and lantern and setting off down the hill with the dog at his side. She looked like a small polar bear beside him. She was huge and white, flecked with gray around her stomach and ears, and black fur running up three of her four legs. Her face was rounder than most dogs around, and the fur seemed to poof out in odd patched all around her. The walk took them through the sunrise, and the awakening of the forest all around them.

The boy loved her.

This is not good. I haven’t written anything real in a couple weeks, so I need to break the ice off and warm up a little bit.

Coffee Shop Encounter P.1 (short)

I walked the last block and a half, and into the small coffee shop. The tall front windows let in plenty of light on sunny days, but it was dark and cloudy, and rain and been coming in spats all day. Just as I’d left my apartment, the sky decided it had had a long enough break and started drizzling again. I rattled my now damp umbrella onto the mat at the front door, and folded it up, looping the strap around my wrist and walking forward. It smelled a little burnt in the shop, like when you blow out a candle. The barista at the cashier was not having a good day. They looked up and swept dark bangs away from their eyes as I approached – and took my order with a cold disregard for positivity. Putting my debit card back in my wallet, I finally glanced around the shop, and noticed Dustin Kemp sitting in the far corner. I suddenly felt a twisting ball of annoyance. It was like a cat had been released in my stomach and was now clawing at my sensibilities of decent public behavior. 

He was leaning over the table, his eyes and focus absorbed by his phone, a large caramel muffin being absorbed by his mouth. He had gotten glasses since I’d seen him, or maybe just started wearing old ones more. Thick rectangular plastic frames, the greenish light from his old android glinting dully. His large silver earring was catching most of the reflection, along with the silly gold chain dangling off his neck, clattering against the wooden table with every slight shift of his 5’4” bulk. He was truly an unpleasant sight, seeing him there. I wondered if he’d seen me walk in – he sure hadn’t looked up since I’d noticed him. I don’t usually react this strongly to people I see, but that’s what happens when someone has sex on your bed a week after meeting you, just out of spite.

This was an exercise for a Skillshare class… Part 2 coming later.

Book Signing (short)

R.J. Simmons was at another book signing for his explosively successful children’s book series, The Kingdom Gates. He had done hundreds of these signings, writing his name over and over on thousands and thousands of books through the last 6 years. He was getting bored of it. And tired too.
He shook himself out of his foggy thoughts. The room was quite warm, and Simmons kept feeling his eyelids drooping down heavily. The next person in the queue walked forward and Simmons, looking up, gave as sincere a smile as he could after nearly three hours of the same repeating interaction.
“Thank you,” the young man who’d just walked up said, “for what you gave me and so many others.” Simmons talk the book he was holding out, and grunted a response while uncapping his sharpie and scrawling his signature on the first page once again.
The young man took the book back with a smile and a nod, and, just before he walked away, he dropped a small scrap of paper on the table and said, “I’m sure your life is mad… let me know if you just need a normal friend again.” Then he turned and walked out, the gaggling line shuffling forward behind him.
Simmons sat in silence for a moment, staring at the young man’s back. Noticing the woman with large glasses and a lemon colored sweater now standing at the table brandishing her book, he hurriedly pocketed the slip of paper and signed her book as he had done and would do with all the others.
But he kept thinking of the young man, and the number now sitting in the pocket of his sport coat. And of the friends he had used to have.