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.”

Pens with Powell

It’s a practice that begin in 9th or 10th grade. After seeing the old notebooks of my dad, in his neat, printed handwriting. That very day, I ditched my mechanical pencils and my sloppy, middle school handwriting. It took some getting used to. with lots of accidental lowercase letters and flipping my pen around to erase what were suddenly permanent mistakes etched into my spiral notebook. Now, though, years later, pencils feel flimsy and waxy and less substantial if I try to do anything but sketch. Even writing the date next to a portrait or drawing of a giraffe in my sketchbook feels odd. I just love writing in pen. And seeing pen marking the page.

I had a friend in high school whose love of ball points pens went unrivaled. He was one of the first people I ever met in my large and daunting public high school, in Algebra 1 on our first day of freshman year. His name was Powell. He was usually more tan than the rest of the guys around him, cause he played tennis for the high school and had long tournaments outdoors on the weekends. We had a few classes together through high school, but it wasn’t until AP Government in my junior year that we really started to connect on the pen-front.

By then, the pencils were long gone from my – pencil case. And every other day, I walked into Mrs. Darcy’s classroom (though we always called her Miss Darcy), sat down, and quickly turned to my right, looking one row over and three seats back to Powell, lounging against the back wall, staring me down with a new fancy pen in his hand and a smirk on his face.

We swapped pens and complimented the action on the click. Measured the weight and balance. Tested them on the corner of a page page, just a few signatures and squiggles, with maybe a checkbox or two.

That was the friendship. That’s what I always think about when I think of Powell. And whenever I find a pen with a particularly good click or a line as smooth as can be, I think of Powell then, too.

I write with a Pilot G-2, 0.7mm. It’s basic. But I wonder what Powell writes with these days. I bet it’s got a great click.

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.

The Pirate’s Spill (short story)

“No, I don’t think they did it on purpose… it’s just a bummer, that’s all -” he said, speeding down the sidewalk. One hand on the handle, the other gripping the clunky little phone to his ear. “I just thought the plank-walk was going to be a full team event, but I was on a zoom call with the Curse– you know how hard they are to get a hold of, especially floating around in the Bermuda Triangle, reception’s a nightmare. And while I was down in the co-working cabin, the captain went ahead and threw him overboard like it was nothing. No plank, no memo, no nothing. We’re still docked in London, so I decided to just bike back to my apartment for the night before shipping off tomorrow morning. I just didn’t want to be stuck in the hammocks toni-“

Just then, the melancholy, maroon-clad man fell hard off the bike, hitting the pavement with a crash. His three-pointed hat flew off, tumbling to the ground as his silver cutlass clattered several feet down the sidewalk. He was a pirate and junior officer on the Royal Fortune. His name was Carl

Slowly, Carl started to push himself up, searching the ground for his now cracked cell phone…

“Mum?” He said, spotting it next to his boot and again holding it to his ear. “Are you there? Oh, good. I just crashed my bike – I’m fine, I just gotta go. Yea. Yea, I know. Love you – yea. Love you too, mum. Okay. Bye.”

Jabbing the red button through the dense spiderweb of cracks, he slid the phone back into one of his dozen coat pockets. He looked down at the pavement. His bike looked alright, but his cutlass was bent in the middle where he’d fallen on it. His two pistols, his laptop and his log journal had all slid out of the leather messenger bad onto the ground. Looking down at himself through the thick curly beard, he saw a couple fresh scuffs on his boots, and worst of all, an unfortunately large tear at the hem of his new coat. It had been a gift from his mum for the promotion on the ship, only a week and a half old. He saw now that the corner of his coat had caught quite firmly in the gears on his bike, causing the crash.

Carl collected everything back into the back, slid his bent sword through a belt loop and squashed the dented hat back onto his head. Picking up the bike, he pulled up the hems of his coat and crammed them firmly between his large backside and small plastic bike seat. Peddling slowly down the street again, an ache started to rise in his right leg. And his shoulder. And his head. A frown crept onto his face as tears began to boil up from the thick lump in his throat.

The sun, already dark behind typical London gray, was dipping beneath the horizon now and lamps started to flicker on as Carl rode. A tear finally forced its way and ran down his cheek as Carl thought about the last several months aboard the Royal Fortune. He had always dreamed of becoming a pirate. His dad had been a pirate, his uncle ran a ship in the gulf and had written a couple books on captaining. Run Your Ship Right and Canonfire: Building Community in the Crosshairs. His great-grandfather had been third mate to Davey Jones! He was born a pirate. He’d always wanted to be a pirate… But finally landing a spot on a ship, and doing well – Carl thought about how difficult much of his time aboard had been. He didn’t really like most of his co-workers, and his captain was not a very good communicator. Even given a lot of responsibility aboard the ship, he was having trouble finding his place and his motivation.

There were moments of course that were fantastic. Sublime. The rush of blowing the bow right off a ship 50 yards away with a well-aimed canon blast. The thrill of leading a man down the plank at sword point, the comradery after a well-fought battle. But he it wasn’t everything he had hoped.

As he rode up to his small flat and locked his bike to the chain link fence, he pondered the launch the next morning, just a few hours away. A three month trip across and around the Americas. “Three month” bounced around again and again in his mind as he clomped up the steep stairs and unlocked the front door. His white cat jumped up on the counter meowing loudly as he stripped off his boots, coat, hat, belt, frilly and stained button-up. He finally sat down in the large plaid recliner, now just in his trousers and slightly shrunken Dr. Who t-shirt.

Pearl jumped up to his lap, purring as he stroked her ears. Carl, exhausted from the day of calls and troubled by his thoughts of discontentment, started to drift into sleep.

Outside, a bird squawked in the night, flying low past the window. Just a yellow square to the bird, one of thousands in London. The silhouette of a large, burly man asleep in his chair, his cat still awake peering up at him. His alarm clock in the other room.

The Morning Crew (short story)

The engine cut out with a chug and a whine as Patrick twisted the key – tricky to keep a firm grip as he pulled it from the ignition. He did not like the way his hands had cracked.
Slipping the key into the red pack clipped around his waist, he looked up across the parking lot and saw a familiar crowd. Just a few other cars dotted the asphalt as the sun slowly started to peak up over the Kepcke Public Library.
It was 8:56 AM.

8:57 AM.

Patrick creaked the car door open and started to step out unsuccessfully, his big leather jacket catching on the seat belt buckle, nearly tearing a button from his cuff. Rattling out a sigh, he looked at the dangling thing, held on pitifully by two thin strings. He did not know how to sew. He did not do the sewing.
He would have to ask a friend to help him with it, he thought, standing as straight as he could and swinging his door shut. The breeze was starting to find its bite as the air crisped quickly into late October. Patrick liked the air chilly, but mostly for the feeling of sitting inside away from it. Shielded in the warmth of books and shelves and people.

Opening the back door of the squat white sedan, he grabbed his Tosa Grocers tote bag and metal cane, glancing around at the half dozen other folks in their cars or standing near the revolving glass front doors. He saw Stewart and Dawn standing at the front, Stew gazing fondly at the reddening trees. Mrs. Darlington sat in her large SUV, her nose barely peaking out above the steering well, evidently asleep in the growing sunlight. Two young college students Patrick had seen a few times stood by the bike rack, their helmets off, their eyes locked downwards on their phones.

9:00 AM.

Jenna, one of the librarians on staff at Kepcke, walked down the hallway inside towards the glass doors, and opened them up. Giving Stew and Dawn a familiar smile, saying something Patrick could not hear. He shook himself, reaching up to dial up his hearing aid, the slight crackle whispering in his ear as it sparked to life. He had kept forgetting to turn it on these last couple months. The habit of putting it in every morning had been ingrained solidly for years, but the second crucial step of switching it on had refused to stick with him. There were a lot of things he kept forgetting these days. Where the coffee filters were kept, which days the garbage came, which side of the bed he belonged on.

The Toyota let out a high honk as he shut the door and jabbed the lock button. He walked across the lot patiently, spying Mrs. Darlington start and open her eyes in the big SUV. Throwing open her door, she stepped down, barely clearing the tops of her tires, her large frizzy hair adding several inches to her height. Patrick waved as he saw another fellow patron stepping towards the door – his friend Donny was walking towards him, waving back. Sometimes they played chess together at the big tables near the back windows. He liked those windows, they looked over a little pond with geese. Sometimes they talked about what they were reading, and Donny would share a poem he’d written that week. Often though they would just sit in silence, engrossed in their own thoughts and pages, nestled into the two leather arm chairs that had become their steadfast companions through the years.
Patrick walked through the front doors, smiling softly and nodding at Jenna behind the front desk. Heading to the right, Patrick and Donny walked together to their chairs by the nonfiction shelves and sat down without a word.

9:05 AM.

Patrick liked his library friends.
Patrick missed his home friend.