A couple of years ago I was working a stressful job as a Project Manager in Asheville, North Carolina.
I was fairly depressed about a lot of things at the time. The stress and constant travel of the job affected many relationships in a bad way, and I was constantly grouchy. This particular morning I had called a 5am cab for a ride to the airport.
It was pouring down rain. I couldn’t wait to get checked in and on the plane to sleep. I put out the cats, hid the key so my neighbor could feed them, and dashed through the rain with my luggage and tools.
The driver cracked his window. “I’m a little early. I hope that’s okay.”
“No problem,” I slid my luggage onto the back seat, walked around the car and got in, silently cursing the odd smell of stale rain and cab.
Did I also smell weed?
“Some rain, huh?” said the cab driver. “Last night I had the cover off the pool, and it was in the upper 70’s. Now it’s cold and rainy. Did you lose power last night?”
I thought for a second, “Actually, no. None of my clocks were blinking this morning.”
All I wanted was for him to leave me alone to stare at the rain in silence.
“Sorry if it smells bad in here,” he said, “I just took a girl home and I think she had some weed on her.”
I lied, “Really? I can’t smell it.”
“Yeah she was all paranoid. She kept laughing and singing ‘Someoooone gave me a giiiiift!’ Then she got nervous and quiet. Either way, I could smell it. I tried to air out the car, but I think it still smells like weed.”
I forced a laugh.
The driver kept on, “The airport, huh? Where you headed? Anywhere exciting?”
“Colorado Springs,” I said.
“Oh yeah? That sounds nice. Never been to Colorado myself. I hear it’s really nice.”
I nodded, “It is pretty.”
“Is that where you are from?”
More talking? I sighed, “No, I’m going there for work. I was there last week too.”
“Lots of skiing out there. It’s a ski state, right?”
“That’s what I hear.”
Maybe if I stared harder out the window he would stop talking. He didn’t.
“I could never get into skiing that much. My friend Ronnie took me to Wolf Laurel. You know where that is?”
“I’ve heard of it. Never been there myself,” I said.
“Yeah, I would come barreling down the hill and clear out all the skiers at the bottom,” he chuckled, “I couldn’t stop!”
“Oh yeah?” I forced a laugh once more, so it sounded like I was paying attention.
“Yeah, I never really tried it again after that,” and in the same breath he changed topic, “I hear the airports do full body scans now?”
“That’s true,” I said, knowing what he was going to say next, “They do have full body scans. I had to go through one just last week.”
“So they could get a pretty woman in line and see everything under her clothes?”
“I guess so.”
For a brief moment I was thankful for the rain and darkness of the drive, so he couldn’t see my eye roll as continued:
“My girlfriend and I went to Hawaii. She smoked weed a lot. I told her, ‘don’t bring any of that weed with you because you’re going to get in trouble.’ So she went and got a pack of cigarettes, except she doesn’t smoke. She took a few of the cigarettes out and replaced them with some joints and threw it in her bag.
“When we landed in Hawaii, we were sitting outside with a bunch of other people. Sure enough, a dog comes through and starts sniffing everyone’s things. The lady next to us had a large suitcase, and the dog stopped at her bag and sniffed, then laid down right on her bag! The police came over and made her open her bag and she had some fruit in there. Well, you’re not supposed to bring outside fruit to Hawaii, because of the pests they can carry that could infect fruit in Hawaii. So they hauled her off. Can you believe that? My girlfriend just shrugged and smiled.”
I could see the driver smirk, shaking his head slowly as, one by one, streetlights briefly illuminated his face. He was back in Hawaii, reliving the moment.
“She got lucky,” I said.
He laughed, “She did! She used to do stuff like that all the time. Scared the shit out of me — but in a good way now that I think about it.”
The driver’s voice trailed off . I could tell he was thinking about her, and by his tone their relationship didn’t end well. Was there a bad break up? Did somebody cheat?
“I lost her last July 20th. Brain aneurysm.”
I blinked hard, twice. Suddenly I was present, in the car with him for the first time. I shook my head and quickly turned away from the streaks of rain.
“Oh my! That’s terrible. I’m sorry to hear that, man.”
The driver was nodding his head up and down gently, and his eyes went from the road to looking up at the sky — then back to the road again as if he hoped she was up there listening to him talk about her.
“We were together over 20 years. I worked at a lumber company here in town for 23 years and she worked in the office. We were together ever since. After the lumber company she got a job working for a NASCAR team as their accountant. We traveled all over the world. I would have never got out of Buncombe County probably if it wasn’t for her. We went to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Canada, Cayman Islands. Lots of places. We went to a lot of races – Talladega, Daytona, Bristol, even Las Vegas!”
“It sounds like she was a lot of fun.”
“Oh she was,” his voice softened noticeably, “Losing her changed me. Changed the way I treat people you know.”
I shifted in my seat.
The driver pulled his wallet from his back pocket, opened it, and handed it to me. It was a girl, probably in her early 30’s, with sandy brown hair, a smirk, and wild playful eyes.
“She’s pretty,” I said.
“Her passing changed me, I used to be kind of an asshole. Not anymore. If I had lost her to cancer or something, at least I would have had a chance to say goodbye. But with that aneurysm, I lost her in like a minute and a half. She was just gone.”
I shifted in my seat some more.
He continued, “Man, if I could just get her back, I’d never bitch about cleaning the house or anything ever again. I just want her back.”
The driver trailed off once more as we stopped at my airline gate. Now it was his turn to snap back to the present, “You’re gonna be kind of early. Hope that’s alright?”
“It’s fine,” I said, “I prefer being early, than scrambling to make my flights on time. No complaints here. Thanks for the ride.”
I bummed a smoke off a TSA agent, stood under an awning with my bags, and looked up at the rainy sky. When I was done, I shook it off and headed inside to board my plane.