A view from the driver's seat

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The most obvious thing about his was that he didn’t have an arm. But you never talk about the obvious. I picked him up by a local college, so instead I asked him what he was majoring in. Geology, he replied, and then he told me he was going to the VA Hospital. So chances were, he lost his arm doing service. But as curious as I was, I wasn’t going to ask. He had to offer.

We chatted about rocks, what interested him about this area of study, and what it was like to be an older person going back to college. He obviously wasn’t a fresh faced kid anymore, so that was safe territory. Then later, he did offer something. That he was on a navy boat somewhere in Asia during the tsunami back in 2004/5. And when they got the distress call, his boat headed to Indonesia. He said first they saw palm fronds. Then they saw entire palm trees. Then they saw entire towns, cars, dead bodies until you couldn’t even see water anymore. I could see it so clearly through his eyes, the way he described that experience. Being on deck, leaning over the rail with thousands of your shipmates, the giddy chatter falling away into shocked silence.

His stop came up sooner than both of us expected. “Hey,” he asked, “I only have to be here 15 minutes, then I have some other errands I have to do if you want to drive me.”

“I would love to but unfortunately I have to be in Hollywood in 30 minutes.”

“Ok, well nice to meet you. Hope we run into each other again.”


I really wish I could have waited. I wanted to know about the elephant in the room and I could feel that he wanted to tell me. It was his story, a turning point, the kind of cataclysmic event that colors everything about a person. But when you only get 10 minutes with someone, chances are you don’t dive in that deep. You get a question but not the answer.

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The Big Tipper

He wasn’t from around here. A female friend had called in the ride for him and she texted me where I was taking him. He was late 20’s perhaps with thick-lashed heavily-lidded eyes and he had on the Eastern European uniform for young men of his age: graffitied T-shirt and artfully tattered jeans. “Sister!” he bellowed. “No speak English!” He jumped into the car and we headed for Glendale. Ah, probably Armenian. I had to make a complicated left turn onto Western that involved pulling out into traffic praying that other cars would stop followed by a bout of apologetic handwaving (Driving in LA Tip #23: It’s better to apologize rather than ask for permission) which made him laugh. The only other time he spoke was to ask “Cigarette Ok?” “No sorry,” I shook my head. “OK OK.” When I got to the parking lot to drop him off, he pulled out a stack of crisp new bills. He bypassed the hundreds, I saw a few twenties, then a one. He hesitated. Then pulled out a twenty. “Sister! Thank you!” He kissed my hand. “Brother,” I cried. “Welcome to America!”

Later that day, I picked up a trio of ghetto fabulous boys in Weho. One had to be over 6′ 5″ and at least 300 pounds, dark chocolate, and with a soft high voice that could only belong to someone that big. The other queen had auburn curls, big fake tits, and she skipped to the car, defiantly perky, the world her runway. They were just going to the grocery store a few blocks away and they wanted me to wait for them. Sure. They sang me directions, each one trading off in a call and response. Make a leeeft, stay right hereeeeee, right hhhhhhhereee — up and down, with tremolo, a little trill at the end. Not surprisingly, they could all sing, and not fake talent show sing, but CHURCH SING. I couldn’t help but join in with my barely-good-enough-for-drunken-karaoke voice. “Is this where you waaaant meeeee tooooooo stoppppp?” It was a $5 ride and big boy added $20 tip. Awwww…

Every once in a while you get a tipping angel. I got two. Must have been my lucky day.

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When I dropped the girls off, there was an ambulance, a fire truck and a police car in front of their building. “Someone’s having an awesome Friday night,” I quipped. The second I went back into driver’s mode, I got a request from what seemed like the same building. Since there was too much action out front, I pulled over into an alley and texted the passenger that I couldn’t stop at the actual pick up request because there were too many vehicles there. He texted me back, “I’m actually the reason that everyone’s here. Can you pull up in front of the ambulance please?” OK… I headed towards the front of the light parade and there, sitting on the wall, was a teddy bear of a guy, baseball cap pulled deep over his eyes. A crowd of firefighters (all ruddy and blonde and thick of bicep – sigh) surrounded me barking out instructions. “Back up more! All the way! You got room!” They helped him hobble into my car, then told me where I was taking him: the emergency room. Down this street, 2.5 miles, make a left. Apparently he didn’t want to take an ambulance — too expensive.

Usually I wait for the passenger to give me a sign that he or she wants to talk. But I couldn’t help myself. “Oh my god, are you OK?”

W sighed, then told me the whole story. His girlfriend went bat shit crazy, started to destroy the apartment, then she blocked the door so he couldn’t leave and picked up a frying pan. He didn’t want to get into it with her so he opted to jump out the balcony. It was only from the 2nd floor, but because he hit a weird driveway dip, his heels hit the ground at a weird angle and he heard a crack. He was afraid that he broke them. Tears started to spill out his eyes. “I feel like such a dirtbag. Look at me, my shirt’s ripped, I’m in these ratty clothes, and…” he gestured at his tear streaked face.

I reassured him that no one would think anything about it, that it was noble for him to choose jumping over hitting her. And I told him of a fact that I had heard: that domestic abuse isn’t just about men hitting women, that men can also be the victims. And actually, female to male domestic abuse is the most underreported because of the shame that men feel over being on the short end of the stick so to speak.

He told me he refused to press charges, that he called his girlfriend’s dad so that she wouldn’t have to spend the night in prison. The relationship was definitely over. Or so he claimed. He tried to switch the subject, “So how’s your night?”

When we got to the hospital, he tried to get out of the car himself but I pushed him back. “Don’t be macho. I ‘ll get you a wheelchair.” So I ran inside and beckoned for a nurse to bring one. Then they shifted him from the car to the chair and he disappeared inside, still polite, still thoughtful. “Thank you,” he called out. “Drive safely!”

The Babysitter

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The Babysitter

She was a Latino woman in her 20’s and she had two kids with her. The eldest boy was 2 and full of energy, the other was another boy, only a month old. As she tried to strap the older one into his seatbelt, he kicked and whined. She sighed, tired, and asked me to make sure the childproof door lock was on. While she put her baby in the middle, I found a packet of fruit gummies in my glove compartment and handed them to the boy in an effort to keep him occupied while his mom was busy. I drove them down the street to the bargain grocery store, Food For Less. The boy kept kicking the seat, bouncing up and down, making periodic shrieking sounds. The mom sighed, tired.
“Handful, huh?” I offered.
“Yeah. You don’t even know.”
When we got the store, she asked, “Do you mind waiting while I get a few things?”
“No problem. I’ll park over there.” I pointed to an empty space.
She got out and unbuckled her son, then dashed into the store. Oh wait — you want me to… Oh I guess I’m watching the baby.
At first, he didn’t make a peep. But the lack of his mother and motion and any sound woke him up. He began to make those plaintive newborn mewling cries. I reached back and began moving his car seat from side to side, hoping to stop the volume from rising. It seemed to calm him a bit. He didn’t get louder but he didn’t stop. So I sat there, rocking him, singing him Beatles songs until Mom came back 15 minutes later. The kid had two handfuls of candy that he tore right into. “I had to get them for him. He wouldn’t shut up,” she offered, knowing how it looked.
I helped her get groceries into the car, I helped her get the groceries out. I helped her get her kids up the stairs. She said thank you. Then I went back to my car to check if she got everything. Now I saw there were gummies everywhere, on the seat and floor. Plus the body heat coming off the kid had smushed them deep into the seats (Cloth! Yeah!). And on top of that, the candy trash lay scattered everywhere. It was a $13 ride in total. Minus the 20% Lyft commission. That means I made about $10. She didn’t tip. All in a day’s work.

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The Scam

She was a college sophomore going back to campus after visiting her family for the weekend. A sweet quiet Mexican girl wearing her college’s sweatshirt and a Jansen backpack. Somehow we got on the subject of summer plans and she mentioned that she was just gong to go home this year, that last year had been kinda crazy. Oh really? How? She said she got her first job last year, well an internship, and had been living away from home on the East Coast. I asked what it was. She said it was for an educational company that had her going door to door selling their products. I shuddered. Memories of being forced to sell Girl Scout cookies to the same neighbors year after year came flooding back.  Knocking. Waiting. The inevitable dismay/hostility on the face of whoever opened the door. Oh god — the smell of those strange houses. Soup. Sweat. Old bacon. Moldy carpet.

“Wait — that doesn’t sound like an internship. Did you get paid?”

“Well it was a commission thing. I made some money but other people ending up owing the company money because they didn’t sell enough and they would end up driving around looking for places to sell and that used up gas.”

“This sounds awful.”

“It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.”

“They made you go all the way across the country to sell door to door? How did you get there? Did they pay for your flight?”

“There was a van. They picked us up.”

“It sounds like you were a migrant worker.”

“I guess. Kind of.”

“Where did you stay?”

“Well that was kinda weird. We had to ask people that we were selling to if they had an extra room.”

I nearly spit. “What??? You asked strangers if you could live in their house??? DId you parents know?”

“No, I didn’t tell them because they would’ve worried. And the company asked us not to tell them anything because they said we would be homesick and our parents would just make us come home.”

“Oh my god, this sounds illegal. How did you get this ‘internship?'”

Turns out her COLLEGE actually passed out an innocuous seeming summer survey that was turned over to this company run by an alumni. When she marked that she had no plans, they contacted her with this amazing offer. Why a college would endorse a company that would ship 18 year olds thousands of miles away from home without a place to stay or a per diem and then send them door to door asking strangers if they could live in their house, I just don’t know. 

She reassured me, “I learned a lot. I made some good friends. And this woman, when she found out that I was paying this guy to live in his house, she told me I could stay with her for free. So I learned there are some really good people out there.”

Wait — you had to pay the boarding fees yourself? Oh don’t get me started… 

I ran home and looked up the company. This is what I found.


I suppose there’s two sides to every story. I’m sure some strange twisted mind might enjoy this particular kind of torture. Might even say it builds character. But me, I think it sounds like pure hell. 


I drove a cheery Santa Claus sized young Latino male in a fedora to a bar in North Hollywood. He told me he worked on a reality show. I asked for more details. Oh, it’s about terrible tattoos? What’s the worst you’ve ever seen?

His answer: A guy lost a bet in which he had to get something stupid on his arm. Drumroll please…

It was a mailbox with a penis in it. That’s right. A penis.

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A Warrior

The first thing I noticed were the piercings. How could I not? There was a silver sliver of a bone through his nose, then studs on both sides of his nose, some complicated piece that wound through and around his ear like something out of a sci fi movie. There were tattoos on his neck, his hands, peeking out from the edges of his all black outfit and his black porkpie hat. But he didn’t seem like a tough guy. No, his skin was pale and his voice was soft with a Slavic accent, and when he spoke it almost sounded like purring.

We got on the subject of listening to rain fall on trees, a sound you miss in in LA, and he mentioned he was from New Zealand.

“Really? You don’t have a New Zealand accent.”

“I’m half Maori, half Ukranian.”

“Wow. That’s a mix.”

He told me about his mother, a fierce Maori woman with tattoos on her face and an animal intelligence but not a lot of education. She had been dancing in a touring Polynesian band where she met an Ukrainian guitarist. They had their children in the US to give them citizenship but when she divorced her husband, fearing a custody battle, she kidnapped the boys and went back to New Zealand. For years, he was certain his father was looking for him but when he was finally able to go to the Ukraine, he found to his dismay that his father had moved on to a new family and had never sought out his two sons.

I offered lamely, “Some people, they can’t face the mistakes they made in the past. The only way they know how to survive is to try to forget everything and just move on.”

He nodded, nothing more to say about this subject. This hole.

Half man. Half boy.

Half hard. Half soft.

Half Maori. Half Ukranian.

Wholly himself.

Hole in his self.