If an Uber driver does not confirm your name before the start of the ride, you’ve entered the vehicle of a very dangerous man. If he’s also wearing fake Ray-Bans for the entirety of the drive on a seemingly glareless day, safe to assume you’re done for. The first course of action is to send brief but personalized texts straight from the heart to at least ten of your closest friends, relatives and loved ones—this way, they may each think that they alone occupied your mind in your final waking moments. Next, open the Notes app and jot down as concise a version of your last will and testament as humanly possible (if one already exists, consider writing amendments to accommodate to your life in real-time. Did one friend only heart-react to your personalized text while others responded with paragraphs? Has your brother expected you to check-in on Mom more this week because of his long-awaited “meditation retreat?”). This second step cannot last more than five minutes. At this point, the geo-tracker in the Uber app will already be showing your vehicle moving in the opposite direction of your intended destination. Go with your gut, for the goal here is not to write a comprehensive ten-year plan but instead a rough draft of a will. Bullet points are not only accepted but encouraged. Maybe even omit a few words at the choicest locations so that those reading must treat the precious document as an ad-lib and fill-in-the-blank. Once your body is found and your phone is unlocked, your loved ones will receive just smithereens of who you wanted to get what with absolutely no legal bearing, and thus they must together agree on how you’d prefer your property to be distributed. This blueprint of a will ultimately serves as nothing more than a quiz to test whether your friends and family care enough about you to cordially determine the fate of your affairs.
Once this brainstorm has elapsed, the third and final step is to shut your phone off, store it in the depths of your pocket, and initiate a conversation with your driver. This is by far the most crucial step, as it almost certainly determines whether you ever leave that vehicle alive or whether the makeshift will on your phone ever sees the light of day. Done right, you may uncover the many things that you and your driver have in common. You might learn that you were both raised in St. Louis but never went back after the age of eighteen, or both share a love for high-school sweethearts who are recently divorced living two states away and a mutual hatred for laugh-tracks that ruin otherwise decent sitcoms. If you’re really lucky, he’ll let you go and even give you his phone number with instructions to call him for drinks the next time you’re in the town. Half-ass this step and you’ve wasted your final few moments in this beautiful world making useless small talk with your murderer-to be. Lay it on too thick here, and you’ve royally missed the mark. Your driver stares at you through his rear-view mirror as you continue to babble away in the back seat, arms squeezing your luggage like a teddy-bear. Skip this step all-together and the only thing left to do is stare out the window and appreciate the scenery as you’re driven down a one-way road to hell.
The car rolls to a stop on the side of the road, which by now is ten miles south of the city and barren of any other vehicle, and you can only imagine what happens––
“Where you traveling?”
The sun had begun its pink dip beneath the turnpike that curved ahead. Other cars floated alongside them, concluding their individual workdays with a painless commute home. The man in the back of the car, huddled in the left seat with limbs pressed to the vehicle’s door, ceased typing on his phone and peered up at his driver.
Solomon spent a panicked second recalibrating to his surroundings that moments before had existed only in his periphery. Twenty minutes of the ride had already elapsed, and to his utter surprise his Uber driver had spoken. The spell of the story he had been writing on his phone vanished, replaced now with the bitter feeling that he had violated their seemingly benign car ride with his perverse imagination.
“DC,” Solomon said. He glanced at the rear-view mirror to meet the eyes of his driver, only to be reminded that they were hidden behind sunglasses set low on his nose.
“So that makes Dallas home then?” The driver kept his swollen hands precisely at ten and two. His elbows hung limp in front of the wheel and his seat dipped beneath his weight, as if molded to their pilot’s frame.
“I’m just here for work.” Solomon sensed himself retreating from the conversation, pleading to return to the comfort of his smartphone and his story.
“What kind of work brings you down here? I knew you weren’t from around here by the way,” the driver said, accompanied by what could have been a snicker or a sneeze. “See, I’ve been here my entire life. And that’s a long life cause I’m older than I look. Never left actually for more than a month. So my senses are tuned to these conditions real well. I know what Dallas gives a person and what it takes from you, too.”
The driver delivered the menacing line with a swaying tone that Solomon found oddly peaceful, almost tranquilizing. He waited to answer as the car waded through two lanes at once towards the exit. Sun rays nicked the Fort Worth 1 Mile sign and purpled its intended iridescent white frame.
“I’m a management consultant. We had a high-profile client down here, so they sent me on short notice. Now I’m rushing to DC to see family, also on short notice.” He then added, to please his driver, or at least acknowledge the man’s obvious allegiance to the city, “It’s my first time in Dallas–– delicious ribs.”
“The world’s finest and you’ll be back soon to get some more,” the driver said. “Okay, now why are you in such a rush? I mean, someone with a job like yours that’s got high-profile customers and such should get to take their time, no? You ain’t missing this flight, though, I’ll get you there faster than that GPS could ever know.” The driver paused and the Ray-Bans found themselves higher on his nose. “Why you in such a rush home?”
“Easter celebrations. It’s a big one for the family. Everyone comes home, no matter where they are,” Solomon replied.
“Oh, isn’t that sweet. I used to love that one. The little cousins grabbing at their toddler polos and dresses, smearing melted chocolate everywhere. That’s a real sweet one…”
Solomon knew the scene his driver described well, as he had seen it every year without fail at his family’s house. His brothers and him gradually aged out of the role of the adorable cousin and now it was his turn to pinch the Hershey-filled cheeks of nieces and nephews. His parents tapped into some sacred store of the energy specifically reserved for the holiday, hauling home bins of produce from the Amish market a week in advance and pinning pink balloons to heights in the house a ladder could barely reach. In his college years and immediately after, the holiday acted as the only source of consistency in a life that grappled with seventy-hour work weeks and a higher salary than he knew he deserved. In recent years, though, after a series of promotions afforded a peaceful consistency of its own, Easter marked the only source of variety in his year–– a much-needed kink in a stream of client-reports and cocktail parties. This is why the journey to DC at this point of the year was always a necessary Odyssey. He could not miss the three-day weekend that fueled the rest of the work year. Without it, Solomon knew he would drown, and it pleased him that his driver recognized the holiday’s appeal.
“Used to celebrate. Not any more though. Haven’t for a very long time. I’m telling you, I’m old,” the pilot said. The car floated past the sign that announced Terminal A. His driver knew the area, knew Fort Worth, and knew where Solomon needed to go without asking.
“How come? What changed?” the passenger asked.
“I adored the traditions, you know. Loved all the food and the people and the colored streamers that my auntie would spend hours setting up. Don’t get that wrong…” his driver said. The sunglasses had left his face, and the man’s dark eyes left the path before him and focused on Solomon in the back seat. “It’s not what it used to be, that’s all. That’s really it. No one likes being reminded of how things get changed and lost, that’s all.”
“How do you mean? You’re no longer religious?” the passenger asked again.
“Oh no, boy, my faith is still strong. Stronger than ever, it’s got to be. All I’m here to say is the human in the holiday is gone. Its roots run deep, way back when, back to a beautiful little ceremony you wouldn’t even believe. I liked it better before, that’s all.”
“I have no idea what came before Easter. Likely something pagan, right?” The driver tightened his lips. The entirety of his curly beard shifted in a way that betrayed the subtle grimace and magnified his disapproval. “Not that that’s bad, of course,” Solomon added, knowing the two of them had already diverged. It seemed their course had been set from the start, as if this was the point where his driver knew to drop him off though they had yet to technically arrive.
“I don’t even know if I believe in what’s celebrated,” Solomon said, his words falling flat against the seats of the drifting car. “I honestly just like the excuse to see my family.”
“Who needs an excuse to see family” the driver said. He did not hesitate, stitching his response to the end of his passenger’s quivering comment as if they had rehearsed the conversations many times over. “But you chose the structure of your days, no? What deserves your time and what doesn’t?”
“I do,” Solomon said, the corners of his mouth beginning to sag.
“Could home be an excuse to get away from work?” Signs for Terminal B appeared up ahead. The driver whispered from his seat, barely audible in the seats that trailed behind him. “I want you to leave this car with a better sense of who you are, Solomon. It’s not too late I don’t think. Never do anything ever again without knowing why. It will serve you once beyond.”
Solomon sat silent far back in the vehicle, unsure whether he had heard his driver correctly and equally afraid whether the words he had heard might be true.
Other cars stood halted one behind another, moving so little they appeared abandoned, and yet the driver ferried into an open spot with ease. Solomon bounced his briefcase on his knees and anxiously patted his slacks, checking for a wallet and phone he knew with certainty were there. He wrestled with his suit coat, preparing for the chill of the air outside that had minutes before boasted tee-shirt weather and a perfect sunset. His driver popped the trunk from a concealed button under his wheel but made no motion of leaving the car, perhaps only to conserve the mold of his impression against the seat that was won from guiding countless passengers across his city.
Solomon exited the vehicle through the left door and straightened out the creases of his jacket. Removing his luggage from the trunk, which only contained other creased suits hardly distinguishable from the one he wore now, the man felt the hot sweat form beneath the layers he had thought were necessary. He gently closed the trunk of the sedan to not disturb the peace of the driver whose car seemed nothing other than a natural extension of himself.
Checking his app to verify his driver’s name and pay him a generous tip, Solomon returned to the open door and said with the attempt of a smile, “Thank you for the ride, Karon. Have a great rest of your night.”
“Safe travels now, and don’t look back,” he replied and shifted his car out of park at the exact moment that the door clicked shut. He did not normally add such inklings when depositing his passengers to their gates, yet the driver could so easily tell that a transition like this would shake a man like Solomon to his core. He knew from a lifetime of rides that the stability of being so fundamental to such a man’s character was not so quickly uprooted. Karon prayed to his own gods that all would not be lost, that at the end of this road his once passenger might be salvaged.
Solomon watched his driver rejoin the flow of other transitory vehicles with the same smoothness that he had displayed on the highway. Heading to pick up another unwitting traveler, or perhaps on his way home, his driver was now gone and suddenly Solomon felt unprepared, standing at the cusp of an airport he’d been through before but never remembered or even truly seen. The jaws of the automatic doors opened, then began to close and then opened again, accepting the stream of commuters who looked only at the tips of their shoes as they entered the building. Tongues of heat from the grinding climate control units escaped the gateway and wrapped the newcomers whose coats and scarfs and supplementary sweaters would soon be ripped off to accommodate this rapid shift in temperature.
Solomon still stood at the Terminal B port focusing on the smudged tips of his own leather boots. Inside the airport awaited sweat and stale air and the hands of security workers who would brush his torso with alarming indifference. His gate was placed at the outermost edges of the semi-circular buildings, the half-moons or frowns concentrically placed that together made up DFW––it had been posted for hours––and there, another gateway awaited to take him on another trip to somewhere else he thought he knew well. Others would hover alongside him down the long connectors on moving tramways they’d been ordered to take, stopping at A06 or B24 or a food court or simply wandering, staring with hard eyes at shuffling screens to find some sense of direction. Those who’d been there too long would begin showing signs, these poor souls so tired from delays and transferred flights that the light from overhanging bulbs seemed to pass straight through their sunken chests.
And so Solomon still stood at Terminal B, unable just yet to enter this strange building and encounter the distorted oddities that had once seemed so familiar. He spat at the ground to dispel a bitter taste that filled the bone-dry cavity of his mouth and he began breathing fast through open lips as if to vent this smell of death. He knew not how to proceed, or where to go, or if he’d ever get back the world of peace he had just lost. A family, a holiday, and all that was called comfort of course still awaited him somewhere, but that made no matter. He would wade through this new world knowing not why he had done all that he did and the weight of that stolen time would slow him. Yet still he would move forward, but only because that was all that he has ever done. His driver was miles away and had left him to brave these elements alone.