Sarah

I just spent nine hours in a car alone with a stranger.

The choice was this: not bring home (from NY to DC) the super heavy, unassembled shelves I had bought online and had my mom pick up from an unmarked warehouse in Queens OR try to heft them to Manhattan then from block to block as I chased down my Chinatown bus then throw them under the bus then drive five hours then pull them out from the bus then try to shove them into a roommate-driven car (why do all my friends drive two-door cars? are we really that single?) and get driven the twenty minutes to home on late-night roads OR try my luck and solicit a ride via a church community listserv.

It felt like one of those middle school riddles.  Cabbage, wolf, lamb, canoe.

So my email went out—isn’t somebody driving from NY to DC in the post-Thanksgiving traffic?—and the emails came in.  One from a man local to me in DC, whose email was punctuated, spelled, and capitalized correctly.  Cabbage, wolf, lamb, whatever.  It was a door-to-door ride in a four-door car.  I took it.

As our four-and-a-half-hour trip turned into five, then six, then eight hours of rain on the windshield and brake lights ahead, I had a lot of time to consider what it was I’d done.  (That is, when we weren’t discussing what names we’d use if we went into the witness protection program.)  I got into a car with a man I DID NOT KNOW AT ALL in large part because his English-language mechanics were consistent and correct.  (In a pre-drive text message he sent me, he used parentheses and put the closing parenthesis inside the period.  See?  Safe as a lamb.)

But I became retroactively and theoretically concerned with my own decision-making.  I mean, he was driving with his hands on ten and two, but for goodness’ sakes!  What kind of a trust guide is English-language proficiency?!  Certainly well educated men can be dastardly.  My parents met Ted Bundy post-killings and pre-arrest at church in the shadow of the University of Utah.  Even Justin, my NY-DC driver, was telling me about his great uncle, who is currently in prison again for his criminally negligent medical work as a doctor.  (“He was one of the pioneers of gender reassignment surgery,” Justin said.  “Oh?” I said.  “Yes,” Justin said.  “Unfortunately, he wasn’t a very good surgeon.”)  Maybe the doctor/uncle story alone should have been concerning.  Justin did tell it to me right at the beginning of the drive, even before we went through the Lincoln Tunnel.  I could have jumped out on 34th Street and made a run for the nearest New Century Express.

The irony of the moment was this: During the car ride we played one of my favorite games, where one person picks a movie and tells the whole plot to the other person.  By game I mean a way to pass the time in a car.  I chose the movie Remember the Night, which my parents and I watched this weekend.  In this 1930s Christmas classic, Barbara Stanwyck has shoplifted a watch but is taken home for the holidays by the District Attorney, played by Fred MacMurray, who plans to put her in jail after the New Year.  When Fred explains to his mother Barbara’s true nature—“She’s a crook, Mother”—his mother balks.  “Oh no!” she says.  “She can’t be!  She has such an honest face!”  And we viewers are doubly impressed by both the falseness and the deep truth of it.

When my turn ended, and Fred and Barbara finished the movie kissing, Justin ahhed amiably.

Later, sometime later, I told Justin that I had agreed to drive with him in part because of the correctness of his English mechanics.  (He had been saying some of his friends didn’t like that he capitalizes when he IMs.)  “Really?” he said, delighted.  Then he looked back at the road.  “I looked you up in the church directory.”

“You did?!” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.  “And I thought, what the hey?  She looks like she has an honest face.”

Actually, no, that’s a lie.  I think what he really said was, “Her face looked like a cabbage.”

And then I stole his watch.

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