After dropping my wife off at St. Richard’s Episcopal School where she teaches Pre-K kids a curriculum entitled Godly Play, I set out for Monument Circle, the epicenter of downtown Indianapolis, praying I’d get a “hit” before nine. It was only my fourth day on the job, a temporary one I kept assuring myself, “just waiting for the next acting/writing gig to come along.”
Unlike my wife, my mood was neither playful nor godly. I was mildly depressed, feeling sorry for myself. The first three days had been frustrating: driving into parts unknown—perhaps you know where the Fountain Square Pilgrim Holiness Church is; navigating the Iraqi-like war zones on North Meridian where repairs continue ad nauseam; dodging aggressive, wannabe-Indy 500-type drivers; submitting my lower back to spine-crunching potholes, still cratered in mid-August; and the penultimate shock?—gas prices spiking from $2.29 to $2.99 overnight. No, I was not feeling optimistic about my new, “interim” job.
As she closed the car door, my wife assured me she loved me and that we needed light bulbs. Easily diverted from the labyrinth of downtown, I did a quick U-turn on Meridian and drove up to Sullivan’s Hardware at 46th and Penn, with nary a single “beep” on my new IPhone 6 along the way. You need a 4GS or better to run an Uber app, so I relinquished my old 3GS (the patronizing rep called it “a relic”), all the while wondering how many Uber trips I’d have to endure before recouping my $700 plus investment.
There still wasn’t a beep when I reached my doctor’s office at 9:40 a.m. with twenty minutes to spare. He’s located right across the street from the former Fort Benjamin Harrison U.S. Army Post on 56th Street. As I drove leisurely around Lawton Loop, surrounded by stately homes built for the upright officers of two World Wars, it occurred to me that Uber might be some kind of a newfangled Pyramid scheme: enroll as many drivers as you can (we’re then offered $150 per recruit) in as many cities as you can—far exceeding the actual demand—skim 25% off the top, and declare your company worth 40 billion dollars. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are no strangers to such hype.
I was still pondering this Pyramid possibility when the good doctor (who leaves Indiana in two weeks to practice in Long Beach, CA) informed me that I might have a severe case of carpal tunnel, or, worse yet, some “rare disease” causing the tingling sensation in my left hand, which was encroaching up my forearm as we spoke. As he handed me the referral to a “top-notch” neurologist, I wistfully said good-by, wishing I too could practice medicine by the peaceful sea.
“Great,” I thought sardonically. “I probably won’t even be able to drive by the end of the week.” The prospect cheered me up momentarily, but no sooner had I returned to the car than the beeping app informed me—I had a hit!
She (I’ll call her Jessica) was waiting for me at a Planned Parenthood Health Center, whose location shall remain unidentified. Jessica was in a wheelchair, a bit disheveled yet gritty, holding tightly onto her meds, a half-pack of cigarettes, her cell phone and a pair of open-toed sandals. Barefooted, she lifted herself out of the wheelchair into the passenger seat, and explained in a slightly stammering staccato how I could take the wheels off and collapse the chair. I did so, putting the wheels in the trunk and the folded chair in the backseat.
“Oh, jeez,” I mumbled. I’d forgotten to swipe the “Start Trip” indicator on my app when I arrived, and this transmutation of the wheelchair had taken at least three to four minutes. Soon enough, though, we were on our way, although Jessica had misplaced her glasses and couldn’t see the route clearly. Fortunately, she had programmed in the address, and my app guided us to a commercial building located on Exit Parkway. We talked on the way.
Jessica told me she was a “published author.” I hesitated to inquire further. Then she told me she wanted to write screenplays, and had applied to the Los Angeles Film School. I told her I was an actor, a playwright, and actually knew the owner of the school.
“I ssshould…apply…again!” she blurted out. Impulsively, I said I would give her a recommendation if she decided to do so. “That…would…be…so….wwwonderful!” she exclaimed.
I drove cautiously, and asked Jessica about her disability. “I have cerebral palsy,” she said, as if she had said it a thousand times.
After reassembling the wheelchair, Jessica wrestled her body into the cushioned seat and handed me her sandals, asking if I would put them on her feet. As I bent down to do so, I thought of my wife, sitting on the floor, teaching the Pre-K’s back at St. Richard’s.
“How long have you had cerebral palsy?” I asked.
“Oh, I was…bbborn with it. And I’m…glad…I was. I don’t…think…I would…ever want to walk…and then… nnnnot…be able…to do so…later.”
I slowly rose, and we exchanged personal information. I pushed her up the ramp and opened the door. She smiled warmly and rolled her wheelchair down the hallway.
I returned to my car, thinking I’m having one of those “there but for the grace of God moments.” I closed the car door, sighed deeply, and drove off.
As I dropped my wife off the next morning, she told me that my encounter with Jessica was not by accident.
“People come into our lives for a purpose, to teach us something. It’s very touching what happened to you.”
“I know, I know, it’s just…hard to see…much of a purpose in anything these days.”
Ignoring my lament, she told me to think of every person I pick up as a “visiting angel.” On that childish, cheerful note, she closed the door, gave me a thumbs-up and entered the playful sanctum sanctorum of St. Richard’s.
I turned north on Meridian, west on 38th Street, north again on Michigan Avenue, and headed home. Another cup of coffee and piece of toast smothered in peanut butter and honey seemed like a decent antidote to my morning’s doldrums. No such luck.
The “beep” of my Uber app directed me to one of those whitewashed, wood-framed Indiana bungalows, more of a glorified shack, really, with an open porch; its cramped yard littered with rusty tricycles, empty pots, decaying gnomes and other questionable objet d´arts, giving the property a certain status in an otherwise plain if not plaintive neighborhood.
He (I’ll call him Todd) was huge; a conservative estimate would be 400 pounds and counting. Other than in pictures, I’ve never seen such a large man. I watched as he navigated the crumbling steps, dwarfing the two gnomes who stood as faithful sentinels on his front porch.
As Todd opened the rear door, I suggested he might be more comfortable in the passenger seat. Taking my cue, he opened the front door and entered the car headfirst. An “ouch” followed the sound of his stomach squishing into the doorframe, his midriff squeezed between the seat and dashboard. Recoiling, it took me a second or so to realize that Todd was stuck in the front seat of my car, his head bobbing in midair.
I watched speechlessly as he rocked back and forth, up and down, sweating and sighing. Entering or exiting the car was irrelevant—extraction was the goal—and with a powerful, reverse thrust, Todd’s midsection sprang from the doorframe, driving him backwards onto the sidewalk.
“Are you all right?” I asked. There was a long pause.
“Do you think we could lower the seat some more?”
“Yes, yes, I think I can, and…and…I don’t know…maybe it’ll go back…a…a little bit more.”
With the seat adjusted an inch or so, Todd was inspired to try a butt-first entrance, which looked doable until the base of his neck jammed on the top part of the doorframe. Valiantly, over and over, he lowered his head to clear this final obstacle, but to no avail. Frustrated, he grabbed the windshield and center pillars, and, in another series of back-and-forth motions, extricated his backside from the car.
I was just about to tell Todd we’d given it our “best shot,” when, nimble as a gymnast, he crouched down on the pavement, arched his back on the side of the seat, and, with his feet pushing against the curb, forced his massive torso through the doorframe.
“Well done, well done!” I said, and swiped the “Start Trip” on my app.
Breathing heavily, Todd said nothing. He was dressed in a worn white shirt, covered by a soiled blue apron. I smelled the distinctive odor of urine, and thought of the decaying sentinels on his front porch.
“This really is a small car,” he finally murmured.
I was mildly insulted, having owned a MINI in LA, and fondly thought of my little Cruz as somewhat commodious.
“It is small, classified as a compact.” And then I couldn’t resist the temptation: “But then, you are a rather large man, Todd.”
He laughed a gentle laugh, and it was then I noticed he had a lovely, cherubic face with an easy smile.
We spoke sparingly from that point. He told me he was a chef at a pizza place we’ll call Zak’s.
“It’s been here in Indy since the 60’s. I’ve been eating there since I was a kid. So I thought I might as well work there. They gave me a job right away.”
“How long have you been there?”
There was a long silence as we drove by multiple pizza joints on Michigan. Todd glanced at all of them, seemingly scouting out his competitors.
“I suppose I…I know the answer to this, Todd, but how’s the pizza at Zak’s?”
“Oh, it’s the best…the best. You should come by some time.”
“I will…my wife and I…we’ll come by sometime for a couple of pieces.”
“I’ll probably be in the back,” he said. “Just ask for me…give you all the trimmings you want—on the house—my treat.”
I pulled into the alleyway behind Zak’s to drop Todd off. “Leave the app running,” I thought to myself, “this could take a while.”
With a quick, balletic-like lunge, Todd vaulted from the car, landing gracefully on his feet. He turned around and bowed his head under the doorframe.
“You make sure you and your wife come see me now.”
As he closed the door, I nodded and waved goodbye, relieved to swipe the “Trip Completed” indicator.
I drove down Michigan Ave. opening the car windows, wondering about Todd’s health, about my own indulgent appetites, about the corpulence of this abundant nation, and about my wife’s child-like faith in “visiting angels.”