28

A late model Explorer with a lit Uber Beacon crossed my path at the intersection as I headed west on Riverside. I flashed the Amp like a gang sign.
Kept rolling. Five minutes elapsed, I was about to perch and grab my book when I felt a stirring, then remembered that as soon as you fart in this game you get a ping and have 30 seconds to air out. Perhaps God was opening a door. Before I could finish I was pinged, hit the pink and initiated emergency cabin venting procedure.
When the phenylpiracetam hit me I began to cry, softly and shortlived. I had just pulled out of gear and stopped before a railroad crossing off of 5th where I was to pick up one Jajuan. His profile photo left his ethnicity ambiguous and I was prepared to err on the side of Blaxican. A young woman in a tight black/white dress and pumps came stumbling from behind a fenced dive bar onto the tracks, illuminated by my headlights. She tromped down the line to left stage and got horizontal on the rocks between two rails. A short Hispanic man emerged from the same right corner in my field of vision but crossed the beams and passed my car in the direction of 5th, or Chavez.
A second woman entered the stage and, sober enough for a maternal function, made her way in careful, bobbing strides to the first, who had her knees up and I imagined was admiring the stars, and knelt by her friend, who then pulled her down onto the rocks.
From right stage then a Black if not Blaxican man swerved on his bowlegs with erratic swagger toward me, and I unlocked the doors in gesture. As usual, the pax bore only vague semblance to the profile photo, but circumstance narrowed it down. He was cut like a jacked turtle and seemed to barely contain an excessive virility. Through the cracked passenger window: “For Jajuan?”
“Yeah, hop in.”
He fell in the back and spread himself across the row.
We exchanged niceties to the extent he was capable and remained silent until, with ten miles to go on North MoPac, I was yanked from my rigid attentiveness by confrontational utterances.
In this gig you learn to err on the side of certain faiths, one being an assumption that unsolicited andor seemingly untoward speech is really the stuff of an unannounced phone call rather than of an off-brand pax-driver ice-breaker.
“No—no, listen, I just, I’m in this Uber, but—no listen. I’m in this Uber goin home but, I’m feelin like you should be with me right now… yeah… I’m saying you should be with me… Naw, what? I got a plan now… Yeah… I’ma open my own gym, yeah, Brazilian jiujitsu… Yeah… It ain’t—no it ain’t like that no more, I got a five-year plan…”
After a thick pause he moaned that he wished he weren’t so in love with this girl. I waited a mississippi and determined he must be addressing me, then asked him to elaborate.
She was his day-one. The relationship had severed when he joined the Marines after some close flirtation with gangbanging that he seemed appreciative to have evaded. Some talk about Iraq and Afghanistan but I didn’t have the patriotic gut-levels to empathize, or even conversate thereon, though he made it clear that it was for the discipline, seeming socioeconomic mobility, benefits, and—who can blame him—stature.
“But now she got a baby with this otha nigga.
He stick around?”
“No, he stay far away as he can…”
“Ah—”
“Cause he know I’d run through him and his whole family.”
He remained in his horizontal assertion all the way home, an inconspicuous complex on the northern periphery, perhaps Phlugerville, where he thanked me warmly and hopped out of my world. I gave the by-now automatic five-star wrap and retraced my path to the street.
Idling at the highway intersection under the kind of star canopy that only becomes visible on the outskirts, I was jostled from my blank speculations by the squeal of tires and roar of an oversized motor clamoring for traction in mid-drift. A gleaming charcoal grey Charger had launched out of the complex and presently arced about my position to skid onto the feeder going south.
The fare was twenty-eight bucks.
Fifteen minutes and zero pings later I was back in the epicenter.
Several miles without incident, I headed east for the alt-fares. Pushing the old foreign over lumpen pot holes in the quieter segment of East 6th I could hear my coffee lapping at the brim.

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