Mr. Grindle lived on the opposite edge of the Old Town and his destination (according to my FLYT driver app) just over a mile away. When I pulled up to the curb, I spied a silver-haired man in his fifties. When he turned to lock the door I knew why he’d called a car – his left leg was completely encased in a plaster cast. His breath bellowed in front of him while he huffed and puffed down the walk to the car (the cold air made him look like a dragon). I felt the previous week’s masterclass of levering people into and out of the Princess would come in handy here (a VW Rabbit, no matter how cute – is not the car of choice for those with old or broken bones).
Mr. Grindle (chuckling): “Nice hat.”
Me (touching me head, I’d forgotten about my chauffeur’s cap – I smiled): “My regulars like it.”
Mr. Grindle (smiling and skating over his hat snark): “Thanks for the ride. I can’t drive until this cast comes off and I have to attend this dinner.”
Me (opening the passenger side door): “No problem. I am glad to drive you, though I won’t be available later.”
Talking became technical for a moment while I helped Mr. Grindle translate the laws of physics into practical application which allowed him to fit comfortably to the Princess’s passenger seat. I hustled to the driver’s side (after stowing his crutches in the back) while he settled in for the short ride.
Me (puffing a bit): “So how’d you hurt your leg?”
Mr. Grindle (shaking his head and laughing at himself): “A rake jumped under my feet. I got tangled up and fell hard on my leg. Wish it was from something more interesting than that. Makes me sound like an old man.”
Me (quietly laughing with him while tapping my phone for directions): “Accidents are invariably silly or mundane. Remember when the President choked on a pretzel? With the Secret Service all around? No one ever comes off sounding like Fred Astaire.”
Mr. Grindle: “I suppose. Maybe I can make something better up?”
Not needing my encouragement, Mr. Grindle started entertaining various less plausible, but far more amusing scenarios to explain his current state. My attention diverted from the funny fabrications when an electric current arced across my toes. Startled I looked up and caught a reflection in my review mirror – a woman in her early twenties sat amongst the kitsch in my backseat staring at Mr. Grindle.
The Woman: “He murdered me you know.”
Mr. Grindle: “I do need to get to the dinner by seven thirty, so if we could get going….”
His words broke through her rather stunning declaration (and my stinging toes).
Me (turning the car over): “No problem, sir.”
Keeping my eyes fixed on the road, my hands in the ten and two position.
Me: “So how long will you be there?”
The Woman: “Forever. He buried me deep.”
Mr. Grindle: “The dinner is only suppose to last until nine.”
Me (changing plans): “Would you like me to wait for you?”
The Woman: “I waited but no one ever found me.”
Mr. Grindle (surprised): “I thought you said you would be unavailable later.”
Me (thinking on the fly): “A couple of hours isn’t very long. Plus you can make a quick escape if you need to.”
The Woman: “I tried to escape, but he shot me in the back.”
Mr. Grindle: “If it isn’t any trouble, it would be nice not to have to wait.”
Me: “No trouble at all, I can read in the car as easily as at home.”
The Woman: “I didn’t know he meant trouble when I found him in camp.”
Mr. Grindle (shifting in his seat, trying to get into his coat pocket – I think): “Do I need to do anything in FLYT…”
Me: “No, I will take care of it.”
The Woman: “He took care of everything, no one ever suspected.”
The ride ended almost as soon as the conversation did – I thanked whatever god who heeded my prayer (I didn’t care which). The Woman fell silent when we did, her focus on Mr. Grindle – much like when a cat catches you in a staring contest – never wavered. To my profound relief she never notice my furtive glances in her direction. I pulled into the driveway Mr. Grindle pointed out and helped him unfold from a sitting to an upright position – while assuring him all he had to do was call when he was ready to leave.
When I got back into the car The Woman was gone.
One of my first FLYT fares – a nice lady of a certain age wearing (you guessed it) diamonds, pearls and the cutest pillbox hat – wanted me to drop her off at this door. Not a clue what lays beyond the threshold, but she confidently strode (in sensible heels) thru the door.
I think my career with FLYT might prove more interesting than I first supposed…
The upside for driving with FLYT? I get to see all kinds of new things, like restaurants, I never knew existed in our fair city.
For example? Heads & Tails a little sushi place (which qualifies as a hole-in-the-wall-joint because my old kitchen has more square footage than they do) where I ate this unique dish, shishamo (I say unique because I’d never eaten it before).
It was pretty tasty, but needed some kind of dipping sauce in my humble opinion to cut the smokey flavor.
This was the rest of my lunch, both delicious and pretty!
(The Princess as she was when I bought her, before spiffing her up!)
FLYT: Whether it’s hop, skip or a jump, start your trip with us!
My new interim career: chauffeur. Sounds glamorous right?
On my first day I donned black slacks, vest and white button up (I left off the cap – I thought it a touch too much coupled with my very pink car) – put the FLYT sticker and light bar in the Pink Princess – then set my app to ‘on duty’ and waited for my first fare! Where would the day take me?
We all carry preconceived notions around of what people should look like based on their jobs. I know I got many an amused backwards looks when I listed my previous position as cemetery caretaker. I mean what euphemism could I possible use? Remains concierge? Churchyard curator? Grass custodian? Seriously – call a spade a spade. FLYT labels their drivers based on the number of seats in their cars (thus the recommended length of their trips) and I saw similar amusement aimed my way. My spidey sense should’ve tingled.
The Princess fell into the ‘Hop’ scope of work. Meaning? I could drive one passenger (plus luggage) within the recommended radius of twenty miles (I could go further- but I wouldn’t appear at the top of the skip or jump lists). No big deal – the airport, retail core and restaurant district all fell under my purview.
I didn’t drive anywhere close to the big three my first week or even my second. (Looking back it’s funny now.)
I now know why there are so few drivers in the Hop category and why FLYT pushed my application through so fast (one week may not seem like much – but a background check normally takes two alone) when they discovered how much I loved my car.
I am a glorified granny mobile.
Don’t let seniors fool you, technology does not scare them and once they figure it out (or remember to wear their glasses) they have zero problems using it. When they find a favorite app? It spreads through the senior center quicker than greased lightning. When there is a new driver on their favorite rideshare app – who is actually polite? The information spreads faster than warm butter on a hot skillet.
I now know where the best podiatrist in town is. In fact I don’t think there is a medical center of any size or flavor I haven’t visited. I have loaded hundreds of bags of groceries into and out of the Princess’s trunk. My knowledge of rumors, facts and fabrications of my fair metropolis dwarfs – by several orders of magnitude – anything my Aunt Pearl’s nosy network could even dream of discovering (the senior center is non-denominational and is closed mouthed to anyone under sixty-seven unless you are stuck in a car at a red light and want to talk about something, anything other than what’s going to happen at the urologist today – while Aunt Pearl is limited to school/church gossip grape vine).
I wear my chauffeur cap now because they think it’s cute. The waterproof seat covers I purchased for quick cleanup if a drunk got sick on them are now covered with lovely Scandinavian brocade covers. I mentioned to one of my regulars the name of my car and they all ran with it. They’ve filled her small back seat with homemade throw pillows, crocheted afghans and a woven basket for my lunch (they decided my cooler clashed with the spirit of the Princess – it was blue). Every item remained faithful to the color scheme of black and pink, nothing clashed (I am not sure this is due to a happy accident or if they had a meeting and decided on a color scheme).
While the other FLYT drivers do their level best to graduate to the Skip category just as fast as they can – I was in no hurry to leave Hop behind. Sure my car perpetually smelled of talcum powder and floral perfume, they weren’t great tippers and expected me to walk them to their doors. In the rain. Carrying their bags. Always. But the ladies of a certain age gave me their tried and true recipes because they discovered I enjoyed cooking. The elderly gents diagnosed the knocking in my engine before the situation became dire. They regaled me with old war stories, scandals and worries – I felt more like a bartender than a driver. They reminded me of the residents of Nevermore, they just wanted someone to listen and I was more than happy to.
They kept me so busy I didn’t see my first sans-senior-center-fare until the end of the week (my part-time job turned pretty steady, pretty quickly). The only reason it happened was because I forgot to swipe my driver app to ‘off duty’ when I got home. Well, that and the fact the center closed at five today. Despite the long day, the ladies’ monthly round robin of beauty, I decided to grab this last fare – my forgetfulness wasn’t his fault.
No good deed ever goes unpunished.
Found this flower growing on the back fence, next to the tool shed, while I was looking for the mythical storage area. Maybe I should walk back down here in the dark and see if it actually glows…
Remember when I I said I forgot to ask Beatrice about something when she toured me through the Lavender Lady? When she lured me into a very reasonable lease?
Yeah, I figured it out.
The penny dropped when I started searching for the promised storage area.
It turns out Beatrice owned a rather nice espresso machine, so I finished unpacking and arranging my books (then rearranging them when I imagined a better way), rebuilding my bed and hanging up my clothes in two days.
However during said process, an island coalesced into existence in the center of my room. Unopened boxes which contained useful yet redundant items; a second set of dishes, silverware, pots and pans, my dinner table and such. While putting my stuff away, I’d poked my nose into all kinds of interesting corners of the apartment and I knew this mythical storage spaces wasn’t inside our four walls (I did earmark a few places for further investigation). Now why didn’t I just ask Beatrice? She left the day after I moved in for Scotland. Pulp sent her to a book festival and she wasn’t going to return until the following Saturday. I didn’t think my itch to finish (and to quit barking my shins on the boxes) warranted a transcontinental call.
Which is why on I found myself on my tiptoes peeking in outbuildings around grounds. I found a tool shed and potting bench, a root cellar (which could also double as an oubliette), a garden shed (which I couldn’t see inside because of some very thorny rose bushes and a locked door) and the garage – which looked promising, but the only thing in it was a vintage Chevy Impala, not a single shelf in sight.
That’s when she caught up with me.
A voice croaked behind me: “What are you doing? Casing up my house?”
Startled, since I hadn’t heard her approach, I whipped around and saw the cutest little old lady standing on the walk. She looked like an advertisement with her long braid of silver hair, rosy cheeks and pleasant plumpness. She wore a frilly apron over her sweater and jeans and a pair of sensible shoes on her feet. I could just imagine her baking sugar cookies for her grandkids’ school bake sale or knitting red woolen mittens for neighborhood kids. I tried to discreetly look around for who’d spoken me – because the voice I heard didn’t match the person standing in front of me.
The vision of sugar and spice opened her mouth: “Well? Are you one of the thieves who robbed me?”
Seriously, the croaking ten-pack-a-day-washed-down-with-a-half-a-bottle-of-bourbon voice came from her and she thought I burgled her house. Fantastic.
Me (with my brain still trying to align incongruous sensory input, fell back onto Aunt Pearl’s axiom ‘politeness never hurt anyone’): “No ma’am. My name is Phoebe Arden, Beatrice’s new roommate…”
Her (cutting me off without any attempt to conceal her suspicion, she barked): “Doesn’t mean you’re not a thief.”
Me (trying again): “I’m not ma’am. Beatrice left for a week and forgot to tell me where the storage space is. So I was seeing if I could find it myself.”
Her: “So snooping then?”
Me (praying she had a cellphone in one of those adorably frilly pockets): “I’m not snooping, ma’am. I am just looking for someplace to put my extra boxes. Call Beatrice, she’ll tell you who I am.”
Her (snorting and crossing her arms over the geese frolicking across the apron top): “Don’t need to. I know who you are and I don’t like snoops.”
Me (an idea finally dawned on me): “I am not snooping. Are you Ms. Hettie?”
Her (a sneered marred the laugh lines around her mouth): “Who else would I be?”
Me (irritated by her manner and lack of manners): “So if you know who I am, you know I’m not going to rob you and I am not snooping around. Will you show me where the storage space is?”
Ms. Hettie: “Beatrice can show you when she gets home.”
With that she turned on her heel and disappeared around the corner of the garage – leaving me gaping like a fish at her unwarranted unpleasant attitude. Then I remembered Beatrice’s comment in Altar about Ms. Hettie and the other shoe dropped, “…when she gets nervous she gets cranky, well crankier.”
Well hell, I forgot to ask Beatrice what her definition of cranky was. Maybe calling her in Scotland wasn’t such a bad idea?