I picked her up at a low-rent apartment warren in Kent: she was in her 50’s, Hispanic, short, round features; the years had marked and weathered her, but she had an impish vivacity that made age moot. She sat in the first row of the van, the first passenger on a Yellow 2. (“Yellow 2” was a radio code, based on stoplight colors; followed by a number, it indicated how many stops you were assigned. Once, I was taking an Asian student to the U district, and I got paged an assignment. I radioed confirmation to dispatch: “This is 832, I’m Yellow 1.” I thought I felt a chill from behind me, and wondered if I should explain that “Yellow 1” wasn’t racist, but that seemed awkward, so we just drove along in silence. Awkwardly.)
Anyway, she reminded me a lot of my brother: it turned out she was also the oldest sibling, and she had the same kind of megawatt personality, the open, say-anything fearlessness. She was so easy to talk with, and although it wasn’t that far to next stop in Fairwood, the conversation covered a lot of ground.
It was her birthday, she was dying of cancer, and was flying out to see her little sister for the last time.
She had been quite the party girl, a long dance with drink and drugs. Regrets, sure, but she had had a lot of fun as well. Wondering about God. I said I didn’t think she had anything to worry about on that score. I know she had dark moments, but she was yet another one of those people who astound me with their bravery, even with finality’s teeth sunk deep in their arm.
The Fairwood stop was two people, an upwardly mobile couple transitioning from hip to middle class. Traveling abroad. They sat behind her, we chatted a bit, then she and I continued talking. We were a few minutes out from the airport when she said, “Excuse me, I’m sorry, but I really need to pee. Could you stop at a gas station?”
“Let me think about it for a sec.” Let’s see, one possible exit coming up, but the traffic lights… while I was mentally mapping it out, she turned to the couple and said, “I’m sorry the pee bitch ruined your trip.”
I watched them in the mirror; they were pretty cool, didn’t say anything, just looked at each other with raised eyebrows: Well, that just happened. I said to her, “Actually, if you can just hang on for about four minutes, the airport is faster than any stop we could make.”
She thanked me and we continued talking. When were on the airport drive, she said to me, formally, “I would like to see you after I return, sir.” What should I say? What happens internally when you have to make a decision on the spot like that? My Danger Robot was flailing its accordion-pleated tubular arms, my Spiritual Wanderer was wagging a finger, telling me accept everyone, and my Company Man was waving the rule book: no contact with guests outside work. I tell myself it wasn’t Company Man who won; it was just not wanting the complication, and feeling like what we had had was all it needed to be.
So I demurred, and she asked one more time, again with “sir.” I evaded. And then we were at Southwest Air. The young couple dashed off. I took her suitcase to the curbside check-in where she was talking to the Southwest agent. She didn’t seem to be in a hurry to find a bathroom.
Maybe Company Man didn’t win, because I did something very unprofessional: I gave her a good-bye hug. I suddenly realized, seeing how the agent was looking at her, that maybe she was drunk or high. I wondered if they were going to let her on the plane, if she would get to see her little sister.
I called Clear on the radio, and got a yellow 3 out of Ravenna.