Running Out of Time
It’s a sweet story that begins with a man who cooks all day and drives a cab all night. He is British and happy. He is wonderfully fit and walks with an unintentional swagger that is attractive. Sometimes he rides a loud blue bicycle with a chain that catches. He seldom speaks, but always smiles. On every given day, and beyond his morning tea, the Englishman cooks a fine strain of street food and snacks. He boils and broils, and he bakes and fries, and his open windows drop a lovely smell into the air below. With the music of Brahms, Bowie and Berlioz intertwining with the pots and spatulas, the shifting positions of crushers, graters, peelers and strainers, arches of spices are launched and caught by varying recipients of sauces, meats, breads and casseroles. The finale of spooning and forking the lot of divine cuisine into small bags and boxes and placing each setup into his duffle bag receives a standing ovation from no one. It is done. He makes his way to the street and onward to the parks and bridges of New York.
Etta from Vermont is the first to see him coming; the smiling blonde, balancing his oversized duffle on that rickety blue bike and she motions to the others, seven in all. The chatter is nondescript, but full of enthusiasm. Laughing and smiling, Etta and the others gather round, patting each other and passing goodies. The Englishman has his own and takes two mouthfuls before moving on from the giddy group. They don’t notice he’s left until the chain on his bike catches and they wave.
He makes his way, a different way, on every day and this is right. The last stop at the southwest corner of Penn Station, near Brother Jimmy’s BBQ, Tommy and his dog, Vito, wait for something, but mostly nothing, which sometimes comes around once a week. Something saunters up 31st in the form of a sweaty blonde with a deflated duffle. “There he is, man,” said Tommy to Vito. The Brit’s smile told him today was a good day and the two men and the dog sat down on the street and busted up the remaining mashed potatoes and chicken thighs. Another genuine mumble of thanks and Tommy lifted his hand to wave. Vito was ambivalent, but his stomach was full.
That night on his ninth fare, a tall woman holding a large brown satchel at her side, flagged the cabby to which he pulled to the curb just ahead of her. Looking ahead and thinking of condensed milk and curry while his passenger slid along the back seat to the opposite side, he inquired the usual. Andy, the tall woman with the brown satchel, answered, “Ninety Lafayette, my dear.” “My dear,” he thought. She looked toward the relative darkness of Central Park as the car bumped and swayed down into town and the driver was amused. He had ninety-two blocks to secure an alliance, an unusual practice for him, but there was something in the air as they shared this space. She noticed his blonde hair and indiscriminate smile. “What do we have here?” she asked herself. They bumped into each other in the mirror and she returned a smile. “What brings you downtown this evening?” he asked. Andy was the Community Outreach Director at a large homeless shelter in Lower Manhattan. Her career path had been a long, tenacious road to which she felt dismissive. Of far greater concern to her was the needless epidemic of poverty and hunger. She felt a calling, a duty, and she dedicated her life to serving this community. Forty-one blocks left and the cabby moved quickly, though he gratefully relished in the traffic lights he’d skirted on previous shifts. In a most unusual move, Andy returned the questions and was surprised to find the answers pleasing. She was interested in his casual, yet steadfast compassion for people. She found his efforts hopeful and she found him, well, lovely. He turned left on Walker and they watched each other as they spoke during the final three blocks. They ran out of time and he pulled to the curb. She slid across the seat to get a better look at him. They reached for each other as he pivoted toward her, shaking her hand. “My name’s Nigel.”