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February 2nd, 2011 - Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Three

Escape From Plainview - Based on a True Story - Chapter Three
At 7:30 AM on December 22nd, 1995, a late-model silver Lincoln Continental pulls into the cul-de-sac in front of my Ramada Inn.
Not really a limousine per se, but a nice cab without a lighted sign on top, piloted by a uniformed female driver that looked totally out of place from what I am used to seeing out in front of the Lambada, as I have come to call it.

The prim but jovial lady driver electrically rolls down the passenger window, tips her captain's cap and asks me if I am "Mr. Teem." I am shocked to answer that I am.
I hop into the spacious back seat. She asks me where I'm going. I say to Plainview, and give her the address. Instead of backing up and telling me to get the hell out, she rolls slowly away from the curb. I am checking to see if I am actually awake, and looking around for movie cameras.

"Where are you from...? " She says sweetly. 
"Minnesota," I say, "installing some equipment out here." 
"I have some friends in Minnesota, nice place. But I've lived here all my life," she says reassuringly.

Suddenly a horn honks off to our right. "Too bad I'm driving the Lincoln," she says soothingly, "If I had my car, I would have run that stupid fucker off of the road. 
Ah well, these people don't know how to drive in the snow. He'll be lucky if he makes it wherever he's going anyway." 

"Er, what's the deal with this cab?," I ask hesitantly. "This doesn't seem like something my client would spring for" I say, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Oh, we usually operate as a sort of shared shuttle for "The Suits" from the airport hotels," she says evenly, "but this morning you're my only fare on the trip in," she says, smiling and glancing at me in the rear view, as I'm sitting in the middle of the back seat.

"Lucky me for a change," I say into the face in the mirror.

She drops me off at Alex's, and I give her the absolute best tip I can muster. 

"You take care there Mr. Minnesota," she says. "More snow is coming. It doesn't look good, even for Minnesotans. Have a nice day now. Thanks." She smiles, tips her cap and drives off.

As I turn towards Alex's door wondering if that just happened, a car drives by close to the curb and sprays a wave of slush up onto the sidewalk at my feet. 
Snow begins to drift into into the corners of the store windows, and the "El" train rumbles overhead about a block away. The day begins it's slide into murky cloudiness. Alex lets me in.

Once inside, it's back to the usual routine; Flintstones, training on the computer controller, (the same stuff I have been showing them endlessly over and over for the last three days) and deli sandwiches with gherkins, interspersed with more complaints about this and that.

This, in theory, should be my last day here. 
I have rescheduled, cancelled, rescheduled, and cancelled my flight twice, and it is now set for tomorrow, December 23rd, at 9:00 AM from JFK.
I really can't put it off any longer due to the Christmas flight bookings.

In the back of my mind I'm thinking that soon something is really going to blow up and Alex is going to keep me captive here in indentured servitude for God knows how long, probably forever. He planned this storm so that I could install the printer, marry his daughter, and take over the business after he makes enough money to go into a dry cleaning business with his brother. Soon I'll be hanging out my laundry on the tenement porches too. But my suits will be pressed. Oh yeah, I don't wear suits.

We continue to work through more programming tweaks and image formatting, and more and more of anything he wants to do. Annetta is running the printer, albeit slowly, with one finger pushing one button at a time, and waiting for something to happen with a curiously expectant look on her face.

I'm glancing outside occasionally, and starting to see serious snow coming down in sheets every time I look. I'm starting to fret more than just the slightest bit.

"Um, Alex, so what do you think, are you comfortable with the machine...?" I gulp and say as positively as my voice will allow... 
"Looks pretty good on the paper, don't you think...?" I say, concentrating all my force of will to get a positive response.
"I don't like dees spaces between prints. We can make them smaller, yes...?" he asks.

"Um... yes... I can, try..." I breathe out. 
"I'll show you again how to do that, and if you ever need to adjust it, you can call us at the factory and we can walk you right through it over the phone too...!" I say with way too much false optimism.

We make more adjustments, and wait for more images to come off of the paper processor. Twelve excruciatingly long minutes for each cycle of prints. It's now three in the afternoon and it looks like midnight outside. The streetlights have come on and aren't doing much against the pelting snow.

"Just a few more adjustments..."
Round and round we go. The Mono-stone-ic Fam-a-lee...

I'm in a time-void. We wait for our software changes to save to the floppy disk; Gerda-gerda-gerda... Gerda-gerda-gerda... Fhisssssh. Then we make a backup disk; Gerda-gerda-gerda... Gerda-gerda-gerda... Fhisssssh. As I watch the drive's red LED blink out, I am flashing back to HAL locking Dave outside of the pod bay door in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It is now 7 PM.
"Okay. I guess looks good." Alex says. "I still don't like light picture. But we make it work."

Before he can say anything else, I rip the sign-off form (I have already filled out for him) of my pocket and thrust it onto the nearest flat surface while sticking a pen in his hand, and just about move his hand into some sort of writing motion to help him sign off on it. I start grabbing my tools and chucking them haphazardly into my toolbox, (Technician's Note: NEVER, EVER put your tools into the toolbox before the customer signs off on the last day, or you will UNQUESTIONABLY jinx the machine into failing, GUARANTEED, and you WILL be stuck there longer) while my saying over my shoulder, "Bye Bupka!, sorry, I mean Annetta... SO nice working with you! You SURE are doing GREAT with that computer! I hope you learn another song besides the Flintstones... Sorry I gotta go, so long now..."

"Wow, is a lot of snow outside," Alex says, struggling to open the front door. "Better call cab company to make sure they have cab."

My heart stops as I'm sitting on my toolbox and trying and make it shut long enough to latch the latches.

There is a buzzing in my head as I listen to Alex trying to talk to the Spanish-only speaking cab company over the phone... the only cab company that will come to this neighborhood. "No. Ya. Hunh? No Spanish. Engleeayesheesh! Cab! C.A.B! TAXI...! HOTEL. AIRPORT. Okay? What? What? Unh? Da. Ya. Okay."

He hangs up the phone and tells me we had better walk over there, he wasn't sure if the guy knew what he was talking about or not.

After Alex bundles up, and I put on my only thin leather jacket and gather up my gear, we say our goodbyes again and Alex tells Annetta to immediately lock the door behind us. 

As he opens it, the wind rips it out of his hand and it slams against the entry with a loud, SMACK!  Letting snow into the entryway. We step out into a foot of blowing snow with Alex immediately breaking into a cold-induced trot in his loafers, and me trying to run through the snow carrying a forty pound toolbox in hiking boots, making sure he doesn't get so far ahead that I can't see where he goes. 

The night is dark as hell and the sounds of the city are there, but very muffled by snow and wind.

I'm already breaking a sweat as we reach the stanchions under the EL train, and walk up to what is basically a door hanging open into a flat-walled box of a building with a few Latinos standing outside smoking. 
Not a cab is in sight.

Alex goes in and after much jabbering in Spanish, English, Eastern European, and mixes of all three, comes out and says, "They don't got cab right now. They say maybe twenty minutes or something. They don't know. It's snowing."

I'm wondering how he got all that out of that conversation when he says, "You be okay here...? I should get back to my daughter."

He seems relieved when I say, "Yeah, I guess..." I'm feeling relieved that I am even out of his studio and have all my stuff, although I'm starting to shiver from sweat and standing outside with not enough clothes on. 

"Okay. You did good. Goodbye now Mr. Teem," he says openly.
"Bye, Alex." I say. "Have a good Christmas."
"You too..." he says running off into the night. By the time he gets across the street, I can't see him anymore. I feel a shift deep inside.

"I step through the snow into the tiny, dimly-lit cab office. A hairy Hispanic guy with a large mustache and a rotary phone in one hand says slowly, "You... call.. taxi..? To air-port ho-tel? Yes?" 

"Yes," I say.
I'd say, "Si," but figure he'll think I know Spanish and start rambling a mile a minute.

"Twenty minutes. Twenty minutes. About." He adds.
"Okay" I say, and stick my hands in my ludicrously thin pockets to try to and warm up.

About forty minutes later, an early-seventies Chevy Impala plows up through the snow. It looks like the car my friend had in college. It MIGHT BE the same car. I'm disheartened to see that it doesn't have anything indicating that it is a New York city cab, except about nine New York City cab stickers from unidentified years stuck stacked onto the driver's side windshield, yet the back seat is filled with kids toys. Other than that, there are no door signs, logos, or any other indication that it's a cab. I now notice a taxi meter. On the floor. Next to a number of crushed Mountain Dew cans. I peer around blankly at the empty blackness and the snow being driven sideways through the headlights of the running car.

The driver rolls down his window, looks at me and says, "Taxi...?" 
I look at him and then the car and say, "Um, Yes...?"
"Ahh! Donde va..?" He says, questioningly.
"Ahhm, no Espanol..." I say, expectantly.
"Where you go...?" He says, questioning his own words.
"Ramada, Hotel, Airport. " I say hopefully.
He beams. "Si! We go...!"

Expecting him to pop the trunk for my toolbox, he instead opens the back door and begins pushing kids toys off of the seat and onto the floor of the car.

"Ai! Muy pesado", he grunts as he grabs the heavy toolbox from my grip and launches it into the back seat. He points to the front passenger door and beckons me with a motion of his head to get in. 

"In the front...?!" I say in disbelief. 

"Si, si, iss OK," he says as he grabs his door handle.

I get into the front seat of the cab. This is the first time I have EVER gotten into the front seat of ANY cab, ANYwhere. It's just not done. About ten different colors of cardboard pine tree air-fresheners hang from the rear-view mirror, and a few escaped kids toys protrude from under the seat and a pink dinosaur rides on the console.

"Uno momento..." he says, groping behind the driver's seat for something, and comes out with an Am-Way squirt-bottle half-full of windshield washer fluid. He sticks his arm out the driver's window and with the wipers still running full-on, tries to time his sprays to do the most good. He rolls it back up and says, "Sorry, de ting no work" with a yellow-toothed smile, before chucking the bottle into the back seat.

Off we go, weaving and sliding down the streets. With the blizzard there is near zero traffic in the boroughs now, and what little there was earlier shows only as tire  track depressions in the snow that are almost imperceptible now.

I'm feeling some optimism. I've completed my work at the lab, by some miracle have gotten Alex to sign off on the installation, am now on my way back to the hotel, and out of here tomorrow. Back to things familiar and comforting. My house, my cat, my town. I watch the lights and the snow go by.

Subtly, eerily, grayishly, that damn "New York feeling" begins to eke into my bones again. I look at the street and signs, and begin realizing this isn't the way that either Alex OR the last cabbie took me back to the hotel. I look at the Spanish-only speaking cab driver and feel a pang of doom. 

"You sure this is the way to the airport...?" I say, not as confidently as I would have liked.

"Is okay," my driver says, like he fully understood me this time. "Uh.. shortcut."

"Okay..." I trail off meekly as I see we are now going down what looks like a dead-end street with NO tire tracks in the snow.

This is it, I think. This is the end. Stupid Midwestern kid found naked and stripped of everything in some ditch in Queens. He doesn't even HAVE to kill me, he can just take my wallet and my jacket, push me out, and drive off with my tools, luggage, and everything I own at the moment. I won't make it through the night. I resolve myself to this fate. Will there be a struggle? Should I grab his car keys? This thing doesn't even have a dashboard dispatch radio, he has a walkie-talkie. Can I use a Playskool toy as a weapon...?

As my mind is racing and the Flintstones is faster and faster through my head, suddenly the dark, dreary, dead-end street opens up into... what? A frontage road...!!!??  Lights! Civilization! (such as it is) Other cars!

This is one time in my life I was ABSOLUTELY CONVINCED it was over. My adrenaline is flowing over the red-line.

A little more bobbing and weaving and we slide up to and overshoot slightly the drop-off at the Lambada that I had last seen in what seems now like a previous lifetime.

I breathe a sigh of dread relief and tip the man heavily. 
"Bye! Gracias! Feliz Navidad!" I'm saying exuberantly as I pump his hand for way too long. 

I grab my tools, head for the door, and shake off like a dog as I enter the lobby. Holy crap, I never thought I'd actually be GLAD to see this place.

Back in my room, as the door slams I high-dive onto the bed and try to remember what this morning was like. It was lifetimes ago. Eons. No one knows.

It seems later than it is, but I have to pack everything up and grab a shower to hit the sack and be ready to catch the Airport Shuttle early tomorrow morning. 

Home, I think. Home is such a weird thing... 
Sleep comes fast in a blur of images of darkness, color negatives, and snow.

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