When Uber and Lyft took off 10 or so years ago, I was a holdout—not sanctimoniously, since that’s not only futile but needlessly mind-crushing—because I preferred the cabbies (loads of friends, almost all immigrants) that came to my house or were still easy to hail on the street. That era’s over, and it required some adaptation on my part, not that there was much choice. Last Thursday, after getting dropped off at Baltimore County’s GMBC hospital for a bimonthly routine procedure—if any medical visit for a sexagenarian can be considered routine—I chatted with a nurse and 20 minutes later got another Lyft, which arrived in four minutes.
The resulting ride was more than I bargained for. I wasn’t paying too much attention, but when the driver got on the highway instead of taking N. Charles St. south, I politely asked if he knew what he was doing. I guess that wasn’t deemed diplomatic, as he shot back, “The app says to get off on Exit 14 for Baltimore City. Relax.” It didn’t smell right, but I went with his program for five more minutes and then it got heated as the car was traveling north to Pikesville. I told him to pull over and recalibrate; he then said his app was “fucked up”—I agreed!—but he kept motoring and before long, after this exit and that exit, I see a sign for BWI. I wasn’t traveling that day. I told him to stop and I’d direct him, which because of where we were not only was an extra half-hour to my home—and elevated fee—required a frustrating circuitous route, even though I could see downtown Baltimore in the distance.
Antoine and I reached détente—it turned out he was a pretty good guy, and since he too was getting screwed on the money end (still paid $16 for what should’ve been a 15-minute fare), we were in same patched-up dinghy—and joked around. I’ve lived in Baltimore for around 30 years, in two different shifts, and that day I saw parts of West Baltimore that were new to my eyes, and probably, aside from campaign events, to the I-report-to-my-overlords Gov. Wes Moore (I’ll write later in the week about his tango with the shady John Angelos, whose family owns the Orioles), and, in the middle of a thunderstorm it was a setting for Otto Dix or Max Beckmann. Cop cars were on almost every street, men and women in handcuffs outside anonymous bodegas, fast-food joints, auto chop shops, 7-Elevens and check-cashing services, kids romping in the rain and dodging traffic, and finally I could see the Bromo Seltzer Tower way east. We crawled on W. Baltimore St. and 10 minutes later hit N. Charles St. I was a little woozy from the GBMC phlebotomy, and had a lot of work to do, so was in a kind of a tizzy, but the driver and I shook hands at the end, and mutually agreed that it would be best if we just said goodbye and good luck.
In the midst of what turned out to be a $75 ride (after complaining, Lyft shaved off a measly Lincoln for its own fuck-up; when cabs ruled, if the driver jacked the meter, trying to net an extra buck, it was easy to call him out and settle on the regular fare), I mused about different books, and how my wife and two sons have fairly different tastes. Not a criticism, because for someone who remembers when even middle-intelligence friends traveled on Amtrak, the LIRR or a bus they always had a paperback or newspaper in their hands, I’m just pleased we remain a reading family.
I just finished Bret Easton Ellis’ The Shards, a present from my son Nicky, who raved about it for Splice Today, and though I didn’t share his enthusiasm I did complete the 600-page novel, and that’s an endorsement in itself. I found The Shards far too repetitious—it’d be fascinating, on a minor scale, for some machine to count how many times Ellis uses the words “narrative,” “valium,” “quaalude” and “tight ass”—but the Los Angeles-based mystery was catchy and kept my attention. Ellis’ device of mentioning, every other page, of some song from the 1981-setting was irritating, but I glossed over them. Anyway, Nick and I had fun talking about The Shards, and if we disagreed about its literary merit, he’s not a fan of Fredrik Backman, one of my favorite authors, so it evens out.
The picture above is the bedroom desk I used as a 15-year-old, and I’d guess it’s typical of that era. Lots of books—including, I’m embarrassed to say, a CliffsNotes number, probably for a Jane Austen or Henry James novel I didn’t feel like finishing—a baseball, acorns I collected, two Campbell’s mugs, shades, a clay skull for spare change, an unsmoked stogie from the recent birth of a niece, photo albums and rolls of 35 mm film, pens, a couple of baseball cards, the shabby Venetian blinds in the background and nickel bag of pot in one of the drawers. The roll-top desk, probably from the 1940s, was on its last legs, but I’d sure like to reclaim that from the past.
Take a look at the following clues to figure out the year: The Nigerian Civil War ends; the Japanese Red Army hijacks a JAL flight; Feyenoord wins the European Cup; Salvador Allende is elected president of Chile; American Motor Company introduces the Gremlin; the film Pufnstuf is released; Gig Young wins Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars; Chris Cuomo is born and Albert Ayler dies; Airport starts a long trend of disaster movies with ensemble, all-star casts; Riverfront Stadium is opened in Cincinnati; The Odd Couple premiers on ABC; Uma Thurman is born and Rube Goldberg dies; Myra Breckinridge is released; and Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lays is published.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023