Thursday, February 5, 2009

Yacht Man

I use the same car service every time I go to or from the airport - “Legends” (I know, it sounds like an escort service instead of a car service), but I never have the same driver twice. Despite the fact that there are no repeats, I have noticed there are only three types of drivers, and they are all Middle Eastern. Honest - for whatever reason, no matter what city you’re in, most seem to be of Middle Eastern descent. (Though I once had a native New Yorker. He was 100% Irish, a retired dockworker, and had a face like a sausage swelling out of its casing beneath his pork pie hat. He was born and raised in my neighborhood, and spent the whole ride giving me a fascinating lesson on local history in his thick Brooklyn accent. After we briefly discussed property values, he summed up with a dismissive wave of his hand, “Ahhh, what the hell. You can’t live nowhere no more.”)
Here’s the breakdown of the Middle Eastern drivers: they are all either
A) Age 25-30 (drive gray Town Cars, and talk loudly in Arabic on their smellular phones all the way to the airport, then turn on the charm: “Have a safe flight, Miss Wood” as we pull up to the curb in order to get a good tip, then grouse because you are paying by credit card)
B) Age 55-60 (drive black Town cars with minor body damage, People magazines in the stretchy pocket on the back of the passenger seat and scream like the deaf into their Nextels at the equally deaf dispatchers for the duration, or
C) Age 50-55 (drive Honda or Toyota mini-vans, and somehow manage to propel the vehicle forward by standing on the gas and the brake in equal measure).
My first experience with type C, was a defining one. I landed at JFK in the middle of the night after a series of delays, and called the dispatcher to inform him that I had arrived and had my bag. Ten minutes later, a tan Honda Odyssey van (a vehicle I know well, having driven one while portraying a soccer mom for Honda in L.A., though the one I drove was an early model, and one of the first to feature the built-in nav system. I swear before Gawd that the recorded voice therein said, “Approaching Reft turn. Turn Reft at next light.” Made in Japan, you know) careened towards the curb where I was standing.
The driver opened the automatic side door, stepped out, grabbed my bag, and threw it in the back. I heaved myself into one of the middle seats, sleepy and aching to be home. I was immediately greeted with a CD of Indian chanting at an ear-blowing decibel. I thought, (foolishly) that he would turn it down now that his passenger was on board. I was wrong, though. Dead wrong. I decided to hold off on saying anything, as being a driver has to be boring as hell, and I don’t begrudge them doing whatever is necessary to stay awake between clients.
While considering how long I would give him before asking him to lower the volume, I noticed two things: 1) There was a beach towel featuring a Hindu God (though not one I recognized such as Ganesh or Vishnu) draped over the passenger seat. The design faced the back of the van, so it obviously hadn’t been placed there to protect passengers from sticking to the leather seat. Instead, it seemed to be more like a work of art – a wall hanging (or, in this case, a seat hanging.) And, 2) A red glass bottle emblazoned with the words, “Yacht Man” in white was super-glued to the dashboard. Protruding from the left side of the bottle was a silver oval-shaped tab, perfectly situated so that the driver could depress it with his thumb.
Here I should say that I am not a big fan of cologne in general (though reading The Emperor of Scent has encouraged me to develop my nasal palate), especially really strong-smelling ones (Drakkar Noir and everything by Calvin Klein are some of the most repugnant smells on earth to me), so I am admittedly ignorant of many of the scents on the market. Preferring the classics (Old Spice and Brut by Faberge’ to name two) as I do, I guess it isn’t surprising that I had never heard of “Yacht Man,” before. I had two thoughts, the first being, “No cardboard Christmas tree dangling from the rearview for Yacht Man”, and the second being, “Damn. Yacht Man sure is proud of his Indian heritage.”
Sometimes, after a long traveling day, my patience with being in constant motion runs out right as I step off the plane. It is very difficult at these times to maintain equanimity for the 45 minute ride to my apartment. I have always been prone to motion sickness (though it usually manifests in extreme and prolonged queasiness vs. actual vomiting, thank God.) However, I have also always been prone to fall asleep in the car (except when I am behind the wheel), which is great, as nothing takes one’s mind off nausea like unconsciousness (just ask the good people at Dramamine).
As we pulled onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, it became abundantly clear that I would not be losing consciousness on this ride. The van was uncomfortably warm as well as loud, and when I leant forward to say so to Yacht Man, he slammed on the brakes with such force that I found myself smashed cheek to cheek against the beach-towel God in front of me. I typically don’t wear seatbelts in rear seats because I have the bladder of a pregnant woman, and don’t need any extra pressure in that vicinity. However, this sent me scrambling to buckle up. Unfortunately, the ride was so bumpy I was unable to snap the male end into the female one (Ain’t that always the way?). And, as we swerved violently to the right, I made a blind grab for the Oh Shit Strap, and skittered and swung from it like a tin can from a newlywed’s bumper for the remainder of the ride.
About five miles into the journey, I realized that Yacht Man employed the deafening music, beach towel, and cologne (which I had noticed him spraying moments before in time to the music, which resulted in me hearing: ”Aiiiiiiiiiii yee yee yee, phssst phssst!”), as a smokescreen. Like a magician using misdirection, Yacht Man blasts and baffles the senses of his victims to distract them from the eye-wateringly rancid curry gas issuing from his ass at regular intervals.
I have never, to my knowledge, eaten goat, nor even been in the vicinity of someone preparing goat, but some smells are so distinctive that we recognize them with no prior exposure to them. I sat, momentarily stunned, enveloped in a cloying cloud of curried goat funk, until another butt bomb prompted me to instinctively swing myself MacGyver-style to the window nearest me. I was heartbroken to note that, being a family vehicle, the window was designed to function only as a “vent.” With no other recourse, I used my free hand to pop the window out, locked it into place, and jammed my mouth and nose right against the crack, trying desperately to inhale some fresh Manhattan air. I focused all of my mental energy on not vomiting, until we finally screeched to a halt in front of my building.
I am not anti-Indian. I LOVE Indian food (except goat, as I said), and eat curry and naan weekly. And God knows, everybody poops, so it stands to reason that everybody farts, too (except for Southern women who do not have digestive tracts). I am merely pointing out that being trapped in a hot, noisy, windowless car with a smelly man with lower GI issues, is a ring of hell that is surely portrayed in Bosch’s painting, if one looks closely enough.
Car services are a necessary evil of living in New York, and mostly, I am quite content to let someone else drive. Living in Los Angeles for nine years will leave a person driven out. I don’t really miss it. But getting from A to B here can take lots of energy (The car ride home is often as arduous if not more so, as the flight from which I am returning). And though I can see the humor in the Yacht Man experience, it is the very type of experience that always brings this thought to my mind: “I love New York, but I don’t think I’ll die here.”
I had to incorporate myself earlier this year at the behest of one of my clients. Not taking the process very seriously, I chose “Globetrotter, Inc.” for my company name. (I keep envisioning a company logo that features a cartoon me dressed in flag-printed satin shorts and tank, and spinning a basketball-sized earth on my middle finger a la’ Curly Neal.) My second choice was “Gypsy, Inc.” (I guess it’s just as well that I didn’t go this route, as this mental logo features me swathed in scarves and banging a tambourine with a map silk-screened onto it on my hip a la’ Stevie Nicks.) Since I plan, for now at least, to keep traveling, I will just have to take the fact that this globetrotter could find absolutely nothing about this car ride to have sex with in stride.
Thanks for mutton, Yacht Man.
You can’t live nowhere, no more.

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