Captured by Gypsies

Queenie and the Jester take a ride.

"Hold on," he says. "I've ridden with this guy before. These guys are great. Hop in!"

"I rode with this guy and his mom," he tells his girlfriend as they climb into the middle seat. "What happened to that sweet car you had?"

"It's in the shop," the Jester says.

I strike up a conversation with the young woman. She tells me that she's ridden in a gypsy cab before, when she and her friends were picked up outside the Diamond Cabaret by two identical, black Denalis. "My friends called them," she says. "It was one of those you-have-to-be-in-the-know type of things. They were total jerks, though. These guys are much better."

We drive the couple to their nearby apartment. BoobyTrap collects $15 and we dip back into the fray.

Throughout the evening, every passenger we've picked up has shown some initial trepidation. At 1:38 a.m., we pick up our only customer with absolutely no misgivings.

The white, twentysomething man bounds into the van as though it were piloted by his best friend, high-fives the Reporter and demands that the Jester turn up the music. His enthusiasm is deceptive. In a matter of seconds, alcohol washes over him like a tidal wave, leaving him haggard and confused, marooned in the shipwreck that has become his evening. This is the Drunk.

"Where to, man?" the Jester asks.

The Drunk just stares at him.

"Where to?" the Jester repeats.

"Take a right," the Drunk admits reluctantly, as if undergoing interrogation.

We take a right and go to the end of the block, where the Jester is once again forced to negotiate with his client. Mack truck was inebriated, but she was composed compared to this kid. This kid is shattered.

"Tenth and Josuhish . . ." the Drunk slurs.

"What?"

"Tenth and Josephine!" he yells with a childish, temper-tantrum-like cadence.

As we drive east on 17th, the Drunk struggles to stay awake, his head bobbing until his chin hits his chest, then snapping back to attention. With every snap back, the Drunk turns to look at the Reporter, and though my presence is indeed out of the ordinary, this is far too difficult a connection for him to make. The Drunk just stares. We get to 10th and Josephine, where we are clumsily coached through a Botanic Gardens parking lot to the front door of the gentleman's apartment.

"What'd did owe yous?" he asks, fumbling for his wallet.

"Whatever price you feel is fair," the Jester says in a calm, rehearsed fashion.

Disbelief conquers the face of the Drunk. His jaw drops open slightly.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"You can just pay us whatever you think is correct."

"That's why I'm asking you!" the Drunk whines, sounding remarkably like an exasperated Napoleon Dynamite.

"Well, ten bucks would be great," the Jester says.

"Seven," the Drunk responds.

The Jester makes no comment, and the Drunk hands him a five-dollar bill and two ones. He struggles to remove himself from the van but suffers a bout of remorse and collapses heavily back into his seat with a sigh. The Drunk scours his pockets for more bills and hands the Jester another dollar. He starts to climb out but again realizes the error of his frugal ways. Finding one more bill in his pocket, he flings it at the Jester.

"That's it," he says. "That's all you're getting from me."

The Drunk hurls himself out of the cab, trips on the curb and collapses to the concrete. He's quickly upright, though, and disappears behind a bush into his place. The Jester picks up the Drunk's most recent donation, and we're shocked to see that it's a twenty-dollar bill. Tomorrow morning, the Drunk will be even more surprised.

It's a few minutes past two in the morning, and BoobyTrap and the Reporter are exhausted. Both point out that the Jester is relatively close to each of their homes, and that now would be an opportune time to drop them off. But the Jester isn't hearing any of it.

"There should be people downtown for a little while yet," he says. "There's still people out there who need rides."

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