Friday, February 23, 2007

*MY* taxicab confessions

I recently took a trip to California for work. One night I was there, I met friends for dinner in LA, and after our delightful evening together, I got into a cab to go back to Newport Beach, a suburb of LA about an hour south of downtown, where I was staying and working. What ensued was by turns infuriating, terrifying, frustrating and hilarious. I'm sure I'm not doing it justice -- to fully appreciate the events, you have to imagine that you're exhausted in the back of a cab in a strange city, with a cab driver who, with each passing moment, is rapidly descending from competent-sounding to stupendously dumb.

It was a little after 10 p.m. when the craziness began. I figured it would take about an hour to get from the restaurant to my hotel. The first unorthodox thing that happened was that we stopped for gas -- disconcerting in the neighborhood where we were, but understandable. I asked the driver to pause the meter, which he did (and looking back, I don't know whether he would have done so if I hadn't asked him to). We then got stuck in traffic, at which point the driver swivels his head around to look at me and asks, "Aw, man -- is there a Laker game tonight or something?" I thought, "I'm in a taxicab with YOU because I'm from out of town -- how should *I* know if there's a flippin' Laker game tonight?!" It's only because my friends had mentioned it that I knew there was one, and I told him that. He said the traffic was a result of the Laker game and "it will clear up here in a minute or two." Twenty minutes later, he was exiting the still-in-full-swing traffic jam to get onto another highway to keep heading south -- by then I'd lost track of which highway we were on. We proceeded to drive south for over an hour -- I was starting to get sleepy, but I was determined not to fall asleep with this guy at the wheel. Around 11 p.m., I asked him if we were getting close, and he said we had about 10 miles left, and wanted the address for my hotel, which I gave to him. (John Wayne Airport had come and gone on my right, so I figured we were on the 405.) He finally exited and said, "I missed my exit -- I'll give you a break on the fare when we get there." I looked at the meter, which read "$155.10" at that point and thought, "You BET you are." (And to make it all crazier -- the entire time I was in the cab, he was listening to some talk radio conspiracy theory program about how Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing fame was working with the FBI and was brainwashed. The segment after that one was asserting that the reason Americans haven't been back to visit the moon through the space program was because aliens told us not to come back. I'm not kidding.)

We then got on the 55, took that until it ended, and drove around Newport Beach for 40 minutes. He tried getting directions from at least two other cab drivers, and then spent 10 minutes on my cell phone talking to the concierge at my hotel, whom I'd called. No matter what anyone told him, he couldn't seem to figure out how to get there. At one point (and this sounds like melodrama, but I swear it's true), I actually started to wonder if this guy would drive me out to some remote place and murder me. Nothing looked familiar outside the window of the accursed cab -- I had no idea how we'd gotten lost, or what to try next, besides calling 911, which I might have done, given 10 more minutes with the guy. We finally *stumbled* upon a Marriott that wasn't mine, but the second time we passed it, I just told him I was getting out. This was after we'd driven on the Fashion Island Loop Road for 10 minutes as he looked for some highway or street he was obviously never going to cross -- and he had a map in his hand. When he handed it to me, I took one look at it and demanded to be let out at the Marriott we could see (it finally dawned on me at this point that he wasn't a murderer -- he was just a moron. I'm still not convinced he was literate).

By then it was 12:15 and the fare had climbed to $240 and change -- I told him I would pay him what I'd expected to pay to get to Newport Beach (which was about $120) and no more. He didn't raise a fuss, because at that point I was thunderously pissed (in fact, he turned to me and said in a wonderous voice, "That's funny -- that's exactly what I was going to charge you!" Yeah, right.). Caught another cab to my hotel which was NO MORE than 3.5 miles away from where we were. Took 3 minutes. The only thing that could have made the ride more of a challenge would be if I'd gotten motion-sick or something that whole time.

What did I learn? As Mad-Eye Moody would say, speaking to Harry Potter, "Constant vigilance!" Thank God I hadn't just fallen asleep as I might have done, easily -- I might still be in that taxi. And if I hadn't insisted on getting out of the cab at the other hotel, who knows how much longer we would have just driven around the city. I've never known a cab driver for whom a street address was not enough information to get someone to their destination. Even if a driver's not familiar with an address, doesn't he have the wherewithall to call headquarters for directions, use his GPS system, or unfold a flippin' map? It was nuts.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Revisiting the idea of children

My husband and I were at a friend's house last night. One of their other guests brought along her three-year-old son. A charming little boy at first glance, he quickly reminded me why I'm still not ready to be a mother. Although he tried hard to stay quiet (with admirably self-controlled whispers to his mother as he played, albeit loud ones) while the grown-ups watched a short feature film (about 45 minutes in length), his efforts at self-amusement soon grew too loud to ignore and his mother prepared to gather him up to leave. That's when the fireworks began.

Within seconds, the little guy's protests had ratcheted up from loud stage whispers to outright shouts. "I don't want to go!" he cried, over and over, as one by one, we gave up all pretense of ignoring him and turned to watch the unfolding drama. His mother levered him toward the door with a great amount of difficulty, owing as much to her own advanced pregnancy with angel #2 as to the little boy's amazingly sure-handed grabs for whatever furniture he could reach to hold on to as she tried to get him outside.

Most of the guests were amused. I was disheartened greatly, myself. Was this the joy of motherhood -- to be the center of attention while your offspring create disruptive scenes in other people's homes? More importantly, could this poor woman's life ever be the same again as it had been? I'd never met her before, but in my mind, her life before becoming a mother was busy and satisfying, one in which she shared evenings with her husband and their friends and families in laughter and joy, one in which her days were spent working or running errands, to rest at the end of a productive day -- a life much like my own. What did she have now? My brief glimpse into her life told me that getting herself and her son up and dressed to face each day might be in and of itself a challenge.

I have other friends with children. Many of the women I know have either taken breaks from or set aside permanently their careers to be stay-at-home mothers. I cannot think of a more noble and self-sacrificing and necessary job -- and yet for myself, I do not know that I am capable. If we have children, I would want no one else to have the daily care of them but me and/or my husband. All the same, that choice represents a change in lifestyle I shudder to contemplate.

I like my life. I work from home most days. The work is computer-based, and when I'm not on the phone with clients or colleagues, it's quiet work. The only noise I might hear aside from the tapping of keys is the delicious hum of the clothes dryer, warming clean towels and blue jeans and sweaters. While I work, I sit in a living room decorated in shades of rust and gold and chocolate, grown-up colors that soothe me. My husband and I have been known to take midnights walks on foggy nights, just to enjoy the strange sensation of losing one another within 6 feet, even though we can still hear our shared laughter. We've gone to IHOP or Whataburger at 11 at night, just for fun. We sleep in on Sundays. We run errands together, and if they keep us out three hours longer than we thought they would, it's no big deal. We throw parties that get loud with the laughter of the friends we love, and we never worry about waking up the kids.

And so, because I have no concept of what life will be like after children for us, I'm forced (in my lack of imagination) to pit that life against the one I have. I see clutter -- primary colors everywhere, plastic things obscuring my view of the wood furniture I love, fingerprints on glass, crayon marks on the crisp ivory colored walls of our home. I see long nights of sitting up with the baby, piles of laundry that don't ever seem to diminish, dishes in the sink. I hear thumping from upstairs as children run and fall, shouting and crying. I sense that the only places we'll be going at 11 p.m. in this new world is to the store for more diapers or, heaven forbid, the emergency room to treat a fever that won't respond to Tylenol. And what pains me the most is that I see myself looking always at a child, and my husband doing the same, and we so very rarely look at one another anymore.

I'm afraid. I guess any woman might be, or any man. I'm afraid to lose the life I love. While it's natural, it's also powerful. And I know my husband doesn't share my fear -- his view of a life with children is one of joy and laughter and pride and play, while mine is filled with effort and loss. In four years I'll be at an age at which pregnancy becomes riskier. I feel like I'm running out of time to enjoy the life I have, to develop a happier imagination about being a mother, to reconcile how I feel with the fact that I've always felt motherhood was in my future, to weigh how much my husband wants to be a dad with how afraid I am of being a mom.