Date: 4/6/2014 6:57 PM PDT
Dennis and Sumayah were
on a mission, in fact. But the shuttle
for the Convention Center Marriott was busy with less important things, like
getting guests to and from the airport, damn them. Didn't they understand the urgency of our dining needs?
We tried Uber. We were clever. We had figured out that
unlike on previous tours, the Uber app offered us a quick, affordable
alternative to cabbing around. But this was Little Rock, Arkansas, where
clicking on the FIND ME A CAR button crashed our phones.
We settled for a cab
and, $25 later, made it to the Waffle House. The world has never seen three people so happy for breakfast at 1 p.m.. Then it
poured relentlessly, right about the time that we had cleared the plates.
Our waitress, Jusmary, who might have still been irate behind Dennis’ question early on about
whether there was a “t” sound in there (even though there was clearly no “t” on
the nametag), agreed to help us with cab. Thirty minutes later a cab showed up.
Since Dennis suffered
the superfluous conversation during the first ride, he ushered me to Shotgun
for this one. Wouldn’t you know that this yellow cab, whose backseat was clean
simple leather, had shoddy upholstering in its front seat, which the driver had
to clear of his personal items?
“Get comfortable,” he
said, as if he could see that my collecting the collar of my Zara coat was a
form of pearl clutching about gnawed seats, a junk food littered floor and an abused
dashboard. "Where y'all going?"
“They’re sending us to Park
Plaza Mall. Is it a good one?” Dennis asked.
“Yeah, I’ll get you
there, it’s not that far.”
“What’s your name?” I
“Tim,” the driver said.
“But people call me Pac-Man.”
I was so afraid to ask
why. And it didn’t matter. We were off to more familiarity.
Until, after a long
country drive, we got to the OUTDOOR mall.
“Why would they send us
to an outdoor mall on a day of torrential rain?”
“I don’t know,” Pac-Man
said. “There’s another mall the other way, between the Waffle House and the
hotel. Y’all say you staying downtown, right?”
We were crestfallen,
our trust of concierges instantly gone.
Then the conversation
began, the one Dennis wanted to avoid.
“So are y’all
choreographers?” the Pac-Man asked, as I de-tangled my backpack from the exposed
wires under the glove compartment.
“You definitely not
from around here.”
“What makes you say
“White folks buy up
shit, own shit all over the world then come stay here. Black folks come to Little Rock have to have
I could swear I heard
snickering in the back of the cab from one of the other two, probably Dennis.
After a minute of silence, Pac-Man said, “I
hear Cher is in town. Playing at the arena.”
When I relented,
telling him we were with her, he nodded that knowing nod of the quiet,
observant neighborhood mechanic who misses nothing. His cell rang.
right now…no I’m glad you called me back, it’s okay…I lost your number, dropped
it down the commole…hello…hello??”
“She’ll call back,
whatever,” he said.
By the time we made it
to the Dillard’s Mall, so called because Mr. Dillard of Little Rock had his store
split on either side of the three-floor shopping rectangle, we had ratcheted up
about $70 in cab fare. The driver was
kind enough to circle the parking lot so that he could deliver us curbside to
Dennis felt better
immediately; there was a Target down the street.
“You paying with a
credit card?” the driver said. “I hate
The statement vied with
the tip top customer service a minute before. But I figured all would be
revealed soon. I passed the credit card
to Sumayah to deal with it in the machine in the back. Pac-Man then grabbed the receipt-maker by its
back, as it would not function without his squeezing its parts together.
“Piece of shit,” he
muttered, waiting for it to print.
"It's fine," I said. "We will be fine."
“Y’all have a nice day.”
There was a lesson
somewhere in all of this. But unfortunately, nobody had the resolve to learn it
without a cup of coffee, which could not be purchased in the food court or at
Dunkin’ Donuts (there wasn’t one) or a Starbucks (also missing).
We found out on the way
out that in the bike shop upstairs, there’s a barista sometimes working in the