IS THERE A TAXI IN THE HOUSE?

FloridaTaxiCartoonTaxis have been in the news a lot lately. There’s a local battle raging down in NYC between Uber and the Yellow Medallion Taxis. Lots of people need a ride but not everyone agrees on how to manage competing car companies. Uber wants riders to call a cab with their smart phone app. Uber is also more willing to drive people to the outer boroughs. Yellow cabs prefer people to flag them down along Manhattan streets. This way they can pick and choose who to pick up. Additionally, there are lots of private limousine companies competing for business but you usually call them on the phone. Here at the lake, taxi cabs aren’t really an issue. Most people have cars and those that don’t, tend to walk, bike or call Rio cabs.src.adapt.960.high.CagleUbersidebyside_a.1404361338850

A man who lives across the street from me rides to work in a Rio cab everyday. It’s probably a set arrangement and they dispatch a car to him automatically every weekday morning at 6:30 AM. I’m pretty sure he’s not using an app to call for one. During the school months when I’m heading off to work he’s standing at the foot of his driveway like a statue waiting for his ride. We always bid each other good morning and occasionally make a comment about the weather. During the winter I call out into the dark and say, “Have a nice day.” and a deep faceless voice answers back, “You too.” The taxi brings him home again each evening. Other than this I never see taxis around the lake.

On Sunday while attending a neighborhood garden tour, I spoke with a young couple named Chrissy and Mike. They happened to have had taxi trouble the previous evening. As they were out walking, a man driving drunk, the wrong way on their street, stopped his car in front of them. He spilled out of the car and needed a cab. The inebriated man was shepherded into a nearby friend’s home and Chrissy and Mike started calling cab companies. These are the things they told me.

“No one answered the phone!”

“We kept trying.”

“It was only Eleven PM!”

“Don’t people need rides most of all late at night ?”

“I called six people to ask about taxi services.”

“Did a cab ever arrive?” I asked.

“Finally, but it took over an hour.”

“And we had to hang out with this guy!”

“Was he really drunk?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Mike said.

“I don’t think we got to bed until two-thirty in the morning,” Chrissy added.

Steve Schapiro ~ still from Scorsese's Taxi Driver, 1976

For years I suggested, even begged, my children to call a taxi when they needed to go somewhere if we couldn’t drive them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was ever urgent enough or important enough to get them to take me up on the idea, not even the taxi tales of my own childhood. They were my version of “…when I was your age I walked five miles to school through sleet and snow.”

“I took taxis all the time when I was young.”

“We know,” they would collectively groan.

“Seven years old and my mother left cab fare for me and my sister to travel to the doctor and back alone.”

“Uh huh.”

“I used to go to girl scouts and if our neighbors the Liermans couldn’t drive me home, I had to call a cab. When I got home I had to tell the driver to wait while I went inside the house to get the cab fare.”

I’m not quite sure why I believed these tales would influence them to want to call a cab. The truth of the matter was, cabs were part of my life growing up but I hated them. I was embarrassed waiting for the taxi while the other children ran out to humming cars outside the town pool. My brother was so embarrassed that when our mother made us take a taxi to school in inclement weather, he made the driver stop a block from the building so he could get out.

Maybe rich kids in the city understand the advantage of hailing a cab over riding the subway but rural and suburban children have never taken to the concept.

When Jackson was in school he avoided cabs at all costs. He saved and eventually bought his own car so the topic became a non-issue. Then, living in Baltimore a year after graduation his car died. He decided to give up owning one and take public transportation. I went to stay with him last summer and after a night at Camden Yards he flagged down a cab for us. If the buses have stopped running he’ll take a cab.

Quinn’s idea of riding in a taxi cab is to have me or her father hail one in Manhattan. She slides in between us and rides in silence counting the minutes until we arrive. Whereupon she scurries out of the taxi as fast as possible while her father or I settle the fare and tip. It sort of feels like she’s doing us a favor by riding along. Last week we drove her down to Virginia for graduate school and moved her into a small shared house about a mile from campus. We drove back and forth running errands along the route she would soon be walking. She followed the sidewalk path with her eyes noting each hill and turn. “I can do that walk,” she said.

Photo by Gary Winogrand

“What if it’s raining?” Rob asked.

“I’ll use an umbrella.”

“Freezing snow and ice?”

“It’s Charlottesville, pretty mild.”

“You need to learn the bus route,” I chimed in.

“Hmmm,” she said.

“What about late at night?” Rob said.

“There’s always a taxi-cab,” I said.

She said nothing but in her head I suspect she was thinking, “Not bloody likely.”

In the morning we helped her buy groceries and then left for home.

“Good luck,” we said as we drove off leaving her alone in a then empty house. Her roommates arrived several days later.

The following day she attended a reception for grad students in the late afternoon. She met some older second years who invited her to go have a drink. The group meandered downtown away from the direction of Quinn’s house to a local bar. They settled in for the night and began their writers’ discourse. As dark was setting in Quinn felt the need to leave. She bid them good-night and headed out the door. No problem, just retrace her steps and follow the sidewalk home.

Earlier that day Quinn had had to force herself to attend the reception.

“I’m not sure I should even bother going,” she had said.

“Go,” I said. “Go and talk to at least three people. Once you’ve accomplished that goal you can leave anytime. Who knows you may like it.”

“I guess.”

We made plan for her to call us when she returned home. I knew it ended at six and when eight-thirty arrived and no word came Rob called her. Rob has always had the philosophy that he could swoop in and rescue either child in a moment’s notice if need be. The fact that four hundred miles stretched out between us was a minor inconvenience.

“How’s it going?” Rob asked.

“I’m not sure.”

“Why not?”

She explained the situation and then panic set in. Rob couldn’t understand her through tears and passed the phone to me.

“I don’t know where I am!”

“Go back to the bar.” I screeched.

“I can’t,” she cried.

“Why not?”

Why not? Stupid parent. Because it would be embarrassing. She would appear young and helpless in front of a bunch of smoking and drinking thirty-somethings.

She started to cry. “I’m out of my league,” she sobbed into the phone.

“Just because you’re lost in a new city at night does not mean you’re out of your league. You have to turn around and find a place to wait while you call a cab.”

“A taxi?” she cried.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“No,” she admitted. She looked around and said, “there’s a Staples up ahead.”

“I’ve got a number,” Rob shouted over to me. He had done a search and located half a dozen taxi companies in the area. He texted her the information.

The taxi arrived within minutes.

“Call us back when you get home.”

A few minutes later the phone rang again.

“I’m home.”

“How was it?”

“Fine,” she said. “He talked to me the whole way here.”

“Well some drivers do that,” I said. “The important thing is that you learned it’s an option.”

“But I can’t take a taxi all the time it will get expensive.”

“No dear, only when you’re desperate.”

“Tell her to keep an emergency twenty dollar bill hidden in her wallet at all times,” Rob said.

I don’t entirely agree that emergency taxi money needs to be hidden but it’s one method. Uber is also in Charlottesville and a taxi ride is only an app click away. They also take debit cards. But the taxi service she rode was quick, efficient and friendly. So at the very least she has many options. In the meantime she has made a few friends who own cars and she learned how to take a free bus to campus so the situation is far from dire. We’re now ready to pass the baton over to her. Really.

Back at the lake we don’t have as many transportation choices. Maybe we need our own taxi battle here. Then Chrissy and Mike wouldn’t have had to hang out on a Saturday night with a drunk stranger for over an hour just to see him safely out of the neighborhood. Or maybe there’s just not a lot of taxi territory here worth fighting for.

© Robert Forlini

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DUCK TIME

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We consider the ducks on the lake to be our friends. They have been stopping off on some rocks near our dock for years. We have enjoyed watching them fish, preen, and socialize before heading out to other ports. Then after hurricane Sandy a large log from a felled tree floated across the lake and hovered near our absent neighbor’s shore all spring. The log became known as the Duck RV, and it allowed us to have an even nicer relationship with the ducks. They met and congregated on the log at various points during the day before settling down in a line for nighttime. The log had become their home. This arrangement worked well until the Duck RV moved again.

Each day the Duck RV inched closer to our dock. It was difficult to swim around because of unseen branches that stretched out from the log beneath the water’s surface. Our swimming water became littered with small downy duck feathers. The stench from the duck feces coating the log was wafting into our air. The Duck RV had to go!

With my husband Rob at the oars and me in the water pushing from the back of the boat, we heaved the log further down the lake and deposited it into a niche of uninhabited lakefront.

But just like humans, ducks are creatures of habit. And that night while eating our supper on the upper deck I looked down at the darkened water and asked, “What is that?”

Dozens of motionless blobs were floating in front of our dock.

“Ducks?” my daughter asked.

Rob peered down. “I think it’s a duck armada.”

I ran to get the binoculars.

“What are they doing?”

“It looks like they’re sleeping,” he said.

“Ducks don’t sleep floating in the water.”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t you remember Make Way For Ducklings?” I said. “When ducks find a home they want to keep it.”

“I think they’re angry,” Rob said.

“They don’t look angry. Some of them have their heads tucked in. ”

Time passed and we grew tired watching the homeless ducks and went to bed. I got up in the night for water and the ducks were still there, waiting. Waiting for something that had once been available and now in an instant wasn’t. At least that’s how it must have felt in duck time. It seemed as if they were holding their ground, moving only as far as the current pushed them along. We cared about the ducks but we just didn’t want to share our small stretch of waterfront with them.

A few days later the ducks had happily discovered their RV’s new home. The sad part is that we can’t watch them anymore. Sort of like our own children going to college and then moving away from home.

BETTER WEATHER

ImageThe people who live around the lake punctuate my daily walks. They are my neighbors but I don’t really know most of them. There’s the man with two squat dogs that bark incessantly as I pass but never leave the edge of the property. The man waves at me and tells the dogs to shut up. There’s the grandmother who picks raspberries where I like to pick and we’re engaged in a mild competition. There’s Milly with the not-too-subtle anti-abortion stickers plastered across her bumper, like Abortion is Murder. Milly has been walking the dog of another neighbor, who I call the troglodyte. He used to only come out of his house early in the morning but now he’s ill and housebound. Milly has one of those baby blue Virgin Mary statues in her yard that seems to comment on the passerby’s as much as the owner does. I feel conflicted about Milly but I still say hello when I see her.

I say hello to everyone except three men who live on the opposite side of the lake. They are always parked outside their shabby house. They sit on folding chairs clustered around a small, cracked plastic table. The yard is mostly brown spots worn bare by their countless shoe rubbings under the table. One of the men wears a Korean silk bomber jacket with a dragon embroidered on the back even if its eighty degrees. So I started referring to them as “the veterans” just as a way of identifying them in conversation.

Initially I pretended to be talking on my phone when I passed by. Then I started to jog staring straight ahead. I thought if I could pass quickly, they wouldn’t notice me. But it felt like their six eyes were trailing me. My daughter found a new route that avoided their house altogether. I started complaining to my son.

“I tried getting up earlier but they’re even out at 6:00 AM smoking cigarettes and drinking tall boys.”

“What do they say to you?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? Maybe they’re lonely,” my son suggested.

These men weren’t belligerent or offensive but they made me uncomfortable. I felt like a bad person for ignoring their existence. What was stopping me? Fear? Korea? The Korean War ended five years before I was born and I’ve sort of overlooked it except when I watched M*A*S*H in high school. Unlike the Vietnam War or WWII, I never knew anyone who fought in it or died there. 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, which would make these men at least 78 years old. I don’t think they are that old but the truth is I don’t really know anything about them. I just know what I perceive to be true.

The next day I passed by Milly’s and the blue Virgin Mary smiled at me. I scowled back. I had drawn a line in the sand with myself and now I was determined to cross it. I had helped fuel the animosity my daughter was feeling.

As I approached their house I shortened my gait and turned towards the men.

“Good morning,” I said, waving casually.

The man with the dragon bomber jacket smiled. “Good morning,” he said, waving back.

The following day I said hello and I mentioned the oppressive heat.

“It is hot,” one of the men agreed.

“Damn hot,” another said.

“But better weather is on the way,” the third man said.

“That’s right,” I said, “it is.”

LOST AT SEA

I set a goal at the beginning of the summer to swim across the lake every day. You might think that with all this hot, hot weather, this would prove to be a snap. So far I’ve made it about half the time. Trouble is, too much hot weather makes the lake too warm and it ceases to be inviting. This hasn’t happened since 2002 when slipping into the water really did feel like a bathtub. The good news is that a heavy rain will alter the temperature back to normal levels, and we had rain yesterday and today.

Swimming without a lane across an expanse of water alters your perception of where you are in the universe. You can try counting strokes to measure your progress or you can simply lose yourself in the cadence of the swim. If you fail to look up from time to time you can find yourself far off course. Once you prop your goggles on top of your head and collect your bearings you immediately have to push the distance out of your mind or you’ll drown just thinking about it. If fatigue sets in, which it always does with me on the return trip, you simply flip over on your back and float. My mother taught me this when I was a young, struggling swimmer.

“If you get tired float on your back,” she instructed.

“And do what?”

“Rest.”

“Rest?” I asked. “Rest in the water?”

“Of course.”

It seemed odd. Then I found out almost every swimmer knew this trick. There is absolutely no better way to de-stress. Find a lake, swim to the very middle, flip over on your back and stare up at the clouds.  Keep your hands fluttering occasionally so you don’t sink and then let everything melt away. Try to watch a least one cloud dissolve before you swim back.  You will return a different person. Just setting off from the dock to be alone on the planet will begin to lower your blood pressure.

When my daughter was in the fifth grade and eager to swim across the lake, I agreed on the condition we stop halfway over and float. This had the added bonus of allowing me to take a break from watching her swim.

“What do we think about?” she asked when we arrived near the center and we were treading water in a bicycle motion.

“Nothing.”

“Oh,” she said, seemingly unsatisfied.

“You think about how the earth is supporting you.”

“How nice,” she said.

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THE PICKLE DROUGHT

THE PICKLE DROUGHT

It’s raspberry season on the lake. Each morning my daughter and I venture out to collect the now ubiquitous fruit. It will last for two weeks and then vanish for another year. The bounty produces homemade pies, jam and fruit for our morning cereal. Making these things reconnects me to the land, myself and my family. It makes me want to make other things from scratch too.
Last week the New York Times published an article in the dining section about making your own pickles. After purchasing a large bag of Kirby cucumbers from the local farmer’s market I made three jars of pickles in under an hour. I called my son and told him.
“But you hate pickles,” he said.
“No I don’t.”
“Yes, you do,” he insisted.
“Well not anymore, I don’t.”

My first job in high school was working at McDonalds.  The giant cans of pickles dumped into a metal bin each morning sickened me. A greasy teenage boy with bad acne flipped the burgers and dropped on the pickles before wrapping them in paper. That image stayed with me and I started to avoid pickles.
In college I read about pickles in Back to Eden. What I read scared me. It made me think my pickle phobia was justified.
Pickles are indigestible; they resist the action of the gastric juice as would pebbles, and cause great irritation and chronic diseases.-Jethro Kloss
I stayed away from pickles for all of my adult life. When my husband ate my pickle from my plate at the local diner I warned him time and again about the dangers of pickles. “They sour in your stomach,” I cautioned him, but to no avail. Soon my children were enjoying pickles. They laughed at my fears and bought quarts of pickles, every variety, from a local flea market stand. These pickles had exotic flavors like cheddar and black pepper pickles or spicy garlic ruby pickles. They smelled enticing and everyone looked like they were enjoying them but I still stayed away.

Then I read somewhere about the benefits of sauerkraut. The fermentation was good for digestion. If sauerkraut was healthy why wasn’t pickles? I decided my fear of pickles was absurd and I started to eat them again after thirty years. I haven’t tasted my own pickles yet but just like the raspberry pie, I can’t wait.

 

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BONDING

BONDING

When my son came home for a weekend visit he  announced he had purchased a fishing license and went out in search of fishing spots on the weekends from his job with the city of Baltimore.
“Fishing?” I exclaimed. His interest surprised me because he had grown up on a lake, which we still live on, and hadn’t fished since his first catch.
His previous abandonment of fishing occurred about a week after we moved into the new house, which he had practically begged us to buy precisely because of his ten-year-old dreams of pursuing this hobby. My husband took him out in the rowboat with their freshly purchased poles and lore, and they caught a small bass.
They brought it up to the house for dinner and all of us stood speechless as my husband demonstrated the ruthless process of just how to clean and filet a whole fish. He then dropped a hunk of butter in a cast iron pan and fried it. My son looked down at his plate, up to the water, and declared that he would never fish again. “So much for living on a lake,” I said.
But now with his renewed grown-up interest I was eager to join him. We went on a rare trip to Wal-Mart on the Fourth of July. I looked around at the losers walking around Wal-Mart on a holiday and realized that I, too, was now lumped into this category. My son came to the store with what he called a well-researched list of supplies and carefully selected each part necessary for his new sport. Just before we went to pay I noticed a shrink-wrapped package boasting “Everything you need to lake/pond fish” for only $29.99. I bought it. If my son was going fishing, then by god so was I.
My equipment was inferior, but was worth the resulting mother-son bonding—time spent in the boat looking for shady spots and continually untangling my line. We talked about our lives and I held my breath each time he had a nibble. I didn’t catch anything but he had caught about twenty small Sunnies that I admired as he held them up until each were unhooked and released back into the cool, dark water.
Invigorated by this experience, the next morning I suggested an outing in the Bear Mountain region because I knew he liked to hike. He took me up on it and we ascended a path labeled “challenging.” I willed every last remaining muscle in my core to heave my middle aged body upward; he would look back and say, “You okay?” to which I replied, “Great! I love hiking.” The truth was I never hiked even though we live a stone’s throw away from the Appalachian Trail.
After the hike we went to a local farmer’s market and purchased two whole black bass for dinner. True we hadn’t caught them, but it felt like we might have. Or we should have. It seemed that we finally liked all the same things. That evening as my husband started up the charcoal, my son showed me how to season, grease, stuff and score the fish for the fire. I had never actually taught him to cook but I realized that he had picked it up over the years by watching me and through trial and error.
The next morning he had to catch an early train back to Baltimore and I woke eager to drive him to the station. My husband was already dressed and had made him toast and tea when I showed up in the kitchen. I wanted to make him a big breakfast to keep him in good stead until he arrived back at his apartment but he declined. The toast was all he wanted.
I thought that all my feelings of separation anxiety had long passed with the ceremonial freshman year drop off, the ceremonial graduation, the ceremonial move into the first apartment, first job, etc. But suddenly those recently buried and laid to rest emotions all came rushing back at me and I saw both a grown man and a ten-year-old boy converge. He was showered and shaved and neatly dressed with his tidy bag packed at his feet and a fishing pole in one hand.
The only difference was that my arguments for a good breakfast and against flagging a taxi with a six-foot long pole to make a connection at Penn Station went unheeded. I decided against joining them on the ride to the station. It was better like this where I was unable to fret as he maneuvered the bag and pole out of the car and onto the commuter train to Grand Central. We hugged and he left. I watched the car pull away as the sun rose over the trees across the lake. Then I went fishing.