Saturday, February 25, 2012
"Hey! Hey you!" she said in a rough, gravelly voice.
I looked at her extremely tight and short red skirt and her brown stained teeth. "Who me?"
"Of course you, who else would I be talking to. You got any money?"
"No, " I said, which was the truth.
"There's money inside, I bet you're going in there to get some. I'll catch you on the way out. Count on it, amigo."
"I'm just going in for a quick consultation."
"Don't try to trip me up with your fancy vocabulary. I'm onto you."
I went inside, and as I was cashing the check I told the teller about it. I had been asked for money many times all over America, but never as I entered a bank. The teller laughed and said that the woman outside liked to hang around there. "She's not homeless or anything," the teller explained. "She's just a bit... off."
I asked if I could use the restroom, and she pointed to a door. I went through the door, then found two doors for two restrooms. Naturally, I chose the one marked MEN, and went into the only stall to have a seat. One minute later, I heard the same woman from out front's voice as she came into the restroom. It sounded as if she was talking on her cell phone, and she was talking very loudly. "So you know what I told her? I told her that she better back off or there was gonna be trouble. You think she listened to me?" The door to the stall began to shake and rattle and she tried to enter. And then she went into a tirade of cussing that would make a sailor blush. "That dirty #*@&% was @#$&% with my *@#%$ and I wasn't going to #?%!*$^ put up with it. She's a piece of $@^* and she needs to watch her mother-@$#%& mouth or I am going to royally #?%@* her up."
This went on and on, and I began to feel a bit nervous and uncomfortable. The restroom is a very private place to me, and I do not welcome company. It makes it hard for me to concentrate and take care of the business at hand. I was reminded of an incident just over a year ago, where a man in a restroom became way too friendly with me as he sat in the next stall. But why was this woman in the MEN's room?
I heard a tap-tap-tapping noise, and wondered what it was she was doing. It had a familiar ring, sort of like when someone is chopping vegetables in preparation of cooking them for a delicious meal. What was going on out there?
"Let me tell you something Louise, I will not be eating the @$%* that she wants to feed me. No way, no how." And then I heard the distinct sound of a woosh as she sucked something up her nostril. "I gotta tell you Louise, this is the best coke you ever got for me. Yummy yum yum." Then I heard the vacuum woosh again as she sucked more of it up her nose.
At this moment in time, I wanted to have one of those transporter devices on STAR TREK so I could just beam myself out of the stall. Then the stall door began to rattle and shake again, followed by a loud and rapid knocking. "Hey, you in there, you gonna take all day? I gotta take a wicked dump. You get me? Gotta drop the kids off at the pool. Quit hogging the toilet, you crazy toilet hog."
Suddenly I realized that I no longer needed to use the restroom. All I wanted was to leave with great haste, and I pulled myself together so I could do just that. I walked out of the stall, and saw her speaking into her cell phone. Only it was not a cell phone, it was a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. "I've gotta go, Louise." She hung up the cigarette pack. "You!" she shouted. "What the hell are you doing in the Ladies' room?"
I wondered if she noticed the urinals. "I'm leaving, I'm leaving."
"Not so fast. Have you got my money?"
"I never had your money."
"Cough it up right now, or I'll--" She interrupted herself. "Where's my coke?" She instantly dropped on the floor and began crawling around feeling the tile on the floor, looking for her lost treasure. I could see the little baggie of coke up on the counter by the sink, but didn't have the heart to interfere with her search. I made my way out the door, and heard her yell. "Call me later, lover!"
I got into my car and drove about a mile until I found a nice place with a quiet restroom I could use. For a driving fool, some days are better than others.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
My boss Riff had told me that after I took the Jewish ambulance up to Orlando for the festival, I would be driving it down to Ft. Myers for another dedication ceremony. What he did not mention was that it would take place on Valentines Day, which meant that I would have to be on hold for three days while waiting. Down time is not good for a driving fool, because to earn money you need to keep moving. I spent the first night in a motel room, but felt it would hit my wallet too hard if I did that three more nights in a row (including the night of the ceremony). So I slept on the gurney in the back of the ambulance, and went to a local Bally’s health spa each day for a workout and a shower.
On Valentines Day, I arrived at the country club where the event was to take place at 5pm. I was told to be there by 6pm, but I always like to be early. I had put on my nice slacks and a dress shirt and tie for the occasion. The first person to arrive was clearly the representative from the ambulance company, for she instantly launched into directing me where to park the ambulance. Every five to ten minutes, she came back out into the parking lot and told me to move it again. She could not seem to decide exactly where she wanted it parked. Every rep from the ambulance company that I have ever met was very nice, cordial, and definite about what they wanted. This woman was pushy and rather unpleasant, and completely indecisive about where the ambulance should be parked. I had moved it six times by the time other people started to arrive. The majority of them were senior citizens, all decked out in their nicest clothes.
Soon a man drove up in a Lexus, and rolled down his window. “Are you Bill?” he asked.
“Yes sir, Bill Thomas.”
“Hi Bill, I’m Morrie. I’m the rep overseeing this event.”
I was confused. “You’re from the ambulance company?”
“Yes, I’m the rep.”
Just then, the woman who had been giving me orders marched out to us. “OK,” she said, “I’ve about had it with you.”
“What did I do?” I asked.
“Clearly you can’t seem to place the ambulance properly. You keep on moving it.”
“I moved it where you told me to put it, ma’am.”
“Excuse me,” said Morrie. “Who are you?”
“Louise Steinmetz, and who are you?”
“I’m Morrie, I’m with the ambulance company.”
“She doesn’t work with you?” I asked Morrie.
“About time you got here, someone has to be in charge. I have to go do my exercises now.” She walked away doing side stretches.
“I really thought she was in charge,” I explained.
“I think she’d like to be,” Morrie told me. He showed me where to park the ambulance and we chatted. I told him about the incident on the Florida Turnpike four days ago, and he was fascinated. A car pulled up next to us, and two elderly ladies got out. To my great surprise, one of them was Mrs. Sherman, the 92 year old woman whose car I move north and south twice a year.
“Mrs. Sherman! Nice to see you.”
“Hello?” she said, a bit flustered.
“It’s me, Bill Thomas, your friendly driver.”
“Bill? Oh, Bill! I’m so glad you came, I didn’t know if you’d get my invitation.”
I was stumped. “You sent me an invitation?”
Now she was stumped. “Did I?”
Her friend interceded. “No you did not, because I invited you.” She turned to me, all charm and flirtation. “Hello, I’m Mildred Lebowitz. And who are you?”
“Bill?” She held her hand out for me. But not in a position to shake, more like she wanted me to take her hand and kiss it, as if she were royalty. So I did, and she seemed to be floating on a cloud.
Mrs. Sherman smiled. “Bill, this is my friend Mildred Lebowitz.”
“I already introduced myself,” Mildred said to Mrs. Sherman, but her eyes were on me. Mildred was elderly also, but looked like she was six or seven years younger than her friend. “We’d better get inside and get our seats.”
“Well, maybe it’s time for us to go inside now,” said Mrs. Sherman. “Bill, did you remember when I called and told you I was going to a Valentines Ball?”
“Yes ma’am, I do remember.” The two women went inside, and Morrie smiled at me.
“You are quite a charmer, Bill.”
“Not on purpose, I just try to be polite.”
“No, it’s good. So where are you gonna go?”
“I’ll find a room somewhere inside and write for a while. Maybe work on my computer. You have my cell phone number?”
“I do, I got it from your boss.”
“So if you need me, just call. I’ll be out of sight, but less than a minute away if you need me for anything.” So I went off and wrote for two hours, and then Morried called my cell phone. I went and met him in the lobby.
“Bill, the kitchen offered to make you a plate. Are you hungry?”
“Yes I am. That’s a very kind offer, I will take you up on it.”
“There are also some people who want to meet you. Come on into the event room, will you?” I followed Morrie inside, and saw a huge room full of elderly people. Quite a few of them began shuffling over to Morrie. “This is the guy.”
One woman leaning on a cane said, “So you’re the young man who was chased by terrorists on the Turnpike last weekend?”
“Uh, yes, but I don’t think they were terrorists.”
“They could have killed you,” said a bald man.
“You’re very brave,” said another woman.
“There’s too little courage in the world anymore, we need more men like you out there,” said the man with his arm looped together with the woman. This went on for a while, as they all had comments and questions. Finally, Morrie urged me to retell the story of exactly what happened. I have never had a more captivated audience listen to me tell a tale.
Afterwards, Morrie took me over to the kitchen door where a waiter was ready to make me a plate. And the timing was good, because I have low blood sugar and needed a boost. But before I could get to the door, I was intercepted by Mildred. “Hello, handsome. I heard you are a brave man who put his life on the line to save the ambulance so it could make it to Israel. You are a mensch.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“You are, that’s it, I have spoken. Dance with me now, make me a happy old woman.”
“I don’t think I can.”
“But I do think you can,” she said forcefully. I looked at Morrie, who shrugged and nodded his head in approval. If he wanted me to, what harm could there be? So I led her out onto the dance floor and we danced. Actually, it was more like swaying back and forth. I thought that she would run out of energy after one or two songs, but I was very wrong. She went for ten songs in a row, with her head pressed into my chest. I’m not a very tall guy, but she was at least a full head shorter than me.
On song number eleven, Mrs. Sherman came up to us. “I wonder if I might cut in?”
“No!” said Mildred with fierce finality.
“Bill is an acquaintance of mine, and he looks to be a pretty good dancer.”
“Oh, he’s a delightful dancer,” said Mildred.
“How about letting me enjoy just one dance with him?” asked Mrs. Sherman.
“Get your own boy, Maxine, this one is mine.” I felt badly as I saw Mrs. Sherman walking away with her head hung low. But I wasn’t about to get into the middle of a tussle between two old friends. Mildred nuzzled her face into my chest. “You remind me of my dear departed husband Ira, God rest his soul. That man was hung like a horse.” At that point, I felt a hand squeeze my butt cheek. I finished the dance, and then excused myself to go to the kitchen for my dinner. Mildred didn’t want me to go, but I politely insisted.
As I laid on the gurney in the back of the ambulance later that night falling asleep, I thought about elderly women and how much they enjoyed the attentions of a younger man. And I smiled when I thought that sometimes this job could lead to interesting and unique experiences.
Saturday, February 11, 2012
From time to time I am asked to drive Jewish ambulances around the state of Florida for dedication ceremonies. A kind-hearted person will buy the ambulance and dedicate it to the memory of a dearly departed loved one. I drive it to the ceremony then wait for it to be over, then I drive it to the port in Jacksonville so it can be put on a ship and sent to Israel. These ambulances are fortified with bomb plating and bullet proof glass, to be prepared for whatever they may encounter in Israel.
I picked one up in Miami late yesterday, and was driving it up the Florida Turnpike up to Orlando. It was set to be on display at a big Jewish festival, and I always had fun at these events and met a lot of nice people. Some of the older ladies liked to pinch my cheek and tell me I am a sweetheart. One elderly lady gave me a hug and said "Peace in Israel." Felt nice.
Just then, my cell phone rang. “This is Bill.”
“Hello, little miss sunshine,” said the familiar voice of Riff.
“Where are you?”
“On my way to Orlando in the ambulance.”
“Slight change of plans, when you get done in Orlando I need you to take it to some special ceremony down in Ft. Myers. Can you do that, gumdrop?”
“Can you do that, cupcake?”
“Just send me the details.”
“But can you handle it, my little pussywillow?”
“Goodbye, Riff.” I hung up, and a few moments later it rang again. “Riff, I can do the job, you don’t have to—“
“Bill?” It was not Riff, but dear old Mrs. Sherman.
“Mrs. Sherman, how are you?”
“Bill, I just called to tell you that I’ll be going to that Valentine Ball I told you about next week.” And with that, she hung up. Guess she just wanted to inform me.
As I was driving past the city of Stuart, a car pulled alongside me and the passengers in that car were waving at me wildly. I tried to just keep my eyes on the road ahead and ignore them, but I finally glanced over. I saw what looked like a Palestinian flag hanging from the rear view mirror, and the four men in the car all appeared to be of Arab origin. I had no idea why they seemed so agitated, and then I wondered if it might have to do with the Hebrew writing on all sides of the ambulance and the prominent Star of David symbols. Whatever it was, these guys were seriously pissed off. Two of them were leaning out the window, screaming and waving their fists at me. Then the fists transformed into a single finger, and I just wanted to ask them “What’s the problem, fellas?”
They were on my left side, and the man in the back seat on the right side began to hurl food at me. They seemed to have a lot of uneaten fast food in the car, and he started throwing it at me. Then his friend in the seat directly in front of him began to do the same. They also balled up the fast food bags and threw them. The thing of it is, though, is that when you are traveling at a rate of 70mph, then you throw things out the window the wind grabs them and they fly behind you. Nothing they threw hit my vehicle, until one of them threw an empty beer bottle. It bounced off the side of the ambulance, and I knew I’d better start treating this as a serious threat.
I slowed down, and they did the same. I sped up, and they matched me move for move. And then their car swung at me as if they were going to sideswipe me. The first time, I thought that there was no way that they really intended to hit me. But the second time, they came so close that I had to swing out onto the shoulder of the Turnpike to keep from being hit. Just up ahead, I saw an overpass just before a curve in the highway. The sun glinted and reflected off of something, and I remembered having seen a nest of Florida Highway Patrol cars there yesterday as I drove down to Miami to pick up the ambulance. I put my foot to the floor, and the turbo charged engine kicked in and off I went. This took the gents in the other car by surprise, and they stepped on the gas hard to catch up with me. As I neared the overpass, I hit the brakes, and they zoomed past me still throwing beer bottles out the window. I saw two Highway Patrol cars jump out behind them and soon they pulled them over. As I drove slowly by, one of the men actually leaped towards the left lane of traffic that I was occupying, and an officer grabbed him and yanked him back. As I watched in my side view mirror, it seemed that the angry men were being treated as potentially hostile and dangerous by the police, and I continued my journey to Orlando in peace.
I got to thinking, how just last week I was perturbed with the speed trap in south Georgia and the officer who I felt gave me a hard time unnecessarily. Today was a very different story, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the boys in blue. I’ve often heard the phrase, “Where’s a cop when you need one?” In this case, they were right where I needed them to be, and I am so grateful for them being there. For the rest of the drive, I pondered the anger these guys had towards me simply because I was driving a Jewish ambulance. It is meant for good, it is meant to help people in need. And there surely is a lot of need for them in Israel. I said a little prayer and thanked God for watching over me and keeping me safe. And I hoped that lives might be saved by the brave men who drive these vehicles overseas.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
My cell phone rang, and I answered to hear the growling, angry voice of my boss Riff. “Where are you, loser?”
“South Georgia, on my way down to West Palm Beach, Florida.”
“What the hell is taking you so long?”
“I left Minneapolis two days ago, I’d say I’m making pretty good time.”
“I could care less what you would say, you dumb fool. You need to make better time. When you drop the car off in West Palm Beach, you need to get yourself down to Miami. There’s one of those Jewish ambulances there, and its going to a memorial ceremony in Orlando. Is that too much for you, my little buttercup?”
“I can handle that.”
“My precious little buttercup.”
“Goodbye, Riff.” I hung up, and then noticed that there were several Georgia State trooper cars pulled over, each one of them having stopped a passenger vehicle and writing up tickets. I began to count, and all totaled there were ten cop cars and ten violaters. Then the blue lights in my rear view mirror caught my attention. I had the cruise control set on 73, and the speed limit was 70mph, so I was confused about what I had done.
I slowed down and signaled as I pulled off onto the right shoulder. The officer stopped behind me, then got out and walked purposefully up to my car window. “License and registration, please sir.” I already had them out, and handed them over.
“What did I do, officer?”
“Are you a professional race car driver, boy?” he asked as he examined my paperwork.
“What? No, sir.”
“Really? Could’ve fooled me, flying through here like a bat out of hell. Who do you think you are, and what makes you think you’ve got the right?”
“My speedometer showed that I was going 73.”
“That’s right, and the speed limit is 70. Who said that you could go zooming along with no regard for the speed limit?”
“No one… I mean, I didn’t—“
“You didn’t what? Huh? Get out of the car, boy.”
I did as he said, feeling a bit nervous. He told me to open the trunk, and I did. He searched it but found nothing besides the spare tire and jack. Then he opened the back door of my car and began to throw my things out on the side of the road. “Are you looking for something particular?” I asked.
The officer spun and pointed his finger at me. “I don’t like your attitude. You wouldn’t be one of those Yankee drug dealers, would ya?”
“No sir, I’m from Birmingham.”
"Figures." He cleared his throat and shook his head with disgust. Then he leaned into the car and reached across the back seat. “Well, well, what have we here?” He pulled out the small box of fireworks. “What are you doing smuggling fireworks into the state of Georgia?”
“Didn’t you know that fireworks are illegal in the state of Georgia?”
“No sir, I did not.”
“Ignorance of the law is no defense, boy.”
“I can just leave them here, would that be OK?”
“No, that would not be OK. That would be littering, are you a litterbug?”
“I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation here. You could be spending the night in jail. Have you ever seen 60 MINUTES? Do you know what happens to cute lookin’ young men like you in prison in south Georgia?”
“I don’t think I’m very cute.”
“Don’t sass me, boy. That is very unwise, a bad choice.”
“What can I do?”
“What you do is go and sit in the car, while I go get in my car and check on your criminal record and past violations. Don’t think about running.”
“Don’t you dare.” He went back to his car, and I went back to mine. I saw him spend a lot of time talking into his radio. After 15 minutes had gone by, I began to worry. A total of 25 minutes later, he sauntered back to my car window with his ticket pad in hand. “I have to admit, I was shocked to find that your record is clean. I don’t know if you are lucky or just a cool customer who is good at outsmarting law enforcement.”
“I am neither.”
“Maybe. But what you are is a speed demon, and this ticket for $300 will be a reminder to you to slow down. My job is to catch offenders like you. I’m saving lives,” he proclaimed. I took the pad from him and signed the ticket, all the while biting my tongue so hard I nearly drew blood. I handed him back his pad, and he said, “I’ll take the box of fireworks for you and dispose of them later. You pick up all your junk off the side of the road and then get out of here. Maybe next time you pass through Georgia you will drive with respect.”
I picked up my stuff and drove away. I felt a sense of comfort knowing that in this part of south Georgia, all of the murderers, rapists and drug dealers were safely locked up so that the police had the manpower to assign 11 cars to catch dangerous criminal speeders going 3 miles over the limit.