It’s early evening and I’m in the backseat of a limousine driving through Central Park. I’ve just finished a television interview and my driver’s taking me back to my girlfriend’s place in Harlem. Growing up middle class, being chauffeured in a limo usually meant someone died, was getting married, or going to the prom. Today, however, it’s just a pleasant perk of being in the media spotlight.
“So, why they interview you on the television?” my driver, a bullet shaped man encased in a black suit, asks me.
“I wrote a book,” I reply. “So I went on the air to talk about it.”
“What kind of book is it, please?”
“It’s a book about waiting tables,” I reply. “I talked about bad customers, crazy chefs – that sort of stuff.”
“I see,” the driver says, nodding. “Working in a restaurant, yes?”
“I worked in a restaurant near my home,” the driver says. “Hated it.”
“I don’t blame you,” I reply. “Where’s home for you?”
“Ah,” I say, remembering a line from a poem, “I have sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium.”
“Byzantium!” the driver exclaims. “Yes. That was the old name, before they call it Constantinople.”
“I heard you can still see the old cannonballs the Muslims used to batter the gates outside the Hagia Sophia.”
“Yes, yes!’ the driver says, excitedly. “Mehmet the Conqueror! You know about Turkey?”
“A little bit,” I say. “My Dad was a history teacher.”
“You must go there,” the driver says. “Turkey is a beautiful country.”
“One day,” I reply. “How long have you been in the States?”
“Twenty years, sir.”
‘I love America,” the driver says. “It’s hard making money sometimes, but my kids are born here. It’s a great country.”
“I work hard to learn English,” the driver says. “I watch American movies all the time in Turkey.”
“You have any favorites?” I ask.
“I like Chuck Connors movie Go Kill Everybody and Come Back Alone. That’s my favorite.”
“That’s a spaghetti Western.”
“Like Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood.”
“Clint Eastwood!” the driver shouts, “Dirty Harry! I love that movie. Do you feel lucky punk?”
“That’s a great line,” I reply.
“I love Clint Eastwood!” the driver says.
“So, is this your car?” I ask, looking around the scrupulously clean limo.
“Yes,” the driver replies. “I drive down from Yonkers and the company sends me the pickups.”
“Do you take fares?” I ask.
“No sir,” the driver says, waving a finger. “It is illegal for me to pick up fares. Some drivers do, but I don’t.”
I smile to myself. It’s obvious this driver takes pride in his work. “Ever drive any celebrities?” I ask.
“A few,” the driver says shrugging. “But mostly I pick up executives and take them to and from work.”
“Yes,” the driver replies. “Sometimes secretary work late, the company doesn’t want her get mugged, I take her home.”
“Take many people to Harlem?”
The driver looks at me over his shoulder and shrugs apologetically. “Connecticut, yes, Fifth Avenue, yes. Harlem? Not so much.”
I laugh. “Don’t sweat it.”
The driver gets a phone call, excuses himself, and turns on his Bluetooth headset. While he’s speaking in rapid fire Turkish, I look out my tinted window and watch the young and beautiful people as they jog and cycle alongside the limousine. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been getting a view of New York City that I’ve never seen before. I’ve been welcomed inside dazzling corporate palaces and have looked down on the City’s streets from the soaring heights of glittering media towers. It’s all been pretty heady stuff. Now, as I drive though the Garden of New Byzantium, I remember how Mehmet brought the old city down with cannonballs the size of boulders. Everything changes. Today is today. Tomorrow will be tomorrow. My driver will forget all about me, his children will be another day older, and I’ll be back riding the bus. Nothing lasts forever. But that’s okay, I’m enjoying the ride.
Now all I want is to get back to Harlem.