Jesus was driving on Willis Avenue Sunday night, when he was cut off by another car. At the stoplight on Roscoe Blvd., he exited his vehicle and approached the offending driver, intending to confront him. In response, five shots were fired through the window, and the car sped away. Jesus died in the street. His family watched the craziness unfold from inside their car.
A father of two, reduced to a sidewalk shrine of novena candles in 30 seconds.
No words were exchanged.
Rage, rooted in the French Latin: rabies.
We speak of rage as something we fall into, or are thrown into, like a pit. Perhaps it is somewhat different. Perhaps it is the moment the Holy Spirit leaves our body. A wrinkle not only in time but an interruption in the flow of consciousness. On any given day we might be triggered in some way, expend our rage in a Reichian moment, then come back to ourselves. But on this day Jesus Alejandro Benitez Jaimez encountered someone more rage-filled and intemperate than himself, putting his soul at hazard. He threw caution into the void and from the void the Devil extracted his due.
There are those who disagree with a spiritual interpretation. Rage is purely chemical, they feel. A chain reaction out of the hypothalamus. As random as weather.
Imagine a blue fin tuna swimming off the coast of Japan, ending up on a sushi plate. Why that particular fish, out of all the fish in the world? How did it wind up in that particular net, hoisted into a certain boat, sold at auction X, to distributor Y, and put on a pallet to Long Beach, and not to Singapore? Was it destined for my belly, and no other?
We may feel, and indeed be, very small on a planetary scale. But we retain moral agency over the forces of light and darkness within us. When a garden variety traffic annoyance triggers a fight-or-flight response, something else is going on. I submit the Spirit has been abandoned.
Only 81 more days of this….and then the curtain falls, and we can all go back to…
Oh, wait…that’s right. There is no curtain anymore. Everyone is going to remain seated, silently re-litigating the arguments of the performers after one has taken office and the other has left the stage.
America is now a permanent uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner in which people are obliged to make nice to in-laws they can’t stand. All truth will be confined to passive-aggressive gestures.
Politics is now so tribal and angry we don’t even speak of it in person. We let the bumper stickers do the talking for us.
Here is something I’ve been turning over in my mind for awhile: working-class Latinos are the only people who have ever tipped me as an Uber driver. Tipping is not expected. Nor hinted at, by me. It rarely happens, but when it does…its never white people.
How do I know the tippers are working-class? Because I drove them home. The more modest the neighborhood, the likelier the tip. In a city as diverse as Los Angeles is seems odd the blessings of gratitude should be so unevenly distributed among its peoples, but there it is. You save someone an hour on the bus to Huntington Park, or $50 on a cab, or worse, a potential DUI, they put a couple singles in your hand and thank you for delivering them safely. It’s a learned behavior.
These are my happiest rides, and it’s not the money.
Latinas are chatty. They sit up front, they want to know all about you. If she’s going to Pacoima, she will find out you live in Van Nuys and this is your last ride of the night, and she knows implicitly there will be no 30 minute dead-head return home.
“How serendipitous for you.”
You speak of your shared joy of multi-syallbic words. She tells you her brown family never played Scrabble when she growing up, they played Sorry!, but she understood, even as a kid, it was a first-generational thing. When her son is old enough, she’s going to make him play Words With Friends as a condition of having a phone. She’s also going to be open with him about sex, in all the ways her parents weren’t, when he’s old enough to ask.
Or she’ll tell you she was born in Nicaragua and lived her whole life in Cudahy and her favorite musician is Toby Keith. “I should have been born white trash,” she laughs, as you weave like a tank through street fireworks in Boyle Heights on Fourth of July. ‘”I don’t care if all my friends think I’m a redneck. Every country song has a story.”
Or she’ll talk about her commute, or her worst customer of the week, or the worst date she ever had, or why she came back to the church.
Polite, always polite, even when intoxicated. Like their parents beat it into them.
We’re living out Uber as the ride-share it was meant to be and not the discount limo in Prius form it has become. In a city of a dozen dialects, shift work is the common tongue. They’re just getting off theirs, I’m in the middle of mine. In recognition, there is empathy.
As California inches ever closer to becoming Downton Abbey on the Pacific, there will be a growing class of people with no knowledge of work, as it has been historically understood. Or have any need to work at all. Or living on the dole. Then there will always be a much larger population which does nothing but grind out a paycheck. Then there is a billionaire in San Francisco who tells the customers not to tip the driver, the tip is already included.
Proving truth can be more ironic than fiction, the billionaire grew up in the Valley.
I don’t know how this is all going to play out, or how much longer the center will hold. Recently Finder.com created a profile of the “average Californian”, drawn from statistical databases. Turns out she’s Latina, lives in Koreatown, works in retail, and commutes 28 miles a day. That should give us all a little hope.
The woman in the picture hasn’t been one of my riders, but she does take Uber from time to time. I work with her during the day. She also lives in K-town. Adding another layer of historical irony, she was born in the wake of Prop. 187. Now she assists the grasping women of Brentwood in obtaining cage-free, nitrate-free, non-GMO gourmet food items.
I asked her if she would appear on a reality show if it meant she could quit her day job.
Not even if it meant never having to punch a clock again? Ever?
“Nope, it’s just not appealing.”
Her mama raised her right.
Last night, around midnight, I got a ride request in a swank beachfront condo community. My passengers were waiting outside the building when I arrived. Three men, two women. This was going to be a problem. Only four seat belts. This happens from time to time and I’m obliged to explain seatbelt law and liability to intoxicated people, with very limited success.
But only two of the men and one of the women get in the car. The third man remained on the sidewalk talking to the second woman, sitting on the front stoop. Even in the dark, I can see she had a terrific profile. Everyone is a bit wired.
“Okay, drive around the corner and wait.”
I drive around the corner and wait. Much texting ensues between passengers and the guy talking to the woman in front of the condo.
“We’re trying to ditch “XXX”. You know who she is, right?”
They named an adult film star who is broadly famous for being famous in and out of the porn world.
“This is a kind of a reverse Ray Rice situation,” they explained. “We’re doing an extraction.” XXX’s boyfriend had summoned them to his condo to witness her outlandish behavior and help him get her out of the building with a minimum of drama. They told her they were all going out to a club together. A reverse Ray Rice situation sounds like the shadiest wife beaters defense ever. But what can one make of claims to which one is not a witness?
Finally, they called the fourth passenger on the phone.
“Just pretend we’re the neighbor calling, complaining about the noise. Tell her you’ll be right back.”
The gambit worked. He jogged around the corner and squeezed in, all steroid biceps and tribal tattoos. Off we went.
“F**k, that was intense. Thanks for coming.”
“How many glasses of wine did she have?”
“Only four, I thought.”
“That’s not that much.”
“Not if you do them in a row,” said the girl, in pre-cancerous tones. “Older women can’t hold their liquor. They get cray-cray.”
I drove them to a friends house while they discussed the pornstar in disparaging terms. Earlier in the evening she gave the boyfriend a DVD of her reality show appearances. As a relationship builder.
“You’ve seen the worst of me, now see the best.”
The four of them found this very amusing. Pathetic was the consensus verdict.
When I got home from my shift I Googled her. She was raised by her grandparents. She started out in ballet. She went to college. Then she started stripping. And so on….and now she was a tangle of capped teeth, platinum hair and pneumatic breasts sitting on the curb on Saturday night, deserted by people who knew her well enough to no longer desire her company.
Adding to my karmic deficit, I was the wheel man.
I thought of the boyfriend, hitting the weights with youthful ardor, crunching, taking stock of himself in the mirror, dreaming of the hotties to come, who knows, maybe even a porn chick, and now he had obtained her, finding out she was more complicated than she looked on video. Worse, old. In her thirties, practically Betty White years by industry standards.
And I thought of her appealing to her reality show appearances as a selling point: You’ve seen the worst of me, now see the best. On the face of it, yes, pathetic. At the same time, sweetly hopeful, in my imagining.