So it’s 2:30am, and you’re heading home from the beach towns on the 405, listening to The Cask of Amontillado on the radio, headlights piercing fog banks at 80 mph, when a ping comes over the Uber app. An easy pickup, right off the freeway.
Easy pickups are the Uber driver’s fool’s gold, particularly when you’ve already called it a night. Convenience has a way of luring you in, then sending you all the way to West Covina just at the moment you’re ready for whiskey and a plump pillow, to punish you for wanting one more.
The GPS location is a bar. The bar is closed. No one is hanging out in front of the bar. Not a pedestrian in sight in either direction. So you wait, and listen to a chain-smoking actor from the 1940s melodramatically recite Fortunato’s visit to the wine cellar. At the five minute mark, a young woman emerges from a service alley behind the building: no shoes, no purse, short black dress, clutching an iPhone and looking like bees slept in her hair, or worse.
She skips to the car on the soles of her feet, shivering. She smells of alcohol, but she’s upright and near as you can tell, compos mentis. Though she looks exactly like the nameless victim in the opening scene of a slasher film, no one is chasing her. The destination is the Airport Hilton.
Nobody goes to a hotel, shoeless, at 2:30am for a good reason. Who goes shoeless across the pavement of an American city for any reason? Shoelessness is crisis in motion. Why no purse? The only thing which distinguished her in vulnerability from a deer in the forest was the glowing phone in her hand, which vibrated loudly every ten seconds, bearing urgency which had no explanation.
Was she okay, you ask. Yeah, why, she replies dismissively. Due diligence complete, you take her to the Hilton as she has paid you to do. You purloin glimpses of her in the rear view mirror.
She dashes across the bright entryway on dirty feet, flashing a glimpse of butt cheek as she pushes through the spinning glass door. You linger a moment to see if someone is there to meet her, but there isn’t. Is she arriving, or returning? Fleeing danger or diving headfirst into a whirlpool of foolishness? The elevator door closes on her, and with it any clear explanation.
On Friday, Mrs. UpintheValley is walking the dogs at her usual hour: 5am, i.e., total darkness.
Thwap Thwap Thwap she hears to the left of her. A blur, running past porchlights. She turns the corner, keeps walking. Two blocks later, the thwapping returns, and another blur runs past her, moving in the opposite direction.
Mrs. U bends down to retrieve dog poop, and suddenly there is a loud thump directly overhead.
A woman wearing only a bra top and a pair of leggings has jumped atop the roof of the car next to her. No shoes. No purse. No phone.
The woman waves her hands hysterically in front of her face. She’s terrified of pitbulls, she says. Meaning Trixie. Also, she’s just been pepper-sprayed.
She was a stripper at Synn, up on Sepulveda. There was a misunderstanding about money another stripper accused her of taking from a purse. She didn’t have her glasses on, she explained, and might have been mistaken in whose purse it was. But she didn’t take nobody’s money. Plus, she’d been drinking.
She had to drink because she hated stripping so much but she needed the money to pay for kinesiology school. But that didn’t mean she was stealing.
She had a long-winded, barely believable, non-theiving explanation for how she came to be running barefoot through the neighborhood in the wee hours with nothing on but a bra top and leggings and Mrs. U listened to it patiently until the police arrived, shined a flashlight into her blinking face and administered the Three Questions.
My life is boring, I think, when I consider these two night couriers, these harbingers of drama. How predictable I have grown. You can set a watch by my responsiblity. I’m a guy who lives in the Valley and pays his bills. Banks love me. People call me sir.
Oh, to heed the siren call of barefooted women, and swagger into the Mystery Elevator, careless and eager.