Back in Los Angeles, but what an odd return trip. It began with a taxi pickup at 7 AM, and 15 seconds into the ride, my Lithuanian cabbie tells me he can tell everything about a passenger just by the person’s “Hello.” All I can think is that I hope I made a good impression. It’s a good thing though that he can make this determination from hearing others so quickly, because until I arrived at the airport he spent the next 20 minutes talking.
To be fair, he was pretty interesting, and a nice guy. He loves reading, especially philosophy. I told him about Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy, and he handed me a notepad to write the information down. Was it a new book, he asked? No, it was probably written in the 1930s, I said. “I go to the library then today to get it. They will have it, right?” At the moment, he’s reading Mario Puzo.
His name is Ari, and he said he used to be in the Lithuanian Army Secret Service. Who am I to doubt it. That’s not being facetious, just truly who knows? He’s very upbeat, and that comes from his reading of philosophy that teaches him that we celebrate birth, and should celebrate death. We should live each day like it could be our last. We never plan our funerals, but he’s planned his. He’s told his wife that if he died before her, he wants to be cremated, and she should take his ashes to the ocean on either coast. She should also take a couple of bottles of champagne and take it to the beach. There, whenever anyone comes by, she should offer them a glass and make a toast.
“My mother tell me that every day you should make at least one person happy.” Then he turned his head to the back seat, “Two, better.” And then he told me about picking up a passenger last week at the nearby hospital. The passenger was helped into the cab by an employee, who happened to mention it was her birthday. After dropping the passenger off at her home, Ari went to buy a rose and a box of chocolate, and then drove back to the hospital. The employee was elsewhere in the building, so he just dropped it all off with a couple of greeters in the lobby.
“’Don’t you want to stay to see how happy she’ll be?’ they ask me. But I say I know how happy she’ll be, it make her day, I don’t have to see her face.” Later, a fellow cabbie mentioned to him about having to pick up one of Ari’s “regulars.” He didn’t know what the guy meant, he didn’t have any regulars, just what the company sent him. Then he saw the address, it was the hospital and they’d request “Cab 6, that’s my cab. I know what happened. She wanted me to come, so she could thank me. That made me so happy, knowing how happy she was.”
He told a lot of other tales. A lot. Hey, as I said, he talked for 20 minutes. He’d only been to Los Angeles once, eight years ago, but he wants to go back. He stayed in Santa Monica, near an International House of Pancakes. He never gets lost, but the only place he ever got lost was in L.A. It was so confusing, no sense of what’s north or south.
He also said that if his first pick-up of the day was a woman, he knew the rest of the day would be bad. “Three women in a row, forget whole week, I might as well tell my boss I stay at home.” Today, he’d had two men for his first fares, so things were going in the right direction. I didn’t ask him what caused his theory. He seemed pretty adamant about it, so I left it be.
As we reached O’Hare, I mentioned that in the book, Exodus, by Leon Uris, about the founding of the nation of Israel, the main character was named Ari. And when they made the movie, he was played by Paul Newman. “I like Paul Newman,” this Ari beamed. “I get his sauces and food all the time. Tonight I rent the movie.”
He got a good tip.
The TSA experience was itself odd. Surprisingly polite considering, though nothing like the joyous experience I had at TSA at LAX on my way over.
I plan my arrival well-ahead of time, taking almost everything out of my pockets before leaving, even removing my belt that early, and stuffing everything in a compartment of my attaché. I wear loafers for easy removal, even jam my jacket into my carry-on. It’s just a breeze going through TSA, and I don’t get remotely concerned when going through checking, if they stop me because for some reason something showed up on the scanner. I know I’m not bringing in anything, and what might show up as odd is perhaps because I’m bringing back some frozen Chicago deep dish pizza.
Today, I breezed through the scanner – when it beeped. I couldn’t imagine why. I checked all my pickets, empty. No belt. Nothing should have beeped. But they pulled me over. The guard then pulled off one of my carry-ons to test it – why just one, I don’t know. She took several swabs off it – and when she tested them, they beeped, too. So, another guard call called over to give me a full pat-down.
Again, I knew I wasn’t bringing anything along inappropriate, but unlike packing something, I had no idea if I’d rubbed up against something bad that was setting off signals. I asked what could set off the machines, and he said they were very sensitive, and something such-and-such might get a response. But I knew that none of that pertained to me. He was very polite in the pat-down, explaining how careful he was going to be – when I kept saying, “Fine, not a problem,” he sheepishly shrugged and said, “I have to say all this.” Happily, the results came back negative, and neither me nor my bag are a threat to national security.
Other than hitting some air pockets as we began our descent, and the bottom falling out a couple times, making it feel like a flume ride at Disneyland, the flight went fine. A friend picked me up at the airport, and happily didn’t ask for any ID. And now, here I am. Largely unpacked, and waiting for tonight’s World Series game. I don’t expect anything more strange to happen on my end, but given how the first four ballgames have been, I can only imagine what oddities will happen there…
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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