In 2001 after waiting almost two years, my name crept to the top of a waiting list and I finally skipped the warehouse. I moved several miles and neighborhoods south into a conventional high-rise full of squeaky-clean Nigerians. On my own at last, I decided that I should stock up on office supplies so I phoned the cripplevan phone-lackeys one morning at 6:00 am.
That is I started speed-dialing at 6:00 am. Whenever I phoned to schedule a ride with a cripplevan, I expected busy signals until about 6:55 am. (Sometimes you were lucky enough to connect sooner albeit very rarely.) Cripplevan phone-lackeys accepted calls from 6:00 am until 7:00 am, then from 8:00 am until 9:00 am. They booked rides exclusively for the following day; regardless of how long you needed to stay at your destination, you were only allowed to schedule rides within a minimum of an hour and a half of one another. Sometimes a cripplevan company had been booked to capacity by the time a phone-lackey answered your call. Then you were not only screwed, but had wasted at least an hour on the phone only to be blown off by some snotty twat mumbling a mealy-mouthed apology in an almost undecipherable urban dialect. On the morning in question I managed to schedule a ride to an Office Depot.
The van chugged up to the curb in front of my building forty-five minutes late—cripplevans always ran behind schedule. I sat in my wheelchair on the passenger side in the front of the vehicle. A young woman perfectly capable of unfettered movement sat on the back bench seat. She had obviously used an industrial-sized spatula to cake rouge onto her sunken cheeks, and likely deluded herself that the thick borders of mascara that framed her dull eyes made her look like a supermodel.
The driver animatedly chattered as he drove, clearly trying to impress the young woman:
“Yeah, I got peoples down south—in Georgia.”
“Really?” The woman marveled. “So do I . . .”
“My uncle, he passed but he be real well off when he alive. He left me a big house and I be havin’ the whole place redone. Whenever I go down to visits my peoples I always check to makes sure the mens, they be doin’ it right. They gotta know I be king of my castle”
He shoved his extended index finger into his nostril, wiggled it around and yanked it out. He looked down and examined the fingertip, absently dragged it across his thigh, then regarded the traffic through the windshield and continued:
“I just be drivin’ this van to, y’know, help cripples but I don’t gotta ‘cause I own land and I be financially comfortable.” He checked her reaction in the rearview mirror.
His disclosure had piqued her interest. She asked, “Are you married?”
He chortled. “Nah. I was though.”
“Got any kids?”
“I got a son. He about nine or ten or something. Some mens, they don’t take care of their babies. But me—I send a check almost every month.” He beamed with solemn pride.
“A guy like you must have a girlfriend.”
“I got a few, but I ain’t ready to settle down. See, I won’t be with a woman who can’t pay her electric bill.” For quite some time he expressed disdain and disgust for women who can’t pay their electric bills. Royalty have high standards.