My Tuesday afternoon flight from Los Angeles to Newark included a quick layover in Denver, where I learned that my connecting flight was delayed an hour. Originally scheduled to arrive at Newark at 11pm, I instead arrived a few minutes after midnight. When my fellow passengers & I deplaned & entered the terminal, this was happening. In case you don't feel like clicking through (because warning: It's way annoying), that's a video of a fire alarm going off for a full minute, all over the airport. And it did that for 14 full minutes, with no one looking panicked whatsoever. When it finally turned off, the silence felt deafening, like our brains had just gotten used to the idea of living a loud life & didn't know how to return to the low din of normalcy.
I knew I wouldn't make the 12:18am train, so my only option was the 1:22am - & if I missed it, I couldn't get home until daybreak, when the trains started running again. As I gathered my luggage & squinted around trying to find my way toward the train station, a hunched, oldish man in a Newsies-style cap stopped me & asked, "Taxi?" When I told him where I was headed, he looked pleased & said he lived two towns away. He said he'd take me for $75, & I agreed.
As I started to follow him, I asked to see his credentials, & he pulled out of his jacket a folded, crumpled piece of blue paper that said AURA. "The person I was supposed to pick up didn't show," he said, as though that was a credential, but I followed him anyway. He had an Italian accent & a slight limp, but something seemed off about both of them, like maybe either or both were fake. And he said, "Bravo!" at one point, which struck me as something someone would say when attempting to sound Italian.
As I followed him out of the airport, I started to tweet something to the effect of, "I'm about to catch a ride with a possibly illegitimate cabbie. If I don't return, I was abducted by an Italian grandfather in a suit." What a story it'll be later!, I thought to myself. I'm so Hannah Horvath. Plus, I'll get home a full hour early!
Still, I couldn't shake feeling that this was something I shouldn't be doing.
"Does your car have a meter?" I asked.
"No, flat rate of $75! I take credit cards. A cab will charge you $95."
We reached his car, an unmarked tan minivan, & he opened the trunk to put my luggage in. I peered into the vehicle & saw nothing to indicate that he was in the business of driving people, like, legitimately. Where was his credit card machine? "Hop up in the front, princess," he said to me, & as he began to shut the trunk, my many years of watching Law & Order: SVU flashed before my eyes. If this man murdered me because I willing got into a car with a stranger, what would my mother think? What would my friends say? "Kate watched a lot of crime shows & had a lot of anxiety problems. I can't believe she would've done something reckless like that." With that, the flickering light bulb in my brain finally came all the way on: Hannah Horvath be damned, no potentially quirky story is worth that kind of risk.
My arm shot out to keep the trunk from closing. "I can't do this," I said, without really looking at the driver. "I'm sorry, I can't do this. I have to go."
With that, I yanked my (very heavy) luggage out of his car & bolted. I wouldn't say I literally ran away, but... well, it was as close as I could come while juggling a 50-lb. suitcase & two substantial carry-ons. The so-called cabbie shouted after me, insisting he was legitimate & that I was safe - but when I didn't turn around or give any indication that I was listening, he started to sound angry. "I couldn've picked up somebody else!" he yelled. "You're wasting me money!"
And maybe I was. Maybe I was wasting myself money, too. But I could've sworn that right there at the end, his accent faltered a little. So I ran - from him, toward the train, into the night.
I arrived in Red Bank at 2:30am, where my wonderful boyfriend even picked me up, despite having to wake up for work in less than three hours. We fell asleep bone-tired, were miserably sleepy all day, & both got up for a full day of work yesterday morning, me going on my ninth day of work in a row. And yet, I couldn't bring myself to feel that upset about my exhaustion - because being tired is way better than being dead.