“Streets of Fire” is a metaphoric portrait of the individual being tested by life and society. Why, it’s the path we all must take, and you are on it right now, my friend. But nuts to metaphors. A half-hour before an improv show I have no time for metaphors. I need to imagine that I am weathering, with an arrogant indifference, streets that are literally on fucking fire.
I'm wandering, a loser down these tracks
And I'm dying, but babe I can't go back
'Cause in the darkness I hear somebody call my name.
Yes. Exactly. I am not performing in an improv show because it is fun or because I want to be funny. No, I am a reluctant hero walking into The Darkness. There is a voice calling out to me, and to get to it I have to traverse [drums/guitar crash] Streets of Fire! Streets of Fire!
It’s ridiculous, but it works. And it worked for a while last night, playing it on repeat, until I got into a cab.
Now, I’m not a snob. I just don’t like the tedious how-‘bout-that-weather small talk found in cabs, barber shops, and slower elevators. Still, I always make myself available in case a guy wants to chat. If I didn’t, I’d feel like a dick.
I told the cabbie where I was headed and he said nothing in reply. He pulled away from the curb and muttered softly into an ear-piece invisible to me—likely on the driver’s side of his face—in one of the few tongues I do not speak. Malayalam was my guess. With mild relief I returned my ample headphones to my head and resumed my meditation on the life I lead in these Streets of Fire, talking only to strangers and angels who have no place…
A minute later the driver—early 40’s, I’d guess, but with the smooth pudgy face and wide innocent eyes of a boy—held up a candy-striped bag of roasted peanuts and said something into the rear-view mirror.
My iPod headphones broke months ago, and I don't feel like buying new ones. I now use an old pair that came with a Discman purchased in 1999. Which is to say: my headphones are gigantic earmuffs of antiquated technology, clear to anyone within 50 yards that my earholes are currently obstructed. But they did not daunt my driver.
I took them off and said, “Pardon me?”
“These are salted.”
“Oh,” I said, and then, grasping for something more to add, posited: “OK.”
“We don’t need that. I told her to get the ones without salt, but she got the salt. We don’t need salt.”
“Yeah,” I said. He wouldn’t have interrupted me just to hear me say Oh, OK, and Yeah, would he? Of course not—that would be CRAZY. So I added, “They smell good.”
Here I may have become the insane one. Who smells peanuts from five feet away? Who has ever turned to you, breathed in deep, and said, “Mmmm! Peanuts!” A bear, maybe, but I am not a bear. Besides, it was more of a popcorn smell than a peanut smell. But I had to say something.
The man was silent for a while—perhaps weirded out by my comment—and then spoke softly again in one of the few modern languages over which I have neither mastery nor familiarity, (Chhattisgarhi?), into a wireless headpiece attached, presumably, to the port side of his face. After a minute passed and he did not address me, I returned the headphones to my head.
Moments later he held up a squat water bottle and looked at me in the rearview. I pressed pause just in time to hear the man say, “Look. A water bottle.”
Look. A Water Bottle is easily one of my favorite games. I’m just not used to playing it in a cab. Well, apparently I am always on: “That looks like 8 ounces,” I said.
“No, it’s not. It’s…” He read the bottle. “Yes! It’s eight ounces! 234 Milliliters!”
5 points, me.
As he repeated the word ‘milliliters’ aloud several times, lingering over each syllable, I finally realized I was not getting any more alone time with The Boss. I took my headphones off, wrapped the cord around my iPod, and waited for his next attempt at conversation.
It came soon enough—turns out “the hose” in his car was leaking that morning. His mechanic friend told him to fix it with duct tape, which he bought at the dollar store. Now it is fine. I complimented his handiwork and observed that it is nice to have a friend who is a mechanic so you know you aren’t getting ripped off.
The topic faded, and he switched to cross-country travel. The driver and his cousin-brother and his cousin-brother's wife are going to LA soon. In a month or so. Had I ever driven to California?
Yes, a few times, I told him. The last time I made such a trip was when I helped my brother drive to Chicago from San Diego.
In 1998 the cab driver drove west was with his cousin-brother and his cousin-brother’s wife and her newborn baby and her cousin-brother’s wife’s mother (from India), taking six-hour shifts the whole way.
“You drive six hours, no more, then you switch,” he said. “People say they don’t get tired, but they get tired.”
I agreed that this plan was both sensible and prudent. We got to 3541 N. Clark and I said, “This is me right here.”
He pulled over and put the car in park. “We rented a van," he said. "The baby couldn’t sleep because it is used to being in the swing, right? It needs the move and rock. But it just sits there in the car, and it is still all the time and it can’t sleep and it cried and cried. That was bad.”
A crying baby would be indeed a drag on a road trip, I averred. The meter read $8.75. I handed him a ten and a single because I tip like a fucking prince. I thanked him for the ride and told him to have a good night.
"No,” he said politely but sternly. “Listen to my story. Do you see that hook?” He pointed vaguely past me. I looked outside, and he snapped, “No, above the door.”
Ah, of course. I confirmed my hook-seeing skillset by reaching up and wiggling it. In my defense, it was more handle than hook.
He built a baby swing in the van, he said, by making a hammock out of some fabric and suspending it between parallel hooks in the van’s interior, not unlike the hook/handle above my head. He then placed the baby in this probably-kinda-dangerous swaddling-swing, and at last the baby slept. (There’s a metaphor in that, isn’t there, man? Like, we’re all babies here in this road trip called “Life,” trying to rest in these jury-rigged swings and shit. When it doesn’t work we cry. Yeah... There it is, man.) I told him it was very ingenious. He agreed and said you have to be creative. I agreed again and said it was very clever. Sufficiently complimented, he unlocked the doors and let me out.
My team’s suggestion was Shark Week. It went quite well. The theater broke us up a week earlier, so that was our last show. I do not consider this, for reasons too tedious and self-serving to get into, fair. I realize how they tricked me this time, and it's all lies, and I'm strung out on the wire like a baby in a van-hammock. Of course, it's exactly what I should expect. 'Cause babe—I ain't no liar—I walk [boom] streets of fire, streets of fire, streets of fire, streets of fire!