Sunset, the Driver, and the Seventh Inning
I hate airplanes. There is no way those particles
of you, blasted through the air in giant cigar tubes at more
than six hundred kilometres per hour, so many miles above the
earth’s surface, could ever match up exactly with what you leave
behind on the runway. You become a different person every time
you travel this way. There is no avoiding it. The giant 747
banked through thick cloud cover before levelling off on approach
to LAX. The interminable California sunshine split the clouds,
leaving everything covered in a lazy Walt Disney coloured smoggy
glow: the flight crew with their Prada shoes, an American flag
on a thin high pole, a surprisingly realistic looking face on
a soft drink billboard. Great – L.A. again.
There was a woman who worked for the same software
company as my sister. We spoke briefly at the terminal in
Vancouver. She seemed pleased that I was flying out to join
my wife and made me promise to say hello on her behalf. Sure.
Packed into the aircraft they all looked the
same. Or was I one of them? Maybe all travellers were one
species, one uniform tangle of language, pulse, and longing.
I really didn’t want to be in Los Angeles. My wife will be
working, and I’ll be forced into acting as an architect of
leisure, charged with piecing together some form of an afternoon,
every afternoon. I was only going to be in the way.
The line at customs moved pretty quickly, and
before I knew it, I was standing in the center of the airport
proper, staring at the merging lives of strangers, observing
that special manner of coming together that happens only in
terminals, stations, and hubs. Here, in these places, each
person had either just survived something unnatural or had
the good fortune of having been called to meet a friend or
loved one. I suppose this explains why I loved going to the
airport when I didn’t have to get on a plane.
The girl was hard to miss. She was all business,
ponytail and dark glasses, with a way of wearing her uniform.
It hugged her gently at the hips but was still loose enough
to keep you guessing. She had tiny hands, and they were holding
up a sign that read Anios Design Corporation. This is the
company that my wife works for. The company that pays however
much it costs to fly spouses halfway around the world when
the convention goes into extra innings. The company responsible
for the intricate Monopoly house series of bridges and crowns
that filled my jaw, and the company that paid for our new
ranch style house high in the Hollywood Hills, swimming pool,
crown mouldings, and all. It wasn’t a convention this time.
Everything we owned had already been moved in. I’ve seen pictures.
It looks nice.
The car was a magnificent old black Mercedes
limousine, a slow roving beast from another age. It sat against
the curb as if dropped on the earth straight from Frank Capra’s
imagination. “We can reach the hotel in time for the company
dinner, if you like.” She spoke slowly, her voice free from
any recognizable accent. “But I will be forced to exceed the
speed limit as posted.” The car moved through the steady click
and whir of the Los Angeles afternoon, the traffic smooth
“How long have you been doing this?” I asked.
She seemed more like a spy or a hotel concierge than a limousine
“For one year. This car belongs to my father.
He has been driving since before I was born.” She spoke in
a formal way I found comforting. She kept her eyes on the
“How long have you been driving for Anios Design?”
“That company won a bid for my father’s services
many years ago.”
“Yes. A bid.”
“No offence, but aren’t there hundreds of drivers
in Los Angeles?”
“There are thousands.”
“Yet the company bid on your services?”
“That is correct.” After a moment of silence,
she turned her head just slightly. “Have you decided whether
or not you wish to attend the company dinner?”
“One would think that the drivers might be the
ones doing the bidding.”
I was getting used to her moments of silence.
“Did they indicate whether or not I was expected
“That I cannot say. My father’s services are
“This means that the company is unable to influence
the driver, and the driver unable to influence the client,
once the client has been picked up.”
“That seems strange, doesn’t it?”
“I suppose you might call my father’s services,
“And your services?”
“And now mine also, yes. My father has taken
ill, and I have taken his place.”
“I hope he’ll be alright.” I imagined any man
capable of acquiring such a car to be a person worthy of admiration.
“The doctor’s assurances are a comfort to me.
“So the company has no say in where we go, or
what we do?”
“Only pick up and drop off location information
“Pick up is predetermined, arrival is up to you.”
“Each company pays a yearly rate, in advance.”
She punched a few buttons set into a control
panel on the dashboard.
“So if I was to say turn right.”
She turned the car, hard right, the tires screaming
in protest. We were quickly moving away from the freeway.
I thought I might have detected just a hint of a smile cross
her lips, but I wasn’t sure. She took a compact disc from
the glove compartment and slipped it into the stereo, setting
the volume low. It was Steely Dan’s Aja, one of my favourite
albums. For some reason I imagined that this type of synergy
was one of the reasons she and her father did so well. I asked
her to turn up the volume.
In 1957, when Dodger’s owner Walter O’Malley
was preparing to rip the team out of Brooklyn, he took a helicopter
ride over Los Angeles with the County Supervisor . When he
reached Chavez Ravine, a three hundred acre lot surrounded
on all sides by freeways, and situated well within sight of
the Los Angeles skyline, O’Malley is reputed to have pointed
down and asked “can I have that one?” to which the Supervisor
replied, “no problem.” Opened on April 10, 1962, Dodger Stadium
has seen its share of World Series games, National League
pennants, Olympic baseball contests, and, of course, four
Dodger championships, 1963, 1965, 1981, and 1988.
We turned from Glendale onto Sunset, the familiar
music and the smooth soothing motion of the car pushed the
strange sense of dislocation I always experienced in L.A.
far into the back of my mind. We were driving past the point
on Sunset Boulevard, right about where home plate would be
inside the stadium. I was about to ask her to take me to the
hotel when I was overcome with what can only be described
as a wave of heartbreaking nostalgia. Unlike most Major League
parks, baseball is the only sport played at Dodger Stadium.
She pulled up and stopped near the entrance to
the ballpark. An official came running out. I thought he was
going to scream at us to get moving, but he seemed to recognize
the car. He smiled at the driver and handed her what looked
like a parking pass, which she took and placed on the dashboard.
She turned to face me.
“You would like to go in.” She didn’t phrase
it as a question.
“Sure.” I was kidding. The Yankees were in town.
I had been trying to get tickets to the game for months. No
luck. She picked up the car phone and dialled a number. After
a moment she spoke into the receiver. “On behalf of Anios
Design, yes, I will.” There was a pause before she continued,
“I’m sure my father will appreciate that, thank you, no, just
a Baseball ticket, no, for tonight, yes just the one”. I shook
my head and held up two fingers. “Sorry, two. No, that won’t
be necessary; we’re at the stadium now. Not at all, thank
you very much”. She hung up and turned to me. “Do you have
a warmer jacket in your bag?” I nodded.
“You aren’t kidding, are you?”
She shook her head.
“We’re going to the game, aren’t we?”
“And the company’s paying.”
“No. The tickets are a gift, a courtesy to my
Dodger stadium is a classic pitcher’s ballpark.
It’s huge, takes one hell of a touch to knock it out of this
place. We settled into our seats just in time for the first
pitch. Down on the field a game was beginning, but it was
hard to focus on anything other than the sunset. The clouds
were dusty pink, and the purple mountains seemed forever on
the verge of turning gold. The whole sky was an artist’s palette,
each colour alive and indispensable. There were Palm trees,
changing colours with the clouds, visible high above the baselines.
Tomorrow it would be Sunday. I thought of my
wife and the company dinner in progress, of the new house
somewhere out there, not too far from this stadium as a matter
of fact, and I thought of our cramped apartment in Brooklyn,
and then the condo in Vancouver. On Sunday mornings we used
to sit on the balcony and stare out at the ocean. I used to
wake up and start writing until she joined me in my office.
Then we took a shower together and went for a walk. Sometimes
we stayed in bed, made love, read the classics.
The game was close, exciting, our emotions pulled,
our dramatic expectations met and exceeded many times over,
thousands of hands reaching for a foul ball, the rich and
spectacular ceremony of crowds. We had popcorn and peanuts,
and then finally, the thing was done. As the last of the sunlight
slipped from the chrome edges of the seats near the top of
the stadium, a tiny sadness seeped into the nature of things.
The air was moist, and the driver stood up and rubbed her
hands on her uniform, smoothing the fabric along her thighs,
preparing herself, I imagined, for the long drive across town
to my wife’s hotel.
As we ebbed and flowed with the crowd through
the stadium, I felt her hand gently guiding my body, just
the occasional glancing directional touch, but it was reassuring.
She had an understanding of her position, her place in the
world. I envied her. For her, as I imagined it was for her
father, getting the client to their destination was the only
thing. If this meant traffic jams, flat tires, accidents,
strip clubs, drug deals, or baseball games, guiding these
people through each situation was an honourable and difficult
task. I believe that she took this task very seriously. So,
it came as no surprise, when I asked her to take me back to
the airport, she simply turned up the stereo and drove me
back the way we came.
When she dropped me off, I asked her to take
off her sunglasses. Her eyes were beautiful, dark, a rich
and boundless hazel.
“Thank you,” I said. It didn’t feel like enough,
but I knew she wouldn’t accept any kind of gratuity. I pulled
my bag over my shoulder and moved toward the curb. “What are
you going to tell them?” I asked.
“I’ll tell them the truth. I stood here
holding the sign, but nobody came.”
Bibi, Thomas & Evangeline
“Let’s go out.” The thin Korean woman addressed
her image. She was speaking across the room and into the dresser
mirror. She had been thinking, earlier, about the sky in this
black and white Italian film they had seen on television last
night. She wanted to tell her husband about the colour of the
sky, how it had been pink and not blue, but because the film
was in black and white, she didn’t think that he’d understand.
“It was something about Fitzgerald.” Thomas Anderson
was propped up on the bed, his eyes fixed on Bibi’s back.
His wife’s skin was smooth and warm and he thought briefly
about touching her. “What was the name of that Dylan song?”
Thomas had been working on the Times crossword earlier. He
had been trying, without much luck, to determine forty-five
across. “With Mister Jones?”
“It’s called Ballad of a Thin Man.”
“I think that’s too many letters.” Thomas grabbed
the newspaper and his pencil from the nightstand. He tapped
the tip of the mechanical device against his teeth. Bibi always
did the crossword in pen.
“Let’s go out.” She turned to face him and pushed
the newspaper down gently, so that she might look into his
eyes. “We could go to that place by the park? You liked it,
remember? Or by the water.” She grabbed his hand. “Come on,
we’ll go to that place by the water.”
Bibi leapt up from the bed and stormed into the
kitchen. She didn’t sleep at home last night, and here she
was the one doing the storming. She thought about this as
she put on the wig, and she thought about this again as she
picked up a stack of money from the counter. A few days ago
they bet on a horse. Of course the whole thing was her idea.
She thought it might be exciting, so she bet much more than
they could afford. She stuffed the money, their winnings,
into a purple Cheshire Cat cookie jar and smiled, just to
see if she could.
“We can’t go out, not now.” Thomas was sitting
on the edge of the bed.
“Am I too hippy?” Bibi was standing in front
of the dresser mirror. She had changed. She was wearing a
formal black evening gown. Thomas tried to picture what she
had been wearing earlier, but he couldn’t remember.
“That dress is perfect. Have you seen my book?”
“You’re perfect. You look perfect.” Thomas got
up and faced his wife. Over her shoulder he could see his
reflection in the mirror. “What about me?” Bibi looked into
his eyes. She suddenly wished he had an accent, or something
identifiable that she could latch onto. She wasn’t thinking
about this because she was bored or tired with him, probably.
She only wanted to confirm that he was the man she married.
She thought there must be something unique, something very
interesting, something she was forgetting.
“Great.” She forced a smile and moved past him
into the hallway.
“Do we really need to go out?” Thomas directed
his question toward the hall but Bibi was already in the bathroom
working on her make-up. If she heard him, she made no indication.
He sat up and briefly considered tucking his long white dress
shirt into his pants.
“Get me a drink?” Bibi’s voice echoed as she
poked her head out of the bathroom and into the hall.
“What would you like?” Thomas’ voice floated
back, discorporate, from some indeterminate corner of the
“Something, I don’t know, surprise me.” Bibi
pursed her lips and then stretched her mouth as wide as it
could go. She applied her lipstick slowly, methodically. She’d
been thinking about where she wanted to go and where she’d
been. Her hands started shaking. She took a series of deep
breaths. She was flush. She wanted the colour on her lips,
not her face.
“Just tell me what you want.” He stood in the
“Why can’t you just bring me something? That’s
what I want. I want you to bring me something.”
“Well, can you give me a hint?”
“That kind of defeats the purpose Thomas.”
“Fuck Bibi, why won’t you just tell me what you
want. You say pick up some orange juice, I say fine, I pick
some up, but it’s the wrong kind, too much pulp.”
“I like pulp.”
“Then not enough pulp.”
“How is that different?”
“I wanted something specific, when I want something
specific then that’s what I want, that thing.”
“Fine. What do you want to drink?”
Bibi looked at Thomas carefully. He was suddenly
beside her, his shirt still hanging, untucked, over his pants.
“Nothing,” she told him. “I’m not thirsty.”
Thomas walked past his wife, down the hall, and
into the bedroom. He wanted to ask her where she spent the
night, but, instead, he opened the top dresser drawer and
picked out a tie, one he knew she would approve of, then,
like a noose, he wrapped it carefully around his neck.
* * *
It was pouring rain outside and the windshield
wipers thump-clicked a steady beat, their muted clacks and
scrapes a welcome invasion of the car’s silent inner world.
Bibi wondered what things might have been like had they lived
in another time. Did she meet her husband at the wrong moment?
Or was it something else, maybe the place. Where had she first
met Thomas? She should be able to remember that.
“It’s not too late you know.” As he spoke, Thomas
stared straight ahead. He had switched off the windshield
wipers, and was looking out at the blurred neon universe visible
through the Cadillac’s rain-streaked windshield.
She decided that where they met wasn’t important.
She had probably met him too late. After all, wasn’t love
simply a matter of timing? Bibi wondered about these abstract
things until the very real possibility of the evening set
her heart racing once again. She watched her husband as he
stared out the window. Her heartbeat started to return to
normal. She watched him until he blinked.
The two of them were dressed way up. They might
have been ripped from the top of a wedding cake, immaculate,
elegant and formal. Bibi’s eyes were focused on her lap. She
was toying with a beautiful black mask. It was in a classic
catlike style, the type you might find perched atop the fat
and fancy in the most exclusive masquerade ballroom. Suddenly,
she lifted her chin, and looked defiantly over at her husband.
He held her eyes for a moment before turning away. Thomas
felt like the air in the car was suddenly too thin and couldn’t
be counted on to carry true sound. That was fine. He knew
that he wasn’t going to say a word.
Bibi closed her eyes and imagined a pink sky.
When she opened her eyes again, Thomas was wearing a simple
black mask. He adjusted it in the rearview mirror and then
turned to face her. She looked at him and smiled a smile so
warm and true, so true that she wouldn’t be surprised if it
appeared slightly elegiac. But this was something she couldn’t
possible confirm, and anyway, what could she do? Her heart
felt like it was going to burst with the weight of it.
Later that night, when the police were brought
in to question Evangeline, the counter girl from the Donut
Palace , she would tell them that the woman in the mask, the
one who had been pointing the gun at her, was Asian and that
she had the most beautiful smile. Evangeline would go on to
tell them how she understood two things with absolute certainty,
although, later on, when the officer asked her to explain,
she wasn’t able to explain to him exactly how or why she knew
these things. She simply knew without question that the gun
was definitely loaded, and that the masked woman wasn’t there
for the money. When, finally, she was asked about the man,
she told the police that he was tall and that he just stood
by the door, his hands folded loosely in front, as if he were
waiting for the end of the world.