A heavy-set man in a dusty uniform tapped me on the shoulder. “Where’s the rest of you?”
I looked down to see if I was missing my skirt, but no; it was still there. It dawned on me that he was the shuttle driver, and he meant where was my luggage?
“Oh, it didn’t arrive,” I said. “They think it may be in Philadelphia, but no one really knows.”
“Well all right then,” he said. “Get on in.”
There was a note of belligerence in his voice: something crazed and possibly homicidal. I got in.
Then he began driving in circles around LAX, too fast.
“I gotta go round a coupla times,” he announced from his seat: fuzzy dinosaurs dangling above his head, crumpled take-out coffee cups on the tray beside him and others crushed underfoot, Styrofoam clamshell containers, smeared napkins and a walkie-talkie, an antique-looking cell phone.
He slowed when he approached a pick-up point, but the ticket agent shook her head and waved him on. He cursed and accelerated away.
“I gotta get one more fare,” he shouted. “At least. Otherwise. You think you’re smart.”
I tried to protest that I didn’t, particularly, but he continued. “Do some math for me. If you give me fourteen dollars and they take seven, and I gotta pay seven for gas—how much I got left? Huh?”
He took the corner in a wide arc, ignoring the lane markings. Horns blared.
“Uh,” I said. “Zero?”
“Zero is right!” He whacked his palm on the dashboard. “That’s why I gotta keep going round. You feel me?”
“I feel you,” I said, feeling slightly nauseated. “I don’t mind.”
As a distraction I turned my thoughts to my suitcase, which had been misplaced (not lost, I hoped). I had not put any essential supplies in my carry-on, an omission that had clearly tempted the luggage gods. Every vital thing in a checked bag from Toronto with a connecting flight through a northeastern U.S. city in the depth of winter . . .
“What you think I get her a pot,” the driver barked.
“What’s that now?”
“For Valentine’s Day.”
“Oh, Valentine’s Day. I’d forgotten about that.”
“It’s today,” he said. “I guess you’re not expecting anything.”
His tone was accusatory, as though this were my fault, but I let it slide. It was probably true anyway.
“A pot,” he repeated. “That’s a good gift right.”
“You mean like a potted plant, do you? Instead of flowers?”
“No!” he screamed, bludgeoning the steering wheel as he slowed and then careened away from another empty pick-up point. “A big red pot—with a chicken in it.”
“How often have you said to yourself, I need a good big red”—he spread his arms out over the steering wheel, presumably to show the dimensions of this vessel—“pot? You cook, right?”
“That is to say not really, no, in the technical sense, I’d say not much.”
He slammed the steering wheel again. “Well that’s why you’ve never thought of it.”
He braked sharply and pounded on the horn. Another pick-up point. No one.
“But still, you think it’s a good idea.” Pause. “Well?”
“Uh,” I said. “That depends. You say there’s a chicken in it?”
“A cooked chicken?”
“Not a cooked chicken. A frozen chicken. It’s a nice . . . big . . . frozen . . . chicken!”
“Um . . . in that case I don’t know.” The shuttle lurched and I gripped my stomach. “She’s supposed to cook it for you, is that the subtext?”
“Hey—lady. Anyone would be happy with that. It’s a big, red—”
“Pot, yes,” I said desperately, as we braked and rocketed away from another stop. The face of the ticket agent blurred past.
I braced myself in my seat. A glittering orange sun was settling between the palm trees and the parking garages, and we were circling, again.