I was real broke. Too broke for gas. But I hadn’t come all the way to California just to sit in one place, so I advertised on Craigslist rideshare.
Someone called. My boyfriend Irish needs a ride, she said. In what seemed a fortuitous coincidence, the boyfriend needed to go from Arcata, the small and lawless town where I wanted to weekend, to Sebastapol, the ritzy town where I had finally landed some work. Sunday morning I would convey the boyfriend along the path from my depravity to my entrepreneurship, in exchange for the gas money suddenly far too dear.
All weekend long the phone blew up with multiple 707 numbers, none of them the actual passenger. The girlfriend called at least twice each day to check in. Then, late on Saturday, I received a phone call from a manic-sounding older lady. “I’m Irish’s landlord, and I just want to say you are doing a very good deed driving Irish to Sebastapol to see his girlfriend. He’s such a nice boy and he’s been through so much. But he’s really a good kid, he really is.”
My main concern with Craigslist rideshare would be that it would be the perfect arena for a crazy psycho to get himself into a car with a defenseless woman or genderless prey of his or her choice. I didn’t know what to make of this hypothetical male passenger with multiple female references calling from either end of the ride. I couldn’t tell whether I should be reassured or alarmed by this, but between the hot tubs, libations and bearded men of Arcata I didn’t really have time to give it much thought.
Sunday morning dawned rainy beyond the usual gentle Humboldt fog. The weather reported hazardous warnings the length of Highway 101. But the client in Sebastapol was the first to pay my New York rates. Just a dozen more like them and I wouldn’t be broke in California anymore. I would be there at two come hell or literal high water.
I texted the landlady and pulled up in front the address. Irish emerged into the downpour.
If you could draw a picture of the exact specimen of stranger you would most prefer not to spend six hours alone in your vehicle with, this individual embodied it. He was huge, thick-necked. Seriously tattooed beyond the borders of his hoodie, in the areas in which even my most seriously tattooed friends eschew tattoos. Facially pierced to a degree even my most seriously facially pierced friends do not pierce.
Still, I told myself. Weren’t serial killers were usually normal-looking and somewhat charming? And punks were always the nicest people. Still, some other part of myself weighed in, there was no denying that this guy was one scary-looking motherfucker.
When he got in the car, I realized why this fellow was not making his own phone calls. Verbal communication was not his strength.
“Do you like bluegrass?” I asked, thumb scrabbling on the iPhone.
“What is that,” he said, with no inflection.
I started driving into the storm.
“Is your name Irish because you’re Irish?” I asked, trying to make conversation.
“No,” said Irish.
We drove on in silence. I kept my eyes on the road, which at this point resembled an Impressionist painting. Somewhere in southern Humboldt, we hit the center of the storm. Lightning, thunder, a furious and futile whipping of wipers. We rolled through the accumulating water, fingers gripping the wheel, tires gripping the ground. It did not occur to me pull over.
When the worst of it passed, I let out a breath. “Whoa,” I said. “That was crazy.”
“At least,” said Irish, “neither of us had to go through that alone.”