The last Friday of August, summer coming to an end, fresh corn and ripe tomatoes still abundant at the market, new radishes in bunches near string beans and purple bell peppers and, taking over as market stars, the farmer’s favorite, rosy, sweet crab apples, here today, gone tomorrow. I buy two pounds and plan to bring most as a guest gift at Sunday’s lunch. But with that, I’ve done it again, bought more than I can carry home. I’ll have to take a taxi. The university’s systems block ride-hailing in its immediate area and in its protecting zone Haitian drivers still wait for business near the bank where I set down my bag of produce and get cash at the ATM. I’ve overspent at the market before and some taxi drivers recognize me, know that I’m here with market produce and know where to take me home. I know some of their names but today the man who gestures me to the cab I am to take shepherds me to a driver new to me and I to him.
My elderly driver doesn’t recognize where I want to go. Confident in error, he takes me for a woman he sometimes drives to Boston and rounds the corner to drive to her address. I suppose all white old ladies look alike to him. In a clear voice I repeat my address in Cambridge, and he suggests another incorrect address. I say my address again and that we need Mass Ave and should turn left. I wonder about his hearing and whether my British accent confuses him. We turn back to Mass Ave, he has no GPS and I give him a landmark and street name. In a minute or two, he tells me he is re-setting the meter. I will not have to pay for his error.
He follows the route I suggest and soon recognizes where we are and names the turn I ask for. But he does not know this next stretch, “Please turn right at the Stop sign.” He slows down, peers at the street ahead and sounding relieved, says, ”I see it,” and turns right. After this block, there’s an intersection and quick turn. He recognizes this part and foretells the street we want but when we make the turn, he loses confidence and slows down again. Another confusing fragment of memory? “A bit further.” We drive on, he recovers and foretells the following intersection. Then we come to my street. He slows, “Right or left?” “Left, please.” He makes the turn, “Thank you. That’s my door.”
I hand him a $20 bill and he waits. “Please give me $10 change.” My usual fare. If the driver has been efficient, the tip is generous., if not, not. Today traffic is light and his re-setting the meter has brought the cost down further. He gives me a $10 bill and I climb out. He is at the door, waits for me to reach the curb, and hands me my bag of produce. “Thank you.” “Thank you.” Two old people patient with each other. It has not been an easy ride, but we’ve made it.
“I used to live near here,” he confides, and gives me the name of his street. It’s a long street. Near here, veterans bought small houses after World War II. I hear that one house will soon be demolished and condos will tower over those that remain. A block of condos already fills in the parking lot across from the century-old hardware store that used to serve the neighborhood. Its basement of tools and spare parts are still a local legend. My downstairs neighbor kept a set of keys there for workmen who needed access and at the closing when she sold her condo and the lawyers said nothing could proceed without a new fire alarm, the owner and an assistant entered, installed the alarm, and called the lawyers to say the closing could continue. Next weekend there’ll be a 10k race named for the cashier and maven who worked there until cancer stopped her three years ago. That street continues to the other side of the tracks and when I moved here twenty-three years ago, that side was still home to Haitian and Irish immigrants, French Canadians and African Americans from the South. Also to the orphanage, the slaughterhouse and the Catholic cemetery. On both sides of the tracks, some triple-deckers still shelter multiple generations of one family. I do not ask my driver which side of the tracks he lived in or where he lives now.
I remember the fares he confuses and half-recalls. We have both lived long histories and know the city’s transformations. I believe that like me, he was born in another country. We part like neighbors who have known each other many years and may yet meet again.