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Deadhead Driver photo

Your Uber arrives and now you remember you’re not wearing any underwear. The Tesla’s butterfly doors swing open and you don’t know how to sit down without flashing the driver. It’s inconsequential if you do.

“For Jesse?” he asks.

You say yes but the answer is no. Jesse ordered the Uber for you a few minutes ago from the fleeting comfort of his bed. Where you were. Now you hold onto yesterday’s skirt as wind breezes between your legs without hair.

You climb into the passenger seat and repeat to yourself “no birth, no death.”

The driver interrupts your self-soothing mantra. “You want a cigarette?”

You say yes but the answer is no. “Sugar Magnolia” plays on the radio and a narrow cylinder full of tobacco rests between your lips. You light it up and forget about the popcorn lung your doctor warned you about. Head's all empty and I don't care. You’re starting to feel calmer even though it’s killing you. “You like Jerry Garcia?” the driver asks. Takes the wheel when I'm seeing double / Pays my ticket when I speed.

You slide your iPhone out of your skirt’s pocket. “Yeah he’s great.” Your last search on Google pops up in purple below the bar: ‘symptoms of a hemorrhoid.’ You delete your intrusive thoughts. You begin to type ‘who is jerry garcia?’ until your phone dies. It doesn’t matter all you got was ‘who’ because the driver tells you “we’re listening to him now.” Come on honey, come along with me.

You're his passenger princess and he’s the king behind the wheel. Just for this one ride. He turns the volume dial way up. Crazy in the sunlight yes indeed. You notice his knuckles have letters on them but only see a gothic F. You think his hairy fingers spell FREE. He rests his tubby palm on the gear shift. His knuckles spell FEAR. A heart thumps with pure adrenaline. It's yours. He tells you he’s taking you on a sonic journey. “This is cool” you say but don’t mean it. You accentuate oooo in cool.

“You know, I chose an uncluttered simple life,” he says.

You say WHAT!

He turns Jerry down on the radio with care. “Hey. I chose. An uncluttered. Simple. Life.” He articulates each word slowly and contained like you're the system behind a 1-800 number computing human phrases. But you don’t know anything about this guy, about this life. You look behind the seat. You're blind for a second from the sun. You deflect your eyes to the backseat floor. Littered with concert posters.

“What are these signs?” you ask.

“They’re not signs, but works of art.” He tells you they’re drawn by hand. “My hand.”

You glance at Mr. FEAR knuckles with narrow eyes. “Wow, all by hand.”

His car stops at a red light. The Tesla’s automated but he sighs to signal exhaustion. The labor he's putting in this morning. “Man, San Francisco holds a special place in hell,” he says. “There’s so much trash on the road.” You ask why the city doesn’t pick it up. New and old politics are crumbling, he says. And a trivialization process begins. Word on the street, he says. You wonder if your driver microdosed this morning. If you're ignorant about local politics. Both are likely true.

He sounds so cryptic. You feel so sleepy. You'd fall asleep right there if it wasn't for the ache in your asshole. Pain works better than caffeine to keep you awake. But you tell him “I don’t follow ya, man.” He spits out the window and says “the government doesn't do shit.” You wonder what they do. He tells you they challenge individuals to follow their own moral conviction. The road wasn’t laid out for him, he says. But to you, the unpaved road is the American Dream.“Isn’t that what everyone wants?” you ask.

He says he chased a dream all right. He was a Deadhead. He moved around with the sets. “It was a gathering of the tribes for a human to be in.” You have no fucking clue about Deadheads. You’re a baby. You were born after 2000. Most of the Deadheads were probably dead before you were born. You’d Google them if you could.

Instead you cross your deliberately skinny thighs and say “oh really.”

“Yeah, it was during the war.” He said no to the draft. “I contradicted the idea that not following the draft is unmanly.”

You wonder about the contradictions. You wonder about the war. You decide to tell him you don’t need a gun to be a man.

“Yeah man,” he says. You feel an instant, unexpected kinship.

He says he still wanted to be an active participant in his life. 

“Well now you’re in the driver's seat,” you say.

“Old death, new death. That’s what life is all about.” He chuckles. Now you pull up to your stepmom's house. The butterfly doors fly up again, at last. You look over at him. You don’t want to get out. He pounds his two fists together so you see both sets of knuckles. FEAR-LESS. Now you look outside, beyond the Tesla. The sun toasts your face. You feel alive.