The Wages of Fear

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Two brave souls, one ready to blow.

The Film: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 South American suspense ride

The Potable: A series of PBRs and Flying Dogs, as well as an unknown, neon green shot

“Take a left here,” I told my Lyft driver. “Down the alley. No – the other alley.” He turned sharp, smashing an empty Bud Light crate and flinging me against the door. “Sir?” he asked, looking back over his shoulder. A drop of sweat ran along his nose. His concern was justified. When he picked me up in front of the 9:30 Club five minutes prior, he had been given explicit instructions. The doorman, ushering me through the rain, had patted me on the back and kept me from tripping over an empty bike rack as he opened the car door. A dark blue BMW X3. I fell sideways across the backseat, burped, and thanked him for the wrist band. “Take it easy with this one,” he told the driver.

“Keep going,” I told the driver as we sat we sat with the engine and meter running in the alleyway. “Sir, if you’re going to be sick, maybe you should – “ “I’ll have plenty of time for rest when I’m dead.” “What?” “Keep going!” I glanced out the window.

“We’ve many miles yet to go.”

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Connecticut Avenue, a particularly treacherous stretch north of Dupont Circle. The pavement is uneven and littered with potholes, some small, some large enough to rattle the car. I could feel him swerving to avoid the bumps, a tactic that frankly made things worse, partly because it was unsuccessful; the tire dipped into an especially deep crater and I felt my jowls quiver. I told the driver to hurry, to get me home, and he screamed back that he couldn’t go any faster. “Speed cameras. They’ve got one every 200 feet!” I told him I wouldn’t pay the ticket, I called him Kevin, and I did my best to keep my eyes closed.

In Georgetown, traffic stalled because of a police presence. Two cruisers had pulled over a drunk driver on M Street, and I rolled down my window to shake my head at him as we approached. “Get it together, dude,” I mumbled, and then asked my driver to stop so we could bum a cigarette from one of the officers. But then I felt something building. A thickening taste in the back of my mouth. I reached for my throat and the driver looked back in panic, fishing an empty Wendy’s bag from the floor.

“Hold it or bag it,” he shouted. “Hold it or bag it.” An officer aimed his flashlight at our car and my driver instinctively placed his hands at 10 and 2 while craning his neck to keep an eye on me.

“Move it or lose it, Kevin,” I said. “I’m fine.” I reached out the window to high-five the cop. The officer did not reciprocate, so I slapped the ass of a parked Ford Fiesta, instead.

We rode on through the night. I cried. I told him what a good driver he was. He told me about his daughter, that she was just finishing her freshman year at George Washington University, studying medicine. “They grow up fast,” I said, thinking of myself.

Capitol Hill. He slammed on the brakes suddenly. I asked what happened. “Fucking bus,” he said. “Hold it together, hold it together.” I told him this was it, “you blew it, Kevin,” and leaned my head out the window. But nothing happened, the rain against the back of my head restoring me for the moment. The night felt brand new, as if the sun had only just set. I could do anything, I thought, certainly ride across town without ralphing. In fact, I told the driver, I could go for a beer. Wouldn’t he like a pint? I knew a lovely new sour out of Oregon, my treat, of course. I accidently rolled the window up against my neck and he sped past the bus as I shouted obscenities at who I assumed was a senator.

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At last, we reached my home near the National Cathedral. Through the rain I saw the warm, non judgemental glow of my building lobby. I looked up to thank my driver, but he was gone, the front seat empty. A moment later, my door opened, and there he stood, helping me to my feet. Why does he do this, I wondered. Risk his upholstery to ferry me across town? But of course the answer is obvious. His daughter. His family. Himself. Capitalism can be unforgiving, and these are the indignities we suffer to ensure that our loved ones and ourselves survive. “GWU’s a good school,” I said. He smiled, patted me on the back, and I ran into my apartment building.

I slunk into my living room the next morning more hungover than I’ve ever been. With the blinds drawn, I sat in my recliner to watch Clouzot’s gripping The Wages of Fear, only to have one arm of the chair break apart. Spread-eagled on the floor, I sighed; this was a long time coming. I’d seen the signs, the cracking leather, but I’d done nothing. My phone buzzed and I checked my email to find a Lyft receipt for $64.75. It seems my driver did not take the most direct route.

Verdict: edge of my seat

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