Miami: Getting There

Church

The driver signals to me, but the windows of his cab are tinted so dark I can hardly see. He waves me in, once and then again, and finally I pull the door open. I have seen windows like this before — in crime thrillers.

“The Loews Hotel, please,” I say, dropping my bag at my feet.

The driver pauses. “Which one?”

“Uh…” I have just gotten off the flight.

“Miami Beach?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say, too tired to wrangle my phone out of my bag, to inspect one of the 40 printouts I have stuffed into my purse, a wrinkled pile of affirmations. At this hour, I am willing to take a chance on what sounds correct.

Miami at night in December between the airport and the beach looks like a tropical wasteland, a place perpetually post-hurricane; the tops of the palm trees a little mussed, like a supermodel with bedhead. The equipment at the cruise terminal sticks up into the air like overturned spiders.

We pull up to a toll booth and the woman inside laughs.

“Busy night?”

“You’ve seen me four times tonight,” says the driver.

I try to imagine that, the night of back and forth from a place you didn’t come from and a place you aren’t going to stay.

The cab driver wears a straw fedora. When I turn my head for a moment, I see a stack of them – in varying sizes and with different color bands – in the back window. The one on his head is just a single piece in the collection, the Wednesday night, post-midnight special. The cab smells. The sandalwood and vanilla comes first – a wafting cloud of it, newly atomized from whatever spray bottle the driver has just whisked out of sight. Then suntan lotion, and then, creeping from the very corners of the cab, a distinct whiff of dirty socks.

My hotel emerges from the darkness in an explosion of falling water and towering palms, all of it shimmering in gold spotlights. The driver pulls into the long half-moon of the driveway. He writes a receipt on a greasy slip of paper with a pen he borrows from me. The bellboy smiles in a perfectly starched uniform, even after midnight, even though a breeze is blowing cold and ominous under the heat. Part of me wants nothing more than to find my hotel room, the firm mattress and scented sheets, the quiet whisper of the automatic fan. And part of me wants to stay to the driver, “You know what? Forget this. Take me wherever you want.”

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