New Year's Eve is the busiest night of the year in a cab. It is a different level of crazy. Around 11:30 I was clear of all my calls and had a brief moment to hit a gas station to use the restroom and get a coffee. Shortly before midnight my paging system alerted me to a fare to pick from the west side about a mile away from me going to the train station. The train station? At midnight? Night was already weird, so why not?
I pulled up to the house. A young african american comes out with a pie tin in a plastic bag. He is gingerly holding it as he gets in my cab. I ask him if he's really going to Union Station. He says,"Look, I only got ten bucks. I'm just trying to get home. Can you just get me as close as ten bucks will get me?" I ask him his address, he gives it. I know the street. I know the neighborhood. I also know ten dollars puts him just shy of a mile from home in a neighborhood where idiots think shooting guns at the stroke of midnight is a good idea and swell tradition. He's a kid with a pie.
I ask him about the pie. He says its for his mom and "auntie". I can smell the fruit, it's still warm. I hit the meter, put the cab in drive and say, "You are going home."
"I only got ten bucks, man."
"I don't care, I'll cover the difference, it's New Year's, man."
We drive and make small talk. The radio dj at a party in downtown Chicago starts the countdown at 15 seconds. We stop talking as I cross the ancient iron bridge to the east side. At the count of zero we hear the celebration on the radio and a few gunshots in the night. We are quiet and alone together. I turn off the radio. We both need the silence. I looked back at him in the rear view mirror. We made eye contact and he nodded slightly. It is hard to describe what was there, but it was tangible. Neither of us were where we wanted to be in life and we did not see the next year being much different. But we were together and we understood it. We survived and we will survive. It was the nod that people who have known each other for years share. It is the nod that is a conversation. Nothing else is needed. We saw each other.
Two minutes later I pulled into the alley behind his house. He gave me his ten dollars and I took two dollars out of my wallet and put it into my cash bag to cover the rest of his fare.
I looked at him and said,"Happy New Year Trayvel."
"Thanks for getting me home. My name is Trayvon."
I waited for him to get in his house door before driving off to the casino for my next fare.
This time. This night. Trayvon got home. All he wanted to do was go home.