The instant Jessie was clear of the car, Lope jammed his foot down on the gas pedal. The tires of the cab spun, trying to gain purchase on the asphalt. Smoke billowed around us. The tires finally caught, and the car lurched forward. Of course, we were slammed backwards into our seats.
“Damnit, Lope, you don’t have ten minutes, you have an hour. An hour to drive about four miles. Slow the fuck down!,” Moira leaned forward to shout at him.
“I don’t wanna miss the deadline!,” Lope yelled over his shoulder. “I don’t wanna die in Washington Heights!”
Moira glared at me. “Well, he has more sense than all of us put together, obviously.” She crossed her arms to show us how cross she felt inside, like we needed a visual aid.
We couldn’t see much of the city when we were going eighty miles an hour. I was getting really annoyed with Lope. He wasn’t driving us just for the sake of a carton of cigarettes, I knew. Lope was a genuinely nice person. I also knew we weren’t on a sightseeing tour. No need for Lope to drive at a funereal pace and point out the few landmarks that existed about Harlem. But, I couldn’t see what was going on around us. I couldn’t get a sense of how the area was doing. I couldn’t get a feeling for how people were behaving and how desperate they had become. Things were just going by in a blur.
I couldn’t see street signs, either. I couldn’t even see signs as a blur. We were going so fast that street signs were un-seeable. Not knowing where we were was a huge problem. “Lope,” I shouted, “we need to get off Broadway, soon. We want to avoid 17…”
I didn’t get to finish the number, because there we were, at 173th St. The Loew’s 175th was right ahead of us, still demolished, thankfully. I might have gone mad right there if the old movie palace had somehow been restored to its former glory, or if it had never been destroyed at all and I’d imagined everything.
There was activity there. A lot of activity. Lope’s taxi had come to a total stop in the middle of the street. We were all staring at the people who were milling around the old movie palace. Some of them stopped to stare back at us, and Lope started rolling, again. We couldn’t afford to just sit until the people decided it might be good to over-run us.
As we drove slowly past, we saw that people were carrying bodies to the hole in the ground that had been Loew’s 175th St. theatre. I wondered if it was the neighborhood’s version of a Burning Pit. But, this pit was different.
The Burning Pit was a functional body dispose-all at best, a means of influenced mass suicide at worst. The people at this pit had an air of sorrow and reverence about them. It was their cemetery. They needed to dispose of their dead just as much as the people downtown had, but they were doing it in the way that people had always disposed of their dead before a mouse had warped us all. They weren’t just dumping bodies. They were seeing off members of their families, born and adopted. They were leaving little tokens and wilted flowers and their tears.
“Keep going, Lope,” Jill said. “We shouldn’t watch this like it’s a show. Keep going.” Lope nodded and made a left hand turn.
The rest of the ride to my building was uneventful. We didn’t see many people on the streets after we got a few blocks away from the Loew’s 175th St. It would have been creepier, but my neighborhood rarely buzzed. Even the closed businesses weren’t chilling. I’d gotten home too late to pick up a loaf of bread or a soda many times, over the years. Washington Heights went to bed early.
I directed Lope to my building and he pulled to the curb. “Last stop, kiddos,” he said.
We dis-encabbed, grabbed our stuff from the trunk, and paid Lope in cigarettes. Jill tipped him with a kiss on the cheek. Lope grinned at us, tooted his horn, and roared back toward Harlem.
We stood there until we couldn’t see his tail lights, anymore. That might have been the last car ride any of us would ever have. Then we climbed the steps to my building and went inside.