Limousine Ruminations


States of the Union LIMOUSINE RUMINATIONS BY RICHARD J MARGOLIS Two got off in Greenwich, one in Datien The lines are a refrain from a poem 1 shall never finish?one I compulsively knit, unravel...

...States of the Union LIMOUSINE RUMINATIONS BY RICHARD J MARGOLIS Two got off in Greenwich, one in Datien The lines are a refrain from a poem 1 shall never finish?one I compulsively knit, unravel and then knit again while riding the big, baby blue airport limousine from LaGuardia to my town in Connecticut The journey takes about 90 minutes, over the past decade I have made it hundreds of times Poetry, it turns out, is a poor conveyance of limousine reality The words that rhyme with Danen do not ride compatibly with me and my fellow passengers They are too smooth, and pedestrian, to enter our lurching motion-dreams In The Music Man, singer-suitor Harold Hill gropes for words that rhyme with Marian, the sweet but aloof light of his life He tries librarian, because she happens to be one, he also tries carrion, which he says he may turn into if she continues to snub him But he never attempts Danen, possibly because he thinks it a peculiar place to tarry in A poem, Marianne Moore tells us, places real toads in imaginary gardens But in a limousine stuffed with strangers, each toting his own mythic baggage, such fine distinctions tend to get lost On a trip I made a few weeks ago, a young man sitting in the back seat told me he was returning from his annual pilgrimage to Disney World in Orlando, Florida "You'd be surprised how educational it is," he said in response to my unresponsive grunt "It's a real learning experience " I asked him what he liked best about Disney World "That's easy," he said "When I was a kid I used to watch all those Saturday morning Disney cartoons on TV—you know, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto—and they always showed the same beautiful castle at the start of the movie You've seen it7 It's a huge, pink castle with lots of spires and turrets and things like that Well, you can imagine what a thrill it was for me when I walked into Disney World the first time, and there it was—the actual castle " Imaginary turrets in real amusement parks The talkative fellow was an exception Harold Hill, that garrulous salesman of other people's imaginary gardens, would not have known what to make ot our habitually taciturn limousine manners He was accustomed -t-e -the-easy-sociabihty of trains, of men's smokers where he could light up a big cigar and trade stones with his lellow passengers, most of them drummers like himself It coal pushed the engine, talk pushed the minutes That lumbering train, whose chief cargo was unhurried conversation, was the fastest mode of transportation then available, the rails were as fnc-tionless a travelway as engineers had yet devised Not so our limousine, a device of fits and starts, an annoying anti-climax to our just-finished jet journeys Each rider—who only an hour or so before was departing Cleveland, St Louis, Atlanta—stiffens for the long, final passage through Bronx, Westchester and Fairfield counties Each soul strains homeward It is the reason most of us are silent most of the time Once a teenage girl and her mother, both bedecked in pastel pants-suits, boarded the limousine and sat among us tired businessmen hunched in our dark overcoats As we crossed the Whitestone bridge, I heard the daughter whisper to the mother, "They aren't very gala, are they9" She overheard our heavy sighs, we weren't exactly clarion The women bring a loquacious touch of civilization to our limousine —they are unfamiliar with the rules of the cave The other day, an attractive elderly lady locked me in a lengthy discussion about men and their myriad weaknesses She was a widow, she said, in search of a man worthy of succeeding Henry, her late husband The search drew her to Ft Lauderdale, where she bought a condominium and instantly began dating a dapper retired accountant who lived on the floor below "Good," I muttered "That's what I thought, too,' she said "But then I discovered that he was just like all the other men He could only talk about one thing " "What one thing was that9" "Well, what one thing do you think7 He'd call me on the phone after midnight and say things like, 'Come on down, baby, and keep me warm "' "And what did you say7" "I'd say, 'What kind of a gal do you think I am, anyway7' Then I'd hang up " She lacked a suitable condominium to marry in But let me start the trip Usually I am the first rider, decanting as I do more often than not out of "Eastern Shuttle," a dismal vat of a terminal, unencumbered by a single chair to rest on or clock to watch From there the driver and I lurch along the busy parabola of air terminals, stopping to pick up passengers at TWA, United, American, until the 11 seats are filled There is an unpoken etiquette that governs this loading process If two of us occupy a seat, and a third wants to join us, I don't just open the door and slide over to make room for him, no, I get out of the limousine and let the latecomer sit in the middle, where he must straddle the hump in the floor For a long time the women passengers didn't seem to know about this custom that rewarded earlybirds, they would invariably shift to the middle But nowadays, I have noticed, the women have learned to play our endgame—surely a victory for the Movement Other small revolutions have occasionally managed to penetrate our rolling cell In the late '60s many were marching while we were riding—and once in a great while some of us seemed to catch their cadences We would enter into dialogues about peace and war, blacks and whites Nobody raised his voice, nobody implied for a moment that there were fewer than two sides to a question But then, unexpectedly, someone's true feelings might suiface Once, as our limousine was crawling in heavy tralfic toward a toll booth, a Cadillac-full ol blacks breezed past us, making illegal use ot the thruway shoulder "Theie's one in every crowd, said a passenger philosophically "What can you expect7" asked another "Did you see who was in the car7" Given another time and place, I might have answered, but rebuttal was off limousine limits As it happened, though, I got my chance a few miles down the road when another Cadillac cut suddenly in front of us, forcing our driver to brake and swerve "Damn1" said the driver "Did you notice who was driving7" I asked "No Who7" "A white man " Suddenly I was Che Guevara lunching with Rotations The crvn.rights stream ducked underground years ago, and we limousine riders remain lily-white Some of the drivers, though, are black now One of them, a tall young man who wears his cap at a rakish angle, knows me by name and likes to talk "How can a person improve his writing7" he asked me recently 1 gave him useless advice "Practice," I said "It seems as if I can't get the hang of it," he said "When I talk, it's like that water"—he pointed to the Hutchinson River paralleling the highway ?nice and smooth and easy But when I write, it's all rocks and potholes " His thoughts were nigged, his diearns, riparian This young man was both victim and beneficiary of the '60s He had attended Iowa State University at the height of the struggle, and with his friends one day had found himself "sitting m," occupying the administration building and making a shambles of the president's office "What exactly were you protesting about7" I asked him "That's the tunny thing 1 can't remember But when it was all over and things were back to noimal, I could tell 1 was kind ot a marked person So 1 split " He lianstencd to a college in \\ isconsm and finished up there with a degree in education "It didn't take any work to speak of, 1 guess I just got lucky Then I thought I'd stick around and get a master s That was a mistake I flunked out Just couldn't write those papers " "Have you ever thought of going back7" "Yah That's why I'm asking you —how does a person improve his writing7" I am sitting up front with this driver We have stopped at Greenwich, Riverside and Stamford, the rest of the seats are empty now, except for the one far back where an old man dozes intermittently Between snores he joins our conversation "It's a matter of education, he tells the driver "When you were a kid, maybe you went to a no-good school " "That's true," the young man answers "It was what you call a deprived school " "Grammar is very important in education," says the man in back "1 had a teacher in the third grade—Miss Caldwell was her name—who drummed grammar into us That made all the difference " "Yah," says the driver "1 can see what you're getting at " We pull into a dimlv-ht motel parking lot in Danen, the old man's stop "Have a good night," he says "You too," I murmur, and instantly settle into a half-sleep, a twirling twilight of bad rhvmes and social riddles One got o/J m Dm ten?a stuidv octogenunan We are mo\ ing again, easing up the ramp and into the humdrum limbo ot 1-90 I open m\ e\es to sec exit signs drift b\ in the homeward gloaming What was it Same's "ordinals man said in No Emi"1 "Now 1 know what hell is Hell is other people ' Then limbo must be other people s exits Goodnight, othei people, goodnight twilight, goodnighi \oung sieerei collcctoi ol bum sleets 1 ha\c miles to go bcioie I wake...

Vol. 61 • June 1978 • No. 13

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