I pick up a guy on the south side of the city. It’s snowing. He gets in the car and smells like pot.
“Hey, thanks, man. How are you?” he asks, and his voice is gravel, a dead impersonation of BB King. I wonder if he sings the blues. He certainly speaks them.
“I’m good, I’m good,” I say, confirming his destination, and we pull onto Queen Street, head north. He’s a chatty guy for the first minute, then gets a phone call and quiets down after that.
The snow is blustery. The day is cold and windy. We were supposed to get a foot of snow but all we have are wet roads.
“How about that snow, man?” he asks, laughing. “I woke up this morning and couldn’t believe it. Nothing but cold water.”
“That’s about the best way of saying it.”
He laughs again, gritty and deep.
“Did you grow up around here?” I ask him.
“Me? No. I’ve only been here for about five years. I grew up in New York City, trained as a tradesman.”
“So how’d you end up here?”
He grimaces. “I was working for this contractor, and all of his tools got stolen. He couldn’t afford to replace them all, so he only kept on the old-timers. I had to find something else. Had some friends here in Lancaster and they were on my case all the time about moving here. They found me some work, so I came.”
We drive for a moment, north on Queen Street. It’s cold, and the sun is in and out. People walk as fast as they can from here to there, eager to cross the street, eager to get where they’re going.
“Now I’ve got a girlfriend here, and a kid.”
“Congrats,” I say.
He smiles. “Funny story. I was sure we were having a boy. Positive. And that’s all I wanted, a boy. So, we were in the doctor’s office and he asks if we want to know the baby’s sex. ‘Let’s find out,’ my girlfriend said. Well, the doctor knew I wanted a boy—I had been telling him all about the entire appointment, how I knew it was a boy. He looked at us and said, ‘It’s a boy!’ Then he laughed. ‘Just kidding,’ he said. ‘You’re having a girl.’ I almost punched him in the face. I told him if he was younger, I would have knocked him down. Then, I sat there and cried like a baby.”
“You did!” I exclaimed, laughing. He was laughing, too.
“I did. Man, I bawled. But the thing was, I just couldn’t imagine raising a girl. I thought my heart would break. I thought, if she falls off her bike, I’ll pick that bike up and break it in half. If someone treats her bad, I’ll kill ‘em. I just didn’t think I could take it.”
The snow comes again, flurries, sweeping up over the front end of the car like stars in space.
“Now, she probably has you wrapped around her little finger.”
“She does. That she does.”