I pulled around the back of the bank and no one was there. I drove around one more time and there he was, something out of nothing, a person where before there was only air. He climbed into the front seat and with a booming radio voice said, “Alright! Alright!” as if prepared to embark on a great adventure. He looked like Garrison Keillor, and when he spoke it was so loud that his voice box creaked under the strain of the performance.
“This car doesn’t go 160, does it?” he asked, enunciating each word before laughing loudly, pointing at the oversized speedometer.
“Oh, I doubt it,” I said, and he laughed again, as if we were co-conspirators in unveiling the manufacturer’s deceit. He had sold stock in a company, he said, and he had picked up the check at the bank where I picked him up, and now he had to drive thirty minutes to his own bank to deposit this paper check. He couldn’t believe he had to take this piece of paper, this piece of antiquity, all the way to his bank. It was preposterous.
He was a nice man, even if he was loud, and also, as I soon discovered, intoxicated. He had decided to move west, out to a state where things were wide open, where he had family, where he could find a better-paying job. He had grown up in the dust bowl, the world his oyster.
“You can’t understand it,” he said, enunciating his t’s, the sheer volume of his voice convincing me. “I left the house in the morning and played in the wilderness all day. There’s nothing like it for today’s children. Nothing.” His grand-standing diction reminded me of one of those revival preachers.
Usually, when I’m driving, I don’t talk most of the time, but I could tell he wanted to. He quivered in the silence like an idle race horse. So I asked him questions, floated them to him in ways that were easy for him to grab onto, and he talked the entire time, and I became convinced he would have carried on this way whether or not I was listening, whether or not I was even there. Thirty minutes to his bank, a ten-minute wait, and thirty minutes home.
After an hour, I dropped him off in the same parking lot where we had started.
“I always like to tip drivers well, especially the ones who listen to me talk,” he said, boisterous, happy with his own generosity. “I always give those drivers $5.” He thumbed through a wad of bills, twenties first, then tens. There were no fives. He hesitated, lingering on a $10 bill, passing it by. He had two $1 bills. He pulled them out. He hesitated again.
“Here you go,” he said, dropping the bills onto my seat.