I had just finished a day working with a friend in his contracting business, and was about to crack a cold one, when a voice called tentatively from my porch.
"Hello...hello? Is anyone home?
I went to the door to find a cabbie co-worker standing there, uncertain if he had the right place.
"Did you know you're due for a Limo run in Stittsville in 27 minutes?"
"Today?" Stupid questions come to me effortlessly.
Stittsville is twenty minutes distant, so I had little time to spare. I showered, scraped a dull razor across my chops, and donned my costume: khaki-coloured casual pants, blue shirt and a tie to match. I was in the Limo and on the highway within 15 minutes, headed for the pickup.
I arrived 15 minutes late at a comfortable suburban home. The lawn was littered with prom dresses, gaudily attired young men, and peacock proud parents milling about snapping pics of their glittering offspring. A black stretch limo sat in the lane, buffed and impressive next to my much older, certainly less impressive, but every bit as long, white Continental. Size matters on Prom Night.
I headed to the porch, through the madding crowd, and came upon a well dressed gent reclining there, sipping from a plastic water bottle. My first impression was that he owned the place. So I offered a greeting, and asked if he knew where I could find the man whose name was on the contract. He looked me up and down, a derisive smile spreading like a disease across his face, and I knew immediately he was the driver of the black stretch in the laneway. I was clearly the loser in this pissing contest.
"Knock on the door. I think they're out back. Someone will help you out."
His tone implied I needed all the help I could muster, masterfully condescending. So I kicked his chair out from beneath his skinny ass, and pounced upon him, my fists pummeling his smug face.
I knocked, and was greeted by the young lady I was contracted to ferry about town for the evening. She was a sweet and gracious girl, respectful despite my patchily-shaved face and modest attire. We settled the outstanding account on the spot, with an extra $40 for me, and a cold bottle of water to boot.
The kids all carried backpacks, which they loaded into the trunk, and as the picture-taking subsided, we climbed aboard, and departed.
They were already mildly greased on punch, but with their parents smiling mugs receding in the rear window, the gloves came off, and the booze started to flow.
We hit the Queensway, Ottawa's main artery, and settled in behind a slow moving compact. The driver, and lone occupant, began waving his arm outside the window. He gave the peace sign I think, waved again, clenched his fist, and my initial amusement gave way to mild aggravation as his antics continued. He was driving well below the limit, but I was momentarily content to remain behind: there was no urgency to "get there", and traffic on the two lanes headed east was heavy enough to forbid my leapfrogging him. But the arm gestures continued, and the space in front of him had grown enough to make passing a necessity. I picked my spot, swung the derelict beast into the passing lane, and, as I overtook him, turned to glance at the face belonging to the highly animated arm. It was my boss! He'd been conducting that little symphony for my benefit, and was probably just as aggravated as he'd been aggravating. I tossed him a wave, and sped past, doubtless annoying him further.
I dropped them off on a side street beside the hall, eschewing the spectacle of red-carpet service: several cop cars parked out front were making a gloriously cliche limo-emergence difficult, and all of my charges were under-aged by at least a year. The kids seemed not to mind, and we arranged to meet three hours later.
Three hours later.
My charges once again hopped aboard, and we headed for the University of Ottawa, where recently-vacated student residences were rented for the night. One couple remained behind while the rest headed inside to change. I was reading a magazine, straining my eyes in the dim light, when the car began rocking side to side. A mirror check ruled against an outside agent. The rocking continued, subsided, continued again, and went on, impressively I thought, for about fifteen minutes. I felt a pang of nostalgia for the glory days of my youth.
Music was blaring from a speaker inconceivably mounted in the front of the limo, and pointed towards the rear compartment, a customized setup that couldn't be more impressively idiotic. Even were the music not the utterly mind-numbing crap kids have developed an ear for, it would've proved a painful listen. I have no tolerance for music devoid of melody, lyrical interest, some degree of instrumental prowess and a dash of originality, four facets modern pop avoids with remarkable consistency. The more repetitive and predictable the sound, the higher it scores on the pop charts. Modern popular music is, by and large, dreck.
The kids boarded once again, complained loudly about the smell of consummated lust pervading the limo, and chided the couple responsible for their lack of restraint. I took directions through the divider, closed it, and dropped them off at a bar in Aylmer at midnight. We had crossed into the province of Quebec, where the drinking age is 18. By 12:30am, they were back aboard, demanding a ride to Addictions, a nightclub in Hull where one is encouraged, ostensibly, to indulge habitually in compulsive behaviour. The location triggered a mixed-bag of memories: it was a bar I'd been beaten up in by bouncers some 25 years before. Anglo's in Hull were once popular targets for group attacks by bouncers who, meatheads though they were, could nonetheless appreciate five to one odds. The cops always sided with their French brethren when it came time to take out the English trash. Whether things have changed much I don't know, but my young charges returned to the limo, happily none the worse for wear.
I returned the kids to the university dorms, and bade them all good night. Oddly, and sweetly, they all gathered around, shook my hand warmly, and thanked me genuinely for my efforts. They pressed a wad of bills into my hand, an additional gratuity that was more than double the earlier one, and expressed hope that it was enough, uncertain what amount was acceptable. They then decided the car needed cleaning. They gathered up all accumulated bottles and garbage, thanked me again, and waved as I pulled out, suddenly impressed as hell with the job their parents had done.