Monday, December 24, 2007

To Live and Drive in L.A.

Click above and check out my story about carriage driving at the "Get Satisfied" website. Click on my name in the lefthand column. Or read below!

It's all about simplifying your life. And Merry Christmas!

To Live and Drive in L.A.
By Juliet Johnson

I drive a horse-drawn carriage in Los Angeles, for my newly-started wedding carriage business. Today someone has rented the carriage to propose to his girlfriend in Pasadena. I angle the huge white horse Clyde out into traffic, pulling our decorated white carriage. It’s a Sunday afternoon. We’re picking up the groom around the corner from where he’s going to surprise his girlfriend and ask her to marry him.

Old people always smile at the carriage and big old Clyde’s head. They’re in the crosswalk, or on the sidewalk, bent over, they look up at me like elves or trolls, smiling. Look, the ice man is here.

The groom appears. He’s Chinese.
“Hi, I’m David,” he offers his hand. “My sister arranged all this.” He looks rushed. “This is a nice carriage.” He’s carrying a large bundle of exotic white flowers. His cell phone rings. It looks expensive. He talks in Chinese. I know he’s not faking it, but it still seems like showing off. He covers the receiver.
“I flew in from Asia last night just for this. I was in Singapore. I was going to rent a helicopter.”
“I thought, you know, fly in on a helicopter. But my sister said horse drawn carriage.”
Yeah. You are proposing to a GIRL. Nine year old boy, I’d go with the helicopter. Maybe shooting people as you come flying down, nice touch.
He looks at the carriage. “This is a great business. Where’s the most popular place you go for weddings?”
I’ve only done three other jobs.
“People get married everywhere. Anywhere they call, we go.”
He’s nervous. Now I’m nervous. I’m thinking what I’ve been thinking since his sister Kwan first emailed me and booked this job. What if she says no? I have to know the details.
“Do you live in Singapore?”
He nods.
“What do you do?”
“Telecommunications.” He then says some vague business stuff to hide the fact that he’s actually a huge Chinese porn star.
“That must keep you busy,” I say.
“Very. We’re going to get married, and live in Shanghai.”
God, I hope she says yes.
“How long have you been dating?” I ask hopefully.
“Nine months.”
His cell phone rings again. He’s gotten the go ahead. He gets into the carriage.
We go around the corner.
I realize on this job that I get to intimately witness pivotal points in people’s lives. We turn the corner and this guy is going to be getting married. Or tragically rebuffed in front of all his friends and me and Clyde.
We get to the busy corner where the restaurant is, and a bunch of Chinese people are standing in the courtyard. Suddenly everyone’s looking toward us and screaming. David looks at me, clutching the flowers. Scared.
The girl I identify as the girlfriend Jenny comes from between people, sees the carriage and David and her hand goes to her mouth. Her face squeezes up and she starts to cry. It’s so beautiful that I almost start to cry. David leaps down to her, she’s paralyzed as he sweeps in, hands her the flowers and hugs her.
I’m guessing Jenny has said yes, she had to say yes.

People stop to look at Clyde, in cars and in the crosswalk, especially guys in groups, in their late teens and early twenties, with scruffy beards and bad hair. Their favorite phrase is “That is one BIG ASS horse.” Clyde takes it all in, eyes half-lidded, leaning on three legs, one hip loose, resting. His ears are alert. He flicks them back every few minutes, scouting to see if I have any information for him. When I don’t, he sighs.
The groom waves me around front and I pull Clyde around.
David gets back in. A lady from the curb says, “Hi, I’m Kwan” – her husband rushes out and hands me a hundred dollar bill. I wish there were more guys like this. Jenny gets in, holding her flowers.
We trot toward the park for a short ride.
David and Jenny are speaking entirely in Chinese, nonstop. Except for the words “email” and “birthday” for which I guess there is no Chinese alternative. Jenny talks so much that I wonder if David is having second thoughts. I know I am. He just committed to her forever. Is he sitting back there realizing, as I am, that she’s never going to shut up, the entire rest of his life?
I decide to just drive. Enjoy my brief loyalty to David and his helicopter dream, and his new Shanghai bride. It’s getting dark. Back at the restaurant, I say goodbye and congratulations to David. I won’t be seeing him again. I pull back into traffic and head back to the trailer. My favorite part of the ride. The carriage empty, just the sound of the clip clop of Clyde’s heavy feet as the 21st century cars shoot past all around us. Going somewhere, not very fast, completely out of sync with the rest of the world. In the midst of the cement and hurtling metal on wheels around us, I see Clyde’s furry ear flick back to me. I’m listening, he says. He’s why I drive a carriage in the big bad city of Los Angeles. Maybe someone will see what I see.

On a side street, an old lady smiles at me. Fresh milk delivery.