WELCOME TO EARTH-4
A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain
I finished Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt yesterday morning. I immediately wanted to start at the beginning again. If not for the rest of the day’s distractions, I probably would have. I know I’m looking forward to it tonight. I know that I’m looking at it over there at the foot of my bed as I type. At some point during my writing, Kindt’s story will entice me away from the keyboard, call to me to stretch out from my toes to my head and curl up with its tale again. You, as the reader will never know when that point comes.
Of course, before I read, I may head out on the streets of Los Angeles and turn my phone into its driver mode and start my moonlighting gig as a Lyft driver. I’ll either crank my car’s engines and start the cool AC blowing over me and the rest of the car so that the first rider will feel their maximum level of comfort, or I’ll just turn on the electric system, roll down the windows and just wait for the first alarm to let me know I’m summoned before I start the gas coursing through the car’s internal system. Either way, I’ll sit and listen to a podcast, a conversation recorded maybe not so far away and maybe not too long ago, but then again, it could be years and hundreds of miles. The voices reach out to me and let my mind drift and my mouth smile, the best friends to combat sitting still in Los Angeles while in your car.
Along the way, I’ll meet new people, give them a fist bump and take them to their destination at the Hollywood Bowl, a club, a neighborhood bar or a barbecue. We’ll talk about life in Los Angeles and for a moment, we’ll connect before we disappear back into the faceless crowd of 10 million souls.
Kindt asks, what if they didn’t disappear? What if the person in the backseat knows a person who sold me some pluots at the farmers market? What if the driver of the car that cut in front of me motors to the same club where I’m taking my fare and they meet and fall in love? What if all of our pattern-seeking monkey brains just haven’t figured out how to see the invisible threads piercing our skin and linking us with trees, metal, sand and the upright piles of water that say, “Hello” each morning? Is it a natural linking, a mystic connection created by some higher power far above us or from some hidden store of power deep within the earth, or is it a scheme plotted by a nefarious or well-meaning visionary to make the world a worse or better place?
I dropped my very first fare as a driver off at the iOWest, an improv bar on Hollywood Boulevard. Probably not a big deal to most folks, but for me, that bar and that building hold a great deal of memories. Nearly every Sunday for three years plus, I’d pop inside and watch “Big News” and later, “Top Story! Weekly,” a comedy show written and performed by some talented folks in the greater Los Angeles area. I even wrote a few myself. I love it when I see the former cast members, writers and bar conversationalists in commercials, TV shows, theater performances and pictures of writer’s rooms. That familiar first destination made my new adventure as a Lyft driver easy. Was it a coincidence that could happen all the time and escape notice and certainly elude significance? Yes, easily, much like Rob Cockerham tracked in a single year. The rest of my fares haven’t taken me to one of my other hangouts or connected me with any friends in this vast city, just the first one of fifty.
Still, Kindt leaves me wondering a bit longer than my skeptical mind should if that moment has any meaning. Do podcast, book and restaurant recommendations I’ve received from the passenger seats hide future connections that I have just yet to uncover? Could it be that I just haven’t seen how all of these moments link?
Sometimes a Lyft is just a ride from point A to point B. Sometimes a conversation is just a moment that is shared between two people who never talk again. Sometimes a book is just a book and finishing it makes you smile. But sometimes something seems a bit more meaningful. Sometimes life conspires to make us take notice of an element of our world. Sometimes a book makes me crave to read it again. It still beckons to me. You’ll have to wonder if it has moved since I looked at it earlier in this essay. If we meet, you can ask me if it moved. If you have read it, we’ll have a bit more of a conversation. After that, maybe we’ll find a seemingly strange coincidental connection from our past and start our internal wondering all over again.
*J. Torrey McClain is a writer, actor, and jack-of-all-trades living large in Los Angeles, and as with Cash Cab, you never know when you might find him driving you around the city. Follow him on Twitter at @JTorreyMcClain.