Sheraton circle, 0245 hours and two young lasses, one of whom began to dribble vomit as she plunked down.
“Take it outside the cab.”
Her friend asked, “Will you wait for us?”
“I said take it outside the cab.”
I was getting better at knowing who was going to puke, and when. I was also getting better at keeping my options open, and my plan was to flee as soon as the backseat was clear. Except as they left out, somebody else popped in from the street-side. He noisily fell in the seat, another drunken hero in need of services.
“I’m out of service, bro. I just caught a puker.”
“I’m not puking,” he said. “Take me to Emerald.”
He then promptly laid down in the vomit. “This seat’s all wet.”
The lass hadn’t blown full out and midnight sun was shining: The dribbles could wait.
But it needed to be a quick trip. Like I said, I was getting better at this and knew the new dude was going to blow chow sooner or later. All the way to Emerald he chuffed and gasped on burps, leaning back to moan, hiccuping, “Ah, God!”
“You gonna make it?”
“Emerald, jush corner of Emerald, and … and that other fuckin’ road.”
Second to kicking a fare to the curb, driving faster is the best way to bring a lousy trip to a close. I mashed the pedal as we crossed over the Greenwood Speedway and I didn’t let up when we hit Benton Street. Fuck the posted 25; I kept on that pedal.
At that hour of night, no one is around. I crept past 45 mph into the 50s and kept pushing. I’d never gone interstate speeds in town. Suddenly, a secondary objective: Can you hit 65 on Benton?
“Ah God, too mush. I had too mush.”
We boomed through a rare green light at Sunset and hammered up the road, ripping past whatever school they got up there.
I hit 60 coming over the hillcrest and caught, out of the corner of my eye, street lights gleaming across two cars parked in the school lot. Parked so the drivers were face-to-face. Engines running, lights off: cops.
Even worse: those special cops from the weird fucking village of University Heights.
No cherries lit up but headlights popped on as both cruisers wheeled out of place and rushed to the exit.
For those who don’t already know, University Heights is a city within a city and occupies the heart of our west side like a gluttonous stranger plopped down in a picnic. The entire town is a speed trap and I avoid it. Which isn’t difficult as only three roads connect it with Iowa City.
This is noteworthy, as those cops obviously saw me blast over the hilltop. But back then, that parking lot didn’t let out onto Emerald or Benton. So the cruisers had to shoot all the way back to Sunset to chase their tax revenue. And their D=RT was my only advantage.
I brought my speed down to make the cut onto Emerald and craned through the turn on crying tires.
I wasn’t about to get myself penned in. My fare wanted out at the corner but I drove up the block and yanked into the right apartment complex.
“Ten bucks!” I said, cutting the fare on a round number.
“Thishish the place?”
“It sure is, buddy. Ten bucks.”
My heart pounded and I kept my eyes pinned to the rearview and waited for the cherries to come boiling down the hill after me.
And then there they were in harassing red, white and blue.
My fare held the door open, one leg out, crumbled bill in his fist. “Thishishn’t the place.”
I snatched the bill: “You got to go, the cops are coming!”
That got him moving, and as he lurched from the cab I shot off, letting gravity slam the door.
You might now reference a satellite map and check the bird’s eye of those apartment complexes. You’ll see that one lot — and only that lot — accesses an alley that would lead me through to the other side of the block and let me out on Westgate.
Before the cops turned onto Emerald, I scrambled for the alley and went dark, flopping off headlights and my bubble top, driving fast but no revving and no tire squealing.
I kept eyes on my rearview. I could see the flash of the cherries but no headlights. Then I just followed the pavement until it turned me out of the alley into another parking lot that carried me to Westgate.
Doubling back toward Benton, hands shaking, heart going bam-bam as if I were balls deep into some miserably hard fucking, I prayed the U.H. cops would both turn onto Emerald. And remarkably, they did. The smart thing would have been to break up and pinch me. Instead, they closed out their options.
I yanked onto Benton, turning toward Emerald and the cops, but only for a quick jog over to Estron, and then Hafor to Teg, ripping over the speed bumps all along the back way to Highway 1.
I was over there not too long after and saw they cut a walkthrough in the fence. It’s just wide enough to let a car pass and you better believe I drove through that son bitch. That was before they put the steps in, of course.
And no way of knowing but I do like to think that hole was cut because of the one that got away. My one mark on the city for all its marks on me.
Sean Preciado Genell is author of the Vic Pasternak novel ‘All the Help You Need,’ available now at Prairie Lights. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 209.