Spring rolled in hot.
One afternoon at the rehab facility, I (pictured, right) was sitting in the Vehicles Office with Aaron (not pictured), one of the drivers. Aaron had a broad forehead, a quick wit, and thin brown hair that he wore pushed straight back. We had the morning shuttle route, which left at 7 a.m., and was usually done by noon, having us both back at the facility by 2 p.m. Vehicles was a cushy job.
Reading the New York Times, Aaron tipped his thick glasses up onto his nose. I sipped coffee from a paper cup. Another driver, Keith, poked his head into the office and shook the shaggy mop of blonde hair from his eyes. Keith tapped his fist to his chest, and then held up three fingers.
Looking up from his paper, Aaron grinned and made the same gesture.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Wehicles,” Aaron said, tipping his glasses higher on his nose. He held up three splayed fingers to make a W.
Creasing my brow, I shrugged. “Wehicles?”
Aaron looked surreptitiously out the door and then whispered: “Wehicles is for white people.”
I laughed. All the drivers were white. During the morning shuttles, the radio was a flashpoint for tension. Black people wanted Soul on one end of the FM dial, while the white people liked Rock down the other end. I tuned to Soul going downtown, and then Rock after the van had emptied. I hushed the occasional impertinent request for Rock on the downtown leg with a soft, “Oh, I want to hear this one,” regardless of what was playing, and then conveniently forgot the request soon after. Sometimes I patiently dialed in a baseball game on the AM band. Baseball was like a balm for the tension caused by the radio.
“That’s true,” I said. “Why are all the drivers white?”
“Brothers don’t need a license,” Keith said. He cut his eyes toward the hallway outside the office and kept his voice low.
I nodded as if this made sense. But I couldn’t imagine anyone not having a driver’s license, much less an entire race without a license. Aaron explained that public transportation in New York City was so good, you didn’t need a license unless you lived in a suburb. The few white people at Rockford other than me were from Staten Island, The Rockaways, or Throggs Neck. Mostly the white people were older, had lost their jobs, lost their health insurance, and then succumbed to some sort of addiction, typically crack. Rockford was the end of the line, free drug treatment.