Alter Egos

I drove two young men on consecutive days last week. I picked up Dan on the North End, just blocks from where I had dropped off Kenny the night before. They were both slightly built and pale, with clean-cut, short-cropped hair. If you told me they were brothers, I wouldn’t have doubted it.

But they couldn’t have been more different.

I got a ping to pick up “Drummer Girl” in one of those old Virginia Beach neighborhoods full of modest, one-story, brick homes, tidy lawns, and mature trees.

Drummer Girl. It bugs me when people don’t use their real names on the Uber app. I want to be able to introduce myself when they get in the car.

“Jessica? Hi, I’m Brian.”

I don’t want to ask someone if they are “Drummer Girl.”

Two teen girls were huddled together on the lawn as I pulled to the curb. I assumed one of them was Drummer Girl and put down the passenger side window. But before I could ask, one of the girls pointed wordlessly at a third person.

He was wearing what looked like pajama pants and was coming toward me in slow motion. Seriously, he moved in exaggeratedly slow steps, placing each foot carefully on the grass as though walking on broken glass. He grinned as he walked though, laughing at some private joke.

“Where should I sit?” he asked in a strangely high voice when he finally made it to the car.

“Wherever you like,” I said.

“Can I sit in the front?” he asked.

“If that’s what you like.”

He smiled bigger and climbed in. His tremendous funk hit me like a wave. It was a potent blend of tobacco and marijuana. I held my breath and cracked the windows.

“So, I don’t suppose you are Drummer Girl.” I said.

“Who? No, that’s the girl who got me the Uber. I’m Kenny.”

“Okay. I’m Brian. That was nice of her.”

“I know, right? Nobody ever gives me anything. It’s f-ing awesome. Now I have $189 instead of $149.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“Weed, man.”

“Weed?”

“Marijuana. I’m high as f– right now.”

“Yeah, I know what weed is, and I know you’re high. I just…never mind.”

It wasn’t going anywhere.

I can’t bring myself to write Kenny’s monologue after that. It was as shocking and perverse as anything I’ve heard. Uber drivers hear a lot of foul stuff and I thought I was beyond being offended at the frank way people tend to share their stories.

But Kenny is in a different category. It started when he described a girl as his “f–buddy.” They were never boy and girlfriend. They just had sex. With great frequency, if Kenny’s story is to be believed. He spent lots of time describing her particular talents as I tried hard to redirect the conversation.

He couldn’t be distracted long from his adventures with sex and drugs. In both areas, Kenny views himself as prolific.

I found his stories less than entirely credible. He looks about fifteen, but claims he’s twenty-six. He dropped out of community college and works in a convenience store. He’s scrawny and effeminate and passionately committed to the joys of marijuana. I tried hard to imagine what any woman would find attractive about him. But he insisted that he is a consummate player.

His goal in life is to open a pot shop in Colorado, but he has no concrete plans for getting there. He’s been engaged three times, but is still unmarried. His first serious relationship ended when his high school sweetheart cheated on him.

“You want to hear something completely f–ed up?” he asked.

“More than everything you’ve already told me?”

“Yeah. For real.”

“Sure. Go for it.”

“She cheated on me with my mom and my step-dad.”

Fortunately, we’d arrived at his destination by then. I have never been more eager to get a passenger out of my vehicle. I try hard to believe the best about my passengers, to assume that everyone is doing the best they can with what life has given them. But Kenny was repulsive.

He exited the vehicle and moved with the same grin and half-speed gait toward his hotel lobby.

The next day, two streets down from the hotel, I picked up Dan. When he emerged out of the darkness on 45th street, I immediately thought of Kenny. Dan was similarly built and pale. He wore baggy pants like Kenny too. He also wore a thick hoodie, despite it being a sticky-hot summer night. It was after ten and still in the nineties.

“Aren’t you hot in all those clothes?” I asked.

“A little. I just got back from a lake house in New England. I guess I got used to dressing for cooler weather.”

Dan, I learned, is still in high school. He attends a public school in one of the highest income areas of the Beach. It’s got a reputation for moneyed kids, teenage promiscuity, and rampant drug use.

“I stay away from all that stuff,” Dan told me. “It’s only going to hurt my chances in the future.”

Dan is an honor student. He doesn’t play any sports, but got involved with the Key club recently–an organization committed to community service.

“I want to be a civil engineer. My favorite subjects are math and science. I want to go to William and Mary, Virginia Tech, or UVA.”

When I dropped Dan off at his friend’s house, he thanked me for the ride, shook my hand, and gave me a five dollar tip. I never get tips from teenagers.

“You’re an impressive guy, Dan. I’m glad I met you. I think you are going to be a big success one day.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”

I wonder if there’s a Dan for every Kenny out there. I can only hope so.

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