Two Thousand Seven Hundred and Twenty Five Miles with a Prince
My side of the story
I remember the date specifically, because it’s the day my wife left me. It was January 13, 1990. Friday the 13th, actually. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.
I’m a cab driver. I’d been a driver in West Philadelphia for almost 20 years; I thought I’d seen it all-celebrities, drug addicts, bad tippers, good tippers, drunks, skunks, punks, hunks, lunks. I was a hustler. I worked so many hours in those days I forgot to watch my kids grow up. I missed a lot of games, lot of recitals, lot of firsts. I was a great cab driver. I was a lousy husband, lousy father. My wife got fed up. She’d just had enough. I came home from an overnight shift one day and she was gone. I remember the bed was unmade. She hated when I left the bed unmade. Maybe it was that. I had a lot of maybes back then.
I sat on the edge of the bed for a while and collected myself and then I just got back in the cab. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t take a shower, didn’t brush my teeth, nothing. Started driving. I guess I was looking for her, but even if I found her…well, she was already gone, man. I probably drove in circles for hours that morning, I never even turned the fare sign on. I remember I caught my reflection in the rear view mirror. I used to have those big, obnoxious, fuzzy dice dangling off them, I was dumb back then man. My eyes were all puffy from crying and sniffling and all that so I threw my shades on. Just as soon as I did that I heard this kid on the corner whistle. Looked like a typical West Philly kid, hat sideways, outfit on point, confident in that dumb way that young people are. He was Fresh looking, man. Reminded me of myself when I was a kid. I pulled over. I asked him, I said, where you headed, bul?
He said, “Yo, home. To Bel-Air.”
I thought about it for a while. Bel-Air, California? That’s a long way away. I could have left him there. I could have gone home and made my bed. Maybe I should have. I kind of thought that if I went home and made that bed and packed up my things then it would be all over. My marriage. My life. Everything.
So we started moving. He didn’t talk too much at first, he just of swayed to his own rhythm there in the back seat. He opened up right around the time we crossed the eastern border of Ohio. He started telling me all about his life, I’m talking stuff I didn’t even ask about, didn’t even want to know about.
He said he was a West Philly kid all the way, born and raised. Type of kid who spent his whole damn day at the playground, just chillin’. I could see through the rear view his eyes sparkled when he talked about those days. Told me a pretty funny story about how he got busted doing graffiti one day but finessed his way outta the vandalism ticket by telling the police his spray paint was a can of aerosol deodorant. We were both crying laughing when he got finished with that one.
Right around the time we hit St. Louis he got real serious. Told me his mama kicked him out the house after he got into a bad way with some worse kids that were making trouble in his neighborhood. “One little fight,” the kid said wearily, “my mom got scared. That’s why she sent me to live with my Auntie and my Uncle in Bel-Air.” Couldn’t imagine what that must have felt like, getting roughed up by some local thugs and then getting shipped out across the country for it. I swear to god we didn’t say nothing to each after that until we damn near crossed the Great Plains.
Just to break the silence, I asked him if he got along with his Auntie and Uncle. He told me they were cool, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have his hang ups. He said sometimes his Auntie was just…how did he put it? Like she could be two entirely different people from one day to the next. Said she could just transform like that, no explanation, right out the blue. He said she changed like the seasons. I told him women could just be like that sometimes.
He told me his Uncle was a cool dude, if not a little bit self-righteous, a little self-important. Said his Uncle acted like the King of California. I remember I told him, “shit, kid, that must make you the Fresh Prince.” He seemed to like that, I remember.
The worst part of the trip was when we hit Nevada. I hadn’t showered in about three days. The A/C in my cab was broken. Driving through Death Valley was like crossing the River Styx. I was sweating bad. We hit the border of California 41 hours after I picked him up. I hadn’t slept a wink. Only stopped for gas. We only ate at drive-thrus to save time. Right as we crossed into Bel-Air the Kid finally asked me a question. He asked if I was married. I was silent for a minute, scanning the house numbers on the gaudy McMansions that lined the street. Wondered if the beds were made inside. Cruised past a few houses in silence.
“Well — ,” I finally started. The Kid stopped me dead in my tracks. We had finally reached his spot. I’ll never forget what he said to me.
“Yo, home. Smell ya later.”
Can you even believe that shit? I picked this kid up in West Philadelphia. I drove him 2,725 miles straight, no stops. I didn’t even get a thank you. “Smell ya later,” he sneered at me, strutting up to his new home. Kid didn’t even pay me. He just hopped out of the car, did a little dance, and never looked back. I had never turned my fare sign on. I just turned the car around to head home. I had to fix my bed. I had to fix my marriage.
I couldn’t get smell ya later out of my head that whole ride back. The Kid was rude, but he was right. I stunk. Everything about me stunk. I was more worried about getting fares from kids than taking my kids to fairs. More worried about getting clients to the airport than getting my wife to the beach. I decided in Cleveland that when I got home I wouldn’t ride again until I got my family back together.
I did. I made sure of it. My wife and I, we’ve never been happier. That Thanksgiving, I wrote a letter to the kid, addressed to the house I dropped him off at, just thanking him, in my own way, for what he did for me. Told him that he didn’t really know it, but he saved my life. I didn’t expect to hear nothing back from him. Couple weeks later, right around Christmas, I got a package in the mail. Return addressee just said “Prince”. Inside was a note, “Merry Christmas, Thanks for the Ride.” Enclosed was one of those custom license plates you get in a chintzy gift shop, they got a million of those things in Bel-Air. You know what the plate said?
“Fresh”. I put that right on my cab in Philadelphia. Just a little reminder of The Prince that saved my life.