Riding With the Dead

The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles issued driver’s licenses to 1,905 dead people.

The Boston Globe

It was one of those miscues that causes you, in retrospect, to slam your palm to your forehead and say “How could I be so STUPID?”  I’d worn a raincoat to work in the morning, but the weather had cleared up by the time I left so I forgot to wear it home.  When I got off the train I reached in my pocket and, not feeling my car keys, realized what I’d done.  They were back at the office in my coat, and I had no way to start my car.

I called my wife’s cell, but she was at the ballet until ten, so I decided to download one of the “apps” I’d been hearing about from my kids.  You tap your phone, and some enterprising guy who wants to make a little money on the side picks you up in his car, which he probably keeps cleaner than a taxi that’s rented out by the day because the driver is the owner.

It was the work of a half-hour for me to overcome the technological challenges involved, but once I was hooked up my phone showed the driver making his way towards my location, on the bridge overlooking the commuter rail tracks.  Apparently his name was “Tracker”–unusual, but this whole “ridesharing” thing is new to me.  After a while the little red worm that was inching across the screen stopped and started to throb, and my phone rang.

hi it’s me i’m here i don’t see you,” a voice said in a monotone.

“Where are you?” I asked.

at the train station like you said.”

“I’m up the hill, on the bridge.”

“why didn’t you say that then.”  I thought I had, but I’m getting older and memory fades.  Still, not exactly a customer-friendly thing to say.

A rusted-out 1990s American model sedan made its way up the hill to where I was standing, and I had to say my first impression dashed my hopes that “gig economy” transportation would be an improvement over a cigar-infused taxi with empty fast-food containers strewn about the floor.  The vehicle looked like it had gotten into an argument with a car crusher–and lost.

“you must be my ride,” the driver said in a real-life version of the flat, uninflected voice I’d heard on the phone.

“That’s me.”

“you can sit up front if you want.”

I eyeballed the guy and politely declined.  He looked like he’d volunteered at a school of mortuary science and they’d put him to work as a cadaver.  “Thanks,” I said, “but I’ve got to, uh, spread some work out on the backseat.”

“suit yourself.  busy professional, huh?  that kind of hectic pace is not for me.  you know what John Maynard Keynes said, don’t you?”

“When the facts change, I change my mind?”


“Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

“i think that was Yogi Berra.  no, i meant ‘In the long run, we are all dead.’”

Keynes:  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to get out of this post at the next paragraph break.”


He’d hit a sore point on one of my favorite whipping boys, to mix my metaphors.  “You know Keynes never had any children, right?”


“So, we pass on the effects of inflationary monetary policy and reckless public expenditures to our children, who must pay for them.”

“i don’t follow.”

“It’s easy to say in the long run WE are all dead, but in the long run, our children are not.  They’re dead in the longer run, and their children are dead in the even longer run.”

“are you an economist?”

“No, but I play one on TV.”  I was hoping he’d be taken aback, or even aforward by my oblique wit, but he pressed on.

i thought that was for doctors,” he said as he swung the wheel left at a stoplight.

“You know where you’re going, right?”

“just follow the bouncing ball,” he said, alluding to the special effect I so loved when I was a kid, a musical interlude in a cartoon in which the audience sang the lyrics to a song projected on the screen as a little white ball bounced along the syllables.  Guy must have been of my vintage–a precocious sixty-something varietal with a formidable nose and nice legs.

I looked over his shoulder at the GPS, which was in fact set up to display our progress along the route home by a bouncing little . . . was that a brain?

“Say, that’s a unique little gizmo you’ve got there,” I said, trying to draw him out with a bogus avuncular tone.

“had it made special.  i like . . . brains.”

“Huh.  That’s kind of an unusual . . . taste.”

“didn’t you write a poem with the phrase ‘side order of brains’ in it?”

Much to my surprise–he had me there.  “Why yes–yes I did.  How did you know?”

i like bad poetry.

There goes your tip, pal, I thought to myself.  “What is it . . . exactly . . . you like about brains?”

aren’t you the guy who tells his mother-in-law ‘i like it because i like it’ when she asks you why you eat yogurt?

Again, he had me dead to rights.  “I . . . have been known to say that, yes.”

well, that’s how it is with zom . . . with me.  they ease my pain.

O-kay.  Starting to get a little too much information, as the young people say when they go on their “social media chat sites.”  Still, I was curious, if a bit yellow.  “And how . . . exactly . . . do brains ease your pain?”

i eat them–like you eat yogurt.

I gulped, and the lump in my throat didn’t go down my gullet easily.  We were thankfully getting close to my house.  I looked over at the community farm that presents such a pleasing prospect on my commute and saw the same white-faced cow lying against the fence that had been there in the morning when I’d driven by going in the opposite direction.  Nice work if you can get it, even if they do put cold metal suction cups on your nipples twice a day.

“Well, as the great social philosopher Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stone used to say, different strokes for different folks.”

are you ever bothered by headaches?” the driver asked.

“Not a lot,” I said, as we turned onto my street.  “I fell off an eight-foot loading dock a few years ago and landed on my head, though.  Every now and then it starts to tingle.”

He turned around and gave me a look that made me feel like a cold cut in a deli case.  “if you’d like,” he said, “i could take a look under the hood.

His eyes grew larger and he smiled beneath brows that gave off an air of menace.  “Thanks, but I’m all set,” I said as his car slowly rolled to a stop.  “Well, uh, this has been my first time in one of these car services.  Sure has been a . . . unique experience.”

He threw his arm over the back of his seat and grabbed me by the wrist.  I thought of all the crap I’d wasted my brain on over the years–Steve Miller Band albums, high school French class dialogues, the hagiography of Roman Catholic saints–and regretted that what little grey matter I had left was about to be consumed by a member in good standing of the undead.

“Please,” I begged, “can I just go inside for one minute.”

“why?” he asked skeptically.

“I want to say goodbye to my wife.”

goodbye–but you just got home.

“Aren’t you going to eat my brains?” I said, looking down at his viselike-grip.

eat your brains?  no–i just wanted to ask you for a five-star driver review.  so i don’t get fired.”

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