From Waffle House with Paris
I told myself I wasn't gonna post prior to Part II, but some nights you meet people like Paris, and you drive them to Waffle House, not cause they're tryin to soak up the night's alcohol, just cause they want some Waffle House on a Friday night. So they call in a takeout order, and then they call me.
"How you doin tonight?" I ask Paris. "I. AM. GOOD. Boy, I am good," she says. "I been tryin to get my gym on, but tonight I just wasn't feelin it. And that's alright, ya know? That's okay. Cause some nights you just need to be GOOD, ya know?" "I could learn a thing or two from you," I say. "How long you been Uber drivin?" Paris asks. "About five months in all—one in Hartford, Connecticut, four down here." "You from Hartford?," she asks. "You don't look like you from Hartford." "I'm from around here," I say. "Decided to come home for awhile." "What for?," she asks. "Hadn't strung too many 'I. AM. GOOD.' days together," I say, and Paris laughs a high-pitched laugh that settles into a guttural wheeze. "Figured I ought to come back and find out what it is that makes me happy." "You like Uber drivin?" she asks. "I do," I say. "Course I'll probably change my tune once someone pukes in my car." "Oh, no," Paris says. "I can't handle none of that. I'd get real on a body, ya know. I'd tell 'em, 'Get out the car, you done, I'm done.' I thought about tryin it. One of my co-workers at Best Buy drives Uber, but I just can't handle nobody doin nonsense in my car." Paris puts a hand on my shoulder and squeezes, and I know she is genuinely appreciative of my enthusiasm for Uber, the fact that I can stomach the people I drive, even love 'em some. "I been usin Uber since me and my crew went down to Miami, did it big," Paris says. "We was at the strip club, you know, and one of the strippers just had this vibe, and I said this girl got to come with us. And so I told her, 'Yo, you got to come ride with us.' She said, 'Hold on, let me finish my shift, I'll drive.' Next thing I know, the stripper is our Uber—I was like, 'Oh, hell, naw, you for real.' She said she be pullin in bank."
We arrive at Waffle House, and Paris goes in to pick up her order. I can tell there is some confusion, Paris moving from one side of the counter to the other. An old man with a long gray beard who's driving a red pickup has gone in before her, and comes out before her. Finally, Paris emerges with her plastic bag, the wonderful grease wafting through my open window. "Had to get smart with them girls in there—tried to give me that old man's order," she says. "Smells good," I say. "I'm kind of where you at," Paris admits. "I'm tryin to find me, my happy. I think I'm havin that postpartum. Gonna be all good, though." "Congrats," I say. "Boy or girl?" "Boy," she says. "Two months. And I got a five-year-old—boy too." "Hands full," I say. "Not really," Paris says. "I got a community." "Well, I can't hardly figure out how to take care of myself," I say, a line I use often for deflection. "Oh, don't you think that first one was planned," Paris says. "Just one of them nights, you know, when you just lit, just lit and then you wind up with a child." "Sometimes that's what it takes, I bet, to grow up," I say. "It slows you down," Paris says. "Keeps me out the clubs, away from all that business you don't have no business in." Paris puts a hand on my shoulder again. "You a soulful dude, huh?" I look up in the rearview. "What do you mean?" "PartyNextDoor," she says, commenting on the music that's been playing in the background. "My guilty pleasure," I say. "You got that OVO vibe," she says, referencing Drake's label, which PartyNextDoor is signed to, along with several other Canadian artists. "You feelin that new Roy Woods?" she asks. I say that I am, that I'm listening to anything but Drake and Chance and Future because that's all the college kids have me play, and my ears are wearing thin. We discuss the state of hip-hop, how it's gone from taboo in our teenage years to mainstream Top 40 as adults, how it's become the soundtrack of this generation. "I still don't know what to think when the white kids in my car start rappin right along, lettin 'n---a' roll off their tongues," I say. "My white friends do it too," Paris says. "And it don't matter—I know they ain't got no hate. They my people." "Complicated, though, ain't it?" I ask. "What with all that's goin on?" "Yeah, it's a race issue, but it ain't no black-and-white issue," Paris says. "My friends be sayin it's a black-and-white issue, and I'm screamin: 'The policeman wasn't even white?' He wasn't even Chinese, LaRue, like that woman say. His name is Jeronimo Yanez. COME. ON. Get yo facts straight. Get that hate out ya heart. This about corruption—some people just don't need to be wearin the badge, just like they don't need to be in Washington." "It's gettin uglier and uglier," I say, "to the point that November might not make a difference, to the point that we're all that's to blame." "I was born in St. Thomas," Paris says. "Barbados. But I grew up in Lonsdale, in Knoxville, Tennessee, where we all poor—folks treat white folks and black folks from Lonsdale the same, exactly the same." "That's a class thing," I say. "That's a people thang," Paris says. I nod in agreement. "Have we reached that place where it's worse enough to get better?" I ask. "Don't know," Paris says. "Sure hope so. Cause it's hurtin my soul." We pull into Paris' driveway, in Lonsdale, in Knoxville, Tennessee. And Paris tells me: "I enjoyed this, talkin to you." I say, "Me too."
The editor in me says stop there, that breaking the fourth wall is a bad idea, that ending on my exchange with Paris is more powerful than anything I could write to you. But the human in me has something to say: I want to say to you that this has everything to do with guns and nothing to do with guns, that this has everything to do with the White House and nothing to do with the person we put in it, that this has everything to do with the police and nothing to do with the police, that policemen and policewomen are people, that they have parents and teachers, just like we do, parents and teachers who might just be part of the cycle, this cycle of learning the wrong things. I want to say that we're not talking about the "thing," that we're downright ignoring the thing, the thing that's right in front of us, the thing that is hate, the thing that is ignorance, the thing that is different, the thing that is apathy, the thing that is fear, fear to ask anyone how their day's been, and truly mean it, to ask anyone what they might think, what they might feel, and truly mean it, to ask them to explain what it is about them that you can't quite explain, what it is that makes them tick, besides the color of their skin, or whatever it is that they pray to. You might find out, like me and Paris, that you have plenty to talk about, even a thing or two in common.