“You need to smile more.” she said, walking up to me.
I was staring at my hands, weathered from a day of manual labor to which they were unaccustomed, as independently-owned gasoline pumped into my car.
I looked up, nonplussed. This unreasonably gregarious stranger’s opening volley reminded me of the Bill Hicks routine:
“You know it takes more energy to frown than it does to smile!”
“You know it takes more energy for you to point that out than it does to leave me alone?”
But since I’ve been trying to appear less misanthropic lately, I conceded and flashed her a wan smile. She smiled back.
“Do you know what time it is?” she bubbly persisted.
I checked my phone. “Three o’clock.” Reiterating, “Three o’clock in the morning.”
“You know how you meet someone and you just get a strange vibe off them?” she said, indicating the mysterious van that had dropped her off. “I met this guy and he kept acting like I was someone else. ‘Oh, are you so-and-so from Vegas, with the leopard tattoo?’ And I was just like, ‘I think you’ve got the wrong person!'”
This brunette was awfully at ease for someone who had just tumbled out of a van and into a nearly-deserted gas station at 3:00 in the morning. Was she drunk? A tourist?
Whatever she was, I have to admit, she was friendly, even affable. Which is why I didn’t immediately say no when she awkwardly asked me for a lift.
“I just need to get home. It’s only a couple lights that way.”
Like a timed buzzer, the pump clicked off.
“No problem.” I shrugged. “It’s only two lights.” Even though I knew it was never going to be just two lights.
I replaced the gas cap as she walked to the passenger-side door. She did it like she had been in my car a hundred times already.
We pull out into the empty streets. “My Humps” plays through my stereo; I quickly turn it down, because while I think it’s funny a woman is singing about how she’s nothing more than tits and an ass, my companion might think I just have shitty taste in music.
Wondering the same thing I am, she asks, “Why are you out so late?”
“Well, I’ve been working with my friend on his car’s engine and just got finished with that. What about you?”
“Well… you know.” She paused. “You’re not stupid.”
“Actually, I kind of am.” is what I didn’t say to the prostitute in my passenger seat.
We introduced each other. She had a name, although I’m sure Ivy wasn’t it.
She prattled on about this and that, all in a light, friendly manner which I’m sure suited her well in her line of work. I had only just met her and her ease put me at ease, too. I could see why even men in relationships might want this kind of breath of fresh air.
Passing what I swear was the fifth police car I’ve seen in as many blocks, Ivy nervously asked me whether I was a cop. I assured her my badge was in my other suit, then quickly added that I was joking when I realized the undercover vice cop was more than an abstract concept to this woman.
“So where are you going now?”
“I’ve got to get home — back to LA, so I can go to work tomorrow.” I sighed.
“Are you in a hurry?” is just the kind of open-ended question a woman who just lost a john would ask a new potential client. “…do you want to stay here for awhile?”
“I could use a couple of bucks.” That’s when I started eyeing street corners to dump this chick. I know she’s just trying to make a living, and I don’t have anything against working girls, but I wasn’t in the mood for an aggressive sales pitch.
“I’m in a big hurry to get home.”
“Big enough.” I said, apologetically.
And yet I had so many questions! How does she feel about men? Does she charge by the act or by the hour? What are the rates, anyway? How did she get here? Does she have a pimp? Will she not kiss on the mouth? I was desperate to know, but keen to avoid a protracted sales pitch all I asked was, “So where did you say you needed to be dropped off?”
“Around the corner here. Just not on the street. That cop wasn’t following us, was he?”
And so I pulled into a side street and not knowing what to say, wished her a safe evening (“Have a good evening” didn’t seem right, like telling a bus driver to have a fun trip. Also, I figured “I hope you find more work” seemed a little too on-the-nose). And at that, the cute, bubbly brunette in the black skirt, low-cut top and cheap plastic earrings got out of my car. The brief encounter between our two worlds came to an end. I went back to being a middle-class nerd and she stepped back onto the 3:00 AM streets.