Drive Me Crazy - By Eric Jerome Dickey


People called me Driver. It was my sobriquet, not my birth name.


I’d been working for the same limousine service since I made it back on this side of The Wall. Not since the day I got out, I’d hustled here and there, but it was my first real job. After two years of living on lockdown, I found that as hard as it was living in a cage it was even rougher when you finally had freedom’s sunshine on your face. I’d paid my debt, but a man with a record, no matter how legit he tries to be, will still get a hard time from the assholes holding the jobs.

Part of it was my look. I’d inherited a John Henry, railroad-worker build like my maternal granddaddy. When you were six-two and dark as an open road, you grew up knowing that America wasn’t as kumbaya as it claimed to be. In some countries a man who looked like me would be a king. Where I lived I just passed for a suspect. I learned how to soften that look. I shaved my head bald and wore glasses when I could. Glasses intellectualized my appearance. Actually I needed them for reading. My world was getting blurry. When a man turns forty his body starts to change. But, to be honest, I couldn’t hide what I owned. A few times I’d walked into a room and men pulled their women closer. Maybe because when some women saw me, there was a subtle shift, like somebody had struck a match down below.

Women hadn’t been shit but trouble in my world.

My relationship with women was the same as my love-hate relationship with L.A. The city was expensive and pretty, decorated in palm trees and beaches, and even with smog, earthquakes, road rage, and endless traffic, a woman that beautiful was hard to leave. She heated you up in the middle of the day and with a gentle breeze she cooled you off at night.

Married women. That was another lesson I’d learned.

I say that because of the scam. Well, it was more than a simple scam. Scams involved confidence men who convinced you to give them their money. It took days, maybe even weeks before you realized you’d been had. And it was all done with a handshake and a smile.

What we planned was a bona fide crime.

Whether for selfish or personal reasons, we needed money, the root of all evil. I lived in Los Angeles County. The median cost of a single-family home was damn near four hundred thousand. Car registration had tripled. Gas prices were out of control. My one-bedroom apartment was in Inglewood, a city that had no rent control, and rent had shot up thirty percent, and now my rent was a little over twelve hundred a month. No matter how much I hustled, no matter how much money I made, it wasn’t enough. Maybe I just wanted to make some spending money to make it through another lean year in the Bush-whacked new millennium. I could say that with Schwarzenegger as the new “governator” after California’s total recall, I wanted to save up for the unknown. I could say a lot of shit. But I knew it wasn’t about the state budget or an energy crisis or an economy struggling to recover.

I just wanted to impress her.

There was always a “her” involved.

I’m going too fast.

Let me backtrack.

I was chilling at a dilapidated pool hall in South Central, a place called Back Biters and Syndicators, named after a John Lee Hooker song. The regulars just called the joint Back Biters, an old slang term for somebody who couldn’t be trusted, and it didn’t matter if the hand was black or white. It was a hangout with unfinished walls, decent pool tables, and hard liquor. No snooker or baccarat, no high-end shit like that. A joint where candidates for three strikes made or lost their rent gambling on eight or nine ball, maybe shooting craps in the back.

That evening I was sitting at the bar sipping a beer with my boss, Jason Wolf, Jr. We called him by his last name, Wolf. Six-footer with a Nordic blond mane. Two years younger than me. Hair was thinning up top. Kept what was left pulled back into a smooth ponytail. Wolf was a gray-eyed silver-spoon baby who had dropped out of NYU almost as soon as he walked into the institution of higher learning. Said NYU bored him. He used to drive back in