Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cadillac Lady

Like two ships passing in broad daylight ...

I first spotted her when I began taking the train to work, which meant I had to walk the last few blocks to my office. I only  noticed because she was parked in a big black Cadillac, shiny and new, with the engine running. So that first impression symbolized American wealth and extravagance, idling a big V8 engine just to keep the sole occupant of the car comfortable in the heat.

As time went on I realized I was seeing her almost every day, parked in the same spot. It was right in front of a big picture framing store, so she might have been a wealthy patron having some of her art collection framed. But not even a museum would have enough work to keep her there day after day, and always so early in the morning.

It didn't take long for my writer's instincts to kick in. Part detective, part fantasist, that side of me filled in a picture. It had to be her store, her business, that she was keeping an eye on. Maybe her husband used to run it, but he's dead now, and she's in her old age, hanging on to what she has left. Naturally that means making sure the employees are on the job and not stealing from her, that the manager gets there and opens up on time.

She also has an obsession with protecting her parking lot. She's in a neighborhood with scarce public parking and numerous restaurants and night spots. Some business owners might hire a guy to rent out spaces at night, but she puts chains across the driveways and posts WILL TOW signs. When the chains are broken or taken down, she has thicker ones installed, with padlocks. When someone runs into them she has them painted yellow. When the posts are knocked down, a crew is at work the next day installing new ones.

I know the parking lot because I cut through it to save a few steps. At least I used to, before she had additional chains put up to seal off the pedestrian-sized openings that not even a motorcycle could have squeezed through.

Were those chains directed at me? Has she been watching me through the glass of her tinted windows, through a glass darkly, seeing me as a threat? I could jump the chains easily, but I don't. She'd only put up taller ones, like an athletic competition raising the high jump bar till only one person could clear it.

Instead I respect her boundaries, the territory of her own space that she guards so jealously, hands clutching the motionless steering wheel, driving nowhere, eyes behind sunglasses, a cigarette held in her lipsticked mouth as she gives herself a light and fills the hermetically sealed car with a cloud of her own smoke.

When I took her picture this morning, she silently drove away.

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