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I'm going to start taking select essays and developing them as podcasts. Stay tuned for more radio versions of my laughable tales of oddity and self deprecation.
It was one of those winters that you'll never forget. One of the first winters I spent in Davenport, so one that will stick with me forever, branding Davenport Iowa as a city that has horrible, icy winters. In reality, the 3 years that I spent in davenport had fairly mild winters, but this was the first, so this was the one that had a lasting impression.
This winter was not bad because of the amount of snow. It was not even bad because of the temperature, which was frigid. The prevailing aspect of this winter that, to this day brings dread to my heart, was the ice. There were multiple ice storms and intermittent warm spells that would melt and refreeze, leaving ice as much 12 inches deep in some streets. The cars would drive through and create ruts in the ice, forming inevitable tracks through the streets that would lead your car, as if beyond your control, where the last car had gone.
It was on a particularly frosty morning that I came across Rita. Rita was a leathery woman with a scowl that shown through the most toothy grin. Her hair was a frazzled yellow gray mane that refused to be tamed by brush or hat, even in this arctic clime. Rita was known around the neighborhood as being crazy.
The story goes that Rita used to be a flight attendant. She would travel the country with her job, and was very good at what she did. But one day, the flight she was on didn't reach its destination. The pilot crash landed the plane, and while no one died, Rita was diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome. This affliction has manifested itself in many ways.
That cold winter morning, Rita's illness appeared in an interesting way. As I was driving to work, I noticed Rita on the street. She was wearing a sundress, a raincoat, and sandals. No winter coat, no sensible shoes, no hat. She didn't look miserable, but I could not fathom how she could be anything but hypothermic. So I pulled up along side Rita and asked if she needed a ride.
“Oh sure! I'm headin' to down to 3rd and Iowa Street.”
Her voice was vaguely southern in dialect, with a whimsical quality that could only be described as Blanche DuBois after smoking cheap cigars and drinking a fifth of whiskey. A lovely singsong cadence on an instrument that had long given out and only worked in screeches and rasps.
As we exited the parking lot and jostled over the uneven ice, Rita let out what I can only describe as a cackle – an unbridled giggle that, in another body, could be contagious, but coming from Rita, it was simply eerie.
“Are you a St. Ambrose Student?” She asked with a half grin.
I replied “No, I graduated from Monmouth College, last year.”
“Oh, Monmouth! I had a girl friend who went to Monmouth... She had a boy down there... I never went to Monmouth, but I visited... They were such beautiful people. I loved watching all the beautiful people...” her sentence trailed off as her eyes glazed and stared out the window.
At this point her eyes caught a panel on the door. My 2004 Toyota Corolla was equipped with automatic windows that were controlled from a faux wood panel on the arm rest. Stroking the poor mans mahogany accent, Rita mused, “I never thought I'd ride in a Cadillac...”
Unsure of what to say, I sat quietly, focusing on navigating the icy side streets. Rita's gaze floated from me to the wood on the door to a point in the distance. Under her breath she mused, “To dream the impossible...”
“DREAM!” I thought. The tension of here unpredictability was unnerving. Rita had always made me uneasy, but I was beginning to regret offering her a ride.
Luckily we we're nearing the place where I was to drop her off. Still a few blocks away, she turned to me and asked “Well, do you have any...Last requests?” then let out another cackle, solidifying the feeling of dread.
I couldn't tell if she thought she was a lounge singer or an executioner, but her instability was not something I wanted to test. I quickly found a space along the side walk and put the car in park. She sidled out of the vehicle with surprising fluidity and grace. As she wandered away from me and towards the warehouse on the corner, she turned and gave me one final toothy grin and a wiggle of her fingers, then laughed as she turned the corner.