Four Buddhists, dressed in orange robes, fold themselves into my cab outside the colossal brass doors of La Paloma, a lavish resort on the north side of Tucson. They’re Asian, one man in his 50s, and two men and a young woman in their 30s, all bald headed and with flawless complexions. One of the younger men has eyeglasses. The woman scrunches in between the younger men in the back seat. The older man perches himself shotgun.
“You take us to casino?” he says.
The casino is on the Tohono O’odham Indian reservation out in the desert at least 40 minutes away. It was a jackpot fare: 80 bucks.
“The Casino Del Sol, yes sir,” I say, and punch the meter.
“This is good casino?” he says.
“Oh, they’ll take your money,” I say.
“I wear red fo’ luck,” he says, showing me a bright red pin of some kind on his orange robe.
“You’ll need it,” I say.
“Yes,” he says.
“Where ya from?” I say. “China?”
“Japan,” he says, frowning.
“Sorry,” I say.
It’s 5 o’clock in the evening and we’re driving directly into the sunset. The traffic is Friday rush hour—even the nuns from St. Elizabeth’s will cut you off and not repent a bit. It’s hot as hell. The windows of my cab are up and the air conditioning is flowing.
I have no religion, but there seems to be something special about today. It’s a quiet ride. The sinking sun leaks pink and purple and orange in front of us. The old man doesn’t notice because he has nodded off. His head is lowered onto his breastbone. I think he is meditating until he begins to snore. Then I check the rear view mirror: one of the younger men is also asleep. His head has fallen back and his mouth is open and his eyeglasses are tilting into the milky pond of his cheek.
Five minutes of lotus-smooth highway later the other man is asleep too.
I look at the woman in the rear view mirror. I imagine my thought is a butterfly that flies out of my forehead and lands on her nose. She looks out the window at the desert that begins at the outskirts of the city. The red rocky hills are spiked with cactus and cholla and creosote, nothing kind there, nothing soft. She won’t meet my eyes. She seems unhappy, like she is involved in some kind of tremendous mistake. She seems sad and tired, as if she is asking herself why she didn’t just stay home and be thankful.
“Looks like it’s just you and me,” I break the silence, talking to the young woman. It feels like we are the only ones there, because we are the only ones awake.
She doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t smile. She looks at me with puffy, raindrop eyes. But the old man beside me jerks awake when I say it. He sits straight up and blinks a couple times.
“We they yet?” he says.
“Another 20 minutes,” I say.
He grunts. 30 seconds later he’s asleep again.
I always get a feeling when people fall asleep in my cab. They trust me to get them safely to where they want to go. Buddhists are trusting souls, aren’t they? In either case, I am relieved when we arrive at the casino. I feel my blood pressure lowering with the oncoming solitude.
They climb out of the cab, stretch toward the sky. The old man reaches inside his robe and comes out with a wallet. He pays me and I stuff the bills into my pocket. The woman flashes me a look and then turns away.
They shuffle off toward the door of the casino.
I drive away, back to the city.
So are the separations of this world.