Experienced drivers in the Springs are hesitant to accept calls from North Nevada Avenue, known to us as "Zone 340." Like its counterpart to the south, 340 is the location of seedy motels and, often, risky riders "in transition," fresh from prison or rehab, unable yet to afford an apartment. Trips are often to the pawn shop or liquor store, or both (in that order), and driver payment is from funds received for dented laptops, microwave ovens and other pawnable stuff. Whatever the rider can grab, live without, and carry out the door.
But I'm broke. After paying my lease and fueling up, I have to accept any fare that comes along, or visit the pawnshop myself. The first call I get is from 340, but to a slightly better neighborhood on the edge of the zone. It's a small but welcome relief from the usual cheap motel.
The rider gets in and she's elderly, and bent with noticeable pain. Her destination is Maggie's Farm, the recreational marijuana supplier just over the Manitou Springs line.
She uses a cane and has several teeth missing. She's heavy, round-shouldered, and wearing a pressed, embroidered denim shirt. She declines any help getting into the cab, grabbing the door sides and heaving herself up and into the seat, her face taut and determined.
"It's for my fibromyalgia," she says of her coming purchase, "which ain't fun and hurts a lot. For my shingles, too." And the pot shop will be "so crowded you can barely breathe," she speculates, speaking well and clearly in spite of her loss of teeth. But there's no hint of suffering or complaint about her age, ailments or living situation. Instead, she seems undeterred and undaunted by them, charging ahead, anyway.
She's pleased and satisfied, in fact, with her current housing, which she shares with her disabled husband, though she has to make this trip alone. "His poor back and shoulders and whatnot, have just disintegrated, almost." What caused all that, she doesn't say, "But 47 years of smokin' didn't help him any. But he's quit that. I'm so proud of him, I tell people all the time." We're riding due west up toward the mountains, the peaks darkening but sharp against the sky.
The people at our destination look exactly the same as those outside her apartment building when I drove up: all ages, standing around, smoking cigarettes, idly kicking at gravel, or watching the sunset.
"Who are those guys in the hats?" I ask as we arrive at the pot shop. An athletic pair in their mid 20s are out front, wearing cloth hats. "Some kind of security?"
"Yep," she says. "And if you'll notice ... they've got some kind of gun on their hips."
Sure enough. Dressed in jeans and casual shirts, they stood like customers, but with 9mm automatics strapped to their sides.
I opened the automatic door for her, and getting out she fell! One of her knees had cramped or just collapsed. She cried out in pain. I raced around, and somehow she'd made it back to her feet. Her cane lay on the gravel in the sun. She leaned against the cab, breathing heavily, and held up her free hand to assure me she was OK.
No one else had come to her assistance, made any move. Everyone looked on from where they stood, like statues or a ruminating herd. I supposed they were in some kind of line waiting to get inside and didn't want to lose their turns by a move in our direction.
She rose slowly to full standing height, which came to about my breast bone, and I handed her the cane. Now I thought she must be 75. We waited for her breathing and balance to return. She looked distantly across the road, over the cars that shot past.
"I wish it could be more," she said, paying her fare and tipping two dollars, now back to business. It's a remark I often hear, and it seems always to be spoken sincerely, sometimes with a pat on the arm.
"But times is hard for ever'body, ain't they?" she added, and she turned to take her place in line.