I'm driving August again. Actually, at the moment we're strategically parked, my teal Ford Festiva jutting out of the alley right where flush-cheeked kids are streaming out of the Aragon Ballroom after a Bad Religion concert. My trunk is a makeshift sales booth, loaded with crates of videos. August summons the kids with a wave and shows them his wares--Deftones, Kiss, the Jesus Lizard. August is working the crowd, he's smiling: This is gooood stuff, dude. It's pro shot.
It's not what he says--it's how he says it. He conjures the images from memory: They come on, dry ice everywhere, and open up with (pulling out the air guitar) daaah naaah, naaah naaah! You know what I mean, right? He gives an exaggerated laugh, hahaha, slaps you across the shoulder, and suddenly the implication is, you are a Misfits fan, aren't you? If you're like me, you know that song, and if you are a real fan, you want this video; it will set you apart from the casual fan. And you and me, we will be friends, because we know.
Some of the kids listen for a moment and then wander off; others just ignore him. I stand across the street in front of the el, a stack of flyers in hand, calling out halfheartedly, "Hey, you guys into rare concert videos?" One punk brat takes a flyer from my hand, a big 11-by-17 sheet, crumples it in a ball, and throws it back at me spitefully. I step toward him, then think better of it. Forget it. I don't give a damn.
I don't know why I came back. I quit being August's driver six months ago, said don't call me, I'll call you. Only he kept calling: Can you work tonight? No? Then definitely tomorrow. I'll give you that money I owe you, free drinks, a good time, whatever. I neeeed you. And I'd think, yeah, maybe one of these days it's gonna be a great time, the excitement I've been missing in my life. And now I'm standing outside the el getting pelted with my own flyers.
I started working for August Tsanakas in the summer of 2001. A friend who worked at Music Go Round in Wicker Park told me about this guy he knew who shot, traded, and peddled rock videos. After his last car got booted, August had started passing around flyers advertising for a driver. I called, and we set up a meeting.
The first time I see him, he's just out of the shower, his long mane of straight brown hair still damp. He leans in, eyes sparkling, and shakes my hand, and I get my first glimpse of the charm and contagious confidence he's lived off for most of his 31 years.
An instant later he turns his attention elsewhere--there's work to be done. While I give an introductory pat to Augui Doggy, his Alaskan malamute, he pulls out two big see-through bags full of crumpled labels--hundreds of strips, like Chinese fortunes, Anthraxes and Nirvanas and Misfitses. He's got both national and local bands, some of which he taped himself, others collected over the years. Most of them are bootlegs. "If any band doesn't want me to sell their video, I will stop selling their video," he says. "If they don't want me to have their video on the list I take it out of the list."
He hands a bag to the 12-year-old son of his ex-girlfriend, who's been letting August stay in her Mayfair apartment until he gets back on his feet. "Let's see, we've got two Pantera, a Jane's Addiction, a Dave Matthews," he says. "Here, you look for UFO."
When all the newly minted tapes have been labeled, we take the kid to a video store to pick up a game, then drive him back home. Then we're off to make some cash.
August is wearing a typical outfit--muscle shirt and cutoff corduroy pants. He flips on the radio and scans the stations, stopping on one that's playing "Crocodile Rock," then rolls down the window of my Festiva and lights a cigarette.
"Yeah, so I go to concerts for a living. You're probably thinking, wow, what an interesting job," he says. "Yeah, well, it's cool." He sighs.
We drive all over town--to a hair salon where he pays back a friend, to a bar to plan out the rest of the evening, to a Kinko's to copy some flyers, to Guitar Center, where he accosts the "longhairs" as they go in and out of the store. He takes one kid inside and pops a Misfits video into a VCR. Nobody questions him--he's been coming here longer than most of the employees. As we watch he starts his spiel again: I told you, it's good stuff, right? The sound gets better after this song....Yeah, he's liking it, hahaha. The kid nods and smiles and reaches for his wallet.
We head up to the Metro, where August flashes a homemade badge that says augui doggy video. I film bands for a living, they let me in here, he tells a guy at the door, and they wave him in. Later at a nearby Walgreens, he finds videotapes on sale for 99 cents apiece. They're limit six per customer, but he comes to the counter with 30. No, you see, I come here all the time, I run a video production company, I'm always buying these. The cashier lets him buy 12. He'll push and push, but when he's rebuffed, he'll turn away and move on--nothing personal, just doing business.
We stop by Fuel, where a friend of August's is having a private party. "This is David, my driver," he tells a friend as he hands me a drink. He seems proud to have a driver, as if I make him seem more legit.
I sit at a table and try striking up a conversation. One guy tells me about his band; another is just visiting from Georgia. The $25 a night and occasional free drink are incidental--this is what I've been looking for. I need a life, I need to learn how to meet people. Experience! Interact! Flirt! Make some memories! Get some action!
But a minute later August is dragging me off. Whoops, sorry, gotta go, I tell my new friends. Tonight is not the night. But tomorrow might be different.
I pay my bills, my credit cards, my parking tickets. Every step of the way I hedge my bets.
August never has. He comes by it honestly--his parents met at a racetrack, and he remembers his dad, who died in 1997, as a cardsharp, dealing hands in the back room of a Greek restaurant he cooked at. August lived with his mother, who was always moving from the north side to the south side or back again; he attended four different high schools and dropped out of the last one. He learned to project confidence, made friends all over the city, always had his arm around a girl. Rather than go to class, August and his friends at Taft High School would sometimes take over an empty room near the art department, smoking and betting on cards. He was an amateur bookie, taking sports bets from friends.
August thought up his scheme for selling videos one day when he was 21 or maybe 22, puffing on a joint in the bathtub.
"When I first started doing it, man, I thought I could be a millionaire," he tells me from the passenger seat. "I mean, I had big dreams, man."
He would need help, he thought. So he put ads in the Sun-Times and the Tribune: "Must be over 18, must like rock 'n' roll, heavy metal music, must have a car, must be willing to have a good time." He called the company Jam Pro Video then. Soon he had dozens of people coming to his apartment--to do publicity, buy videos, party, whatever. He lived with a high school girlfriend, on 55th Street in Gage Park, but he was screwing around with the girls he hired and gambling too much. "I thought I was gonna be Mr. Entrepreneur," he says. "But I went off the deep end."
He just happened to capture on videotape the day in 1992 that changed his life, and he plays it for me as he labels his videos one evening. August, or Gus, as he was called back then, comes home with his gang after an afternoon running wild at Hillside Mall. They enter the apartment, its walls plastered with glossy nude pinups, to find his girlfriend is gone, along with most of the furniture. He wanders through the apartment, assessing the damage, and finds a message scrawled on the calendar: "I will always love you."
"Dude, she took your stash," somebody says.
It took about a month from there for August's dreams of being a millionaire to crash headlong into reality. Rent was due, and he needed to pay his employees. He tried to win back the difference gambling, but he lost. So he gave what he had to his helpers and let the rent go.
That summer was a blur of improvised living, of getting high and picking up women and moving in with them, bouncing between Chicago and Milwaukee and Rockford, from apartments to friends' basements to motels. There was even a car chase, a real car chase. According to August's diary, he and a guy he'd been hanging out with a lot were staying in Lake County with a woman August had known in high school. August had been thinking of moving to Virginia to live with a girl he'd met at Milwaukee's Summerfest, and his friend, he says, desperately wanted to come along. When August told him he couldn't, the guy took off with his car. When August and his hostess tracked him down, in Milwaukee, a 45-minute chase ensued--at 50 or 60 miles per hour, through red lights and down one-way streets. Finally they passed a police officer, who pulled the guy over.
There are no car chases in my biography. I tell myself that I want car chases, that I want to bounce around with no plan or safety net, that I want danger. Now that I'm driving August, I tell myself, maybe some of his danger will rub off on me.
Today Frankie's driving; I will be a sales associate. Frankie will give us that spark we're missing. When he's on the team, he makes the customers believe--he tells them, Check it out, some guy's selling some crazy videos and you just have to see this. He makes August believe--that they're having a great time, that they will sell more videos than ever. He makes it fun again.
As we head out on I-80 toward the southwest suburbs and Joliet, I sit on the floor in the back of his beat-up cargo van, perched on two crates of videos amid a sea of CDs and sound equipment, listening to Frankie and August shoot the breeze.
Frankie's optimistic because for years he's played bass in other people's rock bands, but now he's put together a band of his own--Tension Wire, a trio with the guitarist from Deal's Gone Bad. They've written their own songs, produced their own CD. His studio is filled with envelopes to send to record labels. His van is filled with CDs to give away, and his head is filled with ideas for how to parlay this into something bigger.
Frankie has ideas for August too. You need to set up a VCR and TV in the van, he says. You've got to get on the Internet, print up stickers, start a newsletter. You've got to make this thing into a club, give the kids a video and a catalog if they join. August nods in agreement with everything. (He's since managed to post a list of videos on the Web, at www.webcorral.com/augui_doggy_video_list.htm.)
We stop for gas. August motions to the guy at the next pump. "Hey, man. You into live concert videos?" The guy climbs into the van to inspect our wares and buys a Pantera video.
We stop at a music store, where Frankie gives the owner a CD and puts up a poster in the window. "Thanks, man," he tells the guy as we leave.
Somebody will see that poster and go to the Web site, Frankie says. Somebody will remember the name and check out the band when they get a gig. Never mind that there are 50 other posters on the windows, hundreds of other CDs in the racks.
"Stop right there," August says. He hops out, catalog in hand, and rushes into a tattoo shop. A few minutes later he's back to grab a tape--he's made a sale. Frankie runs in and gives the buyer a CD.
"That guy, he'll watch his Cradle of Filth video, he'll love it, and he'll call up and order three more," August says. "And he'll put in your CD and he'll say, That's cool, man, this is good stuff."
You've got to have confidence that everything will work out fine, Frankie says, but you've also just got to enjoy the ride. Because when you get there, where are you? You're nowhere.
We're rebuffed by security at our first stop, the Tweeter Center, where Blink-182 is playing. The concert we wind up at, a metal show in a Joliet parking lot, is a piddling affair, and sales are slow. At the end of the day we're back in the van, tired and irritable.
Frankie wants to catch the kids coming out of the Blink-182 show, only we can't find the way back; the dark, empty roads take us miles in the wrong direction. We've been together for ten hours. August has burned a hole in the passenger seat with his cigarette, so now there's no smoking in the van.
"You were supposed to turn back there, man," August says, looking up from the map.
"What are you doing, man?" Frankie says. "I need you to help me. I need you to be my navigator and get us there. Now pay attention."
"Let's just get there and shut up, OK?" August says.
"Hey, don't ride me. You made up a new rule when you burned that hole in the seat. I'm doing you a favor, man. You shouldn't be smoking those things."
"OK. OK. Would you just shut up about the cigarettes?"
"Hey, don't ride me, man. You brought it on yourself."
Frankie considers the day a success. He sold a CD at the show, he had fun, and hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
August doesn't say anything, but I know he doesn't feel the same way. This isn't the beginning of a world of possibilities for him, he told me this morning. He's got to start making money, get back on his feet, no time to waste. When the road is rolling out before you, you can feel young again, but when you're coming home at the end of the day with so little to show for your efforts, you can suddenly feel very old.
We're sitting on the couch as our host, whom I'll call Paul, paces around the apartment, looking for his money, yelling to his wife. From the looks of the place--plush furniture, views of the skyline--he has money to burn, and tonight he's going to burn some on a rock video.
"I've got tickets too, dude," August says. It's his new thing. "Madonna, third row." But Paul's preoccupied: he storms out to bicker with his wife, takes a hit off a crack pipe, and tosses a long kitchen knife on the coffee table. "I'm feeling homicidal right now," he says. I sit on the couch, feeling stupid.
Finally he sits down to square up with August. He places a pair of chewed-up boots at August's feet--August left them here on his last visit, and Paul's dog took a liking to them.
"How much for the video?" Paul asks.
From the other room comes the voice of his wife, who Paul later tells me was listening through the wall with a cup. "He said it was $20 on the phone."
Paul shifts in his seat.
"It's $30, dude."
"Now what is this about you saying it was $20 on the phone?"
For a minute you can't tell if he's really unstable or if he's just faking this look in his eyes to get a better deal. Finally August gives in.
"Fine. You want it for $20, I'll do $20--$20 for the video, $30 for the boots."
Paul seems to notice me for the first time, and I want to leave.
The tension in the room cools off as they sort things out. Paul pays for the video and the boots, doesn't want any concert tickets. August and I head up to the roof to celebrate. We stare out over the skyscrapers and, beyond those, Lake Michigan in all its glory. We breathe in the blackness.
"Would you walk out on that ledge if I gave you, say, a thousand dollars?" August asks me. We're up at least 20 stories, and a slip from that ledge, on the other side of a metal barrier, would send a daredevil to a certain death. So many times the idea has occurred to me--I've imagined those last moments of freedom before the earth knocks the life out of me. But imagining them is enough. I tell him no, not for any price.
Our reverie is interrupted by Paul, who comes up to join us. August poses the same question to him.
"Ah, that's nothing," Paul says. Then he flips himself over the barrier and saunters onto the ledge. We protest: Dude, what are you doing? Don't do that! I try to avert my eyes but I can't. I try to will him back, but he steps right up to the edge, six inches from death, raises one foot, and hops. Three times. Just a little slip of the foot and he's pancaked on the ground hundreds of feet below, and I'm wondering what to do, wondering what his suspicious wife will think when she finds her husband has fallen to his death in the presence of the shady video salesman and his driver.
Quit it, I think. I'm just a kid from the suburbs, I don't actually want to see somebody commit suicide.
But he hops right back to safety, flips back over the barrier to our side.
"I can't believe you just did that," August says.
"Ah, what do I have to live for anyway?" Paul says.
I don't know what to say, and we've got to go. My car's parked in a tow zone.
"You've got to let me come back out here some day and tan," August says.
Down at the offtrack betting parlor at Franklin and Jackson, the manager is getting impatient. "We're closing up, guys," he announces.
August has been at it for a couple hours, watching the horses run across the little screens, rifling through his program in search of a sure thing, ferrying back and forth to the window where the bets are taken. He's spent nearly all his money and is hoping this last race will redeem him. But now the TVs are being shut off.
August pleads, "Aw, come on man, can't you just keep it on for the last race? We just placed our bets."
"We" really means August, because I placed my only bet, a two-dollar loser, earlier in the night. I can't bring myself to do more, because you can't win with these things, and it isn't enough fun to do it for kicks.
Instead I've just been sitting across the table from August, mentally putting my hands over my eyes but peeking through in morbid fascination, watching him spend the money that he will wind up owing me at the end of the night. I try to tell him that you can't win, there is no system, you can never beat the odds if you don't have inside information. He half-listens and says, "My system, sometimes it wins," and goes back to scribbling on his program. I try to tell him sometimes isn't good enough, because you'll always lose in the long run. But then I just shut up. For him there is no long run. There is only this race, and it could be the one, if only they would let him watch it.
The bar staff is all packed up and ready to go. The manager sighs, nods reluctantly, and turns on a TV up near the ceiling. August's horse finishes in the back of the pack.
"Oh, come on," August says. He rides down the escalator, back down to the street. In a few hours he'll be calling people from pay phones, searching frantically for someone who'll buy a video so he can make up the lost cash, or at least the 25 bucks he owes me for tonight, so that I'll come back next time.
August crouches in the Guitar Center parking lot under the darkening sky, brushing the loose fur out of Augui Doggy's coat. A clump of it collects between the bristles, and he yanks it out and flicks it to the ground, sending the pale wisps fluttering around the lot.
Augui is truly this man's best friend--the one friend he doesn't borrow from or sell to, the one he can just laugh and scuffle with. He even posed as a Seeing Eye dog once to get into a show. "He had a great time at Metallica," August insists. Augui's also the mascot of the video business. His face is plastered on every flyer and tattooed on August's left arm. He's the one constant in an inconstant life, the one who still depends on August to take care of him when everyone else is gone, when August can barely take care of himself.
But this is a good-bye of sorts. August's ex-girlfriend, the one he's been staying with, has told him that he needs to find a new place. Till he gets settled, Augui Doggy will be boarding with a near stranger, a Guitar Center clerk who's taken a liking to him.
It makes August nervous. He's lost two other dogs: Duke, a black Lab, and King, a German shepherd-rottweiler mix. He'd had them since he was 14. On July 4 weekend in 1993, with no apartment and no job, he thought to himself, screw it. He and a friend drove up to Milwaukee to party at Summerfest. The dogs stayed behind with a guy he knew in Chicago Ridge. After a wild weekend, he asked a woman he'd met to drive him back here. "I should have walked back, but I was really high," he says. "My mind wasn't there." When she said no, according to the criminal complaint, he "became angry and punched her in the right side of the face" and said "I'm going to kill you and then throw you in Lake Michigan or in a ditch." She let him take the car and then reported him. While he spent two months in the Milwaukee County House of Corrections, Duke was put to sleep.
When he heard the news, August resolved to get straight, but after he got out, he fell back into old habits. He'd sold the originals of all his videos, and in March 1994 he was arrested for stealing three leather vests and a shirt from a Kohl's and Sears in Orland Park. He pleaded guilty and, since he was still on probation, was extradited to Milwaukee, where he spent more time in jail waiting for a bed to open up in a halfway house. In July he learned that King, who'd been staying with a friend, had run away. After two weeks in the halfway house, he says, he jumped the fence and took off for Florida.
Within a year, feeling rejuvenated, August moved back to Chicago and started selling videos again. One night at Exit, he befriended a guy who called himself Gui. Gui was older than August, nearly 40, but they had instant chemistry, and he became a partner in the video business. "We laughed our asses off together," August says.
August also adopted a scrawny dog that his girlfriend's neighbors couldn't take care of and named him Augui--after himself and Gui. Then he renamed the business after the dog: Augui Doggy Video.
Riding home from an outdoor show on the south side, August is pissed. He'd been making out with a girl in a quiet corner in the back and planned to take her home, but then she disappeared. "I had her," he says. "She was all over me."
I met a girl too, but nothing came of it. I try to tell myself to be more like August, to persuade myself that there is no day but today, no race but this race. Only it's not as easy as it seems. I wait for my moment, see it arrive, and watch it disappear.
We stop at a convenience store. August runs in for a pack of smokes and comes back with a girl.
The girl, who speaks with a British accent, climbs into the passenger seat. August takes the backseat with Augui, who's back in action after his leave of absence. While the dog naps obliviously, August and the girl chatter faster than I can process at five in the morning.
"I just told her it was her lucky day, and it was," August announces.
"Well, I hate to be a party pooper, you know," she says.
"Yeah," August says, sighing. "I was hoping it would be my lucky day, but it looked like it wasn't gonna happen. Until I met you."
"Well, we'll see about that," she says.
We stop by her place so she can pick up her things. She disappears into an apartment building. We sit there a moment, then the moments drag into minutes. A guy waves to us from his seat on a nearby stoop. I double-park and we both get out. We just stand there as the guy on the stoop watches us. We begin to think we've been conned, that she has no intention of coming back.
"Waiting for the girl, eh?" the guy on the stoop says. "The story of my life."
August is busy trying to figure out which building she went into. Could it be? Could he have been fooled twice in one night?
But no. She comes rushing out, all apologies, just had to take care of a few things. We drive over to August's apartment, a new place on Talman near Diversey, and the girl talks the whole way. I pull over and August and I each carry a crate of videos upstairs. Then we come back down to make sure he's got everything, so he can go back upstairs with his girl and I can go home by myself.
Still, I keep showing up at his door. Tonight I ring the bell and August bounds down the steps, his hair tied back. "All right! You made it!" he says.
It's going to be a good night because August is supplying the music. None of my boring Bob Dylan and Bedhead cassette dubs--he's been aching to play something that really rocks. When I play my stuff August gets all anxious. It's cool that you like to hear your music, but man, can we put on the radio or something?
He pops in a Dream Theater tape and cranks it up. We're flying west along I-88. August rolls down the window and sticks his head out.
I try to get caught up in the moment as I weave between the other cars. I glance over at August and smile and ask which exit do we want, and he takes a brief pause from an air guitar riff to say "right there" at the last possible moment before we miss the exit. We careen off the highway, but we don't care because we are living for the moment.
We land at Skin Gallery, a tattoo place in Downers Grove. While August hawks videos, I sit back on the leather couch, perusing scratch patterns and watching the kids. They stand around the parking lot of this otherwise empty strip mall, waiting for a piercing, making plans on their cell phones.
A woman in her 30s comes out from the back in a huff, phone in hand. It seems someone loitering outside is antagonizing potential customers.
"If he thinks he can come in here whenever he wants and act like that. . ." she says.
Restless noises are multiplying. A blond kid looks pissed off; he comes back in and then tries to go out, but the door is held shut by someone outside. The kid rattles the door and shouts. I get off the couch by the door and walk behind a tattoo rack.
Then the blond kid pulls out a knife, a blade a few inches long, like a wilderness knife. Those around him jump back instinctively and the crowd lets out a collective murmur of concern.
"Whoa, dude, put the knife away," somebody says.
"Somebody's gonna die, man, somebody's gonna get killed," the blond kid says, motioning through the glass door at his tormentor. Some people try to reason with him. But the boy is beyond reason.
"He's hitting on my girlfriend, man--I'll fucking kill him," he says. He stabs the knife into the wall right by the door.
Eventually the place calms down. The guy outside leaves and the rest of us just stop and take a breath. The blond kid is laughing and saying, "I'll do it, man, you know me. I'll be down in the basement with organs and shit." He's smiling like you'll think he's said something funny, like it's just an interesting thing that he could kill you, but he looks scared in his eyes. I want to shake him violently and give him a hug at the same time.
I tell myself this is exciting, that I must behave as if this could be the last day of my life, as if these sorts of risks are worth something, even if only to feel the blood pulsing in my veins. Except I don't believe it.
"Gui's buried in there," August says. We've copied some flyers and picked up dog food, and now we're driving down 111th Street in south suburban Alsip, past Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. "I've always wanted to visit him one day."
August has told me the story before. It was after Gui left the video business, feeling that his investment wasn't paying off, that he fell for a 16-year-old girl. August tried to tell him he should back off. But Gui insisted they were in love.
Of course they got caught. Her parents found out. He was arrested, but 11 days after he posted bail, he and the girl were found together, dead of carbon monoxide poisoning in his '86 Mercury in the closed garage of a house under construction in Plainfield.
We don't go into the cemetery. Instead we stop in at the bar across the street, leave Augui in the car and get a drink. It's midafternoon and the place is nearly empty.
"Hey, man, how you doing," he says to the bartender. "I've been here before."
He wants the bartender to recognize him, even though he knows he won't. August wants to explain why he's here, get him to sanctify this moment, but he can't. The bartender doesn't remember the day when August stopped in for a drink while his best friend was being buried across the street, or if he does he doesn't show it. He just nods politely and puts our drinks on the bar.
There was a whole group of them, August says, and they were freaking out. The night before they partied, because they didn't know what else to do. The next day was the funeral, and there they were at the church, all busting up crying. Then they were traveling to the cemetery to bury him, but along the way some of them had to use the bathroom, so they stopped in at this bar. They knew they shouldn't do it--August was a pallbearer--but they did it anyway, and they missed the burial. They stayed a long time, long after the service was over.
And now here he is again, years later, at this same bar. Gui is gone, and I can tell I'm no replacement.
Augui's waiting for us in the car. We don't even bother finishing our beers.
Late one night we head to Estelle's, a Wicker Park hangout that fills up with night owls after the other bars close. Another bar, another chance, just like all the others I've passed up. Only I have to keep telling myself, like August does, that maybe this is the night. Maybe one of these nights I'll meet the girl of my dreams.
I squeeze my way between people, make it look like I'm headed somewhere, keeping my eyes peeled for opportunities. I move closer to the front of the bar and sit. A girl sits near me, and even though she already has a drink, I offer to buy her one.
"I already have one," she says. Of course. But then she adds, "But if I didn't, I would say yes."
I tell myself, OK, that's good. Now say something else. My heart pounds, and suddenly I realize that I don't need knife fights or car chases to feel like I'm a risk taker; just working myself up to talk to a pretty girl feels like jumping off a ledge. But something in me, the part that says screw it, take the plunge, who cares if you make a fool of yourself, miraculously wins out this once.
"I don't know quite what to do with myself here," I admit.
"Who're you here with?" she asks me.
"Well, I'm with this guy who sells videos."
"Augui? Yeah, I know him," she says.
She tells me she works at another bar in the neighborhood. I ask her about her job. I tell her my temp job will be ending soon; maybe I'll try bartending. She says something, I forget what, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter that we won't talk for long, or that August and I will drive off by ourselves at the end of the night. The point is, she's talking.
The car jolts forward and goes quiet. We sit in the middle of the intersection and angry drivers honk around us.
"Fuck," August says. "What did I do?"
"OK, it's stalled," I say. "Turn the keys."
He restarts the car.
"Now push in the clutch and put it in first. Press the gas, and let up on the clutch slowly."
The car jerks forward again and clears the intersection. I explain that he needs to downshift--he's going too slow. I've told him I have to take a break from driving him. He can use his roommate's car, but he doesn't know how to drive stick, so I've agreed to teach him. He's getting the hang of it, which is good, but I don't expect this solution to last, and it turns out I'm right--in a few months he'll be calling me for rides again. He'll keep calling me right up until the day in September 2002 that he follows a girl to New Orleans.
Before I leave him I want to help him somehow--persuade him to quit gambling, show him a way to save money, plan for the future. But I'll settle for teaching him to drive.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/David Rae Morris.