I Wanna Know What Love Is
My daughter, Layla, is leaning into a car parked on the side of the road. The car is dark and has a racing stripe down its back. I can’t see the driver clearly because it’s late, 11:00 p.m, and he either refuses or doesn’t think to turn his dome light on. Minutes go by that seem like decades. She’s wearing a short white dress and stylish sandals, the kind of which she has twenty or thirty more exactly alike at home. Her feet never leave the ground, and as we stand there, my wife and I, wondering what the hell is going on, I’m sure we think about intervening. Yet we don’t. Finally, Layla’s boyfriend, Billy, who has also been scouring the road, returns, walks to the driver, and says, “I’ll give you $50.”
“Climb in,” the driver says.
How did we get to this place? Where will this guy take us? And how, given that there are six of us, are we ever going to fit into a bucket-seated, hatch-backed Chevy Sonic? It’s not like we’re physically flexible, or to be fair, at least not my wife and I. Our shoulders, our backs, our stamina.
“We can do this,” my other daughter, Pari, says.
So we all climb in, four to the back, my wife sitting on my lap in the front seat.
I turn to Billy and say, “You couldn’t have said $40?”
“Oh yeah! Hahaha…”
Eric, the guy behind the wheel, laughs too, but says, “Ok, but it is fifty, right?”
“Yeah, yeah, fifty.”
And so he cranks this high-revving Sonic, and off we go.
Eight months earlier, Christmastime, my daughters, wife, and I are singing karaoke in our living room via an app the girls have found. My wife, though she loves to sing, can’t carry a tune if her life in a hatch-backed Chevy depended on it. I used to sing in the high school choir, did a mean rendition of “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Windy.” I’ve never done karaoke before, but figure that with my love of pop music, I’ll be a natural, my baritone standing the study of years.
Like my wife, though, I suck at this.
Finally, we pull off “Moonshadow,” because Cat Stevens, at one time in our life, before he went all Fatwa, charmed us. Pari and Layla clap when we finish.
“Y’all are just so cute,” they say, which is of course true, and even more so because we’ve all had a few Moscow Mules.
The girls take over, and their choice is the collected hits of the Dixie Chicks, “Goodbye Earl” and all that. They are good; they are stars, and I start falling in love with the Chicks because I’ve always been in love with my daughters.
And then Pari starts screaming: “The Dixie Chicks are coming to Charlotte this August. We’ve got to go! It’s been my dream to see them since I was in middle school.”
A few nights later, she buys tickets online for my wife and me, for Layla and Billy, and for herself and her boyfriend Taylor.
“We’re going to see the Dixie Chicks, Daddy,” she squeals, and squealing for this twenty-five-year-old woman is still weirdly becoming.
At that moment, I feel excited, too, even though I know the concert will take place in August at the Verizon Amphitheater, on the ground, which translates, in case you can’t conceive of this, into no seats, which means no back support. I will have turned sixty by then. I can still sit on the ground. Getting up, though, worries me. I put that vision out of my mind and think how lucky we are that our daughters want to hang out at a big show with their parents. Layla is now twenty-one. She won’t have to sneak her beer any longer.
“It’s gonna be so much fun,” they say.
By the time August arrives, Layla is living in Charleston, Billy in Wilmington, Pari and Taylor in Warm Springs, VA, so we all agree to meet at a Hampton Inn in Charlotte. Great plan. Layla suggests that we take Uber to the show so that we don’t have to hassle with parking. We then drive as close as we dare to the venue, park our car at a Moe’s, eat some delicious “Art Vandalays,” and call Uber. A Ford Flex arrives, drives us to our admission gate, and deposits us as if we were Chick royalty.
“Uber is the way,” we all say as one, and it occurs to none of us what the flaw in our plan is. The flaws, I should say, but they won’t make themselves apparent for some hours yet.
I don’t know where you were living this summer, but I want to assure you that in the deep southeast, the temperature hit 90 on May 7, the day of Layla’s college graduation—an outdoor affair—and it never dipped below that mark except for a minute or two on July 12. And I don’t want to scare you about southern humidity, but this summer, I saw mosquitoes sweating.
We arrive at the Verizon arena about 7:00 p.m. It has cooled off from the high of 98 to roughly 94. We negotiate a space, oddly enough just a blanket or two from one of Pari’s childhood friends from Greenville, and get our first beers. I ask for a plain Bud, am handed a Bud Light instead, 24 ounces that cost $15, which my wife and I then share. At one point, I remember lying flat on my back, my wife touching my head for just a minute until we both start screaming, “No skin contact!” When I get that hot, I want to peel my skin off, you know?
The girls and their boys wander off to find friends. A funny notion, I thought, given we were surrounded by 18,000 other fans. But they succeed anyway and make it back to us just as the lights go low.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch your lovely daughters laughing and dancing and maybe even spilling a little bit of beer on each other. They sing every song, hug each other, and occasionally hug Billy and Taylor, too. At some point, I think around the time that the Chicks cover Dylan’s “Mississippi” (which Taylor recognizes before I do), I start relaxing, and even loving the show. When you sweat enough, when you become saturated with heat and know it’s likely not going to get any worse, when you’ve switched from beer to water, and understand that you can take a shower in your cool and clean hotel room later, the world looks quite fine with the moon shadows enclosing you, and your daughters dancing, and your wife singing along to a tune that you didn’t even know she knew.
At some point, my wife and I go in search of the bathrooms, and I notice one of the special features of the show: maybe thirty port-a-potties all lined up and a crowd of fifty people waiting in line patiently. But as I observe the scene, I notice only two potties being patronized by those in line. I wonder at the sight, and wondered even more when I saw the regular venue’s men’s and women’s restrooms, placidly waiting just beyond the fried dough stands. Only a few people are entering and exiting these, so I walk over to one and relieve my pain with absolutely no waiting. My wife does the same, and when we finish, the same people are standing in the same potty line, never noticing us, the main restrooms, or that there are other choices at all.
It occurs to me then that another smart decision would be to leave the show just before the very end. Maybe miss a song or two. I know as I think that, however, that I better keep it to myself. Pari refuses to leave Alabama football games early, even when we’re playing Chattanooga and are up 55-3 in the third quarter.
“Don’t even ask,” my wife warns.
“Ok, but I’m gonna wait by the exit because I don’t think I can negotiate all those people again.”
“Sounds good,” she says. “We’ll meet you there.”
The main show ends, people begin pouring out, the encore starts and ends, and even more people pour out. They all walk past me. I think, “Shit, that’s a lot of people,” but those flaws I mentioned earlier still don’t register.
I guess my family beats maybe eleven people out of the arena that night, and I imagine the ones left are those who succumb to alcohol, heat, or both, and perhaps are still lying on their multi-hued blankets in the middle of a grassy nowhere. But my family is together, ready to head back to our paid-for coolness.
“I’ll call the Uber now,” Layla says.
We use Verizon, by the way, and you’d think that in an amphitheater named for that carrier, service would be stellar.
“We lost service,” Layla reports. And as many times as she calls that driver and others back, she gets nothing, just a ringing noise in her ears.
“I think we might have a problem,” Billy says. “You see all those people,” and I wish by “all” he meant maybe fifty or even 100. “They want Uber too.”
I’m guessing—though I really could be off by 500 or so—that there are 7000 or 8000 people wanting a serviced ride right then.
“OK,” Layla says. “Let’s walk up to the exit. Maybe there will be some cars waiting.”
So there we are, walking along this strange road, soliciting people we don’t know to help us out.
Uber’s a funny thing. The cars aren’t marked, and the theory is that we will willingly climb into a vehicle driven by an unknown someone who needs our money. We had told the girls that they were in charge of making all the arrangements that night. That we are trusting and relying on them. Still, when you see your gorgeous daughter with her head stuck in a stranger’s window, and you can’t hear the exchange, and she keeps talking, well, what is that? Love or something?
“I tried everything I could think of,” she said later, “even flirting, and then dang ol’ Billy walks up and offers $50, and the guy says ‘yes.’”
“Yeah, with my money too,” I added.
As our driver, Eric, wheels us out of Verizon, like we are teenagers escaping a high school football game, Layla keeps asking, “Are you really an Uber driver?” And Taylor, who has been the calmest and quietest of us all, chimes in from his place somewhere in the back of that Chevy, “We established that about fifteen minutes ago.”
Everyone laughs then, especially Eric.
Because I’m getting old and have lost whatever measure of cool or hip I once had, I shout: “Thank God for YOUber!”
“YOUber,” Layla’s slightly tipsy, laughing voice wafts up. “YOUber!”
“So, where are you guys going?” Eric asks.
A collective “uhhhhh” emerges.
And, thus, our other flaw arrives, right on time.
All we can tell Eric is that we’re parked at a Moe’s near a Target. Uber drivers, however, or at least those named Eric driving Sonics, are well trained.
Even today I can’t tell you how we got there, but we “selfied” ourselves once we reached our car. Eric is in there with us, grinning, like he knew something we didn’t. When he drove away, we applauded.
Of course, we did know what he knew and then some: What that thing called love truly is.