In 1995, shortly after we got married, Kristy and I moved to Panama City, Florida, on a whim where, for almost two years, I drove a limousine and she waited tables.
I carried a lot of characters in that limousine.
One night I was sent to Lynn Haven, a small community just outside Panama City to pick someone up for a night out. I can't remember this guy's name (I'll call him Quincy), but he sat towards the front of the back of the car so he could talk to me through the window.
He'd just come back to Lynn Haven from serving in the Merchant Marines, he told me. Now, picture in your head the kind of guy who joins the Merchant Marines. That was not this guy. Quincy was doughy, rounded on the edges and was living with his mother. I was 25 at the time and he couldn't have been much older than that.
We were on our way to pick up a girl he'd met only the night before. He was dressed nicely, though in a casual manner, and had a bouquet of flowers for the young lady. He was excited, to say the least. He had really taken a shine to this girl, acknowledging that he'd only just met her, and spent much of the drive telling me of his dreams for the two of them.
He directed me back to Panama City where we pulled into the parking lot of an apartment community somewhere off of 23rd Street, probably near the airport. It looked like the sort of place inhabited by families on the lower end of the income scale. There were beat up cars, ratty patio furniture and kids everywhere. They all came running to see the 110-inch black limousine that had just arrived. Quincy went to get his date while I stood outside the car and answered the questions from the kids and sweated.
Most of chauffeuring is about waiting. Probably ninety-percent of the job is spent standing in parking lots, sitting and reading, listening to the radio or daydreaming. So there I was, waiting in the waning Florida sun in a suit when Quincy came back to the car. Alone.
He asked me to take him to the No Name Lounge, a small pub for locals at the base of the Hathaway Bridge, on the city side. I can't recall the reason he wanted to go there now, or if he gave me one at all, but he said she'd meet him there later.
He went in, I waited.
A couple of hours later Quincy came out, mostly drunk, and said we were going to see this girl at work. She'd never shown up at No Name. I was confused as to why she was working on a night that she was supposed to have a date. And then he told me to drive to The Toy Box on Hwy. 98. This girl was a dancer at a low-rent strip club in the city - not even on the beach side of Panama City, the tourist side.
I felt bad for this guy. He'd been away from home for a while, lonely and had glommed on to the first girl who was nice to him. As it happened, that girl was being paid to be nice to him. And paid to string him along. What I couldn't figure out - and didn't ask - was how he had gotten her address.
We went to The Toy Box. He went in and I waited. I wanted to just leave, but that would have been unprofessional and I didn't think this guy needed to be let down again, though the long walk home to clear his head would have done him good. Hopefully he was having a good time in there, maybe getting something for free. Or at least for the cost of the flowers.
I went in at some point to use the bathroom and get a coffee from the bar. As I was leaving a woman way, way past her prime grabbed my hand and asked if I wanted a dance. I looked at her, at the black holes where teeth should have been, and explained I was working and then wrenched my hand free to go wait in the car a little longer.
I took him back to his mother's house alone that night, poor guy, and I went home to my wife. No idea at all what became of Quincy and his burgeoning romance with the exotic dancer from The Toy Box. Maybe they fell in love, maybe she quit the pole. Maybe they've spent many happy nights since that one sitting in a plush booth in a darkened corner of the No Name.