“Bridge and Tunnel people.”
“What is this?”
“This is what they call us—bridge and tunnel people, like everyone should be able to afford Manhattan.”
“It’s status,” S replied. “The Manhattan people look down on the Queens people, the blacks think the Jews are cheap, the Irish think the blacks are lazy, the hip-hoppers think the punk people are not hip, anybody making over $100,000 a year hates the Democrats, and someday the Natives are going to hate the guys who put up the casinos for taking all their money.”
“We won’t live to see that one,” said M.
“Thanks be. But I see it every day in the store. They all come in talking about everybody else, like nobody knows as good as them. And like I’m not there at all.”
“That’s because you’re bridge and tunnel people. Nobody sees us anyplace. We’re below everybody.”
“Take the upper level or the bottom?”
“The top makes better pictures. Don’t you pay attention?”
“This is not about me,” S replied. “Things will happen according to plan, despite my weakness.”
“Where do you get this nonsense? You watch Oprah too much.”
“It’s a good show. She at least helps people sometimes. Did you leave food for the dogs?”
“Lots of food,” M assured him.
“The ones from the Towers, they sent out people to their houses to save their dogs. We should have that,” S said.
“Are you comparing yourself?”
“No, no, it’s the dogs I’m thinking of.”
The line of cars was stacked up along the approach ramp. Two trucks were moving slowly in adjoining lanes, which held up everyone behind them.
“This is rudeness,” S said. “They know people are in a hurry.”
“Yeah—this is New York. Everybody has very important travel plans,” his passenger echoed and they both laughed. “Watch the pothole.”
“No problem at this speed,” S assured him. He was able to steer around it in any case. The van lumbered carrying the weight in the back but he had practiced for a week with sandbags and cinder blocks to simulate it and the handling was pretty much what he expected.
“I saw two American girls in the neighborhood wearing burkas,” S said. “You think this means something?”
“They’ll be wearing them with miniskirts this summer,” M answered. “They take nothing seriously.”
“They fight a war on terrorism and on the front page of the newspaper for weeks is ‘Joe Millionaire.’”
“That won’t change, you don’t think?” S asked. M heard the twinge in his voice and recognized a destructive sort of doubt seeping into his driver’s resolve. This could not go unanswered.
“I think over time, things must change,” he said. He could see S considering him between glances at the traffic, which was further snarled by an accident ahead. “When people are comfortable, they want to stay comfortable. When all the real choices are uncomfortable, they watch television instead. They have to be made uncomfortable so that their minds adjust. Then making a choice becomes a necessity.”
S seemed to be considering this, considering it at greater length than M liked.
“How do we know they’ll make the right choice?” he asked.
M stifled the temptation—it was strong in him—to squash this altogether. This is the wrong question, he thought, but did not say.
“It is not for us to know the results of our work. The world goes the way the world goes,” he added, thinking this might appeal to S’s Oprah-watching side. “All we can know is our role.” He smiled. “We’re bridge and tunnel people, that’s our role.”
S laughed, and the tension eased. They passed the accident and now they were climbing the ramp with a small group of cars, heading for the tall bridge towers and the broad roadway over the river. The sun came from behind a cloud and gleamed on the stanchions.
“Look at the new Mercedes,” S said, always watching the machines. He wasn’t good for much but he knew his machines.
“Yeah—see the look he’s giving us,” M added.
“Bridge and tunnel, that’s what he’s saying,” S said. “We’re almost there.”
“Roll down the window,” M suggested, climbing into the back of the van. “Tell him if there’s no bridge, there’s no bridge and tunnel people.”
He mouthed a prayer and bent to push the red button.
“Bridge and Tunnel people.”