Riding With Ellen DeGeneres



Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Riding With Ellen DeGeneres
Photo by Alejandra Palés

For the past several minutes, I’ve been watching Ellen DeGeneres drive a cab around Columbus Circle behind a camera crew. The cab is old fashioned, with a big square grill and black-and-white checkerboard sides. Businessmen rushing by don’t notice her or don’t care if they do, and I stand with a few foreign tourists ready with their cameras. They know something is happening but aren’t quite sure what.

Some of us daytime TV watchers are in the know. I’m next to an old woman in expensive-looking loafers who turns to me and says, “I like her better than Oprah, don’t you?”

“I like them both,” I say. I don’t tell her I just won tickets to see Oprah’s show in Chicago.

We watch Ellen swing wildly across two lanes of traffic, then stop short in the middle lane. She opens her door and steps out, stretching her right arm, then left, doing a few twists, some jumping jacks, a lunge. She looks like a teenager in jeans and aviator glasses. She ignores the honking horns as the traffic light changes from red to green.

I also don’t tell this woman that I saw Huey Lewis on Broadway this morning. He was coming out of Duane Reade wearing a bomber jacket and looking a little puffy all over. I’m not sure she’d know who Huey Lewis is, and besides, it would feel like bragging.

Inside the old-fashioned cab, laughing faces press against the window. When it gets to the main entrance of the mall, Ellen pulls up to the curb, and then with a lurch pulls up onto the curb, the chrome bumper scraping the sidewalk. Out piles a mass of arms and legs and shopping bags: a doorman in a gold braided coat, a delivery man, a mother and daughter, two screeching friends.

A man with a clipboard turns to us and says, “You girls want a ride?”

“Yes,” I say, but the woman next to me frowns and says, “Sorry, I have a bridge game in an hour.”

An hour? I tug her with me into the back seat and we’re off.

When I think now of those few minutes at Columbus Circle, it’s as if I’m cocooned in a slow motion dream. The sun flashes off the buildings that line the park. Ellen sings “We’re Coming to America” by Neil Diamond. She flips through my purse and crows over my American Express card. She leans out the window to grab a bag of potato chips from a construction worker, eats a few, then hands the rest to a young guy on his cell phone. She hoots and jokes and shakes hands. How could I know what was going to happen? Do we ever know that we’re on the eve of something?

I am on a magical carousel ride. It’s November, a week before Thanksgiving, and my life feels lucky and light. Within a week I’ll be engaged to be married, and then, as if to balance all my happiness, all my silly adventures, everything will fall apart. In the next six months, my stepfather and my father will die suddenly and impossibly. My wedding becomes a race against time, my family desperate for something to celebrate. When my grandmother dies a month later, I will fold up the corners of myself and disappear.

But for now, Ellen DeGeneres is driving a cab and I’m laughing on the seat behind her, glad to be picked, not questioning why. The world flickers past us, dancing fountains against a blue winter sky.

Gretchen Wiker lives on the Upper West Side and is working on her first book.

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§ 2 Responses to “Riding With Ellen DeGeneres”

  • Judy Meibach says:

    I like this piece – I too am conflicted between Oprah and Ellen and am convinced that Ellen will be the Queen once Oprah finishes her stint – the way the author interspersed this between her other activities was really great.

  • Gygy says:

    Oh, Gretchen this is so beautifully full of life and pathos….bravo!

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