Death of a GoGo Driver
I wrote this play after seeing the aftermath of a car accident on the Old Kent Road in London, near the busy and dangerous Bricklayer Arms junction. Even though the event had passed, the ground was still scattered with glass and red plastic, and ash was in the air.
I reference this road a lot in plays because it’s a sort of spiritual lifeline for South London. I lived near it for years – endlessly walking up and down or taking the bus back and forth from work, always noticing something new; the chemical dump, when the big Toys ‘R’ Us closed down, when I saw a man ride a white horse and cart very quickly through the buses and trucks.
I had already wanted to write a play about the gig economy, so I began the stitching together of three separate stories reflecting on the many service workers, those who invisibly scrub and scour and rearrange the city by day and night. This tragic, everyday event triggered the first story and the character of Jack Stielitz: a high-octane driver with ADHD who, rather than sleeping, storms about the city each night, before meeting a tragic end. This will be a part of a longer play, as I say, which should be in production in 2023. I hope you enjoy this first piece.
The Old Kent Road, London.
Blue lights of an ambulance blink on a busy junction as white powder gently falls from the air. People sing a hymn from a nearby church.
There is a wrecked car, its bonnet crushed and smouldering.
The body of JACK STIELITZ lies, broken.
On his face, though, is an expression of peace.
RIVA SINGH, a waitress, enters, in a rain mac. She stands beside JACK’s body.
RIVA: Jack Stielitz died on 24 December,
on the Old Kent Road, between the big ALDI and the Bricklayer’s Arms.
He died quickly, apparently, the ambulance crew agreed,
as they pumped his body
full of air, and blood,
and everything else.
But what they couldn’t agree upon, at the time of his death,
was something that happened after.
… Some of the crew said it was the flashing lights of the big ALDI,
broken and frenetic.
Some said it was the blue glow from the Twice Reformed Ethiopian Church from across the street, where the singing came from,
its sign quietly illuminating the
flecks of ash that rose slowly from the bonnet of his car.
But some from the ambulance crew,
and they swore by it, some: they believed that without a doubt
it snowed that night,
just for a minute,
it snowed gently above the broken body of Jack Stielitz, as he lay on the Old Kent Road and they pumped him full of air.
‘On Christmas Eve!’ they told their families, excitedly, as they returned at the end of their shift that night to warm kitchens,
‘It snowed on Christmas Eve!’
But no mention of Jack.
No mention in the papers, as they all rose on Christmas Day,
to turkey and couches and carrots and children screaming happily.
And nothing in the days to come.
But. Whether it was known or not,
his death and the events leading up to it,
were the first stones thrown that caused an avalanche
and a storm.
I’ll let him tell you himself.
Because back in summer, Jack was very much alive.
Heavy old rock and roll plays, something like ‘Cookout’ by Bloodshot Bill. Lights turn red as JACK STIELITZ’s body convulses and shakes and slowly becomes unbroken. He rises up from the stage and dances to the music.
Very much alive and driving for GoGo Cars.
I’ll let him tell you himself.
Still dancing to the music but slower, JACK STIELITZ speaks downstage. RIVA disappears.
don’t let them tell you it’s crap working for GoGo Cars.
Cos it’s not, it’s a dream.
All that stuff that came after…
It was a technical glitch.
And although I’m bitter, it’s hard to remember, on nights like this.
What was it?
perched in Peckham and the pubs slowly fill.
Lads and ladies post-hummus and horny as fuck.
All smiley and sweet, forgetting the week, ready for fun in the last of the heat.
Wide-eyed art kids, Doc-Martin’d and dreamy,
all heading east.
ART STUDENT 1: It must be terrible working for a company like this!
They squeak from the back, earnest as fuck.
ART STUDENT 2: You must get terrible tips.
ART STUDENT 1: Exploited by the system.
ART STUDENT 2: Yeah, and all the drunk wankers you have to deal with!
You’ll be my drunk wankers soon,
don’t you worry, kids.
Still high, mumbling blue faced as we cross Lambeth bridge.
A sinking sensation of Monday coming in. And student loans and the state of the world as it is.
But let’s not get bleak.
ART STUDENT 1: Thanks Jack!
ART STUDENT 2: Thank you so much!
Right now, it’s shit lager
and all sorted for Es and whizz.
… Who sang that?
Jarvis Cocker, 1995!
Yeah, that’s where I draw the line: music.
You see them pile in: hello, matey, can I put my jack in?
Or: turn it to Kiss
or Bum-Fuck FM!
It’s my tunes or the highway, matey. I don’t care if you rate me down.
Music is where I draw the line.
My mother raised me well.
Like, once I was driving down the A406,
going home in a stream of white and blue,
London all ambient and clubber’s delight,
so I whipped on the Bladerunner soundtrack, don’t mind if I do.
(Ping. The GoGo App makes a pinging noise.)
When these fucking –
STONER 1: You alright, mate?
– these fucking lads pile in at North Finchley, in a cloud of smoke and red eyes –
STONER 2: Safe, yeah, safe.
– stinking up my car with their Lemon Diesel haze. And going to –
STONER 2: Yeah, East Finchley, please mate.
STONER 1: Yeah, safe, safe, safe.
So they get in.
They hear the Vangelis.
They go silent.
I start to wince.
Then the little one chirps up:
STONER 2: ... Oi bruv, what’s this?
Oh, here we go.
STONER 2: What’s this bruv?
JACK: ... It’s …
JACK: the… ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack. Vangelis. You probably won’t know it.
They go silent.
But then the other one goes:
STONER 1: Man… it’s bare sick!
And I smile, and we laugh, as I ride them home, very slowly, down the Muswell Hill Road. Those were the quiet times.
Time to reflect.
Not like now.
Right now there’s money to be made, so I snarl up the West End, as it’s 11 o’clock, for the theatre crowds and post-dinner lot.
HALLIE: You’re doing great, Jack!
JACK: Thank you, Hallie!
The GoGo App chirps up and Hallie,
my beloved algorithm, gives me the jobs and showers me with stars.
HALLIE: You’ve nearly made £100, you’re doing great!
I call her Hallie, after Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, get it?
HALLIE: Keep going, Jack.
so anyway, outside some battered bookshop near Denmark Street, this couple trots out. Holding a copy of some bookish zine,
full of sweet words and crap wine and perfectly satisfied that they’ve had a good time.
HER: East Dulwich, please!
She screams, as if I don’t already have it up on my screen.
And then they sink into the back, and start to snuggle,
Now look. I don’t mind snogging, or a grope in the back,
but a happy couple very much in love,
now that really gets my goat.
HER: I love you.
HIM: I love you, baby.
Oh, God, shoot me in the mouth.
But then she gets frisky.
She shuffles up to him, close to his ear, and whispers, so sweetly:
HER: When we get back…
HER: When we get back… I’m going to sit on your face.
… Ohhh! Pardon!
But that’s not me! It’s matey in the back,
well perturbed, almost losing his cool and his red beanie hat.
HIM: What? I don’t… –
He stutters as his eyes flicker around.
HER: … What? Don’t you want me to?
HIM: No, I do, I just –
HIM: I just don’t… I just don’t like it… flung on me!
HER: Flung on you?!
HIM: It’s a figure of speech!
HER: It’s not the face-hugger from ‘Alien’, Sam!
HIM: I’m not… suggesting it’s the face-hugger from ‘Alien’, Emily!
HER: Fucking hell –
She collapses into folded arms.
HIM: I wasn’t saying that –
But no, the arms are folded, like London Bridge coming down. And a moody silence sets in,
all the way back down South.
And as I deposit them outside their beautiful house,
there’ll be no face-sitting for Sam tonight,
or anything else.
they give it out for free!
I don’t have to watch shit TV anymore.
The stuff I see. I could write a novel,
if I wasn’t violently dyslexic.
TEACHER: You can’t spell for shit …
… said my old teacher, Miss Swan,
back in the day when you could swear at the kids.
These days they call it ADHD.
But back then it was just:
TEACHER: Being quite thick.
And a book in the face.
But that’s why I love the job.
You’re everywhere at once.
Back up to the river, down Park Lane.
To penguin-suited lawyers, all heading home.
Then tear up to Hampstead and the pubs closing there.
TOFF: Kensington, please!
Then tiny tourists in Trafalgar Square.
TOURIST: Where is Shoreditch?
JACK: You’re in it, luv!
Then sweep round to Old Street, the first clubbers come out –
CLUBBER 1: Please get me home.
The ones that didn’t quite make it and are now riding alone. …
See, I can go all night.
I don’t really need sleep.
Like Thatcher. Without the politics.
Although these days, I don’t know…
(Knock, Knock, Knock!)
(Knock, Knock, Knock! Someone knocks on JACK’s window)
JACK: Yes, mate, one sec!
Some meat-headed polo-shirt raps at the glass.
(JACK winds down his window.)
JACK: Is it Kevin?
And Kevin piles in trying to conceal something yellow and stinky in his hands.
JACK: No mate, no way!
JACK: You can’t eat that in here!
He snuffs and snorts and holds his kebab, raising his fork like a sword.
POLO-SHIRT: Mate, I’ve had a terrible night!
JACK: I’m sorry mate, no –
But off he goes, ready to defend his god-given right to eat his sweaty meat on a Saturday night and no GoGo driver from bum-fuck nowhere is gonna –
POLO-SHIRT: OK mate, OK. … But no.
Kevin lifts himself out of the seat and politely staggers back to the bins, where he dangles curled meat up to his lips.
And as the moon sinks by St. George of the East,
I spy a young couple, tangled up and kissing, by the green ATM.
(Tap, tap, tap.)
Kebab Kevin pulls himself back into the car, wiping his greasy mouth. I ride him back to Kilburn, through old Soho,
concrete arm rising up to the sky.
But then… I’m tired…very, very tired.
Maybe it’s the booze that Kevin stank of.
Or the massive scotch egg I had about ten.
Or that couple… by the ATM.
HALLIE: Everything OK, Jack?
Hallie chirps up, as I make my way back.
JACK: Yeah, fine, Hallie, thanks…
I reckon I’ll pack it in for tonight.
HALLIE: … but it’s only 2 o’clock?
JACK: I know, Hallie, I know, I’m just a little…
And just as my fingers start to twitch, Hallie,
kind as ever,
sighs and wishes me good night.
HALLIE: Sleep well, Jack.
JACK: You too. Sleep well.
And as the App disappears and she waves on the screen, I pull into Whitehall,
cross the bridge on my left,
and see the river rolling gently by the side.
The city opens up,
the city yawns
and like every time before,
I disappear, just for a second. And I can smell the sea…
And as I pull into Southwark, down the Old Kent Road,
And head on home.
Well, Jack, me old boy,
you know what…?
Things could be a hell of a lot worse.
Max Wilkinson is a playwright and screenwriter fascinated with characters trying to navigate an increasingly absurd world. His award-winning play, Rainer, about a voyeuristic delivery rider riding around London, affecting the lives she glimpses through doorways each night, played at the Arcola Theatre last summer and is being produced for BBC Radio Four’s Afternoon play slot and is published by Bloomsbury.
You can buy a copy here: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/rainer-9781350350922/
Max also teaches screenwriting at the Met Film School. ‘Death of a GoGo Driver’ is part of new triptych play called Ghost City, which will be staged later this year.
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