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Haulin’ Ass: Five-by-Five

It’s our first busy weekend of the new school year and I’m hustled out of the office to an address on Westgate. “Get in your cab—we’re neck deep in this shit!”

Skipping all start-up procedures, I roar across town, wheeling into Westgate when dispatch hollers over my radio. “#202, where’re you at? Your people are downtown going out to Westgate.”

At the address initially issued by dispatch, however, I find a group of five waiting for their taxi at curbside. I tell dispatch: “#202 is nevertheless picking up.”

All five passengers squeeze into my sedan and the seat beside me is occupied by a skinny white girl full of pep and spastic grins, her hair dyed blonde-on-blonde. “I am gonna blow a dick tonight,” she declares, then cutting to me, “What’s it like to be a cab driver? Do you read the cab stories?”

“What cab stories?”

“The magazine ones.”

“Which magazine? I only read High Times and Cosmo.”

She turns around in the seat, dumbbells on a broom handle. “What’s that newspaper magazine?”

Somebody in back: “What’s the weirdest thing in here ever?”

“Is this Cash Cab or are you Kev Crabs?”

Blonde-on-Blonde twists back around and never mind the taxi stories, now she wants to know something else: “What’s this cost?”

“I don’t even know where you’re going.”

So she asks anybody who might know: “Wait, wait, wait—where’re we going?”

Dude behind me leans up to slap my shoulder. “How we doing, chief?”

“Five-by-five.”

His eyes in the rearview say he doesn’t understand. He also doesn’t care, shouting, “Let’s get to the cowboy bar—we’re going downtown, motherfuckers!”

Lots of whooping, hollering.

“Well yee-aww,” I join in. “But if you mean Wildwood, that’s not downtown.”

“What’s not downtown?”

“Wildwood, the cowboy bar. It’s outside of town.”

“Outside of town,” repeats the skinny girl like this is call and response.

“What I mean is the cowboy bar isn’t downtown. He said, ‘downtown,’” thumbing the guy behind me, “And since you wanted to know the cost, the distance adds about ten bucks.”

“What if she showed you her tits?”

Blonde-on-Blonde snarls at me. “We’re going to Wildwood so whatever the fuck—what’s your problem?”

“My problem is there ain’t enough country on the radio,” I tell her as I punch up KHWK and burp the taxi away from the curb.

This is how everything plays from dusk til dawn, and for at least the next six weeks, the general population roaming stilted and bewildered, showing off awkward boners and random panics typical to newness and change, one out of five steadily cracking as the truth stacks up against their inconsistent way of seeing things.

Three hours into my shift, I’m flagged at P.O.D. where the temper is friendly but uncooperative.

“Where are you going?”

“9575 East Gilbert.”

“That doesn’t exist.”

“9575 East Gilbert.”

“I’m saying there is no East Gilbert, and no 9575 besides.”

“9575 East Gilbert.”

“All right, get out of my cab.”

“But it’s on my phone!”

“Show me on your phone then.”

“You’re the cab driver,” complaining here, “You’re supposed to know!”

They are all new to town but acting like it’s a new planet. I ask the Chinese guy where he’s going and he says to me, “Yes.” I ask the drunk farm kid where he’s going and he says to me, “Yes.” In the outer hoods I see strangers squatting on stoops unsure of which home is theirs, or where they’d parked the borrowed car, or what happened to their phone and wallet, everything having bled away over the night, starting with the cash.

One of these jokers apologetically waves me down before throwing his iPhone at the cab.

“Free Tibet, you capitalist faggots!”

I suppose this is what is meant by “generational dissonance.” When I was a kid, the home telephone was tethered to a wall which attached to alley wires that stretched on poles by the mile physically connecting into the great and labyrinthine telecommunication hubs surrounding the city of Chicago to be distributed to other vast networks across the suburbs and state, the country, the world.

This crude analog thinking weighs me down today and I can no longer argue against the tide. Where is the benefit in storing any knowledge on-site when a phone has the potential to be infinitely smarter? In other words: who cares how or why anything works—call me a pizza, call me a cab, tell the hooker to bring cold beer so’s we can dodge the bootleg law.

“There’s a bootlegging law?”

“Wiki that shit, bitches—I bet he’s lying.”

The hive mind is becoming rapidly digitized.

“That’s why we don’t have any pictures of the fall of Rome,” one slim dude agrees with me, a kid claiming to be high on Ketamine. “All that shit went digital just like it is today. When they flush our toilet, whoosh—it’ll all be gone just like back then, you’ll see.”

“I hope not,” I say. Though feeling obliged to ask: “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“The people running our matrix, man, shit. When this’s all over, you won’t have any proof we even been here, you’ll see.”

At bar close, the gang that went to Wildwood requests me to drag them home to Westgate. The load-in takes almost fifteen minutes from my first punch, two coming out and one going back in, three others coming out then two going back in, etc., until everyone is aboard including the skinny Blonde-on-Blonde who resumes at last her throne at shotgun.

Off the bat, she asks: “Did I leave my panties in here?”

I shoot back: “More people get killed sitting in that seat than in any other.”

She bares her perfect white teeth then asks her friends, “Is that true?”

Yah, it is. Wiki that shit, bitches.

Vic Pasternak won’t take no for an answer but he gives it all the time.

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