We’re nine hours deep in a dead Thursday when I hit the shack for a leak and a smoke. When I come out of the can, #12 is blowing around the yard, pissed off.
“This guy,” he whines, “He was drunk and pushy. He was like, ‘Turn right, turn left,’ having me drive him in a big circle, then refusing to pay.”
Rule #5-2-6.C (2): Intoxicated fares may be wholly uncooperative.
But the truer truth is that #12 doesn’t know where he is most of the time. He hasn’t learned to take command and control of his popsicle stand.
“Rough night,” I tell him, offering a cigarette. “Hey, Dr. Bob: Tell him about the helicopter.”
Our resident spiritualist, Dr. Bob, wears his sunglasses for the moon and is stretched on his back across the hood of his cab like Moses reclining on Mount Nebo.
“I met the Greyhound at the bus depot but nobody wanted a ride. After the bus left, I remained there, waiting.”
His voice falls silent until #12 and I creep nearer to the cab. Get close enough to Dr. Bob and he roars like a conch shell.
“Next, these sports hop in back, this Latino dude and his white boy, both freaked out for missing their bus. Turns out, I seen them disembark from said bus and slip around back of the depot. And knowing they’d most likely been using drugs, and this being the reason they were left behind, I hadn’t much sympathy.
“The Latino nevertheless fronted me cash so we chased the bus, going east toward Davenport—and by that I mean the city thereof. Right off they insisted I drive faster but I told them getting pulled over wasn’t going to help us catch their bus. So the Latino jabbed the back of my seat and white boy said, ‘Pedal to the floor or he’ll blow a hole in you, bitch. He’s got a gun.’
“I wasn’t convinced these fools had a gun but I wasn’t going to ask for a show. I instead played along, picking up speed and moving erratic in attempt to placate the demands of my carjackers, and to gain the notice of fellow travelers. I blew around trucks and tailgated, flashing high beams and hitting the horn, squeezing onto shoulder whenever.
“Fifteen minutes later, and already blowing through Walcott Junction, we finally passed a westbound state patrol car. I felt a sliver of relief. If the trooper clocked me or had any other indication of my bad driving, they’d be flipping around. I didn’t announce the cruiser but reminded the boys that state patrol would stop us sooner or later, and this news fired them into an argument. One or both of them had screwed up real bad and they now blamed each other, naturally. From their bickering I gathered somebody was going to lose a pinkie, or worse.
“I meanwhile kept driving, mile after mile, my sense of anticipation that the cops would swoop down upon us going unmet. In fact, as we came to the Davenport exit I saw no cars to either side of the interstate. Very eerie.
“Then in the rear-view I spied a patrol car rushing up behind us. The cruiser posted on my bumper and then we passed a second patrol car and it too pulled out to join the first. No cherries yet, but I brought my foot off the pedal and told the boys we were getting pinched. If I was going to get shot, I figured this was it. Instead, they reduced to slapping each other silly.
“I saw a third cruiser ahead, its trooper in the median deploying stop-sticks, and now cherries burst in my rear-view so I pulled right over. The interstate is quiet with nobody on it and I could hear the cops over the loudspeaker ordering me to exit the taxi. So I got out, hands up, and walking backward per request. This was when I heard the helicopter rounding overhead. The cops hadn’t drawn their weapons, but the helicopter was flattering.
“A trooper stuffed me in his cruiser to run my license and hear my story. Then he got out to conference with his buddies who were searching the cab. After a bit he came back, saying, ‘The bus driver didn’t like those two and radioed ahead so we searched the bus at Walcott and discovered contraband among the belongings of these gentlemen.’ The trooper explained law enforcement would very much appreciate my cooperation in driving said gentlemen to Davenport where they could be casually reunited with their belongings. Waving my license under my nose, he reminded me I could lose everything right then and there.
“We were close to the depot, eight minutes at posted speeds. The trooper confirmed my riders had no weapons and I had cash enough to cover the fare, plus a tip. But I wasn’t sure how my thugs would swallow the catch and release.
“Turns out they were giggly when I returned to the taxi and didn’t think it strange that I was allowed to drive out of there. Even seeing the D-port cops parked at every light watching us along the route, the white boy merely said, ‘They’re really hawking to see if you drive right.’
“When I got to the station, the boys were alarmed their bus wasn’t there and I assured them it was right behind us. And it surely was.”
Dr. Bob falls quiet at last, and I blow smoke into the yellow lamps hanging along the garage. A whippoorwill cries in the dark for its mate, flying a loop over our riverfront and the yonder fires of the hobo camp. #12 meanwhile frowns, dissatisfied, still needing to be told what happened next.
I jump at the chance to stick my fork in him.
“Those guys were junkies and who gives a shit? Their story always ends lousy.”
Dr. Bob is kinder with his parting comment. “Point is, kid, that I’d been paid already and already I had enough BS on the dime of those clowns. It was time to get back to work.”
Vic Pasternak has been driving a taxi in Illinois City, Ohioa, for over a decade, ruining his chances for a solid career and shortening his lifespan. He enjoys fishing, preying, chainsawing and long walks alone.