When I get to the taxi shack, everybody’s freaking the fuck out.
My dispatcher Paulie Floyd is in the parking yard smoking grass and has three cigarettes burning, two of them wedged in the downspout outside his office door. Our rookie, #12, also wears a long face like he’s going to bust out crying.
“Fuck’s matter with you two?”
“Leon got robbed,” says Paulie.
I point at the rookie and ask, “So then what’s the matter with him?”
“I almost got robbed,” says #12, “But then I screwed up and Leon took the call instead and then this guy, he robbed him!”
“I’m confused,” I confess to Paulie. “So did Leon get robbed?”
“Yes,” says Paulie. “Apparently.”
We all know the trouble with Leon Bath. The sad shit is that he’s got kids at home. Leon swears he and his old lady have kicked the dope, but life is too long for his short lies. He’s the low book most nights, yet he high-flags and cheats his tripsheets. In other words, he turns in the least money, we watch him run fares without telling dispatch, and he finds ways to skim any dollar he can.
“So did Leon really get robbed?”
I don’t feel so bad saying it when I see in Paulie’s face that he’s wondering the same.
“What do you mean?” begs #12, his eyes boiling up tears, “What do you mean?”
Paulie hustles back to his desk to chase a ringing phone and I give Leon a cigarette, encouraging him to tell me what happened.
“What’s your play in all this?”
The rookie reports that he was dispatched to a guy at the south side mall who was “acting funny.” This fare had #12 running across the river to a house on the west side, then to an apartment block up there, and then back to the south side.
“So how was he acting funny?”
“This whole time the guy’s laughing and talking shit about me and pretending to be on the phone, but he wasn’t, and I even saw it was shut off but he went on pretending to talk in it.”
“That is funny,” I tell him. “Then what?”
“He made me go through the taco drive-thru and made me order a shit-ton of food for him and then made me check the receipt before we could leave and he wasn’t happy about shit, so he dug through the bags looking for what’s wrong and finally they gave him the free shit he kept asking for and then we rolled across the street to those apartments.”
“Whatever they are.”
“Learn the names of things. It’ll help. What’d he look like?”
“He was just some black dude.”
“Some other black dudes might disagree, asshole. Was he light-skinned or dark? What was his hair like?”
“He wore a hat and he had hoodie on so I couldn’t really tell.”
The rookie can’t tell me because he can’t remember. This is because rookies don’t pay attention. And they make mistakes. Rookies turn the wrong way; they don’t read their maps; they don’t notice shit; they take forever doing shit; and most of their instinctual behavior is alarming. The same can be said for seasoned veterans, yet the difference is veterans have learned to make smaller, more manageable mistakes.
“So then what happened after the tacos?”
#12 carries wearily on. “He said he needed to run inside to get money for the fare, but I told him if he needed to do that then he needed to leave his food in the cab.”
Kudos to the rookie. Always hold collateral whenever a fare leaves the cab. This ensures the fare will come back. Take their shoes or jacket. Take their child. Even if they come back unable to pay, people will almost always come back for a kid.
“What’d he do when you asked for collateral?”
“He got in my face and these neighborhood kids circled the cab and they were rocking it and he was yelling and finally I told him, ‘Look, alright, take your food inside but go get the money and come right back out and pay me, alright?'”
“And then what?”
“The neighborhood kids kept rocking my cab so I left. I was so mad I came right down here to tell Mister Floyd about it.”
I’ve never heard Paulie called “Mister Floyd” and it makes me laugh my ass off.
“Go on—he never came out and you left. And then what? How did Leon fall in the jackpot? And don’t call him ‘Mister Bath.'”
“After I left, the guy called back and explained how he owed me money and that he wanted to pay me. Mister Floyd told me all this over the radio but because he also was giving another address to a different driver I misunderstood and I should’ve known better because that address was on the other side of town. But I drove over there anyway and just when I was pulling up I saw our other cab and Mister Floyd was asking on the radio where was I because the guy at the Coronets was calling him back.”
My understanding of the scene is clearer than the rookie’s play-by-play: “So Paulie said you were clear and he sent Leon to the Coronets instead.”
“How’d you know that?”
Paulie comes out of his office and asks Leon if he’s ready to go.
“I’ll go wherever you need me, sir.”
I tell the rookie to knock that shit off, and Paulie sends him out to the westside Hy-Vee for a grocery run.
Yet the three of us hold-to a moment while everybody catches a breath. They both look wrecked, each feeling guilty for different reasons. The rookie should’ve gotten robbed but didn’t, and Paulie because he’d put two drivers on the same bad call.
After the rookie has driven out of the yard, I ask Paulie: “So how do we know Leon really got robbed?”
Paulie shakes his head and frowns.
“He’s talking to the cops, so let’s hope he did.”
Vic Pasternak has been driving a taxi in Illinois City, Ohio, for over a decade, ruining his chances for a solid career and shortening his lifespan. He enjoys fishing, preying, chainsawing and long walks alone.