Business as Usual: Vic’s cab gets taken for a ride

-- illustration by Josh Carrol
Iowa City’s favorite cabbie is back with “Business as Usual,” a new 12-part series. — illustration by Josh Carroll

Our taxi shack is south of town and across the river—back where the county used to weigh its trucks. I’ve rolled out of bed late and race into thunderheads all the way there.

Paulie Floyd is scheduled to dispatch, but when I get to the shop I find him atop the garage at the peak of its roof fiddling with our radio antenna, which looks dramatic against the boiling clouds.

“I figured out why the radio’s fucked, yo.”

“The lightning’s fucked, yo. Get off that roof.”

Paulie Floyd is our little shit geek of a brother all-grown-up. Or as much as he’ll grow up around here. He’d become a dispatcher after driving out his license and, given a few heavier duties, has taken to building our website, performing repairs, cleaning office and toilet, hiring/firing—and still he doesn’t have his own desk. Unless he buys a cab company, Paulie is as high as the career goes.

Thunder shudders out of the southlands and he monkeys with the antenna.

“Bad news,” he shouts. “Wayne Linder took your cab.”

“What’s wrong with Wayne’s van?”

“Alternator crapped out.”

I see three taxis left in the yard, none worth a shit.

“So what’m I driving?”

“Don’t worry, I had Wayne pick up a new alternator but—”

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Cue the thunder as more of the antenna busts loose. Paulie lifts the bundle of copper yarn at the sky and shouts a blue streak like he really wants his ticket punched.

I hear ya, Paulie. Wayne swapped into my cab after his died, which is fine. But it cranks me that he got a replacement part and left the repair to somebody else.

“Where this alternator at? I’ll just put it in myself.”

“It’s up here with me.”

This takes a moment to grasp but I’ve heard him right.

“Is Wayne’s taxi up there too?”

Paulie wants to explain everything as the rain blows down in silver dollars. I take shelter in the garage and find Wayne’s van in the bay, hood up. The place stinks like an electrical fire and I open the overhead door to air the room. NO SMOKING, fuck that.

And here’s Paulie scaling down off the roof sopping wet, new alternator stuffed under his arm like a rescued baby, the first day of the rest of my life unfolding as if I’ve joined a highwire act.

I have to ask: “So who’s dispatching?”

“I got to finish that antenna,” he says. “And city says no smoking in here.”

I make him hand over the new part and send him back up the ladder into the lightning.

For mechanically disinclined readers, the alternator charges your battery and sends juice to onboard electronics. Taxis suck the life out of them through business radios, credit card readers, computers and never mind a GPS or 4G phone charging in the cigarette bung. Repair is easy enough, however. I disconnect battery, undo bolts and belt, remove connectors from the dead part and lift it out, install new part and button it all back up.

The process should take 15 minutes but lingers half an hour when I tip into the dispatch office. Another driver, Zina Schram, is manning the helm and the air smells like peaches. Not for the first time I notice the office is tranquil when Paulie isn’t in it.

“We’re down this car until I’m finished. Are we busy?”

“Nothing going on but #12 getting lost in Manville Heights.”

“You said it’s on ‘lust?’” the radio barks. “I’m not finding ‘lust’ on my gps.”

Rookie of the month, #12, lacks the chops for this work and he’s lasting longer than I’d hoped. Zina wants to blow his lights out.

“Dumb as a two-headed cow,” she says before slapping the radio key, announcing, “Maps are available in the office, #12.”

I go back to the repair and am tying down the last bolt when Wayne Linder rolls onto the apron.

“So’s my cab fixed yet?”

I show him my dirty hands.

“Another driver stole my rig and this one’s been left for me to patch into service. So I’m driving this one tonight.”

“But that’s my cab.”

“Then you might’ve come put the alternator in it.”

Wayne Linder lives down in Washington County where he can be a man of his own principles. Instead of competing with corporate seeds and feeding his farm to predatory lenders, Wayne kept most of his land and took work in the taxi shack. A lazy red beard grows out of his face like volunteer tomatoes and I can smell the rural on his boots.

“Look,” I tell him. “I’ll let you drive it but I need an hour of labor.”

“I wouldn’t have to pay for Paulie to fix it.”

“Paulie didn’t fix it.”

Wayne scratches his messy beard when I call my labor at $40. But I know he sees my angle because he digs his wallet from the bib of his overalls.

“I only took your cab because I didn’t think about it,” he says, forking over the cash. “We didn’t get no blood in it, or nothing.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Paulie didn’t tell you? My personal car’s still down so’s my kid dropped me off and Paulie sent me out for that part and when I come back here she is, ‘Daddy, I’m having my baby!’ So we shot off to hospital in your taxi without even thinking.”

“Holy shit and congratulations. But why didn’t you stay at the hospital?”

“I needed to get back here and fix my cab.”

I stuff the cash back in Wayne’s hands.

“But you need to get paid.”

“I’m fucking with you, gramps. Paulie fixed that shit before he climbed on the roof.”

Wayne Linder puzzles up his eyes.

“What’s a dummy doing up there in this storm?”

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.

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