Illustration by Josh Carroll
First off, there are no good cab stories.
“I know that’s bullshit. Tell me what’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in here.”
“First tell me where you’re going.”
Everybody’s curious, especially this guy.
“Tell me the weirdest. I can take it.”
I was in court earlier this week pressing assault charges on a fellow citizen and the responding officer pulled me aside: “Jesus H. Christ, did you get a look at her bar?”
The cop was referring to a bar unit built into the garage of the defendant’s home, the whole of it veneered in white Formica and matched with white barstools, the floor decorated with mannequins clad in shining black leather. A sex swing hung from the rafters. I had hauled said defendant home many times previous to the altercation bringing us to court. Too hammered to use the front door, she carried the garage opener in her purse. So yeah, I’ve seen the bar. This is perhaps why I’m playing Peaches on the pleasure-radio tonight.
But try relating any of this to the kid who wants to know, so drunk already he’d practically fallen into the backseat, his eyes shining, his maw sucking in the drool to declare, “You know some fucked up shit. Out with it, c’mon.”
In an unrelated inquiry, my dispatcher called me to the taxi shack where a reporter was waiting. Let’s call him Skip.
“Talk to this guy,” orders dispatch. “He’s writing a story about us.”
So I talk to Skip. He’s writing for Little Village and wants an inside feel for taxi work. I drive us around downtown, we follow the One-Ways, we squirrel through shortcuts. I introduce Skip to fares as a driver in training, alternately as my life-partner. Skip doesn’t see how these intros play into my tips.
“I’m all wrong for this,” he says at once. “Maybe you ought to write this story.”
You go to hell, I tell him. Really.
He presses me, I decline. I make him buy pitchers as we argue it out. I say he could write it all with the letter D: “It’s all disagreements, drama, dereliction, drunks, drugs, drop-outs…dope-fiends….”
As I struggle for another word, Skippy gets helpful: “Dildos?”
“Dull. Dreary. Dead issue. Don’t even ask. There’s nothing to see here.”
Not unless you’re getting paid for it, of course.
Aye, the rub: The angles that amuse most fares glare as pedestrian for most cabdrivers. In other words, people mostly want to hear about lesbos making out, or pukers or what kind of creepy shit goes on. They want to hear the worst about themselves.
Cabdrivers, on the other hand, share stories about tricks of the trade and basic survival tactics, aspects that don’t have truck for most people. Not unless you are a hooker or a mercenary.
True example: I once got choked by a passenger sitting behind me. He and his pal had climbed out from under their bridge, grizzled white boys high on crystal meth, “How are ye, pal?” as he reaches around the headrest to pat my shoulder, this same hand then latching on my windpipe, and this while I’m piloting traffic.
You’d be pissed too, guaranteed. You’d stomp the brake and break his choke-hold and twist around in the seat so fast, swinging your Maglite and hoping to crush his skull like a fucking piñata.
And there you go. Most would say the action is all the bad-ass hand-to-hand combat.
“But did you get paid?”
That’s the bottom line for cabdrivers. The real hand-to-hand occurs when you get paid. Twelve hours, no hourly wage and what you take home is a 60/40 split with the boss. Or even less. So always get paid, even if it means checking your swing.
The drunk kid still wants to know, “C’mon, biatch.”
Likewise, always gauge your clientele. You might not be able to tell right off but the evidence is everywhere, like fingerprints. How drunk? How stoned? A notion of other filters comes with a feeling, like the whiff of a peculiar fragrance. Are they huggy? Frothing in rage? How weird is the shit coming out of their head? Is oil paint dabbed around their muzzle? Know the animal because everything depends on it.
“I know you want to tell me, braugh.”
I’ve gotten the sense this one will dodge on the fare so I ask for my cash two blocks from the drop. He lazes into a classic stall, fishing pockets and coming up empty. He had a plan in mind to what brought him here, to this moment.
I’m rolling into a stop when he tosses the trash in my face and without further warning opens the door to bail from the cab, yelling most of the syllables of “Geronimo, motherfucker!” before face-planting in the parking lot.
Then he scrambles off like a deer.
Let’s look at what he’s left: Cocktail napkins, tobacco cellophane, a number in a matchbook, an empty mini-Ziploc of what appears to be a finely grained white powder, an outsized condom.
But even before he’d left the vehicle I saw the fold of cash, choking down the voice inside wanting to cry out to him, to call him back into the fold. I count it out and find he’s left me $106. It’s sweaty from being in his pocket, shoved in there with the trash, forgotten.
So I got paid. Nothing to write home about.
Skip is nevertheless impressed when we meet in the blue ramp across from the cop shop where he makes good on his delivery of a pound of fresh okra.
“So we’re good?” he asks needlessly. “You’re going to write this thing?”
Always have a price and you’ll never pay with your life.
Then it’s good night, get the fuck out, and back to the business-radio for the what’s next. Clear #202, headed back downtown.
Vic Pasternak has made your food, poured you drinks and driven you home. If he’s cranky, you probably deserve it. Or maybe not.