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The Early Tears with Vic Pasternak: Cash up front for upfront chuffers (Lesson 1)


Ah not this shit again—

One night a drunk guy threatened to kill me. He’d paid a portion of his fare and I now demanded the balance.

“I’ll kill you,” he promised. “I’ll fucking kill you.”

He was more likely to pop off than not. He had muscle for it and was cocky-drunk. So I thumbed off the dome light, then shined my Maglite in his eyes.

“Ay! Get that flashlight outta my face!”

“It’s not a flashlight,” I said before killing it. Then in the dark I locked us in the cab together.

When I thumbed on the dome light he blinked, robbed by my Maglite of his night vision.

“Give me my money then get the fuck out of my cab.”

He coughed up the 75¢ and staggered away.

Rookies—and a few veterans—are likely to ask, “You did all that for 75¢?”

But rookies and those veterans always ask the wrong question just like they take the wrong turn, and go to the wrong call, and generally snafu the situations served to them.
The correct line of questioning is: “How did you get to that point, and why the fuck are you still driving a cab?”

The first question I can answer. For example:

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Dispatch sent me to OCM-Osco and I asked where Osco was. He said it’s where the Walgreens is now. Or was then.

“You mean at Old Capitol Mall?”

that’s why the ‘ocm,’” said Dispatch. “ocm-osco for mari-lou.

Mari-Lou: Crazy church lady. I went red hot because this was the fifth time I’d haul her and it was only my second night shift, ever. I was getting the shaft because I was the rookie.

“Ah c’mon,”  I said at the radio, and not over it, “Not this shit again!”

At the start, I was a healthful sport with an eye on a brighter future. If I knew how I’d see things after my 2,000th shift, I might’ve gone back to mopping the arcade at the jack shack.

But back then I was smarter than the deck stacked against me. I took the long way around downtown and through the loop advertising my empty cab at every bar between me and OCM-Osco.
“Taxi!”

I’d seen him talking to the cab ahead but that cab pulled off and I pulled up.

“Where’re you headed, buddy?”

“Cedar Rapids? Mind if I smoke?”

“Well c’mon,” I cheered, waving him in with my cigarette, “By all means, please do!”

Dude sat in front beside me and, as I split from the curb, claimed to be a software engineer.

“My girlfriend left my car keys at her sister-in-law’s and she was supposed to give me a ride.”

“Hang on, pal, I got to tell my dispatcher.” I was not yet able to drive and talk and smoke and use my radio at the same time. I said into the mic: “Number 22, I flagged to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I don’t think I’ll be able to get Mari-Lou.”

go, 22. and cut the verbose checks. 88: ocm-osco.

“So you say you design software?”

The fare bent my ear the whole way, telling how he coded his first property in college, how he started a company with a best friend whom he later caught boffing the wife. He said it was his own will to persevere without killing them that turned him seething and hateful, then admitted: “I can be a violent alcoholic.”
I cheered again. “Well you don’t seem too drunk now!”

He pointed at the windshield: “Cedar Rapids, chief.”

He’d set his hooks so deep that had he not called out I’d have missed the turn, and we rushed over yellow paint to make the cut onto 380.

I drove and he talked. As we passed Exit 4, he was on about his ex-wife turning him into a cokehead, and as we crossed the river bridge, he got to hitting a glass pipe.

Chuff, chuff: “It’s cool I chuff in here?”

“Depends what you’re chuffing.” I grinned like a fucking idiot even after he let my comment hang. “Seriously: Are you smoking plastic?”

“She’s a downtown girl, bro. She likes it downtown. And I mean in the rear entrance. Or exit, whichever it is.”

I kept driving and he made another lurid announcement: “I’d suck a dick if I had to. In fact, if you had any pills I’d totally suck your dick. You got any pills?”

“Ah, not that I know of.”

“How about cash then? Because we can do like that.”

“You’re, like, my fourth call and the first three were credit cards.” Of all the shit I might have said, why was I going on like this? “And I don’t want a blowjob.”

He pointed at the windshield: “This exit.”

The tires cried to make the ramp.

He directed me south of downtown. I was never able to find it again but I recall an apartment block with bunker windows. Nearby tracks, angled cross streets, a factory parking lot. You know: Cedar Rapids.

With one foot on the curb, he showed from his wallet two crisp $50s. “What’s it cost to wait? I just need my keys and then I’m going back to Iowa City.”

“I’ll wait right here,” I said as I waved off the cash. “I trust you.”

Then I watched him hustle up the long sidewalk and key through the door.

Did you notice that? Because I didn’t and so I sat at the curb for half an hour. Then forty minutes. Our radios didn’t work in CR and this was before mobiles so I moped off to a payphone to call Dispatch and ask what to do.

“You tell me,” he said. “Can you get in there and find him?”

“Naw, front door’s locked.”

That’s when it hit me and I cursed a blue streak.

Dispatch said: “Always get cash up front to go out of town. And you got to get paid to work here, 22. So always get paid. Bring it back this way.”

Sean Preciado Genell is author of the Vic Pasternak novel ‘All The Help You Need,’ available now at Prairie Lights. This article was originally published in Little Village 192.

A previous version of this article misspelled the author’s name. It has since been corrected. Little Village regrets this error.


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