Lyle stayed at the far end of 9th Street, out at 23rd Ave.
He had a tic. He would gasp and catch a hand on his face like he might sneeze. The frequency and depth of his gasping would become pronounced as he got excited, which was often. He was peculiarly particular, an older gentleman, neatly dapper, always wearing a suit freshly pressed, shoes at a spit-shine, belted overcoat and OJ gloves. His grin opened like a zipper to show his big white caps.
“You know where I’m going, right?”
He gasped and caught his hand to his face.
Lyle’s story was blurry at the edges. He lived at his mother’s apartment for evolving reasons. First, untold disaster befell his 6,000-square-foot home. After his home was repaired he resisted moving back in hopes of selling it off. Then his mother fell ill.
Every night he went for a three-hour meal at House of Lords, and every night he took a cab back and forth. He never tipped.
Like most, Lyle made up for it in airs. He was rich in the knowledge of life’s luxuries and was sure to tell of his walk-in cigar humidor, and how he upgraded his master bath with a jacuzzi. He liked to talk about gravity boots.
Lyle gasped, “I’ve just factory-ordered a custom Carver home stereo with a linear arm turntable.”
He told me he once lived in Scotland and owned a golf course there. “To be honest, I couldn’t run a golf course as well as I can keep books. So I left what I loved and returned to what I’m good at. And let that be a life-lesson.”
A lesson at what I could only guess. I let him out at House of Lords and he waited in the dome light, one leg out in the lot and a killer glove outstretched for his 50¢.
The Lyle Run, while it lasted, was kind of bullshit — driving five miles empty to drive two-and-a-half paid and no tip. Then you’re stuck in Coralville.
Dispatch posted me out there so should a CV call come in he might service it in a few minutes instead of fifteen or thirty. I dawdled to the DeliMart for smokes, rolled through Taco John’s drive-thru, and pulled in back of 2nd Street to eat and smoke and to look at the night from back there.
My vigil lasted an hour and a half as I listened to the rotation of drivers loop over end as they hit one downtown call after another. Finally Dispatch called me: “How about 910 Benton Drive.”
“Ten-four, ten-four,” I told the radio before slinging the mic onto the floor.
Benton Drive went over to Lakeside and I was clear after that, “Back downtown, Number Twelve.”
So I stopped at another DeliMart to take a leak, and then to puff a cigarette with #96 and talk about how crappy our nights were going. Then I went off to scoop the loop, looking for flags and scanning the pleasure radio. Everybody that planned to go out was out already.
I finally came up in rotation.
“Back to Coralville, Twelve. Just Different on 9th.”
Coralville’s only adult bookstore, long gone now, was on the shallow end of 9th, back when the Marriott was a swamp. I could have taken the interstate but I took the highway. The night hadn’t any hustle for me so I wasn’t hustling for it.
Plus, you never know what you’re getting out of the jack shack.
Dude I got dressed like a rock-n-roller and reeked of flyover material. I figured he was killing time before heading to his hotel.
Turns out, he was just going home for the evening, the purveyor of fine bondage leathers who ran a shop in the rear of the bookstore.
I was a bit amazed. “There’s really a market for that stuff here?”
“I just paid off my house. We got jackets, too, and pants. That brings in the bikers. And we just opened a women’s line. Bustiers, corsets — you name it.”
I could name all sorts of wild shit.
“Say how much for one of those masks with the zipper?”
It just blurted out and I didn’t know where I was going with it.
“My buddy’s always wanted one,” I plowed on. “You know, just to have around the crib. On the coffee table, and whatnot. I wonder if it’s in my range for ah, one of those white elephants.”
“You’re into white elephants, huh?”
We were just pulling into his driveway when he told me zipper masks are illegal in Iowa. “You can get what you’re looking for if you know the right people.”
“So how much?”
“Since it’s illegal I’d have to charge $250. But if you want to come inside, I’ll cut it to $125.”
“Ah no, man, yeah, $250’s a right pricy white elephant.”
“Like I said, I could split it if you want.”
“And like I implied I’d probably want to pay a fair market price, you know what I’m saying? Plus we’re real busy tonight.”
“Suit yourself,” he said before leaving.
I cleared on the radio and Dispatch sent me to bring Lyle home.
Back to the House of Lords, I rolled into the lot on howling tires and here came Lyle: stumbling, well-fed and whiskeyed.
Months later, years even, after Lyle ran out of money for steaks and cabs, he got caught ripping off his mother’s retirement account. He went to prison for that and never rode in my cab again. I don’t know whatever became of him.
But there he was grinning at me like a mule. He gasped and caught his face in his gloved hand.
“Look at you. St. Andrew’s Golf Course is the grandest golf course in all the world and you’ll never get there driving a cab. ‘Home, James.’”
Lyle laughed and gasped, wanting to know how often I heard that.
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 issue 214.