Driving cab in the summertime is the kind of bullshit you do because you’re hooked on drugs, or in need of a hotline. Nothing goes on. A switch is thrown and the roar of the outgoing graduates is clipped. The money is gone.
Still, it will never be slow enough for some people.
“Hey, Marty Lyons!”
There he was in the Sheraton Circle, drunk as three sailors and waving his big dumb flippers at the taxis that scurried away to see him.
“TAXI, TAXI!” he bellowed. “ARE YOU MY FRIEND?”
Marty — and that’s just the fake name he’d use — was on the blacklist of everybody except the rookies who didn’t know any better. But he was just another lying drunk loser claiming to be someone he wasn’t. And he was a hulk. Like 6’5” and 270, with hands like catcher’s mitts. Also the kind of man who would throw his own kid through a coffee table, which is how I came to learn his real name from the blotter.
“Hey Marty — I’m your friend!”
I was tucked in the alley, obscured beyond the kiosk, but he had heard my call and came toddling, breathing through his mouth. He looked like a fish hit by lightning and still waved his big dumb hands: “TAXI!”
“Hang on, bud,” I told him as I lifted my phone out the window. “I hear you’re a famous football player. I got to get your picture.”
Stopping almost made him tumble but he got upright and stood with arms sprouted at his sides and chest puffed like some kind of proud American. Indeed: He was the very picture.
I took the shot and hit the gas to squeal out of there: “Good luck getting home, duckweed!”
If I’m honest with myself now, I was still a rookie then — I just wouldn’t cop to it. I’d been driving long enough. I’d lived through that bullshit with the wrestlers and come back to the job. And as proof of my veteran status, I’d printed that photo of Marty Lyons and hung it in the office, a warning for “the rookies.”
“Is that so you don’t forget him again?” Captain Jerry asked, and then he hacked in his fist, one cigarette in his other hand and another burning in the ashtray.
Our taxi shack back then was behind a Dutch door in a closet of the city bus station at College and Gilbert. Leon Bath, also smoking, sat with his big ass hanging off three sides of the drop safe, his elbow leaned on the rack of oil and tires so that his belly aired out from under his shirt, and so that his head was crooked toward the television, currently airing America’s Most Dangerous Home Videos with the sound off and the captions running: let’s take another look at this astonishing tape.
Leon grinned at me: “I got a casino run at bar rush, bitch.”
Even if I wouldn’t cop to being a rookie, the numbers didn’t lie. Rookies don’t get casino runs or trips to the CRAPper in summertime, not until the others have been fed. To put that into perspective, what had been a 40-call average Friday night was dropping as low as 14. So a reduction to 35 percernt from seasonal averages. And other drivers jumping rotation to get cherry runs meant there was only a larger pool of sluff for the rookies.
Instead of crying about it, I’d come to the shack to mop the bus station floor. The boss had been advertising the job at ten bucks. After the last few dry weeks, ten bucks to mop a floor sounded good to me. Another rookie mistake.
Leon and the old man howled laughing.
“You know that includes the bathrooms — plus toilets and the pisser — and behind the station desk, and all the garbage. And for just ten bucks.”
The audience on the silent television was laughing with them.
Leon said: “Ten bucks for all that — you’d make better money driving a cab.”
“He means in here too. All the ashtrays and wiping down the soda machines outside. Damn, son. See how you got snuck on the hook? Lots yet to learn.”
You can’t comprehend how filthy a floor can be until you’ve washed a public bus station. I clearly hadn’t understood the scope of the job, and the mop smelled like shit puke. I started behind the station desk and shuffled my way across the lobby to the gumball machines at the opposite windows. Some willful traveler had deuced the Men’s and I blew through the restrooms fast as I could.
When I came back out to the lobby, another driver leaned in the Dutch door, laughing like a mule and picking for his cherry. He was called “the 4-12,” a veteran from before my time, allegedly “as good as Timmy Boyd,” whoever the fuck that was, and I was warned he could drive circles around us all. The skinny little fuck, wearing yet another ironic Hawaiian shirt, leaned matchstick arms on the half-door, an electric blue Maglite sticking out of the ass pocket of his carpenter’s jeans.
When I saw that he tracked mud across the lobby, I blew my stack.
“What the goddamn fuck? I just mopped there.”
“Yeah and I just fucking walked there so fuck you.”
I’d come up taking down trees and could have swung that mop with one hand. I felt my face flush and I muttered, “What an asshole.”
“Hey — ” he shouted right back, “Don’t you asshole me, asshole. I said, ‘Fuck you.’ You ever read Catcher in the Rye? Well I have and I’m saying it, so fuck, you again.”
He flicked his cigarette and stomped it out on the floor and then stormed from the bus station, slamming through the door into the night and gone.
I approached the dispatch office, peeping over the half-door. Both Captain Jerry and Fat Leon looked back at me, silent. The television showed a bus on fire dragging through a city. My hands were shaking.
“That guy is a fucking piece of work.”
The old man didn’t disagree. “You two ought to get along. You’re my spades.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“When people give me shit, I send them one of you. You two are assholes enough they straighten out or don’t call back.”
“Oh bullshit,” I growled. “I’m not really like that, am I?”
“Lots yet to learn, son. Lots yet to learn.”
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 203.