"You're about eight minutes out," my customer said glancing at his watch, "that's not bad for a Friday night. You're about two minutes behind but the traffic usually eases up when you hit Highway 92. Then you can start making back the time."
I took a close look at him in the mirror. He was around 50, wearing a brown suit and looking very fit.
"You seem to know a lot about my business."
"I'm Captain John Harrigan, US Air Force retired - I live right on top of 92 just before it hits 280. A lot of drivers tell me it's the perfect short."
He was right. It's a $35 or $40 ride. If traffic's good you can get there in 15 minutes. If you get back to airport within 30 minutes you go to the front of the waiting line. You get a fare downtown and you've had an $80 hour.
But, before he brought the subject up, I wasn't even thinking about a short. The traffic looked too heavy and I was hung over, hardly in the mood for racing. But Harrigan called it right. The left lane opened up as soon as we turned on 92. I switched into it and brought my speed up to 70.
"You could probably go a little faster," the Captain said. He was really into it. I pushed it to 75.
"If you do 80, you'll make up a minute by the time you drop me off."
"I don't speed with customers in the cab," I told him. "Call it a quirk."
He looked at me, a little confused. As we were rolling to a stop in front of his apartment, he handed me two twenties. He jumped out while the wheels were still slightly moving.
"All you have to pick up is 75 seconds," he shouted as I whipped a U. He pumped his fist - go.
His enthusiasm infected me. Why not? If the freeway cleared, I decided to go for it.
The road opened like the eye of a storm. A Friday night miracle. I blew down the left lane at a safe 9o, frantically checking my mirrors for cops. I took the curves at a smooth 80 and by the time I caught up with the traffic I was already back on Highway 101 - 22 minutes out and cruising at 65. I'd made up the 75 second plus another 90. All I had to do was coast back to the lot.
A brown Toyota pick-up pulled up on my left. A blond man is his early twenties honked his horn, shook his fist at me and shouted what appeared to be, "You're going too fast!"
I recognized the truck. I'd passed it about 5 minutes earlier. He must have driven 105 mph to catch up to me. I shrugged my shoulders. I was in lane 2. I saw an opening on my right so I made a lane change and speeded up to 80. The left lane was blocked so I hoped to loose the jerk.
Two minutes later, the Toyota cut in front of me, blind-siding me from the right. The driver flipped me off through the back window. I made two quick lane changes and sped down the left lane. The Toyota must have been on steroids because the lunatic cut me off again. I quickly cut back to right but he stayed with me. He slowed down, putting his rear fender almost on my bumper so I couldn't move around him.
I waited, looking for a break in the traffic. I was 27 minutes out and trapped in lane 2. I started flipping my blinkers like crazy: right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left, right-left. Of course I wanted to confuse him but, more importantly, I hoped that the cars behind me would think I was crazy and back off.
It worked. Suddenly, I faked right, then made a juke move left and went back right again. The wheel-base on the Toyota was too narrow for it to stay with the me: it rocked back and forth causing the driver to momentarily loose control. This gave me a thick inch to go by his bumper on the right. I floored it and cut straight across two lanes barely making the off-ramp into the airport. The Toyota tried to follow but the angle was too sharp and he was cut off by a semi.
I was 28.5 minutes out. Now I had to worry about Officer Rinaldi. He liked to hide his motorcycle just behind the struts of the overpass and nail cab drivers as they raced in to punch their tickets. I passed him at 44 mph. He looked bored. There would be more prey later.
I slowed down to the required 25 and flowed toward the ticket machine. I was 30 minutes out. The machine clicked just after I'd punched my card. I'd made it.
I drove into an empty waiting lot to get my time checked by one of the creatures that the airport hires for starvation wages to do nothing but check the time on the tickets. He was like 100 pounds overweight and looked like he hadn't bathed in three or four days.
"I make it!" I yelled, forgetting I was Mr. Cool, jumping up and down in my seat. "I made it! I made it!"
He slowly lumbered out of his chair and, staring at me with dead eyes, came over to check the ticket.
"I made it!" I yelled again.
He looked at the ticket and stared at me again. He handed it back to me then, in a fake southern accent, his voice dripping with sarcasm, said,
"That just makes ma whole week."
"Mine too," I told him.