Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Safety First

The young woman climbed in the back looking at the the floor, the roof, the the seats - everywhere but at me. Anorexic and ugly with a nose ring, crack pimples and tattoos, she ignored my friendly greeting and went into a manic, self-important rant directed to a man standing outside the car. She lay down with her legs stretched across the seat and kept rattling words at the guy she repeatedly called "dude."

They had a high-decibel spat about whether or not he should ride in the front or the back. It went on and on.

I politely asked her three times where they wanted to go. Three time the woman/girl acted as if I hadn't spoken. Three is my limit.

  • "Can you hear me?" I finally screamed.
  • "Yeah," she replied without looking at me and went immediately back to her chatter.
  • "Then get in or get out!" I screamed again. "Now!"
  • "Well - you don't have to be rude!" Dude told me as he climbed in front, slamming the door. He looked just like the girl: tattoos, nose ring, anorexic, ugly. "Monclair!" he snapped.
  • "So what?" I asked satirically.
  • "So you're taking me there."
  • "Do you mean, 'will I please take you there?'"
Dude looked back at his girl friend with his mouth agape then said,

  • "Did you hear that Babe?"
  • "Let it go," Babe snapped, "he's just a cabbie."
  • "P-L-E-A-S-E," he said his voice dripping with sarcasm.
I started driving - noting, as I often have, that ugly people are ruder than beautiful people. You'd think it would be the other way around. Maybe it's a pre-emptive strike. Or maybe too much cab driving is warping my perceptions.

I drove a few blocks before I noticed that Dude wasn't wearing a seat belt.

  • "Dude," I told him, "you have to put your seat belt on."
  • "I never wear one," he replied in a bitchy voice.
  • "If you don't put it on - no Montclair," I told him as I pulled in toward the curb.
  • "Oh, all right!" he whined.
I pulled back onto the street. It was starting to rain for the first time in six months. I concentrated on the slippery streets and the horrible driving that San Franciscans indulge in whenever the see a hint of wet.

  • "I can't get it on," Dude said.
  • "20 other people managed to put it on today," I said while keeping my eyes on the road, "I've got faith in you."
I drove on for a bit.

  • "Got it," Dude finally said.
The rain began falling harder and harder. The traffic began to bunch up. The driving became phantasmagorical: cars going 13 mph, other cars going 70 on the same street, guys backing across intersections, woman making suicidal moves while texting, other women j-walking with babies.

I didn't look at Dude until we were on the bridge. Instead of clicking the seat belt into the holder, he had tied it around his body into three or four knots. I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out. What was the use?

  • "Can't you drive any faster?" Babe bitched.
  • "It's raining. It's slippery when it rains. Driving fast can be dangerous when it's slippery," I replied with pedantic sarcasm.
  • "Oh! Yeah! Right!" Babe exclaimed. "Like I was born yesterday."
I finally got them to their address in Monclair, a mansion on a hill obviously belonging to one of their daddies. The fare was $40 which sounds good but it took me almost an hour to get there and it would take me at least that long to get back. I'd be lucky to turn the cab in on time and not be hit with a fine and a diatribe from Steele the company manager. Steele loved nothing better than humiliating cab drivers over stuff like that.

Babe paid me and even gave me a one dollar tip. Dude sat there staring into space.

  • "You've got to take your seat belt off, Dude."
  • "It won't come off."
He was right. I wasted five minutes trying to undo the knots. Both of them sat staring into space while I worked. Finally, I politely and slowly asked Babe.

  • "Do you think you could go upstairs, find a knife and bring it back here?"
  • "Yeah, sure," she replied in sulky voice, "why not?"
She sauntered slowly up the stairs - and disappeared. I waited five minutes, ten minutes imaging what Steele would do when he saw me. Would he start screaming right away or would sadistically let me twist in the wind for awhile before firing me? I decided to find Babe.

The front door was open and I could hear Neil Diamond of all people blasting from the back of the house. I walked through several rooms to find Babe tweaking in the kitchen. I don't know what drug she was using but I never want to try it. She was jerking around the room like a zombie being zapped with a cattle prod.

I found the stereo and pulled the plug. Babe turned to me and started to scream. She didn't know who I was. She never looked at me before. I pushed by her and opened the drawers until I found a butcher knife. Babe screamed louder as I headed back toward her.

  • "Okay," she pleaded taking off her clothes, "just don't kill me."
  • "Don't worry," I told her glancing at her bony, drug-addict, tattoo riddled body. I couldn't image doing her but then I'm not a necrophiliac.
The rain kept pouring down and I was soaked through and freezing by the time I got back to the cab. Dude looked at me with extreme annoyance when I opened the door.

  • "Well - you took your sweet time," he snapped. "What's your badge number? Your company is going to hear about this.!"
I sat next to him with the knife in my hand thinking that any objective juror would see this as a clear case of justifiable homicide. My mind froze. I couldn't think. There was something I needed to remember. Oh, yes. Gandhi. Would killing Dude help lead to world peace? Clearly not. Besides I'll still have to cut him loose to get rid of the body. I cut the belt.

I didn't even bring cab back to the garage. I was going to be fired anyway so I figured I'd hang on to the gate. I just parked the taxi outside and called the dispatcher when I got home. I'm only sorry that I missed seeing Steele froth at the mouth when he discovered that I'd beat him out of $100.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Star was Liverpool Irish and talked just like the Beatles whom he idolized. He could sing every word to every Beatle song that I knew as well as every word to just about every rock song that anybody else ever heard of. He could do the entire repertoire of Spooky Tooth for god's sake.

He played with almost every rock band in town and, although he was only 5'4," his base guitar resonated like a cello. He drove cab on the grave yard shift because he could play a gig and still go to work.

Star was one of the friendliest guys I've ever met and one of the sweetest. A non-stop talker, he never had bad word to say about anybody.

He always started at midnight with change for a twenty in his pocket.

By 1:15 one Saturday morning, he was already dead - shot by junkie, a former taxi driver, who wouldn't believe that Star hadn't tucked away a couple of hundred on a Friday night.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Class Warfare: The Tarvia Battle

I drove an attractive French woman from SFO to an exclusive neighborhood in San Anselmo. I went into my "the smartest cab driver in the world" act and discussed Sartre, Proust and Gide with her as if I knew what I was talking about. She was pleasant and down to earth; humoring me by seeming to enjoy the conversation.

She lived in a private circle with only a single entrance from the street. When we arrived, a rope had been strung across the street with a sign tied to it saying, "KEEP OUT." There were a couple of adults with three or four teenage kids watching us from a nearby porch.

I leaned out the window and shouted,

  • "Can you let me in? This woman needs to get home."
  • "We're paving the street," a kid shouted back. "Can't you read?"
The all looked at me with unpleasant, sarcastic expressions.

I asked the woman where she lived and she said it was about a block away. This was a problem. She'd been living in Paris for 6 months and we had about 250 pounds of luggage in the cab. The trunk was full and there was a huge closet-case in the back seat.

Just when I about to get out and start lugging the stuff, the guys on the porch dropped the rope. This didn't jibe with previous nastiness but I wasn't about to argue. I quickly drove into the circle and took my customer to her home.

As I unloaded the luggage, I got an idea of why they've roped off the entrance. A special kind of tarvia had been poured on their street and my wheels had sunk down about a foot into it, leaving deep ruts where I had driven.

When I drove back to the entrance, the nasties had stretched the rope back across the entrance with five of them standing evenly spaced across the street to make sure that I didn't break through.

  • "You broke in!" One of them shouted. "You broke in!"
  • "You let me in," I shouted back.
  • "You're lying! You're lying!" a few of them shouted.
  • "We've got you! We've got you!" a couple of more shouted.
  • "The cops are on their way!" another one yelled.
The cab was sinking deep and deeper into the tarvia during the exchange. I started laughing, stepped out of the car and walked toward the men. They scattered and ran as if they were being confronted by a crazed axe-murderer.

I loosened the rope, went back to the car and drove out.

  • "The cops'll get you! The cops'll get you!" They screamed.
Actually, I only talked to one cop and I drove to the police station to see him on the advice of my company. A nice young guy who had yet to be done in by donuts.

  • "They say you crashed though their barrier," he told me.
  • "No - they put it down," I told him. "At first I thought they'd let me in but I guess they were really being sarcastic - as in 'can't you read you stupid cabbie!'"
The cop didn't say anything but he nodded as if what I'd said made sense.

  • "Kind of serves 'em right doesn't it?" I added.
He smiled and said he'd check it out.

Last I heard of it. From time to time I enjoy images of the nasties driving over my ruts to get to their homes - cursing me all the way.