Another Cabbie

You don't really know a man until you've driven two hundred miles in his cab. After tonight I feel like I know R.

R. is 72 inches tall and weighs 230 lbs. He's almost 47 years old. He owns the day half of a Crown Victoria with a little bit more than 150,000 miles on it. The company owns the night half. This may very well mean that no one will partner with R. because of any number of potential personality defects, or it may simply mean that he's not interested in owning a full cab and new night owners have just happened to buy into other ones.

But R.'s cab is special. He has two labels posted on the instrument panel so that lease drivers can understand how special his cab is. It can only have Premium Fuel put in it, for one. There is also another label that reminds lease drivers (who are well-known to be idiots) to "Wash EVERY Shift."

Another special thing about R.'s cab is that the doors in the rear won't open from the inside, even if the child locks are turned off (though he keeps them on, just in case). It's just like a real cop car! Isn't that neat? You bet it is! That he left the doors in this state after purchasing the car from the police is an indication that R. is:

a) incredibly paranoid about people running out on him without paying
b) incredibly cheap
c) really keen on being a gentleman and opening doors for people

R. also doesn't like to be photographed. Another special feature of R.'s cab is that a rubber band holds a business card in place over the camera that points at the driver's side of the vehicle. While crueler members of the readership may assume that this has something to do with the fact that he's as every bit as ugly as you'd expect a cabbie of his age and dimensions to be, it's more likely related to another special feature of R.'s cab - when you pull down the driver's sunvisor to see if there are credit card slips (there are not), you get hit in the head with a pack of Camel filters. The business card over the camera likely means that R. is paranoid about someone spying on him (they aren't) and catching him smoking (for numerous reasons, they probably can't). It also means that R. probably does not understand how the taxi cam works (which is not something I'll elaborate on in this space for numerous reasons, but it's fairly simple).

But despite several signs of paranoia, R. still likes life on the edge. This is attested to by the fact that his car doesn't have an air bag in it, and also by the dent and scrape up by the passenger side headlight. Further evidence of R.'s taste for life on the edge is found in his glove box, where he has a VHS tape labeled "Death Hunt 1981 Charles Bronson" that was likely recorded off the television (or is in fact not "Death Hunt", but instead pornography).

R. is just one of the many wonderful people I work with, and after boring work nights I will perhaps start featuring more Profiles in Cab-driving.


I'm NOT a Pimp

As usual, no work for me on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I went camping, which was nice in that the mosquitoes provided me with an excuse to carry on like someone with Tourette's (what with all the random bursts of profanity, often arranged in non-sensical ways). Also, as I told my friends on the way there, "I'm most excited about going camping because I know that there won't be any prostitutes at Buck Lake."

I've had like ten times as many interactions with prostitutes since I started this job than I did in the entirety of my life before then. Most of these interactions consist of a woman waving at me, me pulling up, her asking me if I "want to do a date" or if she can make some money, and me saying "no" and driving off. Occasionally, they're with a john or have money, and I drive them someplace.

On Monday night, I got a call to pick up at a weird complex in Northeast that has like two strip clubs, a taqueria, and a porn shop in the same strip mall, with a weird checkered flag and pink neon exterior design scheme. I was happy that a woman came out, as the dancers at this place have always given me good tips, often very good tips (strictly monetary ones).

This one's going to 13th & Belmont, a nice fare. I ask her how her night went, and she says not very good. She'd had a mix-up with another club where she dances, a really classy place out in Beaverton where she'd tried to call in sick but hadn't heard back from then, so she'd gone out there, but then they told her that they thought she wasn't coming so had called someone else, etc... Anyway, she went to the place I picked her up at so she could make some money. But the past two nights she hasn't been able to make money, the other girls had been doing disgusting shit and under-cutting her. And they were fat, and had nasty pussies to boot.

I ask her how that works, and she explains to me that it's because the two places in Northeast "in my opinion aren't strip clubs, they're brothels." I'd heard rumors before, but never from someone who'd actually been in there, certainly not someone who worked there. She breaks it down for me - they don't serve alcohol, so they aren't regulated by the OLCC. There's a pole and a stage, but the real business is "shows." Men pay $150, and they go in a room with the girls with a couch, a towel, and speakers playing the country music from the main room. And they have sex with the girls. The girl gets $100, the club gets $50.

I ask her why she dances at such a scuzzy place when she's got gigs at two much nicer places, and she tells me that she makes better money there. "Yeah, so I'm a prostitute" she says, matter of factly, which surprises me as she's been talking condescendingly about "the other girls." It's also somewhat disconcerting for me to be talking to a prostitute who isn't patently insane, yelling, or trying to get my business. "I'm a prostitute with morals" she explains - she doesn't try to make more money by cutting guys price breaks to get more business, that's just gross.

I ask her how she got into it, and she tells me how she used to dance at a place downtown when she was 18, and one night one of the customers was constantly complaining about how the girls at the place in Northeast let him touch them, let him do this and that... So she started to wonder what this place out in Northeast was, and she went to check it out once and saw that the girls were making lots of money and seemed to be having a good time. So she started working there, though she didn't start doing anything illegal until she'd been working there about six months.

She's barely 21 now, and she's gorgeous even without make-up on, in her sweatshirt and pony-tail. She sounds so frustrated by her position, so trapped. As I pull up in front of her place, I want to turn around and tell her that she has so many other options, that she's young and pretty and a lot more reasonable and perceptive than half the people I deal with, than a good 95% of the strippers, that she absolutely, positively, does not have to be doing this.

Instead, I tell her that it's $17. She only gives me a dollar for a tip. As she gets out, I tell her to take care of herself. I am not a social worker, and I sense that she already knows all of this, and knows that I know it too. The vibe I've gotten from her is very much that she just wanted to tell someone how unhappy she was, not that she wanted a lecture. And I don't have any experience in helping women transition out of prostitution, etc., etc.

I still don't know if I did the right thing.

Anyway, the way she explained the business to me, I really want to use its name here, because I was just totally disgusted by it. But as a cab driver, if a fare asks me to take them to a brothel, and I do, I can be arrested for pimping. I assume that would transfer to passing along the location of a brothel on the internet, even if it was done in scorn. I guess I could call the pigs, but the cops here are so insane and so unpleasant, and they already (from the woman's account) know about the place, and none of the girls wants to be responsible for the place getting closed. I'd certainly hate it if the whole cab company went under because some drivers let shady shit go down in their cabs, so I can understand that.

And no, it wasn't until a good three hours later that I realized how close to Travis Bickle land I'd come for a few minutes. As my reasonable, female, future schoolteacher friend told me while camping, it's not my responsibility to save other people from the consequences of decisions they made themselves. Especially if they don't ask for my help.


I Didn't Use the AK

Last night was just wonderful on every possible level, one of the nights when driving a cab brings true joy to both my heart and my wallet. But what made it so exciting is, again, a bunch of minutiae and/or a long story.

So a story about a customer, then. My third to last fare was around 4am, picked-up at a residence in Inner Southeast. I was beaming, nearing the end of a wonderful night, and asked the white woman in her late 20s how her night had been.

"Horrible," was the reply. She tends bar during the daytime. Today, a man came in while she was at the back of the bar by their lottery machine. He handed her a lottery ticket, pointed a gun at her, and told her to take the ticket and give him all the money in the till. She did, $1200. After dealing with the cops, she got shitfaced drunk, had a huge argument with her husband, and then found herself waking up on her friends' couch. So she called us, shaken and needing to get back home to her family.

Having a gun pointed at me is my greatest fear. It's not something I think about often, not something that I could think about often (or necessarily should worry too much about in this town), but I'm in an extremely vulnerable position. I wear a seat-belt, and am often too busy monitoring traffic and the MDT to keep an eye on the person in the backseat. Hell, I even keep my rear view mirror in a position where I can actually see traffic, not the passenger. I could be cold-cocked, stabbed, or shot before I had the slightest idea of what I'd like to occur.

Of course, it would be monumentally stupid to do any of those things while I was actually driving the car, and I do take measures to protect myself and humanize myself as much possible. But none of that changes the ultimate fact that I spend my entire shift strapped into a seat with my back to someone, and that any of those someones could potentially be stupid, desperate, or greedy enough to come after me.

I should note here, for the benefit of my no-doubt worrying mother, that I have yet to meet a cab-driver who's been robbed. I've spoken to a very few who've had close calls, and one who had to deal with a guy who had a stun-gun. I trust my intelligence, my mouth, and my training, though. I have to, really.

Anyhow, I gave the bartender a skate on the $12 - only the second time I've happily and willingly done that for someone I didn't know. She insisted on giving me $5, which, of course, I kept.


A Good Story

Tonight I had a trip that exemplified the kind of boring story that's fantastic to other cabbies:

"I pick up an incredibly drunk Hispanic man at Exotica around 7:45, and he wanted to go to Beaverton. "Nice," I think. Then we get there, and he only has a hundred and a twenty, and it's $36 on the meter. I can't change that this early in the night, so he goes up to get his friend. The friend offers me a $50, but then they decide that they want to go back to Columbia Blvd to get the first guy's truck. "Hell yeah," I think, and get on the freeway. Then no, it's 82nd & Columbia - even better. Then it's 82nd & Division. Ends up being $73 on the meter, no tip, but who even cares at that point? I gave them my card, but when they called back I was driving some douche who told me he was going to Tualatin, so I told them to call dispatch. Then the douche tells me to go to the Holiday Inn by the Airport, and we're at 82nd and Stark already, so it only ends up being a $18 with the tip."

This is almost a word-for-word account of what I told E. at the end of my shift after I bummed a cigarette from him (I have decided that a single cigarette at the end of a Saturday night shift is permissible - I know, it's a slippery slope). Mind you, neither of the Hispanic guys said much of anything or did anything crazy, and the Holiday Inn guy was also quite boring. Yet E. was rightly riveted, as this brief and unelaborate story covers almost all of the genres of shop-talk-at-the-garage stories: a good trip coming out of a place with a reputation for lousy ones, drunk people making unexplainable decisions, lots of money, not getting tipped, and a missed opportunity. This would have been the cabbie ur-story if one of the Hispanic guys had puked, the other had taken his pants off, and the guy who went to the Holiday Inn had run out of the cab without paying.


Not on the List

I didn't work last night, I showed up at the garage too late and there were 28 names on the "extras" list - no cab for me. I could've hung around for a few hours to hear this officially, and then been assigned a cab for Saturday night. This is what I normally do in such a situation, but I just took off today. That's one thing about being a lease driver without a steady - you only work when you want to, but sometimes you want to and can't. C'est la vie.

I was a bit of a tease yesterday, so I might as well go ahead and tell the story about the woman who stiffed me. I picked her up out front of the trailer park at 84th & Flavel, and she was pretty scary. White, mid-20s, shorts and a halter top. But her face, chest, and upper arms were covered in weird scabs. Like incredibly nasty acne, but not. Not psoriasis as I've seen it before, but perhaps a variation, or extreme eczema. What I thought, though, was meth geek.

She had me take her to some apartments by the Clackamas Town Center. Not a particularly good or bad fare - about $8. On the drive there she told me all about how she works two jobs, one tending bar and the other as an R.N. at an Alzheimer's hospice. Only gets 2 hours of sleep a night. And on top of that she's got cancer. We had a pretty good and friendly conversation, given how depressing the subject matter was.

When we got to the apartments, she told me that she'd have to run inside to get the money, and that I could hold her credit card while she did so. I agreed, and she walked around the side of the building. I waited for five minutes, and began to get a bad feeling. Then I looked at the card she gave me. The first name was "Debrah," and the name on the MDT and the name she'd used with me was "Jessica." I waited five more minutes (I had a good comic book), gave up, and ran the card. Declined, of course.

You be the cabbie: Identify my several mistakes (both in judgment and in practice) that could have either prevented this situation or mitigated its negative impact in lost time and money.


It's Tricky...

I had a good car last night: 15 mpg (very good for one of the old Crown Vics), only about 148k miles (again, very good), PLUS - satellite radio and a CD player.

I didn't have a very good night in terms of the money I made. If not for three good runs, I would've been up a creek. But still, I took a couple very worthwhile hours off to run home and grab CDs, and then hang out with one of my favorite people in the world (who I hadn't seen in months). In the time I actually worked, I netted $15 an hour, which is still much better than my last job. And the whole original point for my taking this one was the freedom it affords me to work a
s often as I want and as hard as I want - a freedom that I haven't been taking much advantage of.

Anyway, I suppose that for the purposes of this blog, it would be most appropriate for me to talk at this point about my first fare, her (likely false) sob story, the maddening way in which she stiffed me, and how that almost ruined my night. But in all honesty, it's just not very interesting to me right now. I will say that it makes it easier for everyone when people who stiff cabbies just cut and run. I mean really, you don't need to serve me some elaborate deception - the woman tonight, for example, wasted a perfectly good prop she could have used to more nefarious and profitable effect than getting out of a $13 cab ride...

Anyway, maybe it's just the good mood that the CD player put me in, but the stories that leap out at me about tonight are getting a guy that I also had on Monday, who goes up to
around Council Crest, my favorite park in a city rightfully famous for its parks. On the way down the hill (a very fun ride, especially in an old cop car), I was blasting Mike Patton & Odd Nosdom's "11th Ave Freakout Pt. 2" and just had a huge smile on my face.

My next trip after that was an airporter from out of deep southwest Sellwood - about as far away from the airport as you can get while still being on Portland's eastside. A very nice bourgeois white family on their way to their summer vacation on the east coast. $37 on the meter and a "keep the change" when Dad paid with a $50. Good, wholesome, and enjoyable conversation, and a gorgeous view of St. Helens at dawn from the Markam Bridge. They even liked Mountains, which just tickled me.

I had another guy who was really digging Brian Anderegg. One woman loved Shogun Kunitoki and forced her phone number on me. A couple people liked Themselves, same with cLOUDDEAD. It always makes me happy when people in the cab dig my music, because I'm always really paranoid that they'll be completely turned off by psychedelic Japanese harmonium bands, avant-garde hip-hop, or electro-acoustic drones and tip me less. Not a single complaint tonight, though, and several "wow, this is awesome"s. Thank God Portland's the city it is.

Drove into the garage listening to Midnight Marauders for the first time in probably over a year. Phife Dawg would still like you all to know that he like his beats "hard, like two day old shit."


The Safety Board

I didn't work tonight (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are always nights off), but I still got to go to the garage anyway.

About a month and a half ago, I slightly scraped the rear passenger-side door against a poorly parked Acura SUV's bumper while pulling out of the Slabtown lot at the beginning of my shift. There's a long and not-at-all interesting story about how this happened, but when it comes down to it, I did it. There was no body damage to either vehicle, just very minor paint damage to the cab, even lighter damage to the SUV. Following company policy, I called for a cover car to do an accident report. While the cover car and I were doing the write-up, we discovered the owner of the car, who was exceedingly chill and said that she probably wouldn't file a claim. The cover guy took pictures of the "damage" and while I knew that this would reflect poorly on me as a driver, I didn't imagine that the incident was all that big a deal.

At the safety board meeting, however, they didn't take the same view. Despite the fact that the woman didn't file a claim, and that the cab's owners weren't of the opinion that the door needed re-painting, I got hit with five points and was told that if I came before the board again in the next six months, I would probably be fired.

This certainly pissed me off. Why? Because they'd lost the pictures, so didn't know just how minor the damage was. I didn't know this before they'd made their judgment, so wasn't able to bring the extreme lack of severity to their attention. I was told by one board member (granted, the weird one) that I "was extremely negligent."


Two guys (also lease drivers) went before me. One did $1200 damage to his cab by backing into a telephone pole and got the same five points I did (though he also has to pay $240 to the company over the next 6 months, we pay 20% of the damages for any accident that's our fault). The other guy did an illegal U-Turn on West Burnside to steal another cab's fare, after slightly bending another cab 6 months earlier, and got off with 5 points. Neither of these guys got the job security warning.

I literally did less damage (though over a very slightly largely area) than a teen-ager with a key, cost the company no money, and suddenly I'll get fired if something real happens. What burns me up the most isn't even that the safety board guys are all day drivers who don't know me, or what the superintendents think of me, or that I have a completely clean driving record. No, what gets me is that half of our drivers would've just driven off and not reported it. And now, if something like this happens in the future, I almost certainly will as well.


A Little Syrup

I didn't work last night, which was nice... just a wonderful and very rewarding day off, a lot of great things happened in real life.

Which reminds me that it's important to note that this job is not all bad, and the experiences aren't always depressing, or involve confrontations with the colder truths of human existence. There are moments where it's Sunday morning, and I'm driving across the Broadway Bridge with the sun rising behind me and almost $500 cash in my pocket, and the good reggae DJ on KBOO puts on "Fisherman" by the Congos, the bassline drops, the man starts singing, and I'll be pulling up to the pumps soon...

And those are the times where I absolutely love my job. Seeing the rising sun strike St. Helens as I'm taking someone to the airport early in the morning. The Sunday night hip-hop DJ suddenly kicking out "The Symphony, Part 1" just as I hit every light green on MLK at 2 in the morning. A full moon hanging over Portland as I drive westbound on the Fremont bridge, the whole west side and hills glittering in front of me as my fare tells funny jokes. Shooting the shit with M. in the Fred Meyer parking lot at 82nd and Foster as the sun sets over the west hills, trading stories about our best trips ever.

They're small moments, but there are enough of them. They don't make for great stories, but they're part of why I enjoy my job, and I gauge my descent into bitter misanthropy by my ability to appreciate them. So far, I'm doing okay.

I'll try to make this the last time I slip into Walter-Cronkite-at-the-end-of-his-career mode, but I thought it would be good to let people who live in other parts of the country, or haven't seen me for whatever reason, know that I haven't become some nocturnal troll.

And yes, I badly need a camera that isn't in my cell-phone, so that I can take pictures of the cool stuff I see.



Last night was really bizarre and interesting for me, but not really in a bizarre interactions with my fares kind of way. What was more interesting to me was how much money I made, and how I made it - just a very atypical night in terms of where I worked and how the money came in, though my earnings ended up at about average for recent Mondays, if not more (and I'll take a brief moment of smug pride to note that my "average" Monday is better than some drivers' average Saturday).

Anyway, the very few (if any) people who come here likely aren't interested in my ruminations on how to work the MDT and when to book in zone 419 and when to just book in 119 or 122 by itself. No, this was conceived of as a venue for telling stories about my interactions with my customers, and you probably want to hear about the man and his prostitute.

Sometime around 3 AM I was driving eastbound on West Burnside, with the goal of crossing the bridge, when a middle-aged white man and woman flagged me. I'll almost always take a flagger, being generally of the mind that a bird in the hand (someone who's right there and will obviously get in the cab) is worth two in the bush (a call that may or may not come up on the MDT for a person who may or may not be there when I arrive). I also tend to have really good luck with my flaggers, especially when downtown. They often want to go to Vancouver, or some other distant place.

I had second thoughts when I stopped for these guys. As the woman opened the door, she began yelling across the street to someone else that she'd be at her nephew's after "I get cab fare when I'm done fucking this guy."

I let them in, though, my reasoning being that this guy obviously had cash. "This guy" being an incredibly drunk and moderately sun-burned man who seemed capable of saying very little except "wow" over and over again. They wanted to go to the Holiday Inn Express at NW 23 & Vaughn, but before we could get more than a couple of blocks they had me turn around so the woman could talk to her nieces. Her "nieces" ended up being two large black men hanging out at the corner of SW 5th & Washington, who sold her something that was either crack or meth or an attempted facsimile of one of the above.

When she got back in the car, she was overjoyed to see that her purse was still there, as it had her pictures of her children in it. Which prompted the following conversation:

Man: Wow, you've got kids?
Woman: I got six. Two pairs of twins and two singulars.
Man: Wow.
Woman: Two pairs of twins and two singulars.
Man: Wow
Woman: Yeah.
Man: Wow, life is such a miracle.
Woman: I'm guess I glad I had them.
Man: Wow, can I see their pictures?
Woman: See these little buggers? Them's the twins.
Man: Wow. I need to get some kids soon.

On the way to the hotel, they had me stop at the Plaid at NW 23 & Glisan so he could buy cigarettes and cherry coke. While he was in there, the woman told me more about her kids, who range in age from 4 to 25. She says she lives in Seattle, and that she never does stuff like this up there with her husband and kids around, she just comes down to Portland to hang out with her boyfriend and have fun (she makes it clear that this guy is not her boyfriend).

In the end, he gave me a $1 tip on a $17 fare. More importantly though, he gave me cause to think about something I hadn't ever thought about before: is it polite to ask the woman you're paying for sex and who has just bought drugs sold in rock form for you to see pictures of her children? I would have guessed that this was considered a faux pas in the world of trick/ho relations, that prostitutes as a rule don't show johns pictures of their children, much as they famously won't kiss on the lips. In this case, however, the woman was more than happy to talk about her family life, and in far greater detail than I've related here.

If anyone has any insight into this, I'd appreciate hearing it.


Chicken, a brothel, and a boxer

I didn't work tonight, so here's another story from when I first started, about the most important night I've had driving a cab ("important" insofar as its effects on my life). This is actually chopped out of an email I sent a friend that morning when I got home from work, as I didn't really feel like writing the whole thing over again when there's a perfectly serviceable extant account.

Please forgive the couple brief non-specific forays into my personal life, but the "importance" of the night is not at all clear without them, and it seems to me like this is the kind of thing people are looking for when they ask for cab-driving stories: small moments with random passengers that allow the cabbie to temporarily feel like s/he has attained some momentary and grand insight into the human condition.

For context's sake, the Reel M' Inn is a small bar on Division and 24th that has the best fried chicken I've ever eaten (and I grew up in Texas and Virginia).

I drove the owner of the Reel M' Inn last night. And his wife. They live out in some town past Vancouver and it was $50 on the meter and they tipped me another $20 and invited me in for a soda and some food. They were really nice people, also really drunk. They told me how they make the chicken, and we were having a good time in the cab, so I agreed to go in their big huge house.

The husband stumbled out of the kitchen for a bit, and his wife asked me if I was gay. I told her no. She looked at me like she didn't believe me, and told me that we didn't know each other, that if I wanted to come out of the closet, to just tell one person and get the secret off my chest, I could. I told her that I appreciated the offer, but that I really, truly wasn't gay, and explained to her how I liked having sex with women, was attracted to women, thought of women while I masturbated, etc.

This convinced her, so she started asking me why she would think I was gay, what was wrong with me. She told me that I seemed like a good person, but that something about me was wrong, closed. She kept pressing.

And I found myself telling the owner of the Reel M' Inn's wife about some shit that had happened when I was young, and had forced me to re-visit one of the more ghastly moments of my childhood. I'd never spoken to anyone about it before, had never thought much about it or even considered telling anyone until some recent events effecting someone I knew.

And I talked with this woman I'd never met about it. She kept telling me how I still wasn't right, how I didn't realize how much it had affected me, how my heart was a mass of scar tissue (a metaphor that had occurred to me more than once a few years ago, but I hadn't felt that way in a while). I told her that I was done using bad things that had happened in my past as an excuse to make my present miserable, and about my alcoholism. Her husband came back into the room, and I left, and as I drove back to Portland I wanted so badly to weep, but didn't let myself.

I felt so irreparably broken as a human being, my carefully constructed veneer of "it'll work out someday" completely gone.

A few hours later, I picked up a man from a whorehouse on 82nd. As we drove downtown, we talked about people, about what makes a "good man." I encouraged him to get in touch with one he'd been talking about with admiration. He told me that I was a good man. Then we had to go back to the whorehouse so he could get his umbrella, then back to downtown Portland, it ended up being $50 with the tip. He kept on telling me what a generous and giving human being I was, and it felt so empty and meaningless to me, I felt so empty and meaningless.

An hour or two after that, I got a call to pick someone up outside Hooper Detox, with the notation that the person was disabled. I got there, and the man told me in a slurred voice that he was going to Hillsboro. It was a big fare and I was embarrassed that I didn't know where it was and had to call dispatch for directions.

As we drove out there, the man explained to me how he hadn't been drunk. He'd just had a "big fall" a couple of years ago. It became apparent that he'd had some horrible accident that left him pretty seriously brain damaged and very very hurt physically. He had a cane, and the look of pain on his face as he hobbled over to the cab, and especially as he contorted to climb in the back seat, was wrenching. He explained to me as we drove how the cops took him into sleep it off, and the simultaneous tone of bitterness, surprise, and disappointment as he said "They took me there to sleep it off, but I didn't wake up any better!" is something I hope I never forget. My heart broke when he told me that, and I just wanted so badly to show him some kindness, but then I got a little lost on the way to his place. I kept picturing the way the fucking police must have treated him earlier that day, and how much this cab was costing him when he normally takes the bus.

We finally got to his place, and I cut him a deal and said the trip was $40. I didn't mind that he didn't tip me, didn't want him to. I helped him out of the cab, and to walk to the gate of his house.

At the gate, waiting on its hind legs, was a boxer. A dog that I'd normally expect to be snarling. But this dog was so beautiful, with a white underbelly and the most gorgeous caramel coat. It had the kindest, gentlest eyes and face. It looked up at this man, who'd been so terribly and irreparably harmed, with such adoring love that I literally almost fell to my knees and started crying when it reached its paw out through the chain-link fence to shake his twisted hand. "Hi dog! I love you!" he said, and the whole time he'd been with me he'd looked like someone was twisting a knife in his back, but right then, as he shook his dog's hand through the fence, he had this amazing and beaming beautiful smile on his face.

I again kept myself from crying as I drove back to Portland. It was 2 AM, and I wanted so badly to drive directly to my ex-girlfriend's apartment and hold her in her green sheets and tell her all about my night, and my past, and the man and his dog. How horrible, horrible things can happen in this world, how people can be terribly hurt and there's never a good reason for it, but that even the most broken people can and do find happiness and care.

But, of course, I didn't do that.


The Rock

Back in my first or second week on the job, I got a call to pick up at the Grand Cafe - a popular karaoke (and one night a week, salsa dancing?) bar on Grand that caters to a more mainstream audience. I had a bad feeling about the fare as soon as I pulled up, as there was a young white guy with the dancing eyes I associate with meth or crack, and a middle-aged black man with a look of disgust on his face.

The older man opened the door and said "get him out of here, he needs to get home." He then has to talk the kid into getting in the car. Alarms continue to ring.

The kid finally gets in, and it turns out he's going to Hillsboro. This is a good thing (for me). I ask my new friend how he's doing, and he slouches in the back and says that it's been a horrible night, but won't elaborate. I have a feeling that I started trying to pump him up with my "oh, it'll get better, just try not to feel sorry for yourself" line, but can't remember.

Regardless, when we get to the west foot of the Morrison Bridge, he tells me to take the long way, that he wants to stop at a place in Tualatin to get some weed, and furthermore that he wants to take the back roads. All of a sudden he becomes really talkative, telling me that he's really had a great night, the best of his life in fact, but that he's not stupid so he had to pretend like it was bad.

While he was in Pioneer Square, he says, he found a $30,000 diamond. He then goes on and on about how he knows it's a diamond and how much it's worth, because he was just hanging out with jewelers at the Grand. He's been hiding it under his lip, and needs to get it to a safe place, no matter how much he wants to take some of the fine ladies at the Grand to a place with a hot tub. That's why the guy he was with when I picked him up wanted him to go home - not just so the diamond would be safe, but because the black guy was the bar's owner, and wanted all the good pussy for himself.

Anyway, he steers me to his girlfriend's house along a back road he doesn't know very well, we're literally going through farmland. When we get there, he tells me that he'll be right back, but he isn't, and the meter's around $60. After about ten minutes, I go knock on the door to fetch him.

On the way to his uncle's house, he tells me about how his girlfriend's parents are tweakers, how meth destroys lives and families.

When we finally get to his uncle's, he needs to go inside to get the money. Then he comes back out - no money until the banks open in the morning. I inform him that this is a problem, and ask if he has a card. He goes back inside, and a couple of minutes later a very pissed off looking middle-aged man comes out with his bank card. Total on the meter: $92.70. No tip, though.

About a week later I see the kid downtown by Mary's Club. He doesn't look like he's been living it up with 30k in diamond money. I wave at him, but he walks by with averted eyes.

Canola Flowers

I knew going into last night that a perfect storm of suck was gathering: nicotine withdrawal, multiple crises effecting friends and loved ones, a party to make an appearance at, and an almost certain encounter with someone who hates me. Oh, and it was Saturday night, which meant plenty of chaos and inebriation in my fares. I popped in my gum, hopped on the bus, and resigned myself to crying at least once during my shift.

Things were looking up even more when the cab I was first assigned failed to show up. So instead I got to drive the one that doesn't have a stereo. This was not exactly a night where I wanted to be left alone with nothing but my thoughts, and I almost got to crying before the shift even started (dramatic and intense moodswings have come hand-and-hand with my new smoke-free lifestyle).

So I'm driving around at the beginning of my shift, and I pick up five women at various points in their middle-age - two Anglo, three Japanese. They ask me how I'm doing, and I tell them that I'm okay, but I wish that I had something to listen to.

The three Japanese women start singing a children's song. They sound like little girls when they sing it, their robust and confident middle-aged tones suddenly becoming light and chirpy. I am, for a minute, okay.

I thank them, and they sing the second verse, and tell me that it's a song children learn about canola flowers. I show them the comic book I'm reading - Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators -
and they're impressed that I'm reading such a cool book, and I'm impressed that they can recognize it as being cool (this book is indeed very cool, much cooler than its title would suggest). It turns out that one of the Japanese women owns a manga store in Vancouver, B.C. We talk about the Taiko show they're on their way to see, and they're impressed that I play gamelan. Again, I'm impressed that they know what gamelan is.

I drop them off, and it's one of the infrequent (yet also all too frequent) times when I really wish that I could get out of the car with my fares, hang out, and make friends with people I'd really like to make friends with.

  • Half Moon Manga

  • Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

  • 6.17.2006


    I quit smoking.

    This is undoubtedly a good thing. You see, one of the things the superintendent does is cruise around town in his unmarked car and try to catch people smoking in the cabs. He catches a driver smoking, and he makes a quick $50 for the company - and if you're a smoker and it's a busy night, you're going to smoke in the cab. Owners can also fill out a citation and hit you the same way.

    I ain't gotta worry about that shit now, son. I'm like free and clear of that stress.

    I probably shouldn't have had my first night of not smoking be a night I worked, however. Disorientation, chemical withdrawal, and crankiness do not lend themselves very well to fulfilling my company's mandate that drivers be "safe and courteous at all times." I did break down and buy some nicotine gum at Walgreen's at around midnight ($29.99 for 110 pieces, not a bad deal), but the stuff actually made me pretty stoned given my state of total nicotine withdrawal.

    Anyway, there's no way in hell I should've driven that guy to the Airport at 3:45 in the morning. But I also found that my tip-rate went up a little bit when I replied to "how you doing?" with "smoke-free."

    Everyone loves someone trying to improve their life.

    And yes, I told you this blog would be boring.


    When I tell people what I do for a living, the first thing they say is almost invariably "Wow, you must have a lot of great stories, huh?"

    I never know how to answer this. Most of what happens at work is, to me, boring and mundane. What I tend to find profound or exciting rarely strikes me as the kind of thing that would be of much interest to other people. I usually mumble something like "no, not really," because the story about the disabled guy who got thrown in detox isn't exactly one that perks up a party.

    But people keep asking me for stories about my work.

    So it's occurred to me that people all over the world have blogs where they talk about how mundane their jobs are (or how fascinating they find them), and that maybe I should leap into the 21st century and do the same. Now I can just direct people here if they want to hear about my job.

    I'll limit my posts here to stuff about my job, though I imagine that other aspects of my life will occasionally get dragged in as well. For a number of reasons, I'd prefer it if people didn't use my real name in the comments. It's highly unlikely they'll ever read this, but I'd rather that some of the less savory people I run into not be able to look me up on the internet.