6.19.2006

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.


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