1.03.2007

A Happy New Year

I'd had much trepidation about working on New Year's Eve, but it ended up being perhaps the best one I've ever had. That it's one of the relatively few in my adult life that didn't involve me getting embarrassingly drunk of course helped, but it was good for reasons beyond that as well.

My first trip was my car's day driver. L's appeared here before, and is a real classic, a grizzled old Vietnam vet with a quick punch, good sense of humor, and government-given medical problems. I like him a lot, and was happy to give him a ride home at a discount.

While dropping him off, I was immediately flagged down by an extremely drunk middle-aged gay white man. He's a bartender who'd been called in to help prep for the night, and then gotten completely hammered. While driving him home, we talked for a little while about other cab drivers (he's been taking cabs in this city for over twenty years), and then out of nowhere he just started talking about a situation in my life that had been bothering me, and then started asking me questions that happened to pertain directly to insights I'd had about both myself and the situation earlier that day. I told him that he was starting to really creep me out, as we'd never met before. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, "I'm a fortune teller, and I'm drunk." He left with me a somewhat optimistic statement about the situation (which I'd also arrived at earlier in the day), and we shook hands after he gave me a $10 tip on a $30 trip. I thought about giving him my card, but didn't. I enjoy allowing the occasional magical strangers who wander briefly into my life to remain cloaked in mystery, it makes the encounters that much more wonderful.

It was an auspicious start to the night, both financially and inter-personally. I started cruising back into town with an eye toward getting a sandwich and a cup of coffee, but suddenly my headlights dimmed, the MDT started acting up, and both radios (AM/FM & dispatch) stopped working. Knowing what was going on, I called up the supes on my cell, and they told me to try and bring the cab in, that they'd save another for me. The alternator finally died while I was waiting at a red light about 15 blocks away from the garage, and one of my superintendents showed up to wait for a tow with me. This gave me opportunity to eat a falafel sandwich and chat with him, he's a really nice guy. And it was good to hear, in no uncertain terms, that he and others in high places hold me in high regard both personally and professionally. Thus them saving a cab for me when they could've leased it out to someone else.

I got back on the road, and things went smoothly. Everyone was cheerful and celebratory. I took some time off from around 11:30 to 12:30 to go to a party and see friends, catch-up after the holidays, eat an enchilada, and ring in the new year.

Around 1:15 I got a call at Emanuel. I was to pick up a hispanic man, drive him out to outer Northeast to pick-up a car seat, and then take him back to the hospital. One of those great trips I like so much, especially on New Year's at 1:15 in the morning, when I could reasonably assume that the guy would both actually be there when I showed up and not be drunk.

Another one of our cabs rolls into the hospital ahead of me, and knowing how good a trip this is, I call out to a man walking toward it by the name on my order. It's my guy. I explain this to the other driver (though not what he's missing), and we set out. I ask the guy how he's doing, and he explain to me in broken English that he's been with his sister. As best I can make out, his brother-in-law stabbed her (or did something to her) five or six times. The brother-in-law's in jail now. He thinks the brother-in-law must be on drugs or something. I try to console him a bit, and we settle into silence.

As we're about halfway there, he asks me if I like Mexican food. I tell him that I'm from Texas, I love Mexican food. I ask him why he bothered to ask, if he was a cook. He says yes. We then start talking about various Mexican dishes we love, he's excited that I seem to actually know about real Mexican food, not just Tex-Mex. As we get closer to his place, he asks me if I like posole.

If there's one thing Crabbie loves, it's some posole. I get it at a restraunt once or twice a month, though have never tried to make it myself. I tell him this, and he gets really excited and tells me that I have to come in for some posole, he and his nephew had made a bunch for New Year's, and it had just finished while he was at the hospital.

I pull into one of the beat-up, low rent apartment complexes that caters to recent immigrants. Somewhat sheepishly, I follow him around to his apartment, and he invites me in and introduces me to his cousin, his nephew, and his brother, who are sitting around drinking beers. They give me a big bowl of excellent home-made posole, some chopped onions, a cold Pepsi, tostadas, and an habanero. Their English is spotty, as is my atrophied Spanish, but we talk at length about food. They're all cooks at various restraunts around town (Asian restraunts, actually), and I tell them about my gourmet barbecue hobby. We talk about family and Mexico, and they tell me to give them their phone number for when they make mole. I keep thanking them profusely for the food and company, telling them how wonderful it is and how it's made my night, and I couldn't be more sincere.

We get the car seat and go back to the hospital. I'd assumed the trip would end here, but he starts to load an adorable an extremely sleepy little girl, maybe three years old, into the cab, and his sister starts to limp toward us on a crutch. While this is happening, some friends I'd told earlier that I'd give a free ride to call me up in a somewhat lame situation. I explain mine to them, and tell them I'll call them back after I can talk to him, as they're on the way to his place and small women who could sit in each other's lap.

But a woman from the hospital rushes out to shoo him and the girl out of the cab. She sternly explains that while the hospital has an account with our company, Oregon Health Plan has an account with a competitor, so that while I could take him to get the carseat, the competitors have to take the woman home. I tell her that they'll be stuck waiting there for hours (it's around 1:50) at this time on New Year's Eve, couldn't the hospital show a little consideration for a woman who'd been stabbed and her small child.

No, I'm told, rules are rules.

It occurred to me as I was pulling out without them that I could just say "fuck it," and give them a ride for free, but by this time I'd already told my friends I was on my way and felt compelled to get them. This man, his sister, and her daughter have haunted me since. I didn't think to give him my phone number in all the fuss with the hospital functionary.

It was a delight to pick up my friends, who were in good spirits and happy to see me and be in the warm cab with good music, and excited to be in a cab with me for the first time. I told them about my last trip, "your job is so exciting," they said. One of them wanted to spend a couple hours driving around with me, but that's against company policy.

I was really happy to see them, and shot up the freeway to their place with the intention of hanging out with them and listening to them and some other friends play music until around 3 AM, thus avoiding the bar rush entirely. Just as we were a block or two away from their place, though, a scraggly looking couple waved desperately at me.

"Sucks for them not to have your hook-up," I said.

"They had a little kid with them!" said my friend.

Fuck.

As I got out of the cab to go pee in my friend's house, the couple started shouting "send him back here!" I walked toward them, asked where they were going (far), and told them I had to pee and that I'd be right back.

I pulled up, and they piled in. We were around 55th & Glisan, and they needed to get to 52nd & Woodstock. How much will that be? they ask. "I dunno," I say, "ten to fifteen dollars."

"Fuck it, we're walking."

"No you aren't," I tell them, "I'm driving you."

The man's missing a tooth and carrying a mostly empty handle of whiskey. The woman's hair is stringy, her teeth are yellow, and her face and neck are a network of scabs and scars. There are track marks on her arms. It's 28 degrees out, and neither of them are dressed for it. Neither is the kid, who's already fallen asleep in my backseat and is an absolutely adorable four-year old boy.

They spend the whole trip complaining. About how the busses aren't running at 2:15 in the morning, about the "niggers" they got in a fight with at the Max stop, about how society's fucked and there aren't any good people. They argue with each other about who's fucked-up the most. Their language is as vile as mine usually is in this space, and the kid's audibly snoring.

I hate these people. I'm not racist, but I have biases, and these people have triggered all of them. I would ordinarily never take people like this, and I would ordinarily have kicked them out by now. But that kid's in the back, and I force myself to think about the kid. I think about how he's likely doomed, and that I cannot save him. I say very little, except when asked. And then no matter what I'm asked, I tell them that it's horrible what they have done to this child on this night. Except I use less polite language. They occasionally lapse into thanking me on a couple of occasions, offering to pay me with weed or booze. I tell them to shut the fuck-up, that I'm giving the kid a ride and they're just lucky to have been with him. None of this seems to sink in, the niggers and the city and the other partner are always to blame (especially the woman, as he'd been carrying a kid "that wasn't even his").

I drop them off and immediately turn to go back to my friends' house. Behind me at the intersection where I drop them off is a cop. I throw on my hazards, pull over, and wave at him to tell him about them, but he just drives by. It's probably for the best, it's not like the state would do wonders by the kid anyway.

The music was great, and at 3 I gave another friend a ride home and then went back to work. Everyone was kind, polite, in good spirits, and tipping well. I got a ride home from an ancient cab driver who I gave a tutorial on the MDT. He's a friend now, and involved in charity work in a field that I've always wanted to enter, but never known how. So now I've got an in, and I'm excited and grateful about that.

I hope you all had a great and safe night. This story is long and inconsistent both stylistically and in the tenses it uses. There are probably also multiple typos. I couldn't care less.

Despite what the parents of 2007 may think, there are good, humble, and courageous people in this world. One of the joys of this job is that I get to meet some of them sometimes, although I don't write about them enough here. They never do ludicrous things in my cab, so I don't write about them often enough. I'll try to do more of that, to remember these people and tell you about them, because there's a lot more to my job than the sad and crazy stuff, and I don't represent that often enough in this space.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been giving your anonymous identity some thought. I take back my apology for the racist comment.

Nobody I ever knew who drove cab EVER described every fare by their race/color as you do. It is not even relevant to your stories, but that is the first thing you come out with and that is why I called you racist and I am going back to my first impressions.

I was maybe wrong about you being black , but that is all.

Nother thing...your self proclaimed being one of the most respected cab drivers in the company...HA!

You most certainly are not and never will be with your attitude.

It's obvious that you have no respect for the "dinasoars" of the company, but honey in comparison, they may be dinasoars and you do not qualify to be the most respected men in the company's droppings.

Oh and as far as your anononymity being better than mine somehow because you have an anonymous blog with an anonymous name with an an anonymous email, I say bullshit.

You may not know who I am, but I am known to the company as I am posting here.

They do matter. You do not.

Oh and one more thing, you might learn something from "Michelle".
I checked out her blog and she makes a very strong effort NOT to identify customers and does a very good job of it.

Her stories have great impact, are full of life and do NOT violate customers privacy while still are able to be a good account of her cab-life.

January 04, 2007 1:42 AM  
Blogger The Acid Queen said...

Dear Anonycoward,

Fuck off.

Dear Crabbie,

If I find myself in Portland, I'll be glad to ride in your cab.

January 04, 2007 8:24 AM  
Anonymous SHROUDMASTER said...

Wow,

I don't check for a few days and I miss all the excitement.
Crabbie, I really enjoy your postings and I hope you keep up the effort and not let detractors keep you down.
I think that most thoughtful readers can see that when you identify cab riders by their race/ethnicity what you are doing is just painting a picture for those of us readers. It's not racist, it just helps illustrate the story and gives a visual face to each episode. Now if someone sees racist connotations in that, well that says a whole lot more about their issues than it does about your writing.
Fair and balanced, keep rolling into 2007 and enjoy your life, friend.

January 04, 2007 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog since I've started working in NYC in June (film editing now on the nightshift) and I must say you have a extremly huge heart. Few cabbies in NYC are like you. Hope all is well with you-Forrest

March 23, 2007 5:30 AM  

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