Car 6

Car 6

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lessons From the Dying

Many people do not realize that cabs are used for more than taking people to airports, work and home from bars. There are corporate accounts, small material delivery, prescriptions/durable medical equipment and transporting people to and from hospitals and medical treatment facilities.

Transporting people to and from hospitals and treatment centers have a variety of sources of payments. Some patients pay for their cab. Often the cab fee is paid by their insurance carrier or public aid. Emergency rooms, dialysis centers, radiation therapy, mental health facilities, and more.

There's a teenager I take often to one of these centers. The treatment he receives is not a cure, it buys time, delaying death in the hopes an organ donor that is a match comes forth. It's a 35 mile drive so we have time to talk. Most of the time conversation doesn't happen. One night, the floodgates opened. We mostly spoke about video games and basketball. This kid who barely speaks could not shut up. It was wonderful. We also talked about his condition and the hope he and his family had when he got the organ he needed and the frustration when his body rejected it.

Then he said something that had never occurred to me. He said, "If I did what you did, I would feel real good about providing a service." I asked him what he meant. He went on. "Without you I wouldn't get my treatment. I bet public aid don't pay what a normal person pays. But you're a part of what keeps people alive. That must feel good. If I were a cab driver that would make me feel good."

The mind flooded with the other people I take to various medical treatments.

  • There's an old couple that doesn't speak much english. Old, frail and with the same condition. He gingerly helps her into the car with his own feeble arms fortified with the strength of his love for her. Along the way he often points out things to her to look at. 
  • There's a person I take on a regular basis who has poor hygiene and even worse poor manners. He is difficult and obnoxious. One day I had him and he was silent. By the time we got to the hospital it was obvious he was having an episode and was scared. I ran in and got the attention of a nurse who sent a team out to extract him and give him the care he needed. I stayed with him until they came, talking to him. We locked eyes the entire time. His eyes were full of terror of the inevitable that will one day take him (sooner rather than later).  
  • The guy who is the car nut and just likes talking about cars and his glory days the entire trip. Sometimes he talks about what a jerk his doctor is and how mad he is that he is not allowed to drive anymore, but does it anyway when no one is looking. 

There are others who frustrate you. People with liver or kidney problems who go to liquor stores or bars in between treatments. You wonder if they are unaware of the correlation or simply don't care. You wonder if that person might get an organ before people like that young man. Not much you can do. As much as we are a part of the service that keeps people alive, we are also a part of the process of the self destruction of others. 

A young man who's clock is ticking who likes basketball and video games sees nobility in the role of a cab in his life. We spoke about religion briefly. He fears people of faith who want him to be off public aid. He sees no nobility there. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

First Love In the Back Seat of a Cab

One night I got a request for an alley pick up. Not all alleys in the city are dark and dangerous affairs. In residential areas with narrow Chicago style bungalows, alleys are wide, well lit, and are where the detached garages are since the gables of the house run parallel to the street. For many people this is the back entrance.

This call was in one of the nicer areas on the west side. As I pulled into the alley a young girl was sitting by her garage. She hopped in quickly and we went to a subdivision about 2 miles away. She was a typical teenage girl of the Aeropostale/iPhone variety. We made a little small talk. When I dropped her off she was very apologetic that she did not have a tip but she was using her allowance and needed to get home later. I assured her it was fine and went on my way.

About a half an hour before curfew I got a page for the same young lady to take her home. I pulled up and she got in looking like she had a wonderful time. I asked her if we were taking the front entrance or the alley. She looked evasive for a moment and said alley. My dad instinct kicked in. I smiled and said, "Your parents don't know, do they?" She blushed and asked if I was going to tell on her. I smiled and told her she's not breaking any laws. She said no, they don't.

I asked her what his name was. She said the name in a defensive tone and said he is a she and thats the problem. I asked her if this was first love. That relaxed her and she said she thinks so. She never felt this way before. She told me she never dated before. She said it's hard to date when your gay in high school and only a few people know. Her parents don't know yet. She's afraid to tell them. They are against gay marriage and talk about the gay agenda and sin often and she's afraid they won't love her anymore.

We sat in the alley by the garage and just talked for a few minutes. What we talked about stays in the cab. It was honest and she wanted an adult to confide in so bad she was willing to tell a cab driver about her girlfriend. I can say this. I told her about the people I'm close to that are gay. We talked about first love and how it had flu like symptoms but feels so amazing at the same time. She asked me questions about dating and at that point, I knew she never got to have these conversations with not only mom and dad, but any adult.

My pager went off, it was time for her to go home and me to go to my next fare. She left having shared the details of her night, her girlfriend and her butterfly ridden heart aflutter. These are conversations young lovers should share not only with friends, but with mom and dad, not a cabbie.  These are the things that kids today instagram and make vines about. She lives in a closet and fears pics and posts about her.

Like Romeo and Juliet they hide from their families who would not approve of their love. It seems in this love story, the Montague and Capulet families are not at odds. They belong to the same golf club and church and get along just fine. Maybe the trials this young lady face are not on the same level as a teen on the east side living on public aid with gun shots going off in the night. Hurt is hurt and fear of a parent not loving you is scary. Fear of being bullied in school can damage an already fractured self esteem.

The other day I was in the local mall. I saw her shopping (like every other kid) with some girls. She looked at me, grinned wide and waved.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Gambler That Won't Fold 'Em

Our city boasts two casinos. They are popular places not just for locals, but for people from all over of every race and creed and age and tax bracket. As a cab driver you drive a lot of people to and from the casinos at night. Most people lose. Some still had fun. Others are frustrated with themselves for not walking away sooner. Some blame casinos and enlighten me with their conspiracy theories on how the corruption and rigging occur. End of the day, conversations with people who have just left the casino are always fascinating.

When people ask if I have fascinating or larger than life cabbie stories, many come from the casinos. Some are funny and will make you lose your breath. Some of scary and I prefer not to tell those very often. Some. Some stories are sad and stick with you.

One night I was sitting at the casino hoping for a flag in a dead period. I got one. A hispanic man about my age started ambling from the casino exit to the valet area where I was parked. I put on my seat belt, put away my book and reading glasses and started the motor.

He got in the backseat and told me he wanted to go to the other casino. This is not an unusual request. People want to try their luck somewhere else or they had a bad experience or they are tourists checking everything out for their instagram or they are addicts. Hector had a different reason.

Almost as soon as we left the casino he had removed a rosary and was praying it through grit teeth and bitter tears. I asked,"What's going on?"

Hector: My mom died.

Me: When.

Hector: Today.

Me: Oh God Hector, I'm so sorry. Why are you out at casinos, Hector?

Hector: I need to give her a decent funeral. She deserves that. My dad bought her a plot once. It's the only thing that son of a bitch left her other than pain.

Me: Okay. How much are you spending tonight?

Hector: I took out everything. I gotta do this. I gotta make her proud.

Me: Jesus, Hector! How much do you have left?

Hector: A few hundred.

Me: C'mon man. We can go home. We can double back and go home right now. I can restart the meter.

Hector: I got to man. She was my mom.

I have a pretty good track record calming down angry customers, talking them out of bad ideas and other such things. I tried every trick in the book to talk him into going home and not the casino.  This was him mission. She had told him in her final days she just wanted to be cremated so as not to be a burden. It was what she wanted. He would not have that. He wanted to offer her a memorial for the ages.

I dropped him off and pleaded one more time. The fare was $17. He gave me to $20 bills. I tries to give him one of them back. He would not have it. He told me thank you for caring and went in to likely lose the last of what he had.

After he was out of sight I went in the lobby and found security. I told him about Hector. He asked me if Hector was drunk. He was not. Security told me that if Hector felt he had a problem, he could give Hector the number for gamblers anonymous. Hector's problem is a dangerous mixture of grief and love.

I left. I wish Hector had left.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Un-Happy Hooker

It does not take long in this job to know when you have a prostitute in your cab. It also does not take long to recognize some of them. Sadly, many passengers will ask you where they can get a hooker. As I do not want to be party to the mess called human trafficking I know nothing. I tell them about the strip club or the bars where legitimate hook ups occur. This affects my tips but allows me to sleep at night.

Many of the prostitutes live in clusters at hotels. When a hotel gets raided, they move to another hotel. When you have the incall/outcall women in your cab, you are often taking them from one hotel to another or to a residence (where you wait outside with the meter running a few houses down). Most of the time, both of us in the cab knows what everyone does and we do not talk about it for many obvious reasons. Every once in awhile, all bets are off and discussion happens.

One night I was picking up a regular outcall girl at a casino hotel and taking her to her hotel on the outskirts of our city. I've had her in my cab before for a hotel hop or two. She is a very attractive african american who is well spoken. I know well enough to know that she does not like to talk much. She got in, I started the meter and began what was supposed to be a quiet ride. She broke type that night.

She asked if we could go through the taco bell drive through. I told her that would not be a problem. She told me it had been a few years since she has been to one and asked me what I liked. I told her about the menu items and we had a discussion about cheap faux mexican food.

I pulled up to the window and she placed her order from the back seat and asked me if  wanted anything. I said thank you, but no. As we were waiting in line to pay and get the food, she gave a nervous laugh and told me it was a shame she was gonna throw up after eating this. I agreed that that was a shame and told her I've had friends with eating disorders. I also told her I wish she would consider a radical idea known as digestion.

After we got the food we had a ten minute ride. She told me about how she used to have a curvy figure and she loved it. She needed a bikini figure for business, though. Then she told me about her mom and her grandmother. They were beautiful and strong and educated women who broke barriers for african american women. She felt ashamed to be what she called a "common whore". On the rare occasion she talks to her mother she tells her she is a veterinary assistant and taking courses online to get an MBA in literature to teach someday. She is terrified of the day the gig is up. The tears started breaking through at this point.

I told her that it was not too late to become those things. She told me that you don't get out of her line of work. You die or they toss what is left you out the door. Letters of resignation is not an option. Now the tears were sobs.

She collected herself by the time we got to the hotel. She paid double the fare and told me to keep the change. She also asked me if I had kids. I told here I had a daughter. Our conversation ended this way:

"Please be her daddy and not just her father. Protect her."

"I will. I promise. You are more. You matter."

I've not seen her since.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Indomitable and Noble Ms N.

My very first fare on my very first day upon completion of my training was the indomitable and noble Ms N. She is a regular rider in the night and known by all the drivers. She is one of the creatures of the night who is a friend to all, or at least most.

Ms N is in her mid seventies but you would never know it. She can carry her own groceries, works out, has a grip like a vise, dark hair, sharp wit and more spunk than most people I know in their twenties. She lives on a limited income bestowed to her by social security for the most part. Her favorite hobby is her art. She is an artist who to this day is still learning and trying to perfect new techniques.

Though she goes to a variety of destinations, her favorite exists on one corner. On this corner there are three different grocery stores and a pancake house. Just down the road from this intersection is a drug store. She is a fan of two of the grocery stores, the pancake house and the drug store. She is friends with everyone there.

In the world of the drivers we all do our best to look out for her. Some more so than others. There is one driver that in his off time has painted the interior of her house and fixed some some run down items in it. There is another driver who is also an artist. She once shared a picture of her when she was young by a lighthouse. Not surprisingly, she was stunning in her day. He asked if he could borrow the photo and painted a version of it for her which hangs above her mantle to this day. Most of us just talk to her and exchange life stories with her. You cannot carry her groceries, she has that covered, but if your cab has a spotlight, she really appreciates it if you shine the light on her porch and wait until she is inside before you leave.

The kindness is also a two way street. She loves to showcase her art. There is a driver who, like her, has and loves cats. One night he showed her a picture of his cats and she is in the process of drawing a picture in charcoals for him. She has asked me about my daughter and her interests and is drawing a very special Christmas present for my daughter. This is what she can give and do for others and she does it with great joy and determination.

There was one night that I was called to pick her up at one of her favorite grocery stores. I pulled up and could not see her through the window. I called dispatch and let her know I could not see Ms N. Usually she sits near the window talking with friends pretending she cannot see you until she is good and ready. Dispatch called the store and within a few moments the cashier came out to my cab to tell me she was not there. For most customers we would call this a 'no load' and move on. Not Ms N. I was concerned and so was dispatch. I asked permission to check out her other favorite spots and see if she got confused or misspoke. Sure enough, there she was with her cart waiting at the other grocery store across the street. I felt my body relax knowing I had found her and she was safe. She demanded to know what took me so long and with a smile I told her I was waiting on some woman who wasn't where she was supposed to be. She told me I should not wait that long on people and I just grinned and said, yes ma'am.

Why the night? Why these places? It does not take a genius to figure it out. She is lonely and these are the only places she can find community and friendship. There is a part of me that wants to shake a fist of anger at the church. In a city that spans seven zip codes with well over 1000,000 people that boasts over 200 churches which has signs claiming all are welcome, she has to pay retail for her community. This breaks my heart in some ways. I used to think the church is not there caring for my favorite widow.

I am wrong. The church is there. The institution is not there. The Christians are not necessarily there. The cabbies, the cashiers and the waitresses are there. Sharing gifts, art, passion, concern, conversation and love. The work of the people is there and the love is as strong as her grip. The night does not need eucharist, worship music or clever signs. We have each other.

May we all follow the example of St Noble and her indomitable spirit.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It Started Here

The idea to start this blog began in the wake of having written the following editorial column in a local paper in the Chicago Area called "The LockPort Legend". I've written there about once a month for a few years now.

When I wrote this, I had some unexpected things happen. Many in the religious and political community locally stopped talking to me and almost every cab driver, dispatcher and even the owner of our cab company loved it. That meant more to me than any other accolade I have ever received about my writing. I told the right story. I told their story and our story.  For now, I will let the article speak for itself.

Night moves
by Pastor Pat Green, Provincial Minister, San Damiano Province
November 06, 2013
I don't get paid as a minister. I have to seek my paycheck elsewhere. Over the last five years that has included consulting, being a spiritual director, designing websites and officiating an occasional wedding or funeral. Over the last month, I've been working as a night shift cab driver in Will County.
There are some wonderful things about this job. The people of the night
are very colorful. In the short time that they are in my cab, they tell me
their dreams, fears, frustrations and secrets. Most have a story to tell and
they tell it with passion. Like superheroes with a secret identity, there are
people who are artists, poets, philosophers and musicians cleverly
disguised as cardiologists, bartenders and warehouse employees. There are dreams. Some dreams may never be realized and others are works in process or memories of dreams fulfilled.

There is also something wonderful about being part of very good things. I take people home who had too much to drink and don't want to drive. I take people to clinics or hospitals for important treatments. People get to and from work. Visitors to our area are taken from hotels to entertainment venues. Families get to and from the airport to enjoy their vacations.
There is also a darker side to the night.
I'm processing and grieving the death of fantasy land right now. A world that was neat and tidy has been replaced with one that is simultaneously beautiful and horrific. No matter how I try to rationalize it, our neighborhood becomes something else after dark. In many ways, the darkness and horror I see is a failure of the church, the government and society. The beauty that I see often comes from a spirit and love that doesn't care about the shortcomings of the institutions.
I think the most disturbing aspect is the behavior of some in upper and comfortable middle class. They travel into "lesser" neighborhoods to have their fill of the lower class by way of sensual entertainment and recreational pharmaceuticals. I've been recognized by some of these individuals. They tip very well or threaten me in the hopes that I'll keep my silence. This is exploitation of the suffering for carnal entertainment. They get to return to their nice home with a 50-inch LCD TV and heated bathroom floor while the others live in judgement, scorn and poverty. No amount of donated monies, school supplies or canned goods makes that all right.
I'll be honest, I don't know what the answers are to help the least of these. But I know we have to do more — not just write checks to others or click like to support something. We need to get involved.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says: "The king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
"And the king will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'"
He then went on to say what happens to those who do not aid the least of these. It ain't pretty. The least of these are among us every day. I don't care if you are a Christian, a Muslim or an atheist, we have neighbors who need our love, our compassion and our humanity. Jesus is in them. He is in the hooker, the junkie, the alcoholic and the homeless.

The opinions in this column are that of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect those of 22nd Century Media and its staff.