Car 6

Car 6

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dominoes and the Deaf (Kindness at a Cost)

One evening I had a page that was a time call. The time call was a regular. We mostly take her to and from work at one of the casinos in town. I was getting ready to go to my time call when I got a call on the radio.

"Dispatch to car 6." came the voice of the dispatcher of duty.

"Car 6. Go ahead, dispatch." I replied.

"6. I need to send you a quick run before you get T. Go ahead and take care of this page first."

I looked at the page. It was WalMart to one of the lower income high rises. My casino employee was always pleasant if on time and mean as all get out if you were so much as a minute late to get her. 

"Dispatch, I don't want to be late to get T. Are you sure?"

"Car 6, 10-4."

Less than five minutes later I was at the Wal Mart and I asked dispatch for a call out.

"Car 6, she will see you. She's deaf." I took a deep breath. I was going to be late to get T if this did not pick up a bit soon. She never tipped anyway, to not get tipped AND get yelled at at just sucks. 

2 minutes. No one. 3 minutes. No one. 4 minutes. No one. Five minutes. No one. I am about to radio in to dispatch when I hear guttural sounds and a knock at my passenger window. I turned to see a short heavyset woman with matted hair and a yellow toothed grin. I rolled down my window and mouthed her name in the hopes that she reads lips well. The made the yes sound in sign language and nodded. I smiled politely and opened the trunk. She had a lot of groceries and it took her awhile to load them in the back. She seemed very happy and I heard joyous grunts from her. 

The whole way to her apartment she seemed happy. I did the math and realized that this was the first of the month. Food stamps. Social security.  Of course. She got to shop and pay a bill or two. Maybe there was something else that had her overjoyed. There was something about her noises that allowed me to relax a little bit. She was happy. More happy than any other passenger I had in my cab. 

We got to the large apartment building. She gestured with a one moment signal and showed me she was leaving her purse in the cab. This was to show me she would be back in a moment and was not skipping on the fare. I saw her go into the lobby of the building where there was a red radio flyer wagon. She came pulling it out making her noises. She started to load her groceries into the wagon. I realized that they would not all fit in the wagon. I suddenly remembered T and her ride to the casino. I looked at my watch. FUCK! I was going to be late. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. Whenever a dispatcher asks you to get something really quick before a time call, something seems to go awry. I looked at her loading of the red wagon. She was doing a horrible job stacking things. 

I ran to the front seat of my taxi, grabbed a scrap of paper and my pen and jotted a note. I ran back and handed it to her. It simply read,"May I help?" She smiled wide as she read it and grabbed one of my hands with both of hers, looked at me with watery eyes behind the smile and nodded. I stopped the meter. She paid the fare and I swiftly unpacked the wagon and repacked it efficiently. I then threw several of the bags over an arm and tucked a case of water under the other arm. She handled the wagon. 

As we went through the lobby toward the elevator I saw two men playing dominos at a table. As soon as they saw her they mocked her by imitating the sounds she makes. As we got into the elevator a man was leaving and he looked at her and said, "Hey retard," just as the doors closed. As I said. She read lips well. I saw the smile drop. I flipped the bird at the closed elevator door and made the universal jerk off symbol and she guffawed. The smile was back. As hers lit up mine faded. I just realized I left my cab unlocked. Cash bag, my laptop, my camera, my checkbook, my wallet. Everything.

We got to the 9th floor and I followed her down the hall to her door. She opened it and gestured for me to put all I had just inside the door. I also unloaded the wagon and offered to take it downstairs for her. She nodded. She smiled at me one more time and signed thank you. I mouthed you are welcome and hurried to the elevator. 

The slow elevator down from the 9th floor to ground was agonizing. I was glad to have helped, but all I could think about was my unlocked cab in this building of all places. Even the ass chewing I was going to get from T no longer mattered. The elevator doors opened and I started to walk briskly through the lobby to the door. One of the two men playing dominos looked at me and said, "Did the 'tard tip or did you give her some of your tip?" Both men started laughing as did others in the lobby. That stopped me. My tension was high and I snapped. 

I walked over to the table. Looked him in the eye and said,"She's deaf."

"I don't care." he said.

I swiped my arm across the table causing all the domino pieces to scatter across the lobby.

"I do!" I shouted.

"All right man," he said.

"Jesus!" screamed his friend,"What the fucks your problem?"

"Ignorance" I said as I walked out of the lobby and towards my cab. By the door was a small black teen. 

"Hey man!" he said," I saw you help that woman with your groceries. I saw your cab was unlocked. I kept it all safe. "

"Wow thanks!" I said. "Hang on." I was about to give him a tip for helping me out. 

"Naw man. Don't sweat it. I helped myself to your special k bars. Figured you would be grateful."

"You did what?"

"Capitalism man! Kindness comes with a cost! My service fee is 3 breakfast bars." He took a bite out of one of his new Special K bars, got on his bike and peddled off into the night. 

I got in my cab and started to radio in my fare.

"Car 6 to dispatch."

"Car 6," came a firm voice over the radio. "I been trying to call you for ever now. I don't know what you were doing out of your cab in THAT building but it seems suspicious. I just got yelled at my T because of you. Now go and get her. I'm writing you up. If I didn't need you, I'd gas you up. You don't treat me that way."

"10-4 dispatch."

I drove to get T who berated me the whole way from her home to the casino. I said nothing. As she paid her flat rate discounted fare, she looked at me and said, "You deaf and dumb or just a retard." I said nothing. 

I hate that word.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Collar That Choked Open Hearts

When I first started driving a taxi I was still an ordained minister. The church was a mere remnant of what it once was, but I was still active in my denomination's committees and the youth outreach was still running. What was left of me as a minister was still trying desperately to continue on. Before my shifts I would stop off at our chapel and pray the daily offices by myself and even serve communion. I would tell the other ministers in my denomination about my adventures in our private Facebook page.

There was excitement about the possibilities in the night for this job to be a ministry. I was starting to see the fractures and the absence of the church where I felt it needed to be. I was trying to explain to them the needs and the failures. How I perceived most of our humanitarian efforts in the area as being more about our need to feel good than actually making an impact. I also saw where we were sometimes doing harm. My concerns fell on deaf ears. 

When I was in ministry, I wore the clergy collar. Also known as a Roman collar, dog collar and a few other names. I used to see it as a symbol of hope and my orders. For me it was not arrogance. That said, there was a time I felt proud to wear it. It was rather like a uniform. Like a cop or a fireman I was here to serve god and mankind. I was here to help, to serve and to love. 

Despite the things I was seeing in the night, I WANTED them to be right. I wanted to make a difference and for this to become my ministry. We even spoke of adding it to our chaplain program. They suggested enthusiastically that I wear my collar. They felt it would enhance the conversations I was blogging about even more if the passengers knew what I was. 

That Thursday night I came to work in my clerical collar. I had only been on the job for a few months, but it only takes 2-3 to find your groove to maximize requests, regulars and tips. I had a good read on people and could get them to open up. It was becoming second nature. 

I changed nothing in my approach to people that night. But the responses were killing me. As soon as people saw the collar the tone changed. Most people were unresponsive to conversation. The body language was closed and the tips were sparse. The later in the night we got, the more night creatures began to come into play. It was mostly the same reaction, but even more pronounced with dancers, bartenders and bar patrons. Some would make commentary:

"Is this a joke?"
"I'm spiritual but not religious."
"Um...father?"

Conversation was always stilted. It was a brutal night. I looked forward to slow moments when I could meet another driver and talk in a parking lot. I did not realize how much I needed the conversations. The vox humana was such an integral part of my job for 12 hours a night and more than six hours into my shift, there was none of it. At 1:30 in the morning I did a bar pick up. As soon as the man saw me his lip quivered at the sight of my collar. He was damn near the fetal position and trying to suppress tears. I asked him if something was wrong. He looked at me for a moment and went back to staring at the window. I started to remove the tab from the collar.

"No!" He said through grit teeth."You don't get to take that off." The rest of the ride was conducted in silence. 

A little after 2 in the morning I picked up a bartender who was a regular of ours. Her and I spoke often. She knew I was a minister. She came to the cab.

"Hey Pat," she said as she got in."Holy shit! You're in uniform!"

I exhaled with relief, a conversation! "Yeah," I said,"Trying something new."

"How's it working out for you, Pat?" she asked with genuine interest.

"Not well at all."

"Why not?" she leaned forward with sincere interest.

"I'm just being me. But shit. I can't break the ice. No one will speak and the tips are for shit."

"Why do you think that is?" she asked.

"I dunno," I sighed.

"You don't know?" she said with mock shock. "You have a theory on everything and I think you scare me with your brain sometimes. I'm serious about that. It's intimidating sometimes. C'mon smart guy, hazard a guess."

"The church doesn't exist here, Allie. It is not that we are just not present. We abandoned spaces like this. Religion here is a vacuum. They get a sermon with their meal at some of the kitchens here. It is the price they pay for a full belly and a shitty bed. Some of the hookers give hand jobs to some of our religious leaders and pious pillars of the community buy their dope from the same street dealer they judge by day. This collar is a symbol not of light and hope here. It's the opposite. Fuck. I had a guy practically cry in my back seat. I could not tell if he was mad or terrified."

"Pat," she said, "we are the priests of the night. I serve communion with a brief homily and you are the confession booth. They don't see it that way. They just come to share a meal with friends and unburden themselves on you. It's organic. I don't think we imitate the church. I think those fuckers....sorry Pat....imitate us and it is a pale impersonation. That collar. That represents the empire. The source of their pain is the church and the state. The powerful create the powerless and they come to us for solace."

"Wow!" Was all I could say.

"So, Pat," her tone changed, it softened, it was sincere,"who are you? Are you the reverend or are you cabbie?"

"I feel more connected when I am the cab driver,"

"Welcome to the priesthood of humanity, my friend. We are the real deal."

"Yeah? That'll be $16."

"Here's a twenty, hun. Keep it."

As I drove away from her small house, I opened the window, lit a cigarette, and tossed my clerical tab out the window. I was free.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Drunken Mall Santa

Santa is a very busy man, especially in December. Sometimes he has to subcontract for hire Santa's to make public appearances at malls, department stores and events.

Sometimes those Santa's have parties. In December of 2010 I saw many of those Santa's in a pub crawl on Beale Street in Memphis. Wish I had my camera ready for that. 

Anyway, December of 2013 on a Saturday night at 3 am I got a call to pick up on the West side of Joliet and go to the East side.

I pulled up to a small ranch style house and in the front yard was a night I will never forget. Several Santa's wandering about with red solo cups stumbling about the yard. One Santa came up to me and said,"Thank GOD you are here! Look, we gotta get an asshole out of here. How much will it cost to take him to the address we gave your dispatcher?"

I looked at Santa and said,"About $13."

He handed me a twenty and said, "Run the meter, man, whatever is left is your tip. You will have earned it. Sorry, dude."

I looked at him and said, "Just look after me on Christmas man."

While we waited for the passenger to come out I asked the Santa by the cab what was going on. This was an annual party for mall and store Santas in the area. They get together in an online meet up and do this every year to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, one was being an asshole and they wanted him off the property. 

In a few moments, two more Santas came out half carrying, half walking a Santa who has what looked (and smelled I would later find) to have dried vomit on his natural beard and front of his suit. As they were bringing him into my cab he was shouting drunken epitaphs at the other Santas. Once they had him situated he said something that really pissed off one of the Santas who tried to pull him out of the cab and it took three Santas to get him away from my cab. I chose this as a good time to leave.

Though this is the first time it was Santa, it was not the first time I had a extraction. The passenger is not my customer, the person who pays me is and therefore I go where the money tells me to. Drunk people do not like this.

He looked half aware and was babbling so I kept my peace, then a few blocks away he spoke to me.

"Take me to Stang liquor store."he demanded.

"They are closed at this hour."

"Who's open?"

"For liquor? No one, Santa."

"Take me to the strip club. The fuckin Slipper!" he shouted.

"I'm taking you home." I said.

"Fuck you, cabbie!!!!" He shouted. "Take me to the fucking slipper!"

"Santa, you wouldn't make it past the doorman and you are a disgrace to the red suit, but at least the rosy cheeks are spot on."

He threw his hat at me.

"Santa!" I screamed, "One more outburst like that and you walk! I am NOT in the mood to screw around with you."

"If I were the real Santa you would get dog shit instead of fuckin coal."

I held my tongue. For most of the ride he kept with the digs and I refused to take the bait. Then he crossed the line.

"If I can't fuck a stripper how about your mom?" He asked. We were almost to the trailer park he lived in. I held my tongue.

"Got a daughter? Maybe I had her on my lap? Maybe she will give me a lap dance?"

As we pulled into the trailer community I went off.

"The only thing keeping you alive right now is that I'm too pretty for prison. It is bad enough that you get kicked out of a party and puked all over your drunk ass, but to do this as a seasonal gig and DARE to bring a minor into this? When I took my kid to see Santa I treasured her beaming smile and cling to those pictures as happy moments. Her first Santa visit was when my ex and I found out that her heart would need no more treatment after 3 years of great expense and worry. The black cloud always over us lifted and we took her to a mall Santa and that is one of my most treasured pictures in my collection of her. It was a day of freedom and hope and clarity and a new beginning. The very thought that he could be a piece of drunken shit trash like you is horrifying. It was bad enough to find out for any kid, including me, that you were a lie. That there was more to the Santa story. To find out that his false ambassadors could be YOU?!?!?!?! FUCK!!!! Jesus! I remember believing that if I was good and did well I would have some reward, some gift, someone looking out for me after my dad left, someone who could make it all right and it doesn't exist and some representatives of that lie are reprehensible, disgusting assholes is almost too much."

We pulled up to his trailer.

"We ain't talking about Santa anymore, are we?" he asked.

"I don't know. I'm mad and I really don't like you. Get out."

"I used to be a priest," he said in a quiet voice,"I wish I lost my faith. Instead I have to live with myself."

With that, he left the taxi and stumbled to his trailer.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trick or Treat

Halloween is not what it used to be when I was a child in the 1970's. It was one day back then. Today it has grown to be almost as popular and large as Christmas and poor Thanksgiving is lost in the shuffle. Anyway, for adults it has become a time of celebration, drinking and costume parties that start the weekend PRIOR to Halloween.

The Saturday before Halloween last year there was a HUGE party at a farmhouse in Shorewood. It was in the middle of nowhere practically and it was chock full of costumed revelers, kegs and a DJ. I had done my share of pickups out of the farmhouse and I was happy to do so. It was my first weekend in a minivan instead of a crown vic. The groups were larger, the tips were flowing and a fare from the outskirts of Shorewood to Joliet was pretty damn good.

Around 2 in the morning I picked up one last party. It was seven college aged people in costumes going to an apartment near central Joliet. One girl who went by the name Val sat in the front seat next to me since the back was full. She was wearing a VERY skimpy “sexy” Harry Potter costume. I would guess her to be 24...25 if she is a day. Initially one of her friends was going to sit up front and she insisted she sit in front. I will freely admit that she was breathtaking with dark curley hair and dimples as deep as the grand canyon, but she was also 20 years younger than me and very drunk.

When they piled in she asked my name and I told her. She told me the name was as handsome as my smile. Internally I rolled my eyes. I had learned fast that “beer goggles” worked on both genders and drunken flirtation in the taxi was common. I said thank you and we were on our way down the farm road. They asked me if it would be okay to stop at McDonalds. I said sure. They wanted to go inside instead of the drive through so they decided on the one on the East side as opposed to the one on the way to their house. I certainly did not mind. More miles and more time with the meter running. I told dispatch and they said fine. The passengers thought I was a hero for agreeing to this and asked if I wanted anything. I said I was fine. They insisted. I said a sweet tea would be wonderful.

On the drive to the McDonalds the rest talked in the back and Val kept on complementing me and asking me questions.

“I love your bikker jacket. It works on you.”
“Your skull bracelet is amazing and sexy.”
“You have such nice eyes.”
“Married? Kids? Tell me about your daughter? Clubs? Wow! You are funny and not like any cab driver I have seen.”

Okay. I will admit, the ego boost was fun. It was also amusing, but I was not going “there”. I would just say thank you.

We got to the Mcdonalds and they all piled out but left their stuff inside including cell phones to show me they were going to stay. Val told the group she was gonna eat in the cab as collateral so I knew they would not skip. They just laughed as they all went inside. She came out a few minutes later with a tea for me and sat next to me. I took a swig of it and realized it was not sweet tea but just iced tea. I made a face for a moment and I was just gonna let it go and drink it as it was free.

She looked at me and said,”Oh Patrick, that was not sweet tea. I am so sorry. I guess you are just going to have to add me for some sweet flavor.”

“Wow, Val. You are persistant.”

She put her hand on my knee and looked at me and said,”Do you think I am pretty?”

“Yes, Val.”

“I love the way you say my name....Patrick.” she whispered.

“I also think I am 20 years older than you.”

“That would be an issue for a relationship where you had to meet my parents, anything else is an adventure. How long has it been since you had an adventure, Patrick?”

“I'm pleading the fifth, kiddo.”

“Kiddo, Patrick?” she asked, “Nice deflection. Not going to work. Undeterred here.”

I decided to change the topic. “When I told you my daughter was in taekwando, you mentioned you had a second degree black belt and compete. Tell me about that.”

“Well,” she said, “the first thing you should know is I work on my core and am verrry verrrrry flexible.” She rolled her r's like cat woman. Ertha Kitt cat woman.

“I'm sure you are, now tell me about the competitions and what drove you to it.”

She spoke about how she almost got raped when she was 15 from a homecoming date and started studying martial arts to prevent that from ever happening again. She told me about the sense of family she got in her dojo and the accomplishment she felt with every belt and medal from competition. She went on to talk about how much she likes teaching children in her dojo, especially young ladies as they discover they are more than barbie dolls and pretty things, but a force of nature, advancement and accomplishment. She is going for her masters in Psych and wants to be a therapist specializing in children who are abused. I let my guard down a little and spoke about how much my daughter got from her dojo and the work I used to do with teens and young adults. It was a nice conversation.

The meal had ended for her friends and they piled in and we were on the way to the apartment. In that shorter ride one girl started talking about blow jobs. Val piped in again and said,”I give the BEST head out of anyone in this taxi and if I need an impartial judge, we have Patrick right here. How about it, Patrick? Want one that will change your world?”

“No, Val, I am good.”

“No, Patrick” she said, “I am good.” She started licking her straw slowly.Grabbed  an ice cube out of my tea and rolled it in her mouth and placed what was left of it in my cup.

“Dude,” said one of the guys,”he's a mortal, let the poor man be.”

"Don't worry, son,”I replied,”I'm immune” and with that took a swig of my tea. Everyone had a laugh and said I was the coolest taxi driver ever.

We got to the apartment building and I pulled to the alley entrance which was closer for them. They tipped me almost twice what the fare was and the fare was pretty high. College age people almost never tip. They did not know it, but they bought my daughter's Christmas gift that night with the tip. As they all gathered outside I heard them say Val a lot and laugh. Val opened my side door again, said “Thanks Patrick, you a gentleman and that is so sad.” With that she walked into the apartment building and it was then that I noticed she was only wearing a bra and panties. I looked on my passenger seat and there was her sexy Harry Potter costume and I could smell perfume all over it. May the heavens forgive me, she did work on her core.

I shook my head, chuckled and went on to my next fare. At the end of my shift I gave the morning dispatcher the costume to put in the lost and found. The dispatcher looked at me and said,”What is this?” I looked at her and said, “I think it was my tip.” She smiled and laughed and said, “Oh dear, honey. You are still new. Just wait until New Years. It gets weirder.”

“How weird?”

“Panties weird.”

“Im not sure if I love this job or am afraid of it.”

“Honey, enjoy the ride.”


With that I went home and went to bed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Luck of the Irish

On the weekends there are people who have routines. There are 4 young women who attend University of St Francis. They rent a small house together. Every weekend they have the same ruotine and I have lost count how many times I have shared a piece of the routine with them. They go from their house near the school to a Irish pub owned by two brothers called O'Charley's. It is the reigning dive bar in Joliet for many people. After a few rounds there they will head over to the neighboring town, Shorewood and hit Skooter's Roadhouse. Skooters is a country western themed dance bar. It is THE place to be if you are under 30 and always packed. Unless it is a regular, I hated picking up there. The fares were good, but people in their twenties are still learning their bodies have limits and puke a lot, scream WHOOOO! For no good reason and are generally idiots. These four ladies are in a routine and generally control themselves. The worst they do is one passes out sometimes. Overall, they are bublly and happy and I enjoy the banter.

One night I was taking them to O'Charley's and I asked, Kelly, the one who engages me the most, why they go to O'Charley's. Her answer was interesting. “It reminds me of the Irish dive bar my uncle owned when I was growing up. My dad used to get laid off a lot so he would work for my uncle and I hung out there a lot. Ya know. Family business, family free labor and the regulars...it was like having an extra dozen alcoholic uncles. But there was also something that happens in Irish bars like these and it doesn't happen a lot.”

“What is that?”

“Magic.”

“Magic?” I asked.

“Yeah. I can't explain it because it happens different each time. Somehting happens that you do not forget. Most of the time it is good. Someone wins the lottery, gets a job after being out of work for a long time, a just married couple sneaks out of the reception hall for a pint, a mysterious visitor comes in and makes the night unforgettable. When the magic happens, you tell the story and it is not as good for the people who just hear it. They do not feel it. They can't know how the air changed. So I like to come here because when the magic happens, I want to be there.”

“So why Skooters?”

“Duh! Dancing and cute guys, Patrick!”

I dropped them of and they piled out ready to take on the bar.

As soon as I reported that I was clear with the ladies I got a page to pick up out of one of the hotels near the mall a few miles away. The destination just said 'bar'. I called dispatch:

“Car 22 to dispatch” I said over the radio.

“Dispatch to 22, go ahead”

“This run at the Hampton, did they have a bar in mind?”

“22, they are from Ireland and don't know the area. Be a good ambassador and help them find a bar.”

“10-4”

When I pulled up to the hotel I did not have to ask for a call out. They were sitting outside smoking cigarettes. They would have looked like the brothers in “The Boondock Saints” except their short wool coats were gray.

They were young and clean shaven and looked to be in their early to mid twenties. They smiled as I pulled up and in a thick Irish accent one of them asked if I was their taxi. As soon as I heard their accent, I said yes and they hopped in.

“Okay, young men,” I said, “My name's Patrick, where are we going tonight?”

“We don't know,” said the older broher,”We've never been to America or Joliet before. Your name's Patrick so we trust ya.”

“Wait,” chimed in the other,”only his name is Patrick, what about his heart. Are ya Irish?”

“Part of me is,” I said,”the other bits are Lithuanian and god only knows what else.”

“Then we trust the Irish part.”said the younger.

“How very nationalistic of you.”

“He's now always like this,” said the older,”He doesn't trust Americans.”

“Neither do I” I said.

“But you are an American.” said the younger.

“Yeah,” I said, “makes shaving in the mirror every day a bitch.”

They laughed and then I got back to the point. “So what do you want from a pub tonight? Conversation? Sports? Pool? Darts? Dancing? Girls?”

The younger piped in excitedly,”Girls and dancing!”

“But with magic!” said the older.

“Did you just say magic?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Alright, boys,” I said,”We are going to O'Charley's where magic will happen and some girls might let you come with them to Skooter's Roadhouse for dancing.” With that, I hit the meter, told dispatch we were going to O'Charley's and put the cab in gear.

Along the way I learned that they were with their dad on his business trip. He goes to the US and London often but has never taken them overseas. He is in Joliet for two weeks so this is their first exposure to America. The oldest loves American Football and is a Green Bay Packer fan and is hoping to get his hands on the rental car to do a day trip to Lambeau field. He even plays American football in a league back home in Belfast.

I told him I know some people that have a unique experimental church in a bar called “The Managerie” in Belfast. He said he knows the place and it is on University St. The younger brother is VERY put off by the concept of church and feels Ireland and the world would have less death if the whole thing went away. He is a musician and a University student studying business.

They asked me what American's know of Ireland and I told them about what we have done with St Pat's day. They got a huge laugh out of the green beer and plastic green top hats. Then came the fear about girls. This came from the younger.

“I'm not looking to fuck about. I just want to have fun and dance. Patrick, do you think the girls will like us? What do we say?”

“Son,”I said, “you guys are going to be the golden boys in there. You will have no problem and need no clever lines?”

“Why?” asked the elder brother.

“You have Irish accents and you are not from here. That alone will get you to the dance floor. You wanted magic? You ARE the magic!”

“So why this Irish bar?” asked the younger, “Why not just the Skooter's?”

“Because it is so damn loud in Skooters that you will not be heard and just blend into the crowd of nothingness.”

“So what do we do at the bar? We don't wanna look like guys out with their daddy.”

“You go to the brunette bartender who is working tonight, order your favorite drinks loud enough to be heard, Then, should you see 3 or 4 girls about your age at the bar, tell them your names, say you are from Belfast, and you would like to know where to go to go dancing. If they ask you about Ireland, say whatever you want. We are Americans, we dont know if it's true or not. Hell, where is your dad right now?”

“Sleeping at the hotel, he had a long day at work,” said the older.

“If anyone asks about family, just say you hope your father is at rest,” I said. “Look, I have enjoyed talking to you guys. You are fascinating and cool and just be yourselves and keep talking and the most important thing. Ask them questions about themselves and be very interested in what they say. That is where the magic will happen and it will change the very air in the room.”

“Magic it is,” said the younger.

“To magic!” said the odler!
“You don't have a drink to toast with yet.” I said.

“Oh yeah!” said the older.

I dropped them off. Later in the night dispach told me that the irish guys wanted me to know I am a 'fooking brilliant magician'.

The next weekend I took the ladies home from Skooters. Kelly told me that magic finally happened and it was just like home. I asked her for details and the ladies just giggled. As they left, Kelly settled the fare and tip with me, looked at me and said, “Luck of the Irish got a boost last Saturday, didn't it?”

“Who me?”

“Yeah, you. I just got another Irish uncle. Good night magic man.”


“See ya, kiddo.”

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Face Of Broken Innocence

Her face haunts me. I cannot get her angelic image out of my head. It is the face of a baby, less than a year old. It is the face in a carrier with a little knit hat on her head and bundled tightly to protect her from the fall air. Her eyes looked into mine and pierced me. I locked my eyes into hers knowing I would never see her again. I wanted to avert my gaze, but I knew if I did, I would hate myself more than I hate the world right now.

The elderly gentleman who carefully placed her carrier on a wheelchair gently escorted her and her tear stained faced mother inside a hospital campus where I hope that good care for both awaits. I did not return to the taxi until they were both out of my sight.

I got into the taxi, numb and lifeless and lit a cigarette.

Anyone else would have seen just another cute baby. Perfectly normal and lovely in every fashion. Those people did not learn what I leaned when this ride started.

Those people would not know that hours ago she was being treated for vaginal bleeding and severe tears. The assailant was her own father. A father that the mother did not want a judge to allow visitation. The mother knew the man was a monster. It did not matter. A judge let the plea of a mother fall on the deaf ears of justice.

I thought I had seen and heard it all. I thought there was no more that could phase me. No. There was. It was a woman who while we were on our way to the destination told me her baby had just been molested. Then, in detail, told me the severity.

My mind flooded to my own daughter when she was a baby. So innocent. So vulnerable. So beautiful. Completely trusting on all of us. Have you ever known a baby's smile? The smile of a baby does not know how to lie. The smile of a baby does not have any disguise or pretense. It is pure. It is happy to see you. There is also the cry of a baby. Not the cry that wants formula or just wishes to be held. The rare cry of terror that comes form a baby. It stops you dead in your tracks.

Someone heard that cry of terror and kept on going. Someone heard that cry of terror and did not yield from causing it. Someone violated the trust of a being with no defenses, no survival skills and only trust.

There are no words to offer comfort to a loving mother. Every break in her voice into tears gave me pause. I offered on the back of my card the few resources I know in the hopes that they will be able to help her seek comfort, aid and maybe even justice and healing. But there was no clever word play. There was no difference I could make. There was nothing but pain and the awesome presence of the unthinkable having happened.

Every so often the baby would make the noises babies make. It is a sound that makes me smile in most cases. But this time there was a wince that went down to my very soul. A helplessness. A helplessness compounded by the tears of a mother.

We were on our way to a facility that was equipped to handle this kind of matter. The hospital was not. We live in a world where there are places equipped for this matter? We have to live in a world where this is a specialty? What.the.fuck.

When we got to the destination I wanted to ensure we were at the right entrance. I went in to meet a concierge and as soon as I told him who was in the taxi, he got everything ready and made a phone call. He came out and helped me assist mother and child for their entry into the building. For the first time I saw the mother face to face. She was pale, tired and numb. Her baby was all that existed. She ceased to. I looked her in the eyes and spoke my peace. They were not platitudes. They were the most genuine words of care from one parent to another that I could come up with. What I said does not matter and I don't think one word I said registered to her.

Remember what I said earlier about the smile of a baby?

In the final moments of my face to face with the baby...

She smiled.


That's what hurts the most.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Night Moves: The Book

It is with great joy that I announce the coming of my first book. It is based off this blog. The title is "Night Moves: An Ex-Preacher's Journey to Hell in a Taxi".

Way back in March, Don Martin from Aquarius Media Publishing contacted me and asked if I wanted to make the blog into a book. I said yes.

What does the book do?

The book unpacks many of the stories you have read here and adds many additional stories that you have not read. It also assembles them into a narrative story that takes you through the dark night of a period of life and into the dawn of a new day. Along the ride there are lessons to be learned from some interesting people I've met along the way.

Part narrative, part life lessons and an insight into something special and beautiful and raw and honest.

I hope you enjoy it and I hope you tell a friend to enjoy it.

I've added some new tabs to the blog, I hope you keep up to date. I will announce the release date ASAP along with pre release and release parties in the Joliet area.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Living on a Prayer

As a driver you don't make a hell of a lot of money. Saturday nights are the big money nights. You live on those. Weekends with my daughter is always hard when I am gone for 12 hours during the night and sleeping another 7. One weekend I said fuck it, took a Saturday off, and spent about a months worth of tips on one wild night to make a memory.


My ears were ringing for days from the Bon Jovi concert I took her to at Soldier Field on July 12. 

Anyone who reads my Facebook page or knows me personally knows that this is my favorite band. I have all their albums including some hard to get B sides and demo tracks. Despite all this, I have never been to one of their concerts before. Sharing this with my daughter was wonderful.
Towards the end of the night, Bon Jovi played what is likely their best known song, "Living on a Prayer." Through much of the song the band just played the music and the audience sang it. 

Imagine if you can 60,000 people singing a song together. Lost in the moment of the concert I was just having fun. Then I looked to my left. My "too cool for school" teenager daughter was just as immersed as I was. She was in full abandon belting out the lyrics word for word. She was not only next to me, but she was among and with me and the tens of thousands present. I suspect my smile at that moment was broader than Jon Bon Jovi's boyish grin on stage. For the rest of the song I had the full realization and presence that we were together as one voice.

After the concert we walked along a lakeside pier in downtown Chicago with a summer night sky hugging us with it's late night humidity. She gave me one of the biggest hugs she has given me in a long time, kissed me on the cheek and said, "Thank you so much for taking me, Dad!"  In that moment, a daddy's heart soared. 
On the way home we hit a roadside diner for a late dinner. Over our burgers and onion rings  I asked her if she had a favorite part. She said Living on a Prayer. I asked why. She said it was because we all did it together.

This brought  me back to the recurring theme of unity that I strove for as a pastor.  I always wanted to live in a religious space where "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." 

I never saw that in my church and I never saw the church belittle itself to enter the night. It is unsaved, unwashed, and impure. It is also honest.

What I strove for already existed. It existed at a stadium. For a short time we were no longer republican or democrat, rich or poor, man or woman. We were one voice singing one song. What I strove for also happened every night in my taxi. Rich. Poor. Muslim. Christian. Black. White. Liberal. Conservative. They all shared space in my taxi every night. Maybe it was not as majestic and powerful as a stadium, but what I sought was always present. What I tried to force with religion already existed. I tried to create and invite people to something that already was.

My daughter and I got home about the time my normal shift would have ended. She fell asleep within minutes of getting to my room. I watched her sleep as I waited for the sun to rise and all I had was that night. I knew that this night was about to cost me weeks of raman noodles and cold cheese sandwiches. I knew I would be refilling my water bottle at gas station bathrooms and drinking the shitty 89 cent coffee from the burnt urn at the gas station.  That was the cost for this night. It was worth it. 

As the song says, "We've got each other and that's a lot for love. We'll give it a shot." 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 2: Why I Won't Go to Tinley Park Anymore!

In Part 1 I wrote about my experience in Tinley Park at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. A place and a town I have been in many times without incident.

Before I go into details of the laws and the overreach, I wanted to tell you about other regulated cities and a disclaimer.

Chicago is a heavily regulated city for taxis and limos. They are a city that even has a shield program. A shield is something some cities enact to limit the number of taxis operating in a city. The reason for this is to ease the burden on traffic and infrastructure. Operating a taxi in Chicago and obtaining a chauffeur's license in Chicago is much more expensive than surrounding suburbs. Those companies that operate legally there potentially lose money when we enter their city limits. We are allowed to drop off in the city of Chicago. We are allowed to do pre arranged round trips in the city of chicago. When we do that we are not allowed to flag there and we have to pay a tax when we enter the city limits. This applies regardless of the vehicle having Taxi, Livery or PT plates. It is a small price to pay to pick up in the airports and keep things fair to the local companies and drivers who have invested time and money to operate there. Further, when you pick up at the airports in Chicago, the tax goes to things like tourism and airport infrastructure maintenance. Not a bad cause and when you consider the sheer volume of taxis and limos picking up at the airports, that is a huge burden liften from residents and businesses. I am okay with this tax and respect the rules.

In smaller cities like Joliet. A non Joliet based taxi or limo company can enter the city limits and perform pre arranged pick ups, drop off in our city, etc. What they cannot do is pick up a flag unless they invest in a sticker giving them permission to do so.

Now. The days following my nightmare in Tinley Park. I talked to other drivers from not only my cab company but other drivers I know from other taxi companies. They have all had nightmares lately. I did some research and found out Tinley got negative press in several media outlets in 2010 because a woman was overcharged by a taxi going from the amphitheater to a hotel. They reacted swiftly to the negative press by swiftly enacting laws that seemed to have been employed without much research into the industry or a comprehensive understanding of the problem. They seemed to have used a guillotine to treat a headache. In 2011 they already started getting negative press on these new laws. While they warded off the gypsy cabs gouging passengers illegally, many legitimate companies have stopped operating there making it difficult to pick up a taxi or limo. Further, the security measures employed have contributed to traffic nightmares and excessive waiting times warding many companies and contractors away. The response by representatives of village to this negative press was  lackluster and lacked the same concern as the original negative story they received.

The most catastrophic aspect of this law and the affect of lack of transportation options is that people who are drinking may be more likely to drive impaired.

Before I go into specifics of their law. Let me tell you what I would have to do to be in compliance of the law to have permission to drop off, pick up and even drive through their city limits (as per the representative in the City Clerks Office I was told the definition of operating a taxi meant anytime I had a paying a passenger in my taxi within their city limits, even if I am passing through and not stopping there, I am operating within their city limits.

Now. The company I am contracted with would have to get a business license for Tinely Park. Effectively making the entire operation under their complete authority. Secondly, the company would have to agree to the rates of Tinley Park for all operations regardless of their situs. The law states specifically the rate structure and this is the rate structure that is displayed and used at all times and subject to audit. This rate, by the way, is BELOW industry standard in this area making it harder for a taxi driver to make a livable wage and harder for a company to make ends meet on already narrow margins. Further, the company would have to have the vehicle inspected at their expense by Tinley's assigned and designated private mechanic auto shops even though we already have the vehicles IDOT (state government-Illinois Dept of Transportation) inspected. Then they would have to pay another fee to have the sticker.

Now for the driver. I would have to go to Tinley Park and pay them a fee to have my criminal background checked and fingerprinted....again. I would have to present a clean motor vehicle report at my own expense...again. I would also have to pay another processing fee and receive another chauffeur's license.

My company would have to incur hundred of dollars per vehicle with duplicated efforts and I would have to spend more then a hundred dollars annually and spend almost an entire day of my life annually in not one, but two cities.

Understand. I do NOT have to do this in Chicago. I do NOT have to do this in ay other city or municipality. In other cities there are things I am not allowed to do. In other cities there are sometimes taxes I have to pay when I drop off or pick up in their municipality, but nothing like this.

I recently had the privilege to talk with taxi drivers in Washington DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They deal with regulations in heavily regulated locations like Baltimore, Harrisburg, Washington DC and Manhatten and none of them. NONE of them have ever heard of anything like this. When I showed the documentation of the regulations, some of them got infuriated.

Some of the other drivers I know in the area have not only had experiences similar to mine, but they have even been profiled with PD going on the radio to tell other officers to be on the lookout for them and their vehicles.

Additionally, when I told the City Clerk's office my story to learn what I would need to be in compliance, the woman told me that I should have been fined and the officer in her opinion failed in his duty. I told her the reason he did not was because my dispatcher and operations manager educated the PD in the law.

So yeah. I won't even pass through their precious city. The risk is too high. The hassle is not worth it. I do not like being threatened. Officers with hands on their hips upset my digestion.

My disclaimer. I am not a lawyer. I do know this though. If I were to comply with Tinley. It would put me in conflict with the pricing structure on file that I adhere to in the City of Joliet and put me in a position of price dumping.

One last thing. The law is allegedly to prevent price gouging. In their law if you are traveling more than 25 miles outside of the city limits, the fee goes to meter and a half. Even with my out of radius pick up fee to go to Tinley, the fare is more expensive to residents of the western half of Joliet to use a Tinley Park compliant taxi service on a round trip.

So long story short. I will not go to Tinley Park on a professional level. I will not go through Tinley Park on a professional level. I will not go to Tinley Park on a personal level or shopping or entertainment either. There are wonderful venues in Joliet and the City of Chicago for dining, entertainment and shopping. I do not need them. With my involvement with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. With my love and passion for this industry. With my appreciation for my own safety and well being. I do not need them. Neither does my digestion.

Part 1: Why I Won't Go to Tinley Park Anymore!

I am breaking away from the normal stories for a spell to do some tub thumping. Some of this will be rants on Uber, education into my industry and in this case, regulations gone amuck.

First, a little background. In our fleet we have three different classifications of vehicles. We have taxis. Taxis are vehicles that have meters and can pick up "flags" for business. We have Livery Plated vehicles. Most of them are minivans. A livery plated vehicle are mostly thought of as limos, but it does not have to be one. A livery plated vehicle is meant to do non-metered, pre arranged pricing transportation. You book, or make an appointment, for one of these. Finally we have two larger vehicles. A club van and a bus. These have PT (personal transportation) plates on them and run similarly to livery, but require different plating due to the amount of passengers they can accommodate.

Second. As a Taxi driver you are an independent contractor and if you do not own your own taxi, you lease a taxi. In my case I am under what is called a co lease. A portion of my fares pays the lease for my taxi. Other models have you pay a flat rate per day or per week and you get to keep all your fares. I prefer the method I am under because even on a slow day, it is VERY rare to run in the red. To drive a taxi as an independent contractor I had to get a chauffeur's license. To get one I had to go to the City of Joliet and present them a clean motor vehicle report and pay a fee for them to do a criminal background screening. I also had to pay for a photo to be taken and a processing fee. I then got a license from the City of Joliet and recognized by the state of Illinois and neighboring states (sometimes you have interstate trips as we are near the borders of Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa).

Third. I am an independent contractor who has a relationship with a taxi company and I have to adhere to the standards they have to adhere to. To operate in Joliet they had to get a commercial license to operate. Each vehicle has to be inspected annually. Each vehicle has to have a certain level of licensing and bonding. Since we do medical transportation I am trained under HIPPA laws. They require I take a defensive driving course. They have to have their regulated rates on file with the city of Joliet and I cannot charge over or under the posted rate without special permission or arrangement. To charge more would be price gouging and unfair to consumers. To charge less would be price dumping and unfair to other taxi drivers and competing companies.

Fourth. In joliet you need a specific sticker to flag in joliet. If I am in another city that has requirements like a sticker or a shield, I can drop off there and I can do pre arranged pick ups and round trips, but I cannot (and will not ) flag there. Other companies and drivers have done their due diligence in that area, it would be disrespectful and illegal to flag there.

One night I was assigned a livery plated vehicle and I had a round trip from Joliet to Tinley Park for a  couple and their friend who were going to a Toby Keith concert at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater. The rate was pre arranged as was the time to pick up and drop off. I was specifically requested by the party booking the ride. The couple is a husband and wife with teen kids and they were so happy to get out of the house for a night. The husband is a Cook County Investigative Officer who has a demanding job with a weight of responsibility on him all the time. He just wanted to get out and relax. His wife is a bus driver and I know that her job has similar pressures to mine. Their friend is retired and saved up for this night out on his limited income. They were in a good mood, they are good people and I also know that they are good tippers.

When I drop them off, I talk to security and ask them where I should pick up my passengers. They tell me to go with the taxis outside of gate 1. I tell security I am a livery vehicle. They tell me to go to gate 1 anyway and arrive at least an hour and a half before the show ends. My passengers are present when this occurs so we are all on the same page. Gate 1.

I leave, head back to Joliet and swap out for metered runs for a few hours. When the time is right I get the minivan ready to pick them up. I pull through security and get into the taxi line outside of gate 1 as instructed by security. I parked in line, rolled down my windows, and started reading a book knowing I had at least 90 minutes to kill.

About 30 minutes in a cab driver from another company came over to me and introduced himself. He told me I did not have a sticker to pick up in Tinley. I assured him that I was on a prearranged pick up and was not flagging in his turf. He appreciated that and then went on to tell me to watch myself because drivers from MacNamara Taxi were likely gonna drop a dime on me and call the police anyway. I told him they are welcome to do what they want. I am not flagging, my log is in order and I am not even in a taxi. I am in livery. He tells me that in Tinley Park, that does not matter and to be careful. MacNamara and the police did it to him all the time and finally ticketed him $750 and impounded his vehicle. Even though their laws were an overreach, he had to spend a small fortune to operate there. Then he told me that livery vehicles are supposed to be in gate six. Now THAT got my attention.

I approached the security officer at the taxi line and explained I was livery and a cab driver told me that I should be in a lot by gate six. The officer looks at my minivan and says to stay parked where I am at and NOT to relocate or I will be removed from the premises. So I remain. When I walk back to my vehicle there are two MacNamara guys by my minivan jotting down information. I look at them and ask if I can help them with something. The tall one walks away fast and gets in his taxi and locals the door. The one with the mohawk dressed like an extra in a mad max film stares me down for a moment and walks away chuckling.  I get on the radio and advise dispatch of my situation and they informed me that the driver who drives the club van had some kind of trouble last week and when they pointed out to the police that he was not a taxi, all was well. I gave a ten 4 to that and went back to my book and noticed mohawk man walk by my vehicle every so often.

Ten minutes later three squads pulled up and surround my vehicle. I get on the radio and tell dispatch that I a have attracted multiple police attention and will advise as to the situation if I need assistance. One officer took point and approached the driver side window while the other officers surrounded the vehicle with their right hands on their hips by their holsters.

I roll down the window and the following convo happens.

Me: Can I help you officer?

Officer: I notice you do not have a Tinley taxi sticker.

Me: No, officer, I do not have a Tinley taxi sticker. I'm not here to...

Officer: You will follow us off the premises and we will escort you to the city limits.

Me: Officer, I am not here to flag and I am not a taxi. I am in a livery plated vehicle on a non metered run.

Officer: You are in a fucking taxi asshole. It says so right there on the side of your TAXI!

Me: That is the name of the company. We also have PT plated vehicles and Livery vehicles. If you look at my plates you will see that this is livery and if you look at my dash you will see that I have no meter.

Officer: You are in this line you are a taxi.

Me: I am in this line because that is what security instructed me to do.

Officer: Because your a fucking taxi.

Me: No, I am not.

Officer: Yes you are. You are going to be escorted out now.

Me: Officer, I really hope you don't do that. I have customers that pre paid for me to take them here and take them home. They are counting on me to be here and I am not breaking any laws.

Officer: You will follow me off the premises and outside the city limits now.

(Even though I was in the right, I saw this battle was being lost. I needed to call in reinforcements)

Me: Officer, before we leave the premises, I need to advise dispatch of the situation on the radio. May I have a moment to do that.

Officer: I tried to do this the easy way for you. Here's what's gonna happen shit for brains. You are getting a $750 fine, your TAXI is being impounded and you are going to be arrested. Give me your license and do not leave the vehicle or make any sudden moves.

Me: Do you also want my City of Joliet and state recognized Chauffer's license and log book showing the documentation of my pre arranged livery and the license certification and insurance documentation that shows this is not a taxi?

Officer: It's too late for all that shit. Gimme your license and your chauffeurs license.

As he walked away I heard him say "See how smart your fuckin mouth is in jail".

At this point I got on the radio with dispatch and informed them that the officer told me my vehicle was being impounded and I was getting fined and arrested. She wakes up our operations manager and both her and the ops manager are calling the Tinley Park watch commander and actually telling him what the state laws are. Me? I want to take my customers home. That is all I want to do, but I am also resigned to the fact that I am getting arrested for the first time in my life. I am okay with this because I know I will have my day in court and I am in the right. I never raised my voice. I never used vulgar terms and I tried to explain my situation.

Ten minutes went by and I was still sitting in my vehicle. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw the team of officers huddled in a conversation. The almost arresting officer approached my window and starts talking to me again.

Officer: I don't know whatever the hell you think you are, but you cannot be in this lot. You have to go over to gate 6 and they'll charge you for parking there. This lot is taxis only.

Me: Thank you officer. What is the best way to get to gate six?

Officer: Turn left out of the lot. Turn right at the end. Take it all the way around to the other side and and turn right again.

I started to leave the lot and two MacNamara Taxis pulled out in front of me to block my path out. I looked to the officers for help in leaving the lot as instructed and two of them turned their backs on me and went into a huddled conversation. I had to drive through a muddy field to get out. It had been raining earlier and the area was flooded and it was tricky not getting stuck. I pulled around to gate six and a security guard approached me.

Guard: What are you doing here?

Me: Parking to pick up a passenger.

Guard: Check in was over an hour ago.

Me: I was told to go to gate one by security and Tinley PD sent me over here.

Guard: $50

Me: Here. May I get a receipt.

Guard: Your lucky I let you in. Park over there by the stretch.

I park. I advise dispatch as to where I am and they give me the phone number of the passenger. I sent him a text informing him that I am at gate six instead of gate one. He responded okay.

A few minutes later a man from security with a different color jacket than the rest comes over to me and tells me I am not supposed to be parked where I am at. I tell him the whole story including the $50 fee without receipt and he asks me which guard took my money. I tell him. He went away and a few minutes later came back to my window, gave me $50 and told me to stay where I was at. "You've been through enough for one night."

I got my passengers. I took them home. They still tipped well.

In part 2 I will cover their regulations and the overreach on their laws and my conversations with police and city officials as well as Taxi drivers from the East Coast.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Helping a Kid Get Home By Lying to the Cops

With the things going on in Ferguson I decided to crawl out of my hole and write another post. I have had to take a break from the blog because I am in the midst of two book projects. One is based on this blog and the other is a collaborative effort.

Anyway. With Metra PD and most local PD we have good relations in the night and we often rely on the police to protect us when we have an assault or someone refusing to pay or someone trying to rob us. That said, there have also been times where I have been threatened arrest for reporting criminal activity (no, really) and then the officer decided to follow me for a few miles as opposed to looking into the matter I called him about. Then there was a time I was surrounded by three officers and threatened with arrest when I was breaking no laws and the only thing that kept me from being arrested was my dispatcher. Now, to be fair, that was in another city and it is fascinating story and I will tell it on a different post. 

Long story short, those who think that cab companies are buddy buddy with the municipalities have never seen a cabbie get pulled over by an officer who sees you as a bottom feeder. NYC Cab driver Melissa Plaut in her book,"Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with My Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab" covers this beautifully with many stories of her harassment.

One night I am driving one of my regulars home from the East side. He is a young black man trying to make it from temp job to temp job in the hopes that something becomes permanent. He has a rap sheet, but nothing terrible and he has been keeping his nose clean for over two years and even taking some night classes at the local Jr College. He's trying. Frankly, he's busting his ass off. He's a good kid.

I picked him up on the east side. He took a cab. Why? He had been drinking while he was hanging with his buddies. We were going to his apartment the next town over. We pulled up to his neighborhood and there was a cop parked in the apartment entrance as we were pulling up. I recognized this officer and I know his MO. He can be a hard ass.

He was blocking my path. He looks at me and asks,"Who do you have in the cab?" I can see the eyes widen from my regular in the back seat. He gets tense. "Don't tell him nothing." He's defensive. He's also scared. He has also been 4 miles and the other side of the river from this area for the last few hours. But I also know that does not matter to this guy.

"Your gonna have to trust me here," I whisper.

"Just one of my regulars, officer. Taking him home from the warehouses."

"Who?" He asked.

"Officer, my logs per your own regulations are privileged information. Can I get into the drive here so I can get this guy home and get on to my next fare?"

"What if I take a look at your logs anyway?"

I get out of my cab with my clipboard in hand and walk over to him.

"Look, I gotta a time call in ten minutes, I don't have time for this and your already killing my tip here."

"Where's your time call?"

I named the bar that the police like to hang out in his town and said I was taking 4 to a popular strip joint.

"You know I can't be late for that call."

"So the n***** you got in there ain't a fucking banger?"

"I don't know what he does on his spare time. I just take people home from warehouses."

"Whatever, I got my eye on you."

"Coolio."

I got back in the cab.

"You all right man?" I asked my passenger.

"Yeah, but see this?"  He pulled up the back of his hoodie and showed me bruises that were healing.

"I see it."

"He did that to me almost a week ago. Know what I did?"

"What?" I asked.

"I had a taillight out. I bet you don't believe me."

"I do."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because he threatened to arrest me and followed me when I was training a black driver."

"Did you complain?" He asked.

"Yeah."

"What happened?" He asked.

"No one returned my emails."

"Shit. You're white." he said shocked.

"I'm also a cab driver." I said.

"So you know what it's like?" he asked.

"Hell no. I have no clue what it is to be you and I am not gonna insult you and say I have any idea what it is like to deal with the shit you have to deal with. I listen to 2Pac and Marley and I have been harassed by a few cops, but I have never dealt with what just happened here. I'll never know what it's like to be in your shoes."

"You the coolest cab driver ever."

"Well, that I won't argue with."

"You know I ain't got money to tip."

"I know, you never do. Go up there, hug your girl and kiss your kid, how old is he?"

"He'll be two in 4 days. Think the world will be better for him?"

"No," I said, "but I like it when I am wrong."

"I don't think so either. Maybe we're just dumb men. My baby mama says it'll get better."

"Be safe, man" I said as he left.

"Thanks to you, I was tonight."

This conversation should not have happened. But it did.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Life Imitating Art Imitating Life Most Horrifically

There is a play (and a movie) called "Hellcab". It is written by a former Chicago cab driver. The play is the day in a life of a Chicago cab driver and the events are based on experiences he has had.

In the play there is a scene where he picks up a young woman and she tells him she was raped...just now.

One night, I picked up a young woman and she told me she was raped...just now.

I was called to do a pick up at a convenience store. This one was down the street from a bar and across the street from a townhouse complex. When I pulled up a slender woman with auburn hair and pale skin entered the back. I confirmed her name and her destination and started the meter. When she answered she could not make eye contact and her voice was shaky.

"Ma'am, are you all right?"

She chocked for a second.

"I was just raped" She looked out the window. I knew this scene. I don't like this scene.

"When?"

"Just now." Her voice was a monotone.

"Shit." I had nothing else.

After a pause I asked,"Did you need me to take you to a hospital or a police station."

"No. He destroyed me, but he didn't hurt me. Little tearing I guess. As far as cops. What's the point? I know the son of a bitch. I'll have to relive something I want to forget again and again and again and he'll walk and I'll have a scarlet letter on my chest for asking for it because I'm pretty or wore perfume and all the usual bullshit."

"Yeah. I'm sorry."

"So am I," the choke turned into a sob, we still had a few miles to go. After a few moments she commented,"Why am I telling you all this? You must think I'm a slut who asked for it."

"Why? Because I drive a cab, have a few tats, wear a skull ring and am wearing a biker jacket? OR, could it be because I am a man?"

She almost smiled a second and said,"Yes to all."

"Well, I'm also kinda a flaming liberal who has a daughter and hates our rape culture and slut shaming that we do to victims. That is all fine and good, but I am breaking for you, hate the guy who hurt you and wishes like hell that this never happened. But it did and it ain't your fault and it was done to you and I'm not a therapist so I am just gonna stop there."

"Do you think I'm doing this wrong?"

I blew out a long sigh. "I think there is a lot wrong with this justice system. You have to do what is best for you. I wish I could tell you your prediction is wrong."

"You believe me, don't you?"

"Yeah."

"I don't have many that would. I don't want to tell people. Could I tell you what happened? It's okay if  you don...."

"We only have 4 miles left, kiddo, " interrupted, "tell me."

She told me her story. Out of respect to her, that is all that needs to be said, she told me her story. Every detail, every inflection, every moment.

When we got to her apartment she paid me, told me to keep the change and when she handed me the money she gripped my hand with both of hers. It was a hug of sorts. I waited for her to get in the building. I pulled into a closed grocery store parking lot near her place, hit my steering wheel a few times, screamed till my throat was raw and cried. Then I had a cigarette and moved on to the next fare.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Now What?

We often do long out of town runs. We often pick up out of the low end motels. We do not often do a long out of town run from a low end "no-tell" motel. I got a page from dispatch to pick up a woman  from a motel and go to a nice town in the North suburbs.

While on my way to pick her up, the dispatcher gets on the radio and informs me that she flat rated the run for $82 and the woman claims that is almost all the woman has anyway, so I should get cash up front.

I pulled into the motel and the woman was standing by her room with the door open. I pull up and she asks me to back it in so she can load her stuff in the back. She was about my age, tall (well over 6ft) and had messy short blonde hair that looks like she may have tried to cut it herself.

Without hesitation she is loading her belongings into the back of my cab. ALL of her belongings. Everything she owns. Like so many people I encounter, she lived in a motel. She is packing up her stuff with almost child like glee. I know that expression. It is not one I see very often. It is the expression of someone who is moving out of a motel and into something more permanent. Someplace safer. Someplace that may be home.

The cab is pretty full by the time she is done. Suitcases, boxes, bags, a lamp a ceramic ashtray and even a ceramic buddha. She hopped joyfully and was ready to go. I politely informed her that I needed the $82 upfront before we could ride. She handed me a debit visa and a little fear set into me. If this thing does not process, she will have to unpack all this stuff before leaving the cab. This panic was short lived as the approval code for the transaction came up and we were on our way.

The drive was going to be a little less than an hour so we had time to get to know each other. She told me about how after 8 months of living in a hotel she is finally getting a chance to get a leg up. A friend of hers had offered to let her stay at her place for 3 months and has a job opportunity for her. This is three months to not have to pay steep motel bills. Time to save up money to get a small apartment. A chance at a real life. A chance at a home, even if that home is a studio apartment.

I asked how she ended up in this position and she told me. She used to be a personal banker and the bank she worked for did not survive the housing bust as well as others did. She never prepared for an unexpected job loss. When she realized she was in trouble and could not make it on her own, she had to make some hard decisions as the landlord sent her an eviction notice. She called her ex husband and made arrangements for their teenage son to move in with him. She placed what she could in a small storage center and went to Joliet to take a job as a bank teller.

The job did not last long. She admits freely that it was by her own doing. Depression and stress led to self medication. Drugs are pretty easy to get in some motels and liquor stores always seem to be  strategically located near no tell motels.

Now things would be different. She has been clean and sober for a few months and she had a job lead and a clean place to stay. Life was looking up and she was grateful to her friend. There was something else, though.

There were signs of mental instability in the ride. She spoke about how she was able to talk to the cockroaches in the motel and they would talk back to her. Sometimes, she claimed, demons would take the form of roaches and talk to her. To try to tempt her and get her away from god and light. She then told me how her bible and her favorite book by a popular spiritual guru with a television show had miraculous abilities. If she needed spiritual guidance she could open a page randomly and the words would change before her eyes to say exactly what she needed to know.

We drive a lot of poor people, homeless people, addicts and alcoholics. Untreated mental illness is part of the territory. I was kind and treated it just like any other part of conversation. At one point she asked if I believed her. I gave her the answer I give everyone when asked that. Just because I have not experienced something does not mean it did not happen. Usually, the answer is no, but I find the answer I give to be a lot more polite and kind.

We get to the address her friend gave her and there is a vacant lot by train tracks. She is starting to worry and calls her friend and leaves her a voice mail. I tell her not to worry. Sometimes addresses go out of sequence and there are a lot of places on the other side of the street. We explored and found nothing. She calls her friend again to try to get direction and this time I can hear that the call went straight to voice mail. Now I have a sinking feeling. Her "friend" is dumping her calls to voice mail.

About this time dispatch asks me if everything is okay. I tell dispatch that we are having trouble finding the address. Dispatch has our cabs on GPS and with a few clicks of a mouse the can tell exactly where we are and where we need to be. She told me where the address should be. I knew what I would find there, but just to be safe, I wanted to run through the steps again. It was the vacant lot by train tracks. I informed dispatch of this and she tried to pull up an image on google maps. As we feared, there was no address. Just a vacant lot and the calls are still being dumped to voice mail.

I explain to dispatch the situation I am in and tell her I am going to seek options here. I ask my fare for her friend's phone number. I am seeing her hopefulness fade away and the full fragility of her untreated emotional condition is taking place. My cell phone number does not get dumped, but it also does not get answered. I leave a voice mail.

"Hi Sandra. This is Pat with TeleCAB, I have your friend, Jennie, in my cab. We came all the way to your town for her to stay with you. The address you may have given us is incorrect. Please call me back before I have to make this a police matter. She has no more money for me to take her anywhere else. I really don't want to involve the police, so please return my call."

She asks me if the police was a bluff. I told her I honestly did not know. I asked if she had anywhere else to go. Anyone else she knows who can take her in. She says she has a few dollars in her pocket. There is no money for a motel and no one else to stay with.

There have been severe thunderstorms all night and it was starting to rain again. Leaving her on the street is not an option. I talked with her a few minutes explaining to her that in these suburbs there is an organization called PADS. They set up emergency shelters in various churches and provide other assistance. Now the anxiety hit full force.

"I've never stayed in a homeless shelter!!! This is wrong. I don't know what to do. Can't we just stay here until my friend answers the phone."

"Jennie, she is probably dumping your call to voice mail. I don't know why she is not answering your calls, but she probably wont ever answer. I'm sorry." About this time, my phone rings. It is her friend. I answer. She asks me who this is. I tell her I'm a cab driver from Joliet and I have her friend in my cab. She says she doesn't know what I am talking about and I have the wrong information. I know I am being lied to. My fare heard every word. Her confusion is genuine and her fear is high.

I told her that I have friends that volunteer with PADS. I also tell her that since it is after normal check in time I am going to have to call the police and have them aid us with intake into PADS. We have been in town for almost an hour at the point I call the police. I am now losing money.

I explained to the police dispatcher what is going on the aid we need. I thought I was very clear, but dispatch misunderstood and interpreted the situation as someone trying to skip on the fare. I am unaware of this. The fare and I step out of the cab to have a cigarette. Just as we are both finished with our smokes, 3 squads pull into the parking lot we are sitting in lights going. She goes into full paranoia mode, jumps in the cab and locks the back door.

I spent a few minutes with the officer in charge of the scene and work past the misunderstanding and what it is we need so I am not leaving her out on the curb in the rain. He gets it. He also knows the name of the woman she is supposed to be staying with. The officer and I coaxed her out of the cab to talk. She was terrified. He sent one of the other officers to the other woman's correct address and tries to get her side.

That officer came back ten minutes later to report that the woman initially refused to answer the door and then claimed she never spoke to the woman and when pressed more said she did talk to her, but does not want to talk about the details and does not want her anywhere near her property.

The police officer in charge of the scene thanks me for my ethical behavior and patience and has me follow him to a large Congregational church that was serving as the PADS shelter for the night. The officer goes into the church and makes the arrangements. He comes out and assists me with getting her belongings by the church door. More than two and a half hours after this trip began, I am on my way back to Joliet. Jennie has a safe place to stay with professionals who might be able to help her. Things were not without hope, but they sure did suck.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Family

On a chilly winter's night I was having a very good night. February ended at the stroke of midnight a few hours ago. All the drivers were having a good night. It was busy but not out of control. I was on time for my time calls, got my other fares in good time and to their destinations well. The tips were flowing like a river. It was one of those nights that a driver wishes were the norm. You could actually make a good living if every shift were like this.

I was on my way to pick up someone at one of our hospitals when my cell rang. Most of the time I give the phone a passing glance and ignore it. I glanced at the phone in my cup holder. It was my father's phone. It was also the middle of the night.

With my heart racing I turned on the speaker phone.

"Hello?" I asked.

"Patrick," it was my step mother, her voice was shaking, "Patrick, your father died of a heart attack a few hours ago."

"Oh no. Oh no. Oh god. He's dead?"

"Yeah."

"Are you okay? Do you need anything, Ellie?"

"No...and no."

This short back and forth went on for about a minute and we said good bye. I pulled over and bit my lip to choke back tears that did not want to be held back.  I grabbed the radio, took a deep breath and said,"Car 22 to dispatch."

"Dispatch to 22, go"

"Um, dispatch, my step mom just called, my dad is dead." I couldn't come up with anything else to say.

There was a pause.

"Dispatch to 22, gas it up and go home."

I bit my lower lip hard to keep the sobs out. "10-4, thank you".

The alpha desk dispatcher got on the private channel and said, "Pat, I'm so sorry." The beta desk dispatcher sent me a text expressing nothing but concern.

By the time I was done fueling up the cab, I could taste blood from my lower lip. I sat in the gas station and did my paperwork so all I would have to do when I came to base was drop my envelope in the safe and give dispatch my keys.

I pulled into base and walked in to the drivers area, handed dispatch my keys and make my drop. Another driver was in there doing his paperwork at the desk and he just looked at me not knowing what to say. He nodded his head with a sad smile and then shook it a little. The dispatchers said words of kindness that I do not completely remember because I was so focused on holding it together. One of them gave me a hug and I was limp and cold. I did not have much to say. When I spoke my voice trembled. I was trying to hold it together.

As soon as I walked out the door, the night air filled my lungs and the sobs came out and would not stop as I walked to my car and placed my head against the steering wheel for a few minutes.

The next day our operations manager would call me and assure me I could take all the time off I needed. He told me about times in his life where he had loss. He did better than many ministers I know in times of loss and we are trained for that stuff. It was a phone call that was like a salve to a bleeding and crushed heart. Dispatchers and drivers checked in on me through phone, text, email and social media.

In a time where many of my friends just disappeared, in a time where I felt alone in pain, the people of this job I had been with for less than a year would not let me feel alone. It made me want to go back to work and resume normal life.

A week later I would return to my cab. When I came in there was a card. The card had almost every white space filled with signatures and words of comfort and love. For the next week anytime a driver would pull up next to me, they would see how I was doing. The same was true of dispatch and operations. It was not for productivity sake. They gave a damn....about me. That is not something I am used to.

I have almost every word in the card memorized. The card is in my clipboard every day I drive. When I feel alone or need motivation to get through another night, I stop and look at it and remember that people care enough to reach out and that here, of all places, in a cab company, I matter. They matter to me too.

As a side note. When I was a little boy, my dad drove a cab. He used to write me letters from the cab and tell me some of his adventures. They burned in a house fire in 2001, but I remember some of them.