Car 6

Car 6

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Like a Scene From a Bad Movie

Union Station is far more than daily commuters from various corridors on the Chicago Metra. It also is an Amtrack stop with passengers coming and going to all different parts of the country. One night an Amtrack train came late, much later than it was scheduled. I had a call to pick up someone from the late train and take him to a home the next town over.

He was young, lean, and even with a duffel bag over his shoulder his back was straight. You could tell he was military. When he got in the cab I asked if he was on leave. He said yes and he could not wait until he got home see his mom and his sister. 

He told me about some Army contest he was training for. It sounded similar to a triathlon but even more grueling. He did not think he was going to place well, but he was going to give it his all. 

Along the way we talked about family, home cooking and coming home. We had laughter and conversation and it was a good fare in the midst of a long night. It was a pleasant ride in the middle of the night until we had something like a scene from a bad movie happen.

On a dark and quiet street 3 men came out of the shadows. Two blocked the lane on the left side and one stood in front of the cab holding something that looked like a large metal pipe. They were all wearing hoodies with the hoods up and bandannas over their faces. All you could see was their eyes. The whole scene was bazaar and surreal.

My heart did not race. I was not angry. I was not scared. There was little hesitation as I told the young man in my back seat to keep his head down and floored it. I knew that if the man with the pipe did not move I would strike him at about 40 MPH. Anything 40 or over on a pedestrian is a potentially lethal hit. He stood his ground, so did I. In the split moment that all this transpired our eyes were locked on each other. I saw fear and confusion in his. At the last possible moment he jumped out of the way and threw his pipe at my cab. I kept moving and told dispatch what happened over the radio so they could alert police. 

The young man in the back rose his head up and asked,"What the hell was that?"

"I don't know. You okay?"

"Yeah," he said, "You are an ice cold mother fucker."

"Until tonight I thought I was a pacifist."

"Well, I'm glad you were wrong."

There was a pause and I tried to bring conversation back to where it was and we both politely played along, but there was no life in the conversation. The mood had changed. Neither of us wanted to dwell on or speak about what just transpired. We were also too lost to know what else to talk about. Then he said it. He spoke of the thing we were not talking about just blocks from his house.

"Everything's normal after moments like that, but it don't feel the same. Does it?"

"No. It doesn't."

"It's like coming home. The house will be the same. My room will be the same. My sister will be a little more grown up, mom may have a new hairdo and my friends will still complain about classes at JJC. It's all normal, but my moments make it all different."

"What changed for you?"

"I was overseas for three tours. I saw people die. You don't want to talk about it. No one wants to hear it. It's uncomfortable for a mom or a sister or a college student to know what it's like to be shot at while laying cover fire and the next day your buddy loses a leg not being careful by a parked car. That was then. It was a moment in my life. But no matter how normal things are, it doesn't feel the same."

We pulled into his driveway. He paid me and tipped well and thanked me for being ice cold and went inside with his duffel over his shoulder.

Off Her Meds

One night I got a call to a house in the remote outskirts of the city. It was at the edge of farmland with a long driveway to a small, but elegant home. A couple in their thirties came out to the cab. I began to assume that they were going to the bar in a neighboring town together. No, he was escorting her to the cab and talking to her.

"I want you to behave." She said something back to him that I could not understand, he stopped her and his voice was more firm. "Be-have!"

She got in the car bouncing like a little girl with her red hair flailing. He handed me money and I asked if he wanted me to give her the change. He told me that the rest was my tip and I will have earned it. "Just be patient, man," he told me. "It's not her fault."

I rolled up the window and backed out of the long gravel driveway. In a perfect british accent (west end) she told me she was really tired of that grump and just wanted to have fun. I asked her where she was from. She rambled something so very fast that I could not understand it, but midstream in the rant the accent changed to a Brooklyn accent and within two minutes she was a southern belle. 

During the course of the long drive she would be Irish, Australian, German, French, Valley Girl, Texan and some accents I could not quite place. With each shift there would be a shift in body language, attitude and so forth.

At some point in the disjoined conversation she asked me my name. I told her. She insisted I was the bass player of her favorite local band because his name was Patrick too. I kept my patience and entertained the conversation. To be honest, I did not have to do much, I was essentially a prop for her ramblings.

Along the way we were driving in farmland and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" was playing on the radio. She insisted that I roll down the windows and blast the radio so she could sing to the crops. She said they were soothed by her voice. I turned up the radio and rolled down the window and she did, in fact, lean out the window and sing along with the radio to the crops. She had a good voice. 

Not too long after that I took a turn as instructed by my GPS. This was not an area we get a lot of calls to. As I took the turn she asked what I was doing. I told her I was going to her destination. 

"Why the hell didn't you take the shortcut?" she demanded/screamed.

"What shortcut???"

"If you were the REAL Patrick you would have known the shortcut! You, sir, are an impostor and I've a good mind to call the police."

"I wish you wouldn't do that. We only have three miles to go and I am very sorry that I am not the man you think I am."

"Who do you think you are, not the real Patrick?"

"Sometimes I'm not sure."

"I know the feeling, love."

"So, may I ask you a question?"

"Sure my love" she said with a whimsical grin.

"Is this an act or is this really you?"

There was a pause. "Sometimes I'm not sure, my pet."

For the first time in our drive there was silence. I heard soft and quiet sobs in the back. I reached into my bag and handed her a napkin. She gingerly grabbed it. The bar had a drop off section in an alley. We pulled up and there was enough money given to me for the ride and a nice tip.

"Patrick, thank you for putting up with me. You're a gem."

"Your wel...."

"Are you gay?"


If I had said yes, I wonder to this day if she would have not kissed me so damn hard I thought a tooth chipped before she skipped into the bar like a small child at recess.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Shy Criminal

One of the great things about driving a cab is the diversity of people in the back seat. Republicans, democrats, rich and poor, al races and nationalities. You are practically a mobile UN. People who would not normally share with others have no idea that they share my back seat every night.

One afternoon I received a page to pick up someone and take him to a car repair shop. I tried to find it on my GPS. I knew the street, but my smart phone could only find one auto repair place. I assumed that would be the one.

I go into a low income neighborhood to pick up the fare. The man that came out was big and stocky wearing jeans and a biker jacket. Big and stocky does not begin to describe his size. My grandmother used to say built like a brick outhouse when referring to people this big.

He got inside and in a soft voice said hello. So the big guy was a teddy bear. I told him I could only find one auto repair shop on that street and he told me he was really going to a bar on that street. I know the bar. Everyone knows the bar. It has a reputation. I told him I knew where THAT was and we were on our way.

I asked him why he did not just say he was going to the bar. He told me he did not want anyone to think he was the type of person that goes into that kind of bar. I asked him why that mattered.

"Look, I aint there to drink or be entertained. It's my first day working there."

I asked him what he would be doing there. I was not surprised to hear he was going to be a bouncer. I asked him if he was nervous.

"Damn right I'm nervous. I've never bounced before. But it's the only job I can get since I got out of prison 7 months ago. I'm glad to have a chance and I wanna make the most of it."

I asked him where he did his time. He told me. I have a few friends that are prison chaplains. His was a very rough place to be. I asked him what he did before he did time.

"I was going to school to learn to be a mechanic. Not much point in continuing. All these places say equal opportunity employers, but I'm not even good enough to flip burgers or work at a big box store. It sucks. So what's the point in going back to school when even the entry level places don't take you. All I know to do is do my best with this job and get used to life without dreams. That place I live in is as good as it gets for me no matter how good a person I am now. Don't get me wrong. I ain't gonna go back. I don't want to. But I get it. Life in there is better than life out here when you've gone to prison. There is a rush when you first walk out of the walls. You say, It's over. I made it out. I'm free. I paid my debt and did my time and now I can live my life. That lasts a day or two, then you realize that you are nothing but an ex con. Someone to be feared. Someone not good enough to hire. You are damaged and broken. You think its over. It's not. The walls are just invisible now."

His eyes welled up a little at this point. I asked him how old he was. 28 was the answer.

I told him about a neighbor of mine I had once. He did 2 years for possession and resisting arrest. He was a truck driver. When he got out he could not get a job driving. So he sold his car and bought a beat up used pick up and started collecting scrap metal. Last I had heard of him, he has 4 trucks and only hires ex cons. He says that it is about 50/50 on his hiring. Some try to rip him or others off and some are just glad to have a chance. They not only have a chance, they get medical and dental and 401k.

"It's never over till yer dead, kid. Your gonna have work three times as hard. You will always be judged. You will be seen as less. Ex con will be your identity and it sucks and its wrong. Get in there, do it the way they teach you and learn to dream again. You are not even 30. You got too long a road ahead of you to be this cynical."

"You ever done time, sir? You know what it is like?"

"No. I never have. I don't know what it's like. I have no clue what it is like to be you. I just know that life is not fair or just."

"How come you never asked me what I did?"

"Doesn't matter. I don't see an ex con. I see a man about to have is first day at work. Good luck." I held out my hand. He grabbed it with both of his hands and shook it vigorously and looked me in the eyes. We were men shaking hands. Equals and peers with mutual respect. All he wants is dignity and respect. He has earned it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dangerous Suprise

Most of the fares you pick up when driving a cab are just people trying to get from one place to another. They pay and sometimes even tip. There are times that you end up having people that are not safe for one reason or another try to get into your cab or do actually get inside. The more experienced you get and the more you talk with other drivers, you learn what to look out for in the night. However, there are times someone gets in and things go awry. These days I never allow things to escalate. Problems need to be nipped in the bud immediately. When I was still new at this, I was easily scared. This is about a night I let things go too far.

One night, I was called to pick up someone from a townhouse complex and take him to another residence a few miles away. I picked him up on a cold December night. The actual temp was below zero, the wind chill was even worse. He swaggered out wearing just a carhardt jacket.

He seemed quite drunk and ready to go home. This late at night when the customer has no prior history with the cab company, you get cash upfront. On the way he wanted to stop at a corner store for some snack food and a water bottle. He gave me a few more dollars and went inside while I waited.

When he came out he asked me what time it was. I told him it was about 1:30. He asked me how long it would take to go to another town that was further away that we normally drive. I looked it up on my GPS and told him that would be an additional $75 on top of what we already had on the meter. He  handed me the money in cash and asked me if we could go there and I could drop him off at his girlfriend's house. I checked with dispatch and they said I could take him.

The ride was mostly quiet. About 20 minutes into it he told me something I did not expect.

"You're taking me back, right?"

"We never discussed a round trip. I can get you back, but I am going to need more money for a round trip."

"No. You have to go back anyway. You will just take me back too. Ain't no one gotta know."

Deciding to revisit this whole payment issue later I switched gears a little.

"Well, how long will you be at your girlfriend's?"

"She's my EX girlfriend. As long as it takes for me to f--- her up."

"What?!?!?" I exclaimed.

"Look," he explained,"surprise is the best weapon in the world. If people don't see it coming, you win. She moved to get away from me. She's got some other guy now. He might even be over there. I'm just gonna kick in, do what I gotta go and you take me back."

"Hey, man," I countered. "Ya wanna stop for coffee? I'll pause the meter, I'll buy. We can talk about this."

"I ain't talking to you until I know we're cool!"

I started to reach for the radio to call for police assistance.

"Don't. You'll get hurt. Just do what I say."

I put my hand down. Most people would not assault a cab driver in a moving vehicle, but now I was beginning to wonder if he was high too.

"All right. Cool. We get you to her place. You are in and out. Do what ya gotta do and then we go home. Got it." I made my tone pleasant.

He seemed doubtful. So I continued acting while trying to think of something.

"So what did that c--- do to you?"

He went on to tell me all about their relationship. We were getting closer to her house and he was getting more confident. 4 miles. 3 miles. 2 miles. 1 mile. Half a mile.

"What did you say was important?" I asked.

"Surprise, man. Surprise is EVERY-THING!" He was trying to teach me now.

"Okay. Lets do a drive by first."

We circled around the house. I saw flood lights with a motion sensor in the drive way. So did he.

"Okay," he whispered,"turn out the lights and cut off the ignition a few doors down. I don't want her to see the cab. I'll be back in five minutes."

I nodded and he slinked out.

Now I was safe and could get my radio. What about her?

I turned on the ignition and turned on the brights as I drove into her driveway triggering the flood lights. The whole yard lit up as I slammed on the horn. She looked outside and saw him. She was reaching for her cell phone as other lights on the quiet suburban block were turning on. He was heading towards my cab. I screamed surprise at him and drove off while telling dispatch what has happened on the radio.

A few minutes later as I am almost to the highway again, dispatch gets on the radio with me.

"Your last fare called and demanded you come back."

I asked what she told him.

"I told him he could have gotten a ride had he been willing to pay for one and had not threatened you or talked about beating up a girl."

I asked if he got inside.

"No, he was definitely outside. Sounded cold."

"10-4 dispatch."