Car 6

Car 6

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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lost But Not Found

There is a young man many of us pick up in both day and night shifts. For the purpose of this blog we will call him Ricardo.

Ricardo is in his twenties and trying to clean up his life. He used to run with a gang in Chicago and he does not anymore. Leaving that gang cost him his eye. He is going to school at a local junior college and volunteer teaches ESL in our city.

He is trying to quit drinking, but we often pick him up from bars. When you pick him up, he is drunk but lucid enough to tell you he is sad he fell off the wagon again and will try harder the next day. The kid has come a long way, but he still has a way to go on the road to a better life.

One late afternoon I got a call to pick him up out of a condo complex that I have never picked him out of before. I was to take him to a reception hall. It is a hall that hosts wedding receptions and other similar parties.

I radioed into dispatch that I was at the address and asked for her to call them to let them know I was outside. After a few moments she got on the radio and told me that they were coming out and then after a pause, gave me a warning. "Car 22, it sounds like they are partying like its 1999 in there."

"10-4 dispatch, thanks for the heads up," I replied. Dispatch will warn you when you have rowdy customers or customers that may be problematic in other ways if they get a bad feeling or the customer has a history.

Two hispanic men in suits stumbled out of the condo building and into the back. They were pretty wasted. They told me Ricardo would be out in a moment, he was in the bathroom puking they told me in fits of laughter. I removed my bag from the front seat and pulled two small "puke bags" to be at the ready if I needed them. Ricardo stumbled out barely able to walk. He saw me and his face turned to shame. He sat up front. He was not very coherent. It was obvious he was not drunk, he was high. I handed him a bag and told him I was rolling down his window so he could get some air. He looked at me like a helpless lost child and said,"I fucked up Pat, I'm sorry."

I put the car in gear, turned on the meter and we were on our way to the east side for the reception hall. Within moments Ricardo was out like a light and snoring. I asked the guys in back what was going on tonight. They told me that they were all cousins and their uncle was having his 60th birthday party. There were relatives coming from all over the country for this. Then he told me about the dealership he worked at and tried to tell me all about the deals he could give me on a used car.

A few moments later, one of them tried to wake up Ricardo and he was not responding. He was still snoring loudly, so we knew he was breathing. They started having a conversation in the back seat.

"Man, he's really fucked up. Uncle can't see him like this. What do we do? How many did we give him?"

It was the last line that set my alarms going. "How many WHAT did you give him?"

There was a pause. They looked at each other and then the used car salesman told me,"Nothing man, he just had a few beers, got it?"

"I got nothing, you're a liar." I said bluntly.

"Hey man," he started. I was expecting a challenge. "We don't want the family to see him like this (I don't think they realized what they looked like, they were wasted too). Can you take him home after you drop us off?"

"I know where he lives. It'll be about $7 to get him home from the reception hall. I'll need cash upfront. You got the money?"

"No man."

"Then you will have to live with the family shame. You made this mess. Keep him hydrated, keep him moving and if you have to, call 911 and make your uncle proud on his 60th."

There was no more discussion. We pulled up to the hall and it took about 30 seconds to wake up Ricardo. Ricardo was completely disoriented and asked what bus number we were on. I told him he was in a cab and told them all the fare was $13. I have NEVER had a problem with payment from Ricardo. Between the three of them they handed me $10 in wadded up singles and 8 quarters. I looked at used car guy and said,"Are you kidding me? REALLY?!?!?! Get out of my face and don't call a cab if you don't have money!" They stumbled off and out of my cab.

The rest of the night I had Ricardo running around in the back of my mind. I replayed the whole situation in my mind over and over again. These were not the type of cousins, or friends, who will help you out if you are wasted. Not one bit. Every time I saw another driver in the night, I would tell them about Ricardo and the ride and none of them had ever seen him wasted. Like me, no matter how drunk he was, he was always lucid.

At the end of my shift, which was around 2:30 in the morning, I fueled up the cab and went to base to do my paperwork and make my cash drop. The dispatcher could tell I was grumpy and asked if everything was all right. I told her it was just a low night in bookings and I also told her about Ricardo. Her countenance changed a little as she told me Ricardo had called a few times and said he needed a ride but he sounded really screwed up and could never tell her where he was clearly and the call would disconnect. I asked her is he gave her any clues. She said he told her he was by a PNC bank but he would not tell her which one. He was not able to. He sounded confused.

I thought about the geography for a few moments. There was one between the hall he was at and his house and it was also next door to the facility he volunteer taught ESL. I finished my paperwork and told her I was going in my personal car and look for him and get him home or to an er if he needed it. I asked her to call me if he ever called again (his last call was five minutes ago) and try to get a bead on his location.

I went to the bank location I thought he might be at. It was in the east side in an area where everything is closed. Even the bars. I drove around the block and through the alleys twice. There were three people in punk rock gear outside of a club where a concert let out hours ago, there was a man getting oral sex in an alley from what was likely a prostitute and there were some guys shooting craps in an empty parking garage.

I knew there were still nooks and crannies he could be lurking about if this was the area he was in. I pulled over, got out in this questionable at night neighborhood, and walked around with my flashlight in hand. I walked through alleys, dark lots and parking garages looking for him. Anytime I encountered someone I described him and asked if they saw him. They said no. After about 40 minutes of trying to find him, I decided to give up. It was raining now, I was guessing on his location and I was in a bad neighborhood at a bad time.

I drove home.

I've not seen him since, but I've also not seen anything in the papers or police beat about him.