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."

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.