Car 6

Car 6

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saying Goodbye

It had been six weeks since my father had died and I was in the midst of what was the longest day of my week. Therapist day. 4 hours before work every Friday I would drive 30 minutes to see my therapist. I still do. I just do it on my day off now.

I sat in the deep cushioned chair that makes me feel like a little kid in a grown up chair.
Toward the tail end of the session she asked a question that came up every so often over the last year. I had given her the segue by mentioning Pastor Pat was gone and as opposed to trying to fit into expectations, I was fitting into my shoes.

So where do you stand on faith? I've not heard you mention church or god in months.”

I took a deep breath and exhaled. She chuckled.

That good, huh?”

I don't think about it much.”

And when you do?”

You remember when I started driving and I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover as if I never read it before. To see it for what it was as opposed to what I did or did not want it to be?”


Remember what my conclusion was?”

She wrinkled her nose a bit as she recollected and came back with what I had told her many months ago,”You said it was horrible and didn't make sense.”

Yeah, same with God and religion these days.” I said. “None of it seems to hold up theologically or historically or scientifically and in the night I see nothing to support either the cruel evangelical god or the jesus loves everyone progressive god or any god, even Odin.”

So are you an atheist?”

I don't want to be. It hurts.”

Why?” She asked.

I've done the math. On and off I have been in some form of ministry for 15 years of my life. I tried to do the will of a god the best I knew how. When I was a teenager I found community when I needed that most and god was at the center. I am like Mulder in a way. I want to believe. But I don't and admitting that is painful.”

“Is it painful because you feel lied to by a system?”

“Oh, I was lied to, that shit could fill a novel or several sessions. But that isn't it. Part of me still needs Hobbes.”

She laughed again,”Calvin and Hobbes?”

Yeah, in the comics you never get to see him grown up. There comes a day that he will realize that Hobbes is just a stuffed tiger. There are probably times that he makes that realization, but allows his imaginary friend to have a relationship with him. For years I had a personal savior. Someone to talk to. Someone to give me hope when I had no help and I could give him credit for my daughter's heart getting better and finding that car spot and whatever else. But shit, you read that book and you see the manner denominations handle stuff and it just does not make sense. The book and the building and the calling and the times I spoke in tongues, believed the holy spirit was calling me or speaking to me or with me, it was Hobbes. I know Hobbes is just a stuffed tiger, but I want my imaginary friend to hang around a bit longer sometimes.”

So where did that hope come from and all those moments you had?”

Me. I hung in there. I persevered. I made mistakes and chose to forgive myself and others and free myself of all that.” Holy shit, I just said that.

So what happened next?”

I'll say good bye when I am ready.”

The session ended and I stopped at a sub shop for some roast beef and coffee before my shift started.

The night was pretty normal and then at around 11 in the evening the dispatcher asked me if I wanted to do a special run. It was not a passenger. 

Sometimes we do deliveries. Packages, prescriptions, etc. This was one of those. I would have to make a stop in another town. Pick up the needed item and drive it over 40 miles away where it would have to be signed for by the appropriate party. I would have to document everything appropriately. Some materials are sensitive.

I took the run. I always take these types of runs. Not everyone likes them. They take you away from the action and the cash runs for a few hours. I needed the break and the most efficient route takes you out of the city and into farmland through the smaller towns of Southern Will County.

I got the material that needed to be delivered and started my rural run. It started off with the small town sights. The rural main streets that include remnants from the old Route 66 stuff like the large red astronaut holding a rocket, the decorated wagon in a town square, and all the rest. Eventually you get past those and you are in pure farm land. You can pop on some jazz or classical music, roll down the windows and see the night sky pure without the light pollution. Sometimes I let my thoughts wander in these moments and others I just clear my head and be present in the beauty of the moment. I did a little bit of both on the way there.

I pulled up to the facility I needed to go to. Parked in the deliveries section. Rang the door. Security answered and I identified myself and showed him what I was delivering. I was escorted to a gentleman in a white coat who signed and printed his name as we verified the contents. He thanked me and I was back in my cab and getting set to drive home.

Car 22 had amazing speakers. When I hit the farmlands again, I lit a cigarette, rolled down the windows and popped in one of my mix CD's into the player. I hit random play. The second song in I heard Bon Jovi's “Something to Believe In”. The lyrics were touching a raw nerve that I exposed a little in the therapist's office. The lyrics started,

I lost all faith in my God, in his religion too

I told the angels they could sing their songs to someone new
I lost all trust in my friends
I watched my heart turn to stone
I thought that I was left to walk this wicked world alone

The drags on the smoke got deeper. It continued…

Tonight I'll dust myself off

Tonight I'll suck my gut in
I'll face the night and I'll pretend
I got something to believe in

I found my hands gripping the wheel a little more tightly. My farmland zen thing was gone.

And I had lost touch with reason

I watched life criticize the truth
Been waiting for a miracle
I know you have too

I was chewing my lower lip.

Though I know I won't win
I'll take this one on the chin
We'll raise a toast and I'll pretend
I got something to believe in

There was a small gravel lot off the side of the road by an abandoned fruit stand. I wheeled in there and stopped the taxi as I shut off the ignition I heard…

If I don't believe in Jesus, how can I believe the Pope

If I don't believe in heroin, how can I believe in dope
If there's nothing but survival, how can I believe in sin
In a world that gives you nothing….

I put put my cigarette and stepped outside taking deep breaths and looking at the perfect and beautiful night sky.

You ever had nights like this, dad? Did driving a taxi in Dallas ever take you into the sticks? Did you look at it the same way I do and enjoy it while watching the time to make sure you don't miss bar close?”I stared at the night sky some more.

Ever wish things had been different between us? That we talked more and got along better? I thought about you almost every damn day. I've lost count how many letters I didn't finish. How often I had the phone in my hand ready to dial. I miss you. I'm sorry and knowing how alike we are, I probably wasn't the only one.”

I lit a cigarette.I never felt like I measured up to you, dad. I never felt like I was good enough. I wasn't the son you wanted. I was too much like you. I'm my own man, though. I'm no saint. I've made mistakes. But I face 'em. I deal with 'em. I pay my child support and love my kid and not a day goes by my child ever questions my love. I'm not mad at you anymore. I'm also not ashamed anymore. I just wish we had this talk when ya were still around. You can't here a word I am saying.”

I paused.

Neither can you. You can't hear anything either, can you? If you are there, you can give me a shooting star or a burning bush or something. Feel free. I'll take a squirrel running by as something. Even with everything I know now, I want you here.”

I stared into the night sky. I used to look into it looking for signs. But I saw the stars. The lights and gases from countless suns and planets and solar systems dotting a night's sky and showing me wonder that took millions of years for me to see them in this moment. I saw the haze and realized the wonder of the ozone and the atmosphere. The delicate and sometimes dangerous dance of gravity. The full moon that dances with the oceans.

When I let go of Hobbes and let him be a stuffed animal I got to see the world.

I stared at the sky, smiled and nodded. 


I drove back to the city in peace. No music. Windows down.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Grayscale Thoughts in a Black and White and Blue World


Prior to posting this I sent it to a trusted friend who is a retired police officer and a friend who is a long time activist and leader in the rights of African Americans as well as black history in the Chicago area. I asked them both to vett the article and tell me what it is I need to know and what I need to reconsider or rethink before publishing. I thank them both for their input. I hope others who have strong feelings on these matters do the same and spend more time listening and less time pontificating. 

End Preface

The other day an unarmed 19 year old black man was shot and killed by a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin. As we have seen in many similar tragic incidents recently, people have hash tagged black lives matter, protests have occurred and police have been monitoring the protests. 

Those are the facts. The opinions over the matters vary. I have a glimpse of it from comments on news articles, social media and televised news. 

I am a cis gendered white man. I am also poor. I have also spent many nights in Joliet and the Chicago area seeing the world through a different perspective as an overnight taxi driver. I also used to be a progressive minister who had an emphasis on social justice. But with Madison, Wisconsin, there is a different aspect for me. 

Since the 80’s I have had friends from the Madison area. Some are now first responders or have been first responders. We grew up together. As adults I have been in their backyard eating bbq and watching the kids play in the back yard. I know their character and their humanity. 

In the wake of these events we have so much black and white in what I see as a world of gray. I see many officers and friends of officers online speaking very broadly that if people did not break laws, they would not be shot. On the other spectrum we have many who claim the police are totalitarian racists who operate with unchecked authority and do not think that black lives matter. 

I will go with the police first. As a taxi driver in the Chicagoland area, I have befriended, needed, feared and detested police officers in various situations. While waiting at a train station for a pick up late at night, I’ve sat with other cab drivers BS’ing with an overnight officer assigned to the Metra/Amtrak train beat. We talk mostly about our favorite movies, food, comic books and video games. Sometimes we talk about family and strange and horrific shit we have seen at night. I have seen him aid a cabbie by pulling an aggressive drunk out of the cab. I have also seen him aid people who needed aid or felt unsafe get whatever help they needed. It’s a breath of fresh air to see him. 

Sometimes you end up in dangerous situations as a taxi driver and need to ask a dispatcher for police assistance. You count down the seconds until they come to your aid and the aid is often swift and supportive. There are other times you will see suspicious activity and report it and the police are grateful for your aid and appreciative of it. 

There are some officers, who for whatever reason “have it in” for taxi drivers. They will pull you over for doing 2 MPH over the speed limit on an empty road at 2:30 in the morning. One citation will become 5 in a heartbeat and the attitude from the get go is that you are a bottom feeder and the mood is aggressive and you have no recourse. You just sit there and take it. There was one time I reported suspicious activity at a train station and the officer accused me of wasting his time on the call, threatened to arrest me and then proceeded to follow me for a few miles in what I think was a failed attempt to intimidate me. Drive a cab at night long enough and it will take a lot more than mars lights behind you to rattle your cage. There was another time I wrote about where I was surrounded, intimidated, threatened arrest and damn near arrested while breaking no laws. The officer in charge told me everything he thought I was doing wrong and I pushed back with actual laws. The only thing that saved me from arrest that night was an operations manager and a dispatcher who had a conversation with the shift commander on duty who understood I was in the right and told the officers to disengage. 

Then there is the visually seen things in the night where I’ve seen young black men at night treated horribly and abusively. People I know from the night. People I talk to taking them to and from work or the train station or the bar time and time again. They are poor, may have made mistakes in their life, but are working hard in shit jobs, going to school and trying to rise out of the projects. They do the same things others do at night like walk to the corner store to get cigarettes or beer or milk and get stopped, questioned, searched and sometimes worse. Its infuriating and dehumanizing. It is something I have spoken with to some of the cops I am friends with in this area and they know it happens, they know its wrong, but they wont say anything. Some have and have suffered for it. They just determine to be the best cops they can.

Now to the other side. 

My preface. 

In larger cities like NYC, Chicago, LA, etc, there is a reputation that cab drivers do not pick up black people. From what I read there is likely some truth to this. I get asked if I pick up black people or have an issue about it. The short answer is no, I do not. In a smaller city like Joliet, if a driver were to make that racially charged choice, they would be hard pressed to make a living or have any fares to speak of. 

We have more than one section in town that is called “the projects” and we have many people that live here that are on public aid or social security of all races. Slightly above that is the working poor who also receive aid. Below that are the homeless. The deeper you get into the West side of Joliet you have your typical middle class. In an average night you pick them all up. Republicans, demorats, rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay, etc. If there is one demographic that I am reticent to pick up, but do anyway. It is white suburban college kids. Why? They are young, often drunk, have a sense of entitlement, consider themselves better than you, and are more prone to try to run without paying or no load you because they have no sense of consequences or respect for others. 

Now that we have personal biases out of the way, let’s dig in.

Most of the young black people I pick up are in the following places. The projects, the college dorms, warehouse jobs or other labor positions, the motels, apartments, houses, and yes, known gang hangout areas and drug dens (also pick up white folk from there). Black college kids tend to be more respectful and less entitled than the white ones. People getting to and from work are always respectful. The most bossy thing you get is specific routes because they know the most efficient route to get to work and want to reduce their cab fare. Who can blame them?

Now for the projects and the lower income neighborhoods. There is more crime, more drug activity and more gang activity. You tend to be more aware and on guard in those neighborhoods. It is in those areas I have had a lead pipe thrown at my cab, had my cab rushed by attempted thieves, had someone reach his arm into my taxi window to rob/assault me and other things. Those are not my passengers, just some of the night’s dangers. As far as my passengers. I have had some young black people try to run without paying, make a grab for my cash and one tried to get my backpack with my camera, ipad and books inside it. Some talk to you like an animal and make allusions to threats and stupid shit like that. Those are rare and do shake you up a little bit. 

The least noble part of me is one project area known as the hill. It is a different world there. In some areas you will wait as long as 15 minutes for someone to come out to your cab while they get ready. On the hill, I don’t feel safe there longer than 3 or 4 minutes and I do not get out of the taxi. Why? Because it is not safe there after dark and if you sit there too long you see the gang scouts come out and peek out from windows and around corners to see if there is an opportunity or weakness. Why do I pick up there? Because most of my passengers just want to get to work or the casino or the bar or do a round trip to the pizza place since the pizza and chinese places wont deliver there. 

So here I am. A man who sees some of the gang bangers and the criminals and I am afraid of them. I also know and appreciate my passengers who are young black men. So here I am. A man who sees some of the police who abuse power and I am afraid of them. I also know and appreciate the police officers who put their lives on the line to save mine. 

I hope my friends who are cops will still allow me access to their back yards even though I feel there are corrupt and aggressive officers who need to have their authority checked. I hope my fellow drivers who are young black men will still consider me someone worth bowling with even though I wont sit in certain areas very long because I am afraid of getting hurt. 

I don’t see black and white solutions to a very greyscale world. I see cops in impossible situations. I also see young black men in impossible situations. It sucks.

In closing. The answer I hear some say, “Can we just admit some are bad cops and some black men are criminals and move on.” No. That is just as naive as all cops are bad and the very suggestion of criminal activity has someone asking for a bullet in the head. 

Ive no solutions. But I think we are gonna have to move past the simple and judgmental bullshit and realize this is a hard road to less dead people. 

If I have offended anyone. I am truly sorry. Unless you are an extremist. If you are…I honestly don’t care because you need to rethink. I know I do. I am at least open enough to know my conclusions may be wrong and I may be seeing my observations through the lens of my upbringing and personal biases. If you are cop or black. I am listening.