Car 6

Car 6

Monday, April 27, 2015

Baltimore Taxi Drivers

My kid loves anime and also loves some friends that live in and around Baltimore. There is an anime convention in downtown Baltimore. What a perfect opportunity for friends to gather. I saved up about 2 and a half weeks pay to go last year and I am doing it again this year.

The first day there, the prior day's 12 hour shift and all the travel got the best of me. While we were waiting at the convention center for our badges I dozed off on the sidewalk. My teenager nudged me and said in a soft voice,"Dad, someone wants to talk to you, promise to be nice."

A young man with pimples who loooked barely old enough to shave handed me a coupon for free Uber rides. I looked at my mini me who looked at me and said,"You promised to be nice." I looked at the young man for a moment, grabbed the flyer, said thank you and then looked at my grinning child for a moment.

"What?" I said,"I let him live."

"I'm so proud of you, dad."

We got ourselves checked in and got our badges for the next day and started to head back to the hotel. As we were leaving the area I had parked the car I saw a line of cabs at the convention center's taxi stand. There they were, sitting, hoping for flags to make a few bucks while a billion dollar company was giving out freebies.

We got back to the hotel and grabbed some food. It was not long before I was out like a light.

The next day we got to the convention where the friends were waiting. The 4 of them wandered off into anime heaven and I shadowed from a safe distance and became a human atm. It was 10 hours and rather exhausting for me. They were all good kids and having fun and staying in safe places. So the next day I decided to loose the invisible leash and wandered about Baltimore on foot.

I got bored after a spell and saw the cabbie valet area. I saw some outside of their vehicles and realized they were muslims and it was prayer time. I waited until they were done and struck up a conversation with a few of the drivers. When I told them I was a hack from the Chicago area, some could care less, but some of the guys from Baltimore Taxi and County Cab talked to me. We swapped war stories and laughs and talked about the job. Different cities, same experiences.

There was one driver who was hard to miss. His name was Abdul. He stood well over six feet and was almost as wide as he was tall. He was from the NOI (Nation of Islam) and despite his size, as gentle a man as you could meet. He and his three kids live in a one bedroom apartment. His wife died a few years ago from kidney failure. He lives in Uptown. He grew up there. He told me how he used to be a gang banger when he was young. He told me about how proud he is of his kids and showed me their pictures on his cell phone. The oldest is about to graduate high school and she wants to go to junior college and study nursing, but she also has a lovely voice and he hopes she studies music too. The middle child was an underclassman in high school and a point guard on the team. He is flunking math, but otherwise a good kid. The baby is in 5th grade and on the chess club.

He told me how hard being a single dad is when you work 72 hours a week. He said the oldest is in the unfailr position of being a mom but he also has support from his community. Not just the NOI community, but the neighborhood.

Old men play dominoes and chess. The young men bbq and some of the women take it on themselves to ride herd on the local kids and keep them out of trouble.

Uptown is improving he told me. We got small businesses here, he told me. We got a little strip mall with a nice store to get milk and medicine (I am assuming he meant the CVS that was torched tonight). He talked about the pride he has living there, but also the fear. As a hack (cabbie) one ticket becomes three when a cop is in a mood. The gangs are recruiting and "taggin up all the nice stuff like dogs peeing on hydrants".

"I'll tell you, Patrick. You don't know what it's like. You got the man on one side cutting you off and you have criminals recruiting kids making the streets unsafe. I just want my babies to graduate and get good jobs. But the school is getting better. We have good teachers. The neighborhood is getting better and we are doing it. People are putting up nice flower pots now and shopping and working. We still do not have much, but we have hope and its us! Real companies are paying attention to us and that means real jobs and real schools and more hope."

His radio went off, there was a run near the convention center he could not turn down.

"Hey man, I gotta go. You need a ride, here is my card. As-salam Alaikum, brother cabbie."

The next day I drove about and made a trip to Uptown to see what it was like. It reminded me of the East side back home, but it was nicer. It had all the promise he spoke of and all the trappings he fears. I fell in love. 

For the rest of my stay if I saw someone from County or Baltimore Taxi, it was easier to break the ice. I found many of them lived Uptown. They all felt similar.

I have no words and nothing to pontificate on the footage of what I am seeing. I need to reflect and digest because right now all I want to do is react. 

I have sadness. I have fear. I have concern for 3 kids I have never met. I hope they made good choices tonight and are safe. I hope I see Abdul again.  

It is no longer just my child that has friends there. I have friends there too. 

We love our friends and we are concerned. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Charity and Mysteries

On slow nights you try to park in well lit areas. On the east side that pretty much leaves you the casino and McDonalds. On the west side there are a few gas station parking lots.

One night I was on the east side and I parked at the casino valet area. At least there you have hope of a flag. I was with another driver named Terry. Terry and I got outside of our taxis to stretch and smoke. It was a Sunday night and Sunday is a great night for late night radio. One station has a live concert set, then Little Stevens Underground Garage and then they close it out with Jazz Transfusion. Another station does bluegrass followed by some classic blues. Then there is old time radio, replays of Prairie Home Companion and much more.

We both love music of all kinds. Terry wears a folk hat with a brown brim and likes to roll his own cigarettes. When the weather is cold I wear my Australian wool wide brimmed hat and a moto jacket with a sherpa lining. We look like a couple of cabbie cowboys on the casino range.

In the midst of our conversation a young man comes up to us wearing a very expensive Chicago Bulls Leather jacket and saggy jeans with his boxer showing. He is a wealthy suburban college kid gansta wannabe white kid. He is also sporting loud jewelry and what is so obviously a fake diamond earring.

He walks up to both of us and asks, "Hey man, can I get a ride?"

Terry looks at him (he was "first" in line) "Where are you going?"

"Wheaton. By the college." He says.

Terry looks at me for a moment and I look at him and say,"About seventy."

Terry looks at him and says,"About seventy. You got that kind of cash?"

The kid smiles and says,"I got $20. Can you do it for twenty?"

"Nope" Terry replies.

"How about you? You wanna make twenty?" The kid says  looking at me.

"If you mean, do I wanna lose $50. No."

He looks at Terry again and says,"C'mon, I know you fuckers make bank."

Terry laughs and says,"By the end of tonight, the guy at the drive thru is gonna do better than me. I am not a charity. If i were a charity, I'd give free rides all night long. But I have dogs to feed. Pat, are you a charity?"

"Nope." I said.

"I'll give you my ring. It's real." He shows a cheap ring the likes of which a gumball machine would be proud to display. Terry declines. I look at him and notice the movado museum classic is real.

"I'll do it for the watch." I say.

"The ring is worth more, man." He says.

"Then you are getting the bargain, man." I say.

"Hey man. Give me a ride to an atm and I will make this right!" he says.

This is a sign of danger. When someone who has no money wants in your cab, he is close to your money. His eyes are wide and the kid is high off something. Probably coke. Both of us casually position ourselves by our taxis to prevent entry. Terry tells him there is an atm two blocks down Clinton and I tell him there is one on the hotel side of the casino just past the bathrooms by the courtesy phone. He makes excuses that he does not want to go back in the casino and he also says he does not want to stabbed walking to the atm. While this is going on, valet asks us who is first in line. Terry says he is and they tell him they have a guest that needs a ride. When valet tells you this, they have usually screened the person or the casino is paying. Terry grabs a couple and off they go.

I am now alone with mister money bags. I go back into my taxi as a precaution and he comes up to the window. I crack it only a little and he still tries to bargain with me. He realizes he is not getting anywhere with me and starts to head back into the casino. That is when I see it. Casino security will not let him back in the building.

By this time another cab pulls up from one of our competitors. I know the driver. Her and I compete for fares a lot. She pulls up and rolls down her window and asks me how I am. Then she sees the young man approaching us and I look at her and say,"Don't take him. He can't pay."

"Pat,"she says,"I ain't falling for your tricks. He's mine." With that she pulls up to him and scoops him up and off they go.

I get out of my taxi to stretch and am about to light a cigarette when I hear a voice behind me say,"Excuse me?"

I turn around to see a young lady with a Coach handbag and Stuart Weitzman fur boots clutching her iphone. "There's no Uber or Lyft here. Can you take me to my condo?" She is standing close enough I can smell the Clive Christian on her. She doesn't have money. She IS money.

"Where is your condo?"

"I live in the Bristol. You know it?"

"Delaware and Rush, I know it. It is about a $98 trip. Is that okay?"

"I don't have any cash on me, do you take this?" She is holding an American Express Black card in her hand.

I walk to the passenger door and hold it open,"Your chariot awaits, ma'am."

"Thank you. My name's Jessica," she said. "I'm so glad you were here. How do you know my building?"

"I used to run a charity,"

On our way to the gold coast, she asked me about my night. She was fascinated to be in a cab with a conversational cabbie who did not mind credit cards. I told her about the guy in the bulls jacket.

"Oh my god!" She exclaimed,"That guy tried to sell me coke and when I said no he tried to grab my butt and kiss me. I told security and they kicked him out. He broke out his dad's name. His dad's some kind of pastor and professor in Wheaton. Figures, huh?"

During the ride I found out that Jessica is a working fashion model who gives 25% of her income to charity and is on the board for a well known pediatric cancer foundation. She is also a Buddhist.

I asked what drew her to be so charitable. She said Roshi says that the fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there. She went on to tell me that there is no difference between her and a homeless woman or a woman with breast cancer. When she forgets that, when she begins to see herself more successful, then she will succumb to the life delusion.

"The cancer survivor may one day become a great teacher in a school that needs him. A homeless battered wife could go on to write books that could save women or become a legislator that passes laws that ends homelessness. I'm good at what I do, but this career is as fleeting as my looks. Teaching and storytelling is eternal. You should tell stories. I know who rides in cabs. That is eternal. The story of the privileged young man who runs out of options is important for white suburbans to read. Besides, I'm glad I got to meet the founder of YASO and my favorite Outlaw Preacher."

I was stunned. "You know who I am?"

"We have a mutual friend, Pat Green."


"I've read your articles in the Legend. You stir pots. Glad to see you are no longer a preacher, but keep stirring. Agitation and heat leads to a good boil."

To this day I have no idea who our mutual friend is.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crushed Beauty Queen (who tipped)

On a weeknight in early spring, I was driving in my taxi on the East side of Joliet hoping for a flag. I was bouncing back and forth between the train station and the casino. I had been sitting near the valet area of the casino for a few minutes and I was just about to leave when I saw a curvy blonde in a slinky black dress come out of the casino and wave at me.

I pulled up to her and rolled down my window hoping for my luck to change. 

"Are you my cab?" She asked.

"Did you call for a cab?" No. She may be assigned to someone and I will still be empty.

"Yes. I called Yellow Checker. But they said it would take half an hour or more to get to me." Ok. I can still make money, Yellow Checker is our arch enemy and one of their drivers stole a ten mile run from me the other day. 

"Where are you going?"

"South side."

"That'll run you about $70 or so, that okay, ma'am?"

"Yes. So, are you my cab?" She said with a grin.

"I am now,"

"But sir," she said with a mock southern accent as she got in,"I do not think you are the gentleman from yellow checker."

"I'm your huckleberry," I said as I put it in drive and headed out.

"Hey!" She said,"I was going for some Maverick banter and you go right for Tombstone?"

"Those words were never said in Maverick, how was I supposed to know?" I said.

"That was a perfect Jodie Foster." She said. 

"So did you have a good time tonight?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "but my roommate is still in there flirting and losing."

"Is that better that flirting with losers?" I asked.

"She's doing that too. This was her idea, get dressed up, meet hot men, play some games. I have to go to work so I just figured I'd call a cab and go home. I don't know how to gamble and I was not meeting men."

"Are you kidding me?" I am normally more reserved, it just kinda slipped out.

"You think I look good?"


"Why thank you. Do you like westerns? Or just the recent ones?

From there we got into an animated conversation about westerns while we headed on to the expressway. Like Jazz, it is a rare genre to find someone who is an enthusiast. Like the old cowboy I met earlier, she knew her stuff. 

When you get into an animated conversation, eye contact is conducted with the rear view mirror. That was when I saw something she was not aware of. Some of her teeth had come loose. She was about ten years younger than me. I wanted her to be aware of it because it was obvious she was not. By this time we were on a first name basis.

"Uh Jenny," I said. She looked in the mirror and I motioned towards my teeth.

"Oh no...oh god." She put her hands to her mouth and adjusted. "Thats so embarrassing."

"Nothing to be embarrassed about," I said.

"The teeth are complements of my ex husband." She said with a sigh.

"I'm sorry."

"Me too, Patrick. It's why being told I'm pretty means so much. I've had reconstructive surgery on my cheekbones and a few screws in my bones here and there."

"Jesus," I said,"any kids?"

"14 year old, he never hit our son, but he abused him. Abuse isn't just physical."

"I know." I said. "Took courage to get out."

"Well," she started as she lit a cigarette, "It is not the first time I left, this was just the first time I stayed out and filed for divorce. That was so scary at the time."

"How long have you and your boy been out?" I asked.

"Three years. Almost four. When he crushed my face my options became limited. I had crossed the point of no return and there was no choice but to get out. Even that fucking church could not ignore who he was."

"Church? Did they enable?" I already knew the answer.

"Yeah. We lived in Sacto...Sacramento. Big church. Popular music. He was on the board, men's group, worship team and all that. He was loved. A pillar of the church. A saint. He could not have done these things and if he did speak cruel sometimes, well, I just had to be a better wife and win his heart to warmth instead of cold. I was the problem. Not him. You know what's messed up?"


"I believed him and I believed them. How could I not. The system was more rigged there than it is in that casino." She said.

"How so?" I was curious now.

"You know as well as I do that the house wins. If someone is getting ahead, they charm them to stay until the house gets the money back. And if someone does continue to win, they will shame the winner, accuse them of cheating and ban them. They upset the system. They need to go away."

"Yeah," I said. "I have picked up a few people and heard stories."

"Church. You have a book where women are property and we are the bride of Christ. The whole goal is about pleasing god, your groom and ultimately, avoiding the consequences of a life without him. Know what those consequences are?" She asked.

"At the least, a sad life without joy and enlightenment and at the worst, eternal torment with everyone else who rejected his love." I replied.

"Ah, you have been to church. Yeah. The jealous and all loving God in a church environment that fosters co dependency and favors the charming man with deep pockets who could not possibly have any flaws. I am the woman. I do not understand the enlightenment and purity of the love." Her animated nature turned a little dark.

"So this was a conservative evangelical church?" I asked.

"Liberal," she said. 

"You sound mad at church." I said.

"My husband was cruel and he was the one that hurt us. He's sick and has an addiction. It doesn't change that he did it. But them? They are the spiritually enlightened acting in the name of love. When I finally got the help I needed, of all people it was a charismatic surgical nurse that helped me find resources to get out." She replied.

"No shit?" I asked.

"Yep. She told me her story, she's a survivor too. Good woman. Saved my life. I had heard the speeches before, but something about her story struck me." She said.

"So," I said as we got closer to her apartment building,"still believe in God?"

"I don't know if I believe in god or even like him. The god in the Bible is a lot like my husband and nothing like my dad was. I don't believe in church. I still pray sometimes, but then I go to support group for coda and hear women talk about their god and it is so controlling and I get sick and want to scream. This bible is not for the twenty first century and it certainly ain't for women."

"Well, here we are." I said as we pulled up,"It's seventy five dollars."

"Here's a hundred, Patrick. Thanks for listening."

"Thanks for telling me your story, Jenny."

"You're welcome, cowboy." With that, she winked at me and walked to her apartment. I waited until I saw her disappear into the doorway before driving off. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Heroes That Don't Tip


Tips are the difference between drowning and scraping by. As a driver you lease the vehicle and part of that lease involves topping off the tank at the end of your shift. At the end of a 12 hour shift you have burned anywhere from a half a tank to more than three quarters of a tank. There was a time when I was driving that gas was over $4 a gallon.

My personal goal in tips was to have the tips cover the gas for the day. If I did that I was happy. If I exceeded that, I was ecstatic. On the weekends because of special events, weddings, concerts and the bar crowd I would do as much as 20% in tips. On the weeknights it was usually closer to 6-8%.

You don't expect tips, you don't demand them, but you sure hope for them because you need them to eat and take care of your kid. As I said, it is the difference between drowning and treading water.

I was having a slow night one night and the weather was cold, so when I was sitting I would have to burn fuel to keep the heat on in the vehicle. Chicago winters can be like that. After bar close and before the wary morning commute you are pretty quiet on a weeknight. It is a good time to read, nap, talk to the other drivers, get a coffee or a meal in, etc.

I was sitting in a donut shop somewhere in the three AM hour drinking a small coffee and eating a donut. It had been a slow night so that was pretty much all I ate during that 12 hour stretch. My dispatch pager went off. It was an airport run from one of the hotels. Often you just get the passenger's first name. When I saw the name it did not register as anyone special, but it was one of the nicer hotels so I assumed it was a businessman of some sort.

I got into my cab and told dispatch my ETA to the Hampton and I was on my way. Usually people call in advance for airports and the page will show you that it is a time call. This one did not have a time  on it so I called dispatch to be sure.

"Car 6 to dispatch." I said.

"Go ahead, six."

"Dispatch, is this a time call?"

"No, he just called. He'll be in the lobby when you pull up."


The hotel is only 5 miles from the donut shop and I had green lights the entire time. I was there in less than ten minutes. I pulled up to the front and unlocked the doors. The man came out and I was elated when I recognized him. He was a minister/author/speaker that I follow. I have read his books, they helped formulate my ministry and we have met and spoken briefly at two conventions. We have a mutual friend. He speaks of social justice and emergent and helped create much of the progressive and emerging christianity that inspired me as a minister and as a human being.

I exited the vehicle and asked him his name, he acknowledged his first name. I asked him if he needed the trunk open for luggage. He said no. We got into the vehicle and I looked at him as I always do for safety purposes and rapport building.

"Hi, I'm Patrick, you are going to O'Hare airport, correct?"

"Yeah yeah."

"Okay. Will you be paying by cash or credit today?" I asked.

"What difference does that make?"

"Credit cards take longer to process and Chicago PD likes to keep things moving. If you're paying by card, it'll go more smoothly if we handle the payment here."

"How long does it take to swipe the thing?" He asked irritated.

"I'm sorry. We don't process credit cards that way, we have to radio it in to dispatch. It only takes a minute."

"You gotta be kidding me,"he sighed as he reached into his wallet and handed me his credit card.

"I'm sorry, sir." I said.

I took his card and processed it as swiftly as I could. The dispatcher asked, as is the procedure,"Would he like to add a tip?"

I looked at him and he half snorted as he said,"No!"

"That won't be necessary, dispatch."

I had him sign, gave him his receipt and we were on our way.

"I can't believe you don't have cabs parked outside the hotels. How do you expect to run a business if you don't have cabs lined up at the hotel? I had to wait 15 minutes for a taxi."

"I'm sorry, you had to wait that long," I said. I was maintaining my composure. Perhaps he had a rough day. You never know what is going on in someone's life. Besides, you hear a lot worse from a lot of people. He's in a hurry for a morning flight. Besides, someone with as high a profile as him, should he say something bad about us on social media, it would go to tens of thousands of people. I was not going to risk that.

"Don't be sorry. Answer the question." He said.

"To be honest, there just would not be that much business out of the hotels at this time of night or morning. We have 30 cabs."

"What about the other companies? They must want to make money."

"Our main competitor has 6. There is another outfit with 3 and there are two one car operations in town. There are 2 casinos, a gentleman's club, 40 hotels and the train station."

"Not much to eat here, either." He remarked.

I decided to change the topic a little.

"I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like the restaurants. So where are you flying to?"

"Look, I already know what you do. Pretending to care what I do is not going to change the tip. I had to wait for almost 20 minutes to start this ride. Just get me there on time. Do you even know where you are going? I don't see your GPS on."

"I only use it if I don't know where I am going. I know where we are going."

"Your parents must be so proud of your achievement." He remarked. He then grabbed his smart phone and disappeared into it.

Did he just say that? He could not have just said that. This is not happening. Not him. Not the one who preaches a better gospel. Not a person who inspired me to change the way I approached not only church, but the manner in which I handled my faith at the time.

I just got on to driving while he typed away on his phone.

At one point he looked up from his phone and asked,"Can you move it a little bit?" I was doing 5 over the limit. I was with the flow of the beginning morning airport traffic.

"I'll have you there in plenty of time."

A few minutes later he looked up and asked,"You don't happen to have a phone charger in this thing, do you?"

"Yes I do. It has a long cord to reach the back seat. My 13 year old thought it would be a good idea for my customers." I replied cheerily. I was not hoping for a tip anymore. That ship sailed, but a little namaste would be nice right about now.

"Well, someone in the family has business sense. I'm sure she'll do well in community college."

What the fuck! Is he real? No. No. This is not happening.

A few minutes later we arrived at his terminal. I pulled up to the drop off area as close as I could to the curb. He unplugged his phone and started to leave without a word. I decided to take one moment.

"I really appreciated your last book. It spoke to me." I said it. I wanted him to know in as gentle a manner as possible I knew him. Our eyes locked for just a moment. He still did not recognize me. I could tell. He turned, closed my door and went in to the airport.

I radioed that I was clear and left the airport. On the way back the coffee had kicked in and I had to use the restroom. I pulled in to an oasis. While there, I took a moment to check my phone. He had been on his cell phone the entire ride with a few tweets saying social justice, gospel related stuff.

I gassed up, did my paperwork and made my drop. I looked at my take for the day. Barely $40. Some nights are like that, but when it ends this way. It is just frustrating. Heartbreaking.

This was now my day off. I drove to my ex wife's house, woke up my child, made some breakfast and got the little one off to school.

I went home, brewed some tea and logged on. I went to the Emergent Village website. This was where my friends were at back then. It was a community. We shared stuff that mattered. Without naming him, without giving details. I said how hurt and frustrated I was that I had a hero in my cab and he was rude and did not tip. Everyone knew things were rough financially for me. They knew that I was driving a taxi. I spoke of my hurt feelings. I called him no names. I was sharing my heart.

Within a few moments I got responses to my post in a private room.

-Maybe he didn't know cab drivers get tipped. I don't know who to tip.
(He travels the nation often. The person who made this comment was married to someone who wrote a book about social justice though what we buy.)

That was the first salvo. After that, there was what I can best describe as victim shaming.

-How many fares did you have that day?

-Not every server deserves a tip.

-Was your cab clean?

-You smoke, does your cab smell of smoke?

Though what I experienced was in NO WAY the same league as what a rape victim goes through, I could see this same group of people asking.

-How many men did you talk to that night?

-What were you wearing?

-Maybe he did not know it was rape. I don't know who not to fuck?

In other words. What did you do to deserve being treated less than human? What did you do to not receive kindness from someone who speaks of kindness, writes of kindness and tweeted justice gospel stuff while dehumanizing another person?

Not a few weeks earlier some of these people were posting and liking memes that insulted a minister who not only did not tip a waitress at a restaurant, but left her a nasty note that said something like,"Why should I give you 15% and only give God 10%?"

It was not long after that event, I left the group. Why? It got worse. Something else happened in relation to my child's sexuality that I could no longer stand with these people and call them friend. This time, some victim shamed a minor who had a bad experience with a minister. They put the ownice on a child. My child. Nope. I was done. Later I would find other victims from the same circle of authors who went through far worse than I could ever imagine.

The night is more honest than tweets. The night is more profound than novels. The night has the priesthood of humanity. The night also has homeless people, battered wives, prostitutes and a precious fifth grader who tip.

Gratuity. In gratuity we are both grateful and we have namaste. I also get to feed my kid. I don't expect it, but I am grateful when it happens and genuinely appreciate every precious soul who helps me in that manner.

He may not have given me a tip, but he gave me the truth.

Note: I wish I could tell you it was out of respect that I do not name the author. It is out of fear because I have seen what happens to those who make them cross. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Young Zen Barber

Our city is one with a historic Union Station. Built in limestone, covered with murals, designed for beauty and functionality. A reminder of the old fashioned in the modern world.

We pick up a lot of people at the train station. They come from all walks of life and vocations. 

If you pick up a young person, they are usually coming off the train from Chicago for the following reasons.
  • Coming home from school.
  • Coming home from work.
  • Coming home from a night out with friends.
  • Local college student having fun in Chi town.
I do not discriminate based on race, religion, gender orientation or any other such thing.  I am, however, very wary of young people in their twenties. They tend to have little fear of consequences. They are the most likely to try to run without paying or otherwise rip you off. 

When you get in my cab a few things will happen almost immediately. I will turn around to make eye contact with you and tell you my name, ask you your name and confirm where it is you want to go. Shortly after we are underway, you will know I have a 14 year old I love very much. If you are a normal rider, we have just built rapport. If you are someone who may be less than honest, I have given us both identities as human beings and that will often deter a potential robbery. Finally, in case everything goes horribly wrong, I have taken mental note of your appearance, clothing and build. If I need to give police a description, I have an accurate one. 

One warm night I am sitting by the train with no runs hoping to catch a flag. Shortly after ten at night the Metra train arrives and people start exiting the station. A young black man approaches my cab and asks if I'm free. I say yes. He asks if I can take him to the Burton Place Apartments on the West Side. I say sure. He then gets a worried look on his face and asks how much it will cost. I tell him it'll be about $12 or $13. He looks at me nervously and asks,"Can I get in?"

"Sure," I reply.

He gets in. I turn to look at him. He is a clean shaven young black man, about 5'11", thin, carrying a courier bag slung over one shoulder and a copy of the sports section and comics of that day's Tribune in his hand. 

"By the way, man,"I start as I look at him,"my names Patrick, what's yours?"

"Terrance,"he said with a grin. "I never been in a cab, usually I take the bus but class ran late and I wanted to talk to my teacher. I gotta be at work at 6." 

A college student with a job was my assumption. Spending extra time with the teacher. More work than I ever put in while in college, but when I was an adjunct prof I enjoyed those students. I got on the radio to dispatch, told them about my flag and destination and entered the conversation.

"Terrance, I have a 13 year old thinking about going to college. Maybe downtown. Where do you go? What's your major?"

"I'm in barber college! I only have three more months and then I graduate." He has such enthusiasm and pride about it. The only time I have seen that kind of enthusiasm about a major was from a young man from Malaysia who is an aviation major. He loves airplanes. Now, I am engaged.

"Barber college?" I asked,"Really?"

"Yeah, it's all I have ever wanted to do since I was in high school. I had to save up for it, though. College ain't cheap ya know."

"I know. How old are you?" I asked.


"Why barber college?"

"You really wanna know?" He asked.

"Yeah,"I said.

"All right, man. When I was a sophomore I started growing facial hair. I never had a dad growing up so I went to the dollar store and got some disposable blades and shaving cream. I just tried to figure it out. I hated it. Every day it was more razor bumps and ingrown hairs and as I grew older, it got worse. I almost never did it except when nana would make me go to church with her."

"Well, summer came and I'm riding my bike and I ride by a barber shop. The door was open and I stopped and looked inside. Do you know what I saw in there?"

"What?" I asked.

"A temple for men. Not a temple where anything is worshipped, but where intimacy is shared. In a barber shop it ain't like a locker room, it's where men are honest. All I knew about men before was the locker room and the streets. I stared for a long time in the doorway and one of the barbers shaving a man looked at me and asked if I needed something. I asked him what he was doing. He said giving that man a shave. I said oh and started to walk away. He told me to stop and sit down. I asked why. He told me I was next. I was scared but I sat down. I didn't know what was going on. A lot of the men tried to talk to me and I grunted back at them."

"That sounds surreal."

"Yeah. I sat in the chair in the first thing he asked me was if I ever got beat as a child. I said no and wanted to know why. He said he wanted to make sure this didn't scare me. He slapped some lather on my face and places a hot towel over me. I never felt anything like it. After that he rubbed my face with his hands and said. Hmmm. MMMM. I asked him what was up. He told me he was checking out the bumps and ingrown hairs and mapping the grain. He told me to just close my eyes and enjoy. For the next twenty minutes I experienced the most intimate experience of my life. I felt good all over while he straight razor shaved me and trusted him completely. I heard men talking about kids and sports and work and laughing and giving each other advice. I was lost in the smells and the sensations. Finally I felt a cold towel on my face and then aftershave lotion spread on me. He looked at me when I was done and said,'you come by next week and I'll teach you how to shave'."

"Wow," I said. "What did you do?"

"I rubbed my face all that day and the next day. It never felt so good and I felt like there was a place where being a man didn't mean being the baddest or defending a corner or being the best on the court. There was something else. So I came back. He had a safety razor for me with a brush and a mug and shave soap and blades. He had pre shave oil and after shave lotion. He took me to a back room and taught me how to shave. He made a chore enjoyable. I told him my mama and I are poor and I can't replace stuff. He told me that he could use someone to clean up the shop every evening. It would be minimum wage and only 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. He also said free blades, lotions and haircuts."

"No kidding," I replied.

"I would come over after school a lot and the men there helped me with my homework, taught me to fix things. When prom came I learned how to dance right and tie a tie. I had a community. I fell in love with the temple for men and I learned how to be a man. I knew I found what I wanted. I turned down a basketball scholarship to go to barber college."

"Full ride?" I asked.

"Full ride. DePaul. Didn't matter. Not what I want. I want this." He  had such certainty. 

"Any regrets?" I asked as we pulled up to the complex.

"None. When you are cutting a man's hair or shaving someone, it's intimate. Men forget how to be intimate and me, I get to be that way every day for the rest of my life. I get to be real. Maybe some kid will stare outside my shop and it'll stop him from being a gansta."

We pulled up to the apartment complex and he told me which building to stop at. The fare was 13. He gave me $15 and said to keep it and he was sorry it wasn't more. 

I had to ask him one question. 

"The safety razor. Good shave huh?" I asked.

"Man. It's good for your face, it's good for the planet, and it's good for your wallet." He replied.

"My wallet?"

"Yeah. Go to the Walgreen's on Ingalls. They got a safety razor in the as seen on tv section. By the shaving stuff, they got a kit with a mug and brush and soap. It's not cheap to start, but after that, quarter a blade and soap pucks are dirt cheap."

"Ive never done that kind of shaving. Is it hard?"

"Takes awhile to get used to it. There are videos on you tube. Get a styptic pencil. You gonna cut yourself a few times starting out. But I promise you this. You will know what the zen masters are saying when they talk about mushin. I gotta go. I gotta be up at 4:30 for work. Peace."

"Wait,"I said, "you know zen."

"Every morning I lather up I do. Empty mind." With that, he went into his building.

I went to Walgreens.