Car 6

Car 6

Friday, May 29, 2015

Heart and Soul With Only a Heartbeat

Sunday nights at the end of the month can be very slow in a taxi. You and every other taxi are out there fighting for the same scraps. Many drivers do not work on Sunday nights. I always did, though there was less to go around, there were also less drivers out there so it was a wash.

This Sunday was a particularly bitter cold Chicago February night. No one was out. It was after midnight. I drove by the train station since there was a train coming in. There were a total of 8 taxis from three different companies out there. I took one look at the line of taxis and kept moving on to the casino less than a mile away. 

There were two taxis from different companies in the valet area. I pulled up behind them and got prepped to wait. I was behind a cab driven by a guy named Orlando. He and I often battled for flags and I am ashamed to admit the little thief was damn good at it. He recognized me and turned his head around to smile, wave and flip me the bird. 

I got out of my taxi and opened the hood pretending to check my fluids quickly. I owed him one, so I bent down as if to tie my shoes and placed a bumper sticker on his taxi that said "Don't like my driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT" on his bumper (It was a vinyl easy remove one, I am a bastard, but not a vandal). I kept it in my bag for the next time I saw him. I shut my hood and got back inside my warm taxi. 

About 20 minutes later we were still sitting there and behind me two of the taxis from the train station pulled in. Just past the lobby of the casino is a 24 hour Starbucks. I went inside to buy a quick cup of coffee. While in line a woman about my age with red hair smiled at me and said hi. I politely said hi back, paid for my coffee and went back to my taxi.

On my way back Orlando smiled and flipped me off again. I nodded, toasted him with my coffee and went back in my cab. 

I was about to turn on my radio and listen to the Sunday night jazz transfusion on my favorite station and I heard the music from the casino. In the valet area, the music playing in the casino is on loudspeakers outside as well. It was "Heart and Soul" by T'pau. It is one of my favorite songs to this day. I am a huge fan. Every cd released and even some demo cuts that came from a release that came with a documentary DVD are in my iPod classic.

Anyway, when I heard it coming through their sound system I rolled down my driver side window despite the cold and just lost myself in the song. Like any fool going back to their youth in a song I found myself singing along and emoting lacking only a hairbraush as a mic. I opted to keep a beat with my hands on the steering wheel instead. I was fully lost in the song when I heard a tapping at my window. I looked and it was the woman from the coffee line laughing. I rolled down the window and she said, "Can you take me home to Shorewood."

"Of course," I said as I unlocked the door and started the motor. As she got in she was singing along to the song as well and asked that we not move till the song was over. I rolled down her window and at the last bar of the song we were on our way. 

"Oh thank you," she said. "I just love that song. Been so long since I heard it, I wish I could hear it again." It was only then that I noticed her east end accent.

"Wanna hear it again?" I asked as I held up my ipod and plugged it into my dock.

"Yes! Brilliant!" She exclaimed.

I played the song for her and this time neither of us sang along, but there may have been some lip synch going on. After the song was over she told me something.

"I chose your taxi because you were having fun, so you must be my taxi."

"I am, in fact, your taxi for the next 6 miles!"

"So you like T'pau?" She asked. 

"I love them, but I also love music of all genres, but I have a soft spot for them."

"Me too," she said. "I was 14 when Bridge of Spies came out."

"You're a kid, my dear. I was 17."

"Now don't be cheeky." she grinned.

"Moi?" I said innocently.

"I permed my hair and dyed my hair red because of her." she said. 

"Well, looks like you are still rocking the ginger."

"Yeah, but now it is all about the straightener. I miss copious amounts of hairspray sometimes."

"Me too. So how long have you been in the states?"

"Since I was 20. I'm sort of a runaway rector's daughter."

"Ohhh. Here we call you a PK."

"Pastor's Kid, I know it." she said. "We still don't speak. He's conservative even for an Anglican. He would be right at home in some of the mega churches here, except for the music."

"I was in a conservative church in my teens." I said. "As a matter of fact, T'Pau was one of my secret cassettes. Secular music was the devil's music, so I had my private stash for my walkman." 

She laughed. "And now?"

"Well, I was a minister for a spell and then quit. This pays about the same and is more honest."

She laughed again. "So what does the off pitch lover of good music hack believe now."

"I don't." I said simply.

"You went atheist?" There was a long pause. "Good for you, mate! Me too!"

From that moment on the conversation deepened. She spoke about the abuse by her father. It was physical and emotional. She had to uphold an image in the public face and he was always pushing to make Bishop. She told me about the education in religious schools and though the science was better taught than parochial schools here, there was other indoctrination and she always lived under that shadow of being Father Michael's daughter. She told me how she once showed a teacher at the school the bruises on her torso and told her she could not take it anymore. The instructor told her simply to cover up and never speak of this again and think of her father's vocation. Then she closed with confessing that she never speaks about her atheism in the US. Everyone either looks at her like she eats babies, evangelize her or tell her that because her dad was cruel is not a reason to hate god.

"My father's abuse has nothing to do with my atheism. There not being a god is what that is about. My dad's abuse to me and my mum is why I hate the church. I hate the church, but I don't hate god. There would have to be something to hate. There isn't." She paused. "Patrick. have you noticed how amazing the stars are and sunrises are when you know why they really exist?"

"Yeah. I do."

We pulled up to her small townhouse and she paid me. 

"Patrick." She said."Do you have Only a Heartbeat on that iPod?"

"I do." 

"May I sit up front and listen to it?"

"Sure." She sat upfront and I played the song. I really like the song. You could tell, that for her, it took her someplace else. Perhaps it was a young lady leaving her country to start a new life. Maybe it was something else. I did not ask. I just sat in silence as the tears welled up in her eyes. 

When the song ended she grabbed my hand, kissed me on the cheek, looked at me for a moment, started to say something, stopped and left the cab to go inside. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Knowing Better

One thing I do not speak about often is that I am an adult survivor of child abuse. When I was a pastor I would encounter victims of domestic violence. It did not take long for me to realize that I was ill trained for this reality. It is scary how many ministers truly are.

I started working with and learning from Guardian Angel home, Susan Murphy Milano and other experts in the field. I wish I could tell you about all the heroic deeds done with this information, but the fact is you lose more battles than you win. The upside? You do not create more harm and you also have a higher chance at helping a victim become a survivor who gets out.

One night in the taxi a fellow driver was frustrated and needed to vent. He told me about how he picked up a woman from one of the women's shelters and took her back home (this is common, they often return several times before getting out for good-if they ever do). He took her to a neighboring town and the abusive husband was the former mayor of that town. He was belligerent to the  driver while talking to his wife like dirt and flaunting his power. When the driver did not do his bidding (he demanded the driver stop the meter while her belongings were being unloaded and also demanded the driver aid in the effort) he claimed to know our owner and he would ensure his "fat redneck ass" would be fired and he better not even think about driving in this town again. Of course came the obligatory,"Do you know who I am?" comments and other bs of showing his power and the driver's powerlessness.

I tried to tell him that there was nothing he could do and living in the tension of helplessness is hard. He thought she was stupid for going back and I tried to explain to him the conditioning, emotional control and gas lighting that goes on in domestic abuse. He asked me about the cops and the court systems. I told him about the things I learned about the failures in that from some of Milano's books such as "Time's Up", "Defending Our Lives" and "Holding My Hand Through Hell" along with information I learned from Guardian Angel Home as well as my first hand experiences where the courts failed women and children along with tales of some cops and ministers who chose to look the other way and participate in victim shaming.

He looked at me and said,"You should write a fuckin book. You are like an expert or something."

I looked at him and replied,"No, I care and try to help. The experts are who I need to listen to. It would be dangerous and irresponsible to let my compassion be confused with leadership in this field. I know better."

Due to the special kind of hell we work in some nights, the fare and the conversation was pushed out of my mind and life moved on. Then came a fare dispatch gave to me. I was picking up out of a woman's shelter and taking her to a neighboring town. When I looked at the first name and the address, I suspected it might be a small world. When the woman and her belongings were loaded into my vehicle she was being escorted out with one of the counselors, I knew. I had worked with this particular advocate before. She took one look at me and recognized me.

"Pastor Pat? What the hell are you doing here?"

"Not a pastor anymore, Becky."

She whispered into my ear,"You already know what this is, Pat. Remember your boundaries."

I took a deep breath. "Yeah, I will."

I heard Becky say things to the woman. She encouraged her to use her resources and document the abuse. She reminded the woman that she has worth.

We were on our way. It started in silence.

"Did she call you a pastor?" the woman asked.

"Yeah. Used to be."

"She knows you?"

"Yeah. Our church used to work with them. They helped me help a lot of people." I said.

"I have kids. I'm just doing what I need to do." 

From there we had a conversation. The details of that conversation the rest of the way to her house are something I am not willing to talk about.

We pulled up to the house and he was waiting outside with another man. He and the other man walked up to me and he told me who he was and told me his associate was a police officer and I will turn off my meter and help him unload the car or I will face the consequences. He then told me that he knew our owner and they are old chums. 

I just said,"Meter stays on. Considering I was not asked politely, I stay in the car. Officer, may I have your name, badge number and a card?"

The older cop said I don't need any of that and I should do as I am told. 

"I see no squad, I see no badge, you are not in uniform. This vehicle is under video surveillance."

The husband said some insulting things to me. He assured me that I would lose my job. She was told to go inside and wait while the two men unloaded the vehicle. Every time he came to the vehicle he told me off and his buddy gave me dirty looks. 

Three trips later they were done. He told me he did not have to pay me, but he was going to anyway. He also told me he was going to get every dime of it back after I got fired. He threw the money into my cab and I started to pick it all up and count it to make sure I had every penny due me. I looked at him and said, "I need another $2.25."  He reached into his wallet angrily and tossed two singles and whipped a quarter into the taxi. 

"You think you're cute?" he growled through grit teeth. "You don't know who I am."

I spoke back. My temper was gone. "Fuck you. You're a piece of shit has been who couldn't get re elected. Fuckin impotent piece of shit." 

He poked my jacket as he said,"I'm having you charged with assault for that. Your world is over." Each poke got harder and harder.

I grabbed his shirt collar to pull him face to face and said,"If you're gonna charge me with assault? Let's make it worth it. It's you who doesn't know who I am. Gonna look real good in the papers. Ex politician and ex preacher. Who's more corrupt?"

I saw something in his eyes. Fear. His demeanor changed. His eyes watered. "Please. Don't." he said softly.

I knew better. I knew what was going to happen to her now. I fucked up.

I let him go. 

"I'm sorry. I was out of line." I said.

He walked back into his house. I drove off mentally kicking myself. I wanted to win, she lost. I wasted justice, she gets his revenge. I lost my cool. So will he.

I knew better. 

To this day I see minsters who don't know better. I see self proclaimed advocates who harm instead of help. In that moment, I was no better than them. In this moment. I am honest enough to not delete the record from the web, deny my statements and place a felt need preserve a reputation over the truth. They do so at the cost to human lives. The mistakes made by advocates come at a cost to the victim.

I knew better.

*note: A lot of people claim to know the owner of the taxi company who do not. They know his name. I also can safely say that he would never knowingly befriend a wife and child abuser. I feel that needs to be said.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Cigarettes and Hospitals

It was a slow night in winter. The bars had closed and the windchills were starting to get below zero. To conserve gas when I was sitting I had an electric blanket that plugged into the cigarette lighter adapter. I had the windows up and the blanket on with my hoodie over my head about to settle in for a short nap.

I was startled when I heard a tapping at my driver side window. I lowered my hoodie and placed my hand on my large mag light in case I needed a defensive weapon. There was an older man in a tattered work jacket and a stained gray hoodie and a scraggly beard staring at me. I cracked the window and asked what he wanted.

"Can ya take me to the hospital?" He asked with a smile missing some teeth.

I am behind a gas station at 3 in the morning. My alarm bells are still up about letting this man in my car.

"It'll be about $6," I said. "I'll need cash upfront."

"Well, I ain't got cash." He replied. I started to roll the window back up. He tapped on it.

"What?" I asked.

"I have cigarettes." He said smiling.

"This ain't prison," I was about to roll up the window and find somewhere else to nap.

"Now wait a minute! Sealed packs, many brands. See?" He pulled out a tote bag with several packs of cigarettes of various brands. "I'll give you two packs. That will cover the fare and a tip."

"All right," I said. 'If my good nature and loose morals gets me killed, I will be very unhappy in hell' I thought.

I started the engine, unlocked the back door and got on the radio to report a flag to the hospital. Dispatch gave me a 10-4 and I started the meter as I collected the two packs and got a whiff of the old man. He had not showered in days.

"Thanks, young man," he said.

"No problem. You okay?"

"Yeah, just looking for a warm place for a few days to ride out the cold front coming."

"So the hospital is better than the shelter?" I asked.

"Food's better. Especially if you are suicidal."

"Are you suicidal?" I asked.

"Nah, but I am bat shit crazy. Shell shocked, PTSD, whatever you wanna call it when you're a fucked up vet."

"If your a vet and need help, what about the VA?"

He laughed himself into a choking fit.

"If the VA worked for vets there would not be homeless vets with untreated mental illnesses. Soldiers are useful to the system, vets are a burden."

"Nam?" I asked.

"Yep.  Survived fuckin la Drang, but this cold will kill me." he said.

"You served in 65?"

"Yeah. la Drang was November. How do you know your history and not current events? Mind if I smoke one before I go inside?"

"Go for it." I said. "So why the hospital?"

"It works like this. I go in with some specific symptoms that they will have to address and run tests. Once I am in and settled getting an ekg I will panic a little and say the right things to get a psych eval for suicidal ideations. I get admitted for a week and they get me meds for my ptsd and treatment. Then comes the cool part. They cannot release me until I get an intake to a shelter that deals with people with mental health issues and therapy. I get another shot."

"So want help, not a fix?" I was frustrated by this, not about him, but the system.

"Yeah. I've done this before. Kid, I'm alcoholic and quitting ain't that easy on the streets. Look. I know you gotta go, here is the short version. When I get public help, they get me in and eventually they get me into the VA system so someone else can foot the bill. I get in there and it all falls apart and I end up on the streets. I drink, get lost, do other things and then bottom out and do this. I'm a dead man."

"Shit," was all I could say.

"It was not always this way. I was always fucked up, but I had a job and a family. The bottle ended the family and rich people killed the pension fund."

"So what happens now?" I asked.

"I survive until I die. Living is over."

With that, he left the taxi and went into the er entrance.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sleep With Me and a Shameless Plug of Gratitude

When you drive, the average shift is 12 hours. These make for long days and sleep becomes your most precious commodity. If you do not get enough sleep between shifts, it becomes dangerous. You can make mistakes or drink more coffee than is sane to keep going.

In the overnight hours end and daylight comes, parental responsibilities and other things will cause you to do things during the day. So when the head hits the pillow, it is night night time.

Except for me it was hard. Racing thoughts in my mind of events that are stressing me out. Bill collectors. Projects. Barking dogs. Ringing phones. Stress about not sleeping making sleep ever elusive. I hit a rut and I was always tired. I was always tired and there seemed to be no end in sight.

I have to be a parent. That is never an issue or a complaint for me. But the other demands. Family, friends and others. I did my best to push back and they just did not get it.

I went online to learn to practice better sleep hygiene.  I changed the way my room was arranged to minimize distractions. I tried aromatherapy. I tried white noise. I tried meditation. I tried music.

Then came the fateful night. I was on my way to pick up a fare and I heard tires squeal and horns honk. I found myself in the middle of an intersection starting to make a left turn without right of way. The surge of adrenaline kicked in and I stopped it fast and let oncoming traffic have right of way. It was closer than I care to admit and I cannot tell you wehre my head was or even if I was awake or daydreaming. No clue. I nodded at the well deserved middle finger I just received.

I am a very safe and very defensive driver when I am in the taxi. I took the defensive driving course the company had me take seriously. I was proud to have never wrecked or had a customer complain. Dispatch had never gone on the radio to tell me to slow down because the GPS busted me screwing around.

I got on the radio.

"22 to dispatch."

"22, go," said the voice on the radio.

"I'm tired and making mistakes. I either need to go home or park and nap for a bit after this fare."

I know this was the first time I ever asked for this on the radio. A moment later I heard the reply.

"22. We don't have a lot on the board for the rest of the night. You can gas up after this fare."

"10-4. Thank you."

I finished the fare. It was a regular. I gassed it up and went to base. I looked at the dispatcher and earnestly said. "Thank you Mari."

"No problem, Pat. Go get some sleep."

I drove home with the windows down to stay awake. I got home and trudged up the stairs, brushed my teeth, flossed and went to bed. I thought I would fall out right away. Nope. Now the brain was working. It decided to yell at me.

'You could have hurt someone!'

'Do you know how much money leaving early cost you?'

'Did you pay that bill? You should check.'

'Bet there is something interesting on facebook.'

I have been home almost an hour and I am staring at the ceiling telling my brain to shut up and it wont!

I grabbed my tablet and went to the search engine. I typed in the first thing that came to mind, I was desperate.

'Podcast to sleep to'

The first thing that came up was "Sleep With Me Podcast. The Podcast That Puts You to Sleep"

I did not read anything else. I clicked the link. Hit latest episode. It was called trending twitter tuesdays. There was a picture of a cat on my screen as I closed the cover and turned up the speakers. The cat looked relaxing. Next thing I know there is mellow intro music and some guy named Scooter introducing himself and asking if you are having trouble sleeping and he hopes this is a solution for you. He is telling me that it is like a bed time story and at first I will be interested and it will get progressively boring and random and the brain will hopefully shut up and go to sleep....or something like that. I was expecting some weird ass guided meditation thing. No. He just started thanking fans and talking about the Lord and the Lady of the podcast and some other regular characters. It was not long after that that I was already out from the delightful random of it all.

I woke up later on that day feeling relaxed for the first time since I could remember.

I showered. Picked up the kiddo from school. Spent a little time being a dad and then went to work. I was energized and in a zone I had not been in a long time. I was grabbing fares and clearing them like a man on a mission. I also got two juicy flags out of one of the casinos. I was back.

I went home at the end of a 12 hour shift. Birds were starting to sing and pre dawn was upon us. I has a small snack. Watched the news. Brushed my teeth, flossed, and then took my tablet out of my bag and put it by my bedside. I pulled up an older episode and it was a weekly review of a Game of Thrones podcast. I have never seen the show. Will I be lost? Will I be awake not knowing who the players are?

I got through the introduction and what Scooter calls housekeeping as he thanked listeners for reviews and accolades and interactions. Then he started into the episode in the most unique and boring manner possible. I was out within 20 minutes.

This would happen night after night. This mad genius would do three episodes a week and a new napcast would start shortly after that. I also had almost a hundred old episodes to work with too.

In the intros I got to enter his world and sleep community. There were so many of us grateful for his work and he seems genuinely appreciative of the sleep. I learned about his brother and his brother's collection of bus and train tickets. Some fans of the show even send Scooter little things like that in the mail.

Now, I listen to podcasts a lot. I am also a fan of Prairie Home Companion on the radio too. Some enrich me, inform me, entertain me. This one gives me rest night after night. I have even hit the point where some nights I do not need Scooter, but I like checking in anyway to to hear the intro before I pass out.

I want to know how he is, how his brothers is, how his mom is, how the Lord and the Lady are doing with the food truck.

Even on days I know that sleep will only be 4 hours because of a busy day, I get 4 quality hours.

I do not know why people do the things they do. There is no money in a Sleep Pod Cast! But he invests time writing and talking to us. I decided to give him a review on iTunes and thank him on social media and say hi once in awhile. He is gracious and appreciative and a few times, during the housecleaning, I hear my name. It adds a little smile as I sleep.

Some of his regulars have roles. I shamelessly admit that I would love to be the chauffer driving people into dreamland.

But that role is already taken by Scooter. He's damn good at it.

From Bezos adventures in hell (seeking revenge I think), to reviews of a show I do not watch. to the ongoing saga of Cinderella after the ball and even Sir Pounce and whatever is on twitter or reddit, his randomness ushers me to sleep.

For some it is a convenience matter. For others, it allows me to be rested and get home safe every morning. For me, it allows my passengers to get a safe and efficient ride. For me, a teenager that is my life gets me at my best instead of half aware.

It's a little thing from someone I never met.

So this entry is a shameless plug.

If you have trouble sleeping...go to or pull up Sleep With Me on iTunes.

Scooter, if you read this, I owe your brother a Metra train ticket form Joliet's Union station and when that blasted book gets published, I will sent a SASE with a signed book. Thank you.

Beyond the plug, I did want to tell about the challenge of sleep and 12 hours shifts 5-6 nights a week. It is the life of pretty much every damn cabbie you meet. Sleep matters.