Sunday, January 31, 2010
On slow nights, I go home and get my camera, and load it up with 800 ISO film, and begin shooting the images that I need to go along with my blog entries, as well as experimenting with slow shutter speed blurs, zooms, time exposures and an occasional double exposure. I’ve been working as a freelance photographer since 1974, when someone first hired me to shoot a recently converted hippie couple’s wedding, in a Baptist church in Los Angeles. I still use film, that I scan and convert to digital images.
One night, I strapped my camera to both the roof, and hood of my cab, with bungee cord, and used a 10 foot cable release to trigger the shutter, while I drove up and down the streets of downtown Salem, at 1:00 AM. Court Street is one way, and I began to do donut circles between Liberty and Commercial, with a 30 second exposure at F/22. After I made two exposures, I noticed the headlights of a car, about a ¼ mile away by the capitol building coming towards me. I thought to myself, “I hope it isn’t a cop,” when sure enough, the approaching vehicle was a black & white.
I was turning left onto Commercial, and then into Allesandro’s parking lot with the cop right behind me. He didn’t turn on his flashers, and I got out of the cab, to take my camera off the hood, when he approached me.
“You were turning on Court without using your turn signal,” he told me.
I thought to myself, “yeah, but how do you signal for concentric circles on a one way street?” However, I decided not to mention that, but show him some 4x6 photographs that I just had enlarged from the last time I was doing time exposure blurs and zooms. When I gave the stack of about 20 images to the officer, he began to closely inspect them and comment on the interesting effect, when he suddenly caught himself and went back to his initial complaint about my not having used my turn signal.
I decided to play it safe and use the principle taught in Matthew 23:12 that I learned at St. Mark’s Elementary school, back in the 1950’s. Humility can only be sincere when you give someone the upper hand by exposing your vulnerability.
“I’m sorry officer,” I told him, and continued, “next time I’ll use a parking lot.”
He seemed to accept this, and I finished removing my camera from the hood. Most of the time my shooting is uninterrupted, except by the dispatcher giving me a call. Every so often I’ll hook up with one of the drivers and shoot them as well. I don’t shoot passengers, because there is always a chance that someone may complain, and this would jeopardize my job. Although one time I did shoot a passenger, who was herself a cab driver, who was visiting, from New Orleans, just before Katrina hit.
I’ve always chronicled my life with photographs, so it was a natural thing for me to become a photographer, and view my existence as an assignment. Driving a cab is only the latest installment in a series of episodes that include everything from birth to death, and all my vocations and avocations throughout the years. I was a photographer before I was a writer, but now the purpose of my images are to illustrate my stories, articles or whatever else I write.
I used two photographs to illustrate this blog entry. The first is me taking a picture of myself. Actually I was using two camera’s, and the first was on the roof, with my self-timer shutter release set on 10 seconds, for 4 seconds, at F/22, using an on camera flash at full power. I didn’t take a picture of anything with the camera I was holding, it was just a prop.
The second image was the last shot I took when the police officer questioned me about not using my turn signal on Court Street. As I was driving off, after I first saw the officer approaching I tripped the shutter, and it recorded the 30 second trip, at F/22, from Court into Allesandro’s parking lot off Commercial.
Sometimes a shift tests your faith. Faith in the laws of probability, but then ultimately all faith leads to some kind of a spiritual force, whether it is “GOD” or the energy flow whose undulations are the universe. Tonight was one of those nights, where my faith was being tested. I was getting nothing but short grocery runs, when it went from bad to worse. By 7:00 PM, after 3 hours, I hadn’t even booked $20.00, which was depressing since I needed to average $50.00 every 3 hours, just to have an average night, monetarily, but then that’s where faith comes in, by believing that it will average out, like it almost always does. Then John, the dispatcher, gave me what could potentially be a good run, and all you need is one good run, to turn things around, sometimes. I was heading out to Creekside golf course, to pick up someone in the lounge. Even if they didn’t go far, they would most likely tip good, so I was thinking positive when the radio blurted out my number.
“Number 25, I have to take you off that call, and send you for someone who can’t get into the van I just sent them.” John told me.
He gave the country club call to number 10, who had the van, and the address that he gave me was that of a couple of regulars that never went farther than $4.00 - $7.00 away, and never tipped. When I arrived there were 5 people, but I only had seat belts for 4, with the Buick sedan that I was driving that night, so one guy decided to walk. The rest were women, including the walker wielding octogenarian, who couldn’t get into the van.
Hebrews chapter 11 is the great faith chapter of the Bible, and like I said before, sometimes driving a taxi cab is more of a ministry than being the pastor of a church, especially when you’re supposed to act like Jesus to people who view you as a servant. I told the woman, who was a regular passenger, that I had been driving for the past 6 years, and still didn’t know her name, that she could request a 5 seat belt sedan, next time. It was a slow arduous process for the elderly woman to get in the cab, and after I collapsed her walker and put it in the trunk, we drove off.
They were going to a restaurant that was within walking distance from their apartment complex, for the average person. On the drive there, they were all talking and it distracted me, so I missed the first entrance into the parking lot and had to go around the back way. When I pulled into the parking spot, the guy who walked there ahead of us was standing in front of the door waiting, and the meter read $4.10. The woman handed me a $20.00 bill, but since the last couple of fares also gave me $20.00 bills for their short runs, I was out of change, so after I got the walker out, and helped the elderly woman out of the cab, I went into the restaurant and got in line, to ask for change. When I finally got out and handed the woman $16.00 change, and told her to forget about the dime she looked at me angrily.
“It never costs this much to get here. I’ve never paid more than $3.40.” She said.
After I got over the shock of her complaint, I got angry, but smiled and said, “well ma’am, 60 cents won’t make me rich,” as I reached into my change pocket and pulled out 2 quarters and a dime, which I placed in her outstretched hand. I always carry 2 dollars in change, made up of 6 quarters, 3 dimes, 3 nickels and 5 pennies, along with my $20.00 in 2-$5.00 bill’s and 10 singles, to start with, as the cab drivers handbook instructs.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 NASB). Once again, this verse would become alive to me, as I got a call to pick someone up at “Hard Candy,” the gentleman's club on North Commercial. Before I even got to the driveway, I saw a guy waving at me, so I pulled over and he got in my cab.
“Hi,” I said, “how’s it going?”
“I need to go to Presley’s Playhouse, with a stop at my house first, and maybe a trip back to my house after that, if I don’t get in.”
After I called it in and we started to drive he told me his life story, like so many people do. Maybe they figure that since they hired me, it includes having someone to pour their hearts out to. He went by the name Butch, looked about 40 years old, and he fit the name with a black leather jacket, greasy jet black hair and a goatee and mustache. He looked like a bearded Marlon Brando in “The Wild One”, and told me that he didn’t have any ID, so he had a hard time getting in places that checked ID, and all strip clubs do. He talked a mile a minute, so it was hard for me to get in a word edgewise. When that happens, I find that it’s best for me to just listen, because they don’t want my advice, they just want my ear.
He told me that he had prison ID, but didn’t like to use that. He didn’t have a driver’s license by choice, because he killed 2 people, when he drove drunk in 1996. That was the reason why he was in prison; he only served 4 of his 7 years for good behavior. He said that he would never drive again in his life, because of the guilt that he felt. His insurance company was sued for 7 million dollars, and they settled out of court. He was so adverse to the DMV, that he wouldn’t even go there to get a non driving picture ID. After we stopped at his house for money, I dropped him off at Presley’s. When he paid me the $16.40 fare, he gave me a $20.00 bill and told me to keep the change.
As he got out of the cab he said, “if they don’t let me in, I may have to get another cab, so you may want to stick around.”
When I called it in, John gave me another call, but before I drove off, Butch opened my passenger door and said that they wouldn’t let him in. He said that he wanted to go to the new lingerie modeling place on Market, across from Fred Meyers, called Pussycats. I called John and told him the new plan, and on the way there he started to tell me about the swingers club that he and his wife belonged to. No more than twenty couples would meet each week in the upper room, above Bob’s Book’s, on State Street, and either pair up or have a group orgy. When we arrived at Pussycat’s he handed me another $20.00 to pay for the $17.10 fare and said to keep the change.
The rest of the night was made up of decent runs, including a$50.00 trip out of town to Monmouth, with a $16.00 tip. I had 2- $10.00 tips, and a few $5.00 ones, and by the end of the night, I booked $224.50, and had a total of $76.00 in tips.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
The disembodied voice of the dispatcher is the third part of the equation that completes the dynamic of the taxi cab business. Computerized dispatching replaces much of the necessity for radio communication, except for clarifications, in most of the larger cities, but not here in Salem. We still use the same equipment that taxi cab drivers have been using for the past 50 years, so the ethereal voice of the dispatcher is as much a part of the landscape for the taxi cab driver, as the fares bodily presence.
The dispatcher’s voice and personality can make for either a pleasant shift, or a hellacious one. Women’s voices tend to be friendlier than men’s, but exceptions are noted. Over the years dispatchers, like cab drivers, have come and gone, allowing an opportunity to experience a variety of personalities.
Mike, a 350 lb. behemoth from Okahoma, was the first dispatcher that I worked with. He worked the graveyard shift from Midnight to 8:00 AM, and had an Okie twang, with a deep gruff voice. He treated the drivers like they were his personal slaves, and most of the hacks hated him, especially since he never drove a cab. He didn’t know what it was like trying to find an address in an unfamiliar area, on a dark and stormy night, before the proliferation of GPS. So after 15 minutes he would demand to know why you weren’t at your destination, if you weren’t. He got fired for being rude to a customer on the phone, but then my passengers regularly told me that he was rude to them. I guess too many of them complained to the boss. A few months after his discharge, he moved back to Oklahoma, and was killed in a motorcycle wreck.
Then there is Keith, the daytime dispatcher, who has strawberry blonde reddish hair and, used to mountain bike. Keith drove a cab, until he got in too many wrecks, and the insurance wouldn’t carry him anymore. That’s how some drivers graduate to the dispatcher position. The dispatcher is a step above the driver, and is his immediate supervisor, in the taxi cab world. Keith work day shift, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and likes to talk so fast when he gives out calls, that drivers can’t understand him. He also takes delight in how many new cab drivers have quit their first day or week, because of frustration with trying to work with him. He is a strict disciplinarian who will park a driver for a minor infraction in radio protocol, or send him home to shave, if he shows any stubble.
Tracie was the swing shift dispatcher, from 4:00 PM till Midnight when I first started. She had the voice of an angel and always had a cheerful tone that sounded like she genuinely was happy to call your driver number. She always announced the stands, to alert the drivers where they stood in the call pecking order, and announced the zones as well. She was a driver back in 1998, when driver number 14, Michelle Howard was shot in the head and murdered. At that point she had already been a relief dispatcher, so after she resigned driving, she became a full time dispatcher. She quit, after she found another job in 2008
Ed Good, the relief dispatcher worked four shifts a week, and treated the drivers worse than Mike, if that were possible. He was a retired prison guard, and drove a cab until his eye sight started going. Between lung cancer from asbestos contamination while he was in the navy, and emphysema, he would have occasional black outs while dispatching. One time one of the drivers found him stretched out on the floor after he fell out of his chair, from an extended coughing spell. He retired after I worked with him for nearly 4 years, and died a few months later. He loved women and had a heart of gold for homeless indigents and ex cons trying to make it outside.
Erin, is the bosses daughter, and she’s a relief dispatcher, in Ed Good’s old slot, although she worked another relief shift before that. She started dispatching when she was 18, and has never driven cab. Ed Good trained her to be a dispatcher, so she talks to the drivers like a female prison guard, with a sweet high pitched voice. She will scold drivers old enough to be her grandfather for not following her directions, or questioning her. Occasionally she will park a driver and if anyone tries to give her any trouble, she reminds them who her father is. Her husband and brother are both taxi drivers for the company.
Lisa replaced Mike in the graveyard slot, and drove cab for a number of years before that. She had a deep husky voice and loved the “Insane Clown Posse”. She would speak patiently, with occasional dry humor, in an almost motherly way. Two years ago she and her husband moved back to California, where her father is a rocket scientist.
Dotty replaced Lisa on Graveyard, after she drove taxi, on day shift for 10 years. Her voice is usually crabby or irritated sounding, but at the same time she’s not harsh or demanding. She gets easily exasperated and takes her job seriously.
John replaced Tracie as the swing shift dispatcher, but was already a relief dispatcher for a number of years, while he was still a taxi driver. John is a wannabe stand-up comedian, who used his job as dispatcher to entertain the drivers and their fares with his voice impersonations of Humphey Bogart, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. At the same time if a driver is abusing radio protocol, he will verbally discipline him, and even park them. He will trade quips with the drivers and make witty remarks that relate to the subject at hand, in some obtuse way.
The dispatcher has complete control over whether a driver has a good shift or bad one. They control the calls, and although there is a protocol for how calls are distributed, without oversight a dishonest dispatcher could easily give good calls to their favorite driver or relative and bad ones to others. Some drivers claim that the dispatchers are always screwing them, by ignoring them when they know that the next call is an out of town prescription run. Some even believe that dispatchers make up fictitious calls to give, to get you out of the way of a good one for their favorite, only to tell you that they called and cancelled after giving the good call out. All drivers are forbidden under pain of dismissal, not to ever do for or give to the dispatcher anything, no matter how small and insignificant, so as not to ingratiate themselves to them. One time I gave Lisa a small statuette of Shaggy 2 Dope, from the Insane Clown Posse.
One of the passages in the Bible that is always sure to draw some controversy is, I Corinthians 9:19-23. Verse 22 is quoted all the time to justify acting like a heathen to rescue them. Such was the case when I got a call to the Westside Station on Monday night at around Midnight. When I told the bartender that I was there for Kyle, he pointed to a guy with a baseball cap and a full black beard, who looked to be in his late twenties.
“I’ll be outside,” I told him.
After a minute he came out and told me that his friend was cashing out, and they would be right there. I sat waiting, until Kyle came out a second time and said that he was sorry that it was taking so long, but they would be right out. After waiting nearly 10 minutes I started the meter, but with drunks you risk a confrontation over a buck or two, so sometimes I start it over after they finally come out. That wasn’t the case this time, as they got in the back seat of my van. They were going to South Salem, and I wrote down the address, but the second guy, whose name was Chad, wanted to go to Presley’s Playhouse. So as we drove off, Chad asked me which bar was my favorite.
“The Triangle” I told him, even though I don’t go to any.
“Do they have some hot bitches there?” He asked.
I told him that I was married and didn’t go to bars to score chicks, but he ridiculed me. He started to ask me if my wife’s tits were as good as the girls at Presley’s, and I found myself starting to get angry at his impudence. Kyle tried to calm Chad down, and then he started telling me about how they had $50.00 in free drink coupons for Presley’s because they were the only two customers there one Sunday afternoon, when the owner was there. The owner Kyle said, was a hot 50 year old woman who looked really great and owned a couple of the clubs here in town, and used to be a stripper in Las Vegas.
Chad was now talking about how he would like to fuck a 50 year old chick, and he was talking so loud and excitedly that I was having a hard time concentrating. I was getting more exasperated as Kyle would alternatively try to calm Chad down and then join in with him about doing a 50 year old chick. At this point, I realized that there was no way that I was going to turn this thing around, so I joined in.
“There’s nothing like a 50 year old woman,” I told them. “Especially if she just got divorced or became widowed, and had regular sex with her husband, she’s a pro.”
Chad was chomping at the bit, while Kyle was having second thoughts and began to say that he preferred women who were in their 20’s.
“Twenty-year old’s?” I said. “They don’t know anything, but you take a 50 year old woman, and she can show you things that you never dreamed of.”
As I talked my voice got louder, and my tone became as excited as Chad’s, until I overpowered him, with my enthusiasm for having sex with 50 year old women. Around this time Kyle said that I had become as bad as Chad, and now he would never get him in control.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” I told him, as we pulled into Presley’s parking lot.
Chad got out, because he had to take a piss, but he didn’t want to go inside without Kyle. Kyle wanted to use his Visa card, which would take at least 5 minutes, over the radio and with my slider. Charge cards, as we do them now are another aggravating factor in a taxi driver’s shift, especially with angry, drunk and impatient passengers.
While we were waiting for the transaction to clear, Chad came up to the door and asked me if I was retired from the CIA? I told him that I was retired from federal service, but didn’t want to talk about it. Kyle gave me an $3.00 tip and the fare was $22.50, so it was one of the best fares of a slow Monday night.
Monday, January 25, 2010
This particular fare occurred early in my night, at around 5:30 PM, in Friday night traffic.
“Number 25, get The Big Kahuna” John the dispatcher told me and continued, “She’ll be standing out front. Good luck.”
Why did he tell me good luck, I wondered. When I arrived my passenger was standing on the corner waving at me. I stopped in front of her and she got in my cab.
“Take me to Roth’s in West Salem”, she told me.
As I started driving the radio was on full volume, and the dispatcher’s voice was grating, as he called out to the other drivers. My passenger asked me to turn it down, but I told her that I was hard of hearing and had to keep it up to hear the calls. She accepted this, but burst into a tirade of how much she hated Salem and all the people who lived here. She told me that Salem contained some of the most brutal and insensitive people that lived at this point of humanities evolution. At one point she said – “you can’t hear what I’m saying, but then that’s probably best anyway.”
Then she started to ask me questions, and as soon as I began to talk, she would tell me to shut up. Then she would apologize for her rudeness, and start talking again. She told me that she was suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, and I wanted to ask her why, but every time that I tried to speak, she started talking, and if I did get a word in edgewise, she would tell me to shut up. She kept asking me questions and answering them before I could respond. Then she started crying and I thought that she was going to attack me, as we entered Roth’s parking lot.
“I have to get a few things, so wait for me,” she said, as she got out of the cab. Then she turned back and asked, “how much is it going to cost me while I’m in there?”
“$40.00 an hour”, I told her.
She started to get angry, and then she said, “That’s fine, you might as well get a chunk of me along with everyone else. Park somewhere and I’ll find you”
I sat waiting for my passenger to return, with the meter running, for the next 10 minutes. By the time that she came out, and I drove up to the entrance, the meter read $11.90. After she got in I verified the address with her, to make sure that it was on the same side of the street that I thought it was. She became hysterical, because of my unprofessional ignorance, which was just like everyone else in Salem, so what should she expect. I ignored her and drove her, while she continued to cry and complain how she was being persecuted and subjected to intolerable injustices by the entire population of Salem. When I got her to her apartment, she grudgingly paid me and told me that she realized that I couldn’t control how much the meter charged, but that I was ripping her off, just like everyone else, so don’t expect a tip.
“Thank you Mam,” I told her, as she got out.
Overall, it wasn’t a bad night, and I booked $277.00, which is decent for a Friday night, and tips were average at $53.00. However, one of my last fares ended up being a problem that I wasn’t aware of, until Richard Haley, the cab company owner, on his night off, came down to the Amtrack station where I was parked at to talk to me about it, on Saturday night.
“Number 25,” he said. “Did you pick up some people at the Eola Inn last night?”
“Yes,” I told him “and I took them to Karen Street.
“That’s the one,” he told me.
I proceeded to tell him about a group that was too large to fit in my cab. A second car followed us to the address, and I drove down dark back roads to get there.
“They called Dotty (the dispatcher), after I dropped them off and complained that I threw one of the guys out of the cab, after telling him that I don’t drive niggers. “That’s ridiculous”, I told Richard, “the guy is a liar. I never threw anyone out of my cab, and I wasn’t even aware that there was a black person in the cab, if there was.”
“I never heard you talk like that, so I just wanted to make sure,” he told me.
This made me think about the ten-commandments, and the controversy about whether they represent the USA, in its multi-cultural and multi-religious state in the 21st century. My passenger violated the 8th commandment, which states “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (NASB) My question is this – does it matter whether you are a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, when someone falsely accuses you of committing a crime or a negative act with punitive consequences?
Thursday, January 21, 2010
It’s not the norm, but it does happen, that occasionally, insidiously wicked, or demented women exploit naïve men. Such was the case one afternoon the first year that I began driving a taxi cab. I got a call to pick up a man, who was being released from the county jail. When I got to the jail, and entered the release area ante room, and pressed the intercom button, the guard inside asked me who I was there for.
“Lloyd Ingram”, I told him.
“He’ll be out in a minute,” the guard told me.
So I went back to the cab and waited, until the back gate opened and a man came out. After he got in my cab, I asked him where we were heading and he told me the Super 8 Motel. On the way there he told me an incredible story.
“I just broke up with my girlfriend, and I was feeling lonely,” he told me, “and I met this woman who seemed to be the perfect match for me. We dated for a couple of weeks, and everything that we did together was fun, and she acted like she genuinely like me. So I asked her if she wanted to move in with me. She told me that she would love to and I helped her move all her things, over the next week. After we were together a couple of months she began to change, and started to act like I was living with her.”
“One night, we had an argument, and I asked her to leave, she refused, and I went up to my room to figure out what to do next. In the meantime she called 911 and said that she was attacked. When the police arrived, I answered the door and they informed me why they were summoned. I was shocked and realized that my new roommate was trying to commandeer my house and get me out.”
My passenger excused himself and proceeded to go to his room and open his safe to remove the deed to his house and the titles for his vehicles. Then he returned to the living room where he found his girlfriend talking with the two police officers that now looked at him with suspicion. He gave the officers the legal papers for the house and vehicles to prove that he owned everything, and that the woman was just a guest. However, the police ignored it all, and put the titles on the dining room table, as they handcuffed my passenger, and led him to their patrol car. After spending a week in jail, his lawyer finally got him bailed out, and he was going to begin the legal battle to regain his house, car and truck. The woman who was still at the house had a restraining order against him, so he can't come anywhere near his home to get his vehicles, and was forced to now use taxi cabs, or get friends to drive him.
I picked the same guy up 6 months later, and he was living at a friend’s house, but he still hadn’t gotten his house and vehicles back. In the meantime he lost his job and was becoming an alcoholic, because he was so depressed that he saw no purpose in trying to do anything, since the system is set up to make you fail. At least that’s what he believes.
Another theme that occasionally overwhelms my night is that of female abuse by their, boyfriends, fiancées, spouses and sometimes strangers. On occasion I’ll pick them up at the emergency room and take them to a shelter. Other times I’ll pick them up at the location of the crime and become involved in their escape, even with the abuser pursuing or threatening us. Whatever the case may be, it throws a pall over the rest of the night, as I can’t shake the vision of swollen black and blue female faces, with teeth missing and blood dripping from their nose, mouth, eyes and/or ears, along with broken bones.
One of the worst cases that I encountered was a few years ago on a cold rainy winter night in North Salem. I got the call at around 10:00 PM and when I pulled into the driveway at the address, I saw a woman sitting on the porch, in the rain, without a jacket. She stood up as soon as I stopped and walked over to my cab and got in.
“Look what he did to me!” She sobbed.
I turned the dome light on and looked at her face. Her left eye was swollen and it looked like the eye was out of focus, her nose was pushed to the right, and her mouth was so swollen that her lower lip hung, exposing bloody gums and a missing tooth, along with some other bruises and cuts on her face.
“What happened?” I asked, and added “Are we heading to the emergency room?”
“No,” she said. “Take me to the Silver Dollar.”
The Silver Dollar is a bar on the South East side of town. My job is driving people where they want to go, not where I think they should go, so I did as she requested. On the way there she explained what happened. Earlier that afternoon she was supposed to meet her fiancée, that she had been living with for the past 5 years, at a bar to watch the Ducks game. They just got engaged the month before, and she had signed her truck in both their names, just like the house that they lived in. She arrived 15 minutes late and an argument ensued, that they brought home with them, after the game was over. The argument escalated until her fiancée exploded in anger and repeatedly punched her in the face, until she collapsed. Then he dragged her by the hair, out the front door and onto the middle of the front lawn, where he deposited her, and ripped the engagement ring off her finger so violently that he broke it. Then he told her that they were through and he never wanted to see her again and don’t try and come back or he’d kill her.
About 6 months after I dropped her off at the bar, I picked her up at Winco, with a load of groceries and drove her to a house in South Salem. I immediately recognized her and told her that I picked her up the night that she was attacked.
“Oh, it was you?” She said. “Thank you for taking me to my friends at the Silver Dollar, my name is Sally. I was in shock and they called an ambulance as soon as they saw me. I was in the hospital for a week, and had a concussion and almost lost my eye.”
“Did you get your truck back?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “I wasn’t able to get it back, and we are still in court over the house.”
“Why isn’t he in jail?” I asked. “He got a good lawyer, and claims that I was drunk and tripped on the porch and hit my face on the concrete step, but I don’t care, because I could have been married to him.”
When we arrived at her house, Sally told me that her son, who was in the Marines, and just returned from Iraq, was living with her, and would help with the groceries. When we pulled into the driveway, he was waiting. He was over 6’ and must have weighed a solid 250 lbs. After I drove off I thought to myself, Sally’s son must not know what happened, or he would have been in prison for murder, instead of helping with the groceries.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Exotic dancers or strippers make a living by turning their body into a commodity. The dancing part doesn’t require the lady to have contact with the customer. She is just displaying her naked beauty, and her audience showers her with dollar bills, and occasionally larger denominations. However, the real money maker is the lap dance, where the dancer grinds her body into the groin of the customer, who pays $20.00 and up, depending on the girl and the duration of the dance. Of course while that’s all going on she’s hustling guys for drinks, because if she doesn’t rack up ten, she has to pay the bartender $20.00, and her stage fee is $50.00, along with tipping the DJ. So on a bad night, she could owe the house money, but that seldom happens. Some make initial contact with a John, and connect after hours, at their place, for $100.00 and up for ½ hour.
Strippers tend to take taxis quite a bit, so after a while you get to know them, somewhat. Some are reticent, since they just got off work and are tired, some talk on their cell phone and some carry on a conversation with you. Over the years I’ve driven hundreds of women to the cabaret, home from it and afterwards to, from and round trips to turn a trick.
Brandy was gorgeous, and worked at Stars Cabaret. She took a cab two to four times every day, and always tipped well. She was always friendly and if she didn’t talk, it created an aura that made her presence impossible to ignore without wanting to say something, even if it was stupid. But she would laugh if she was supposed to and always knew exactly what to say to you to put you at ease. One night I picked her up at a bar that she went to, after she got off work early. She was drunk, and she told me a story.
“When I first started dancing it was in Las Vegas,” she told me and continued,” right after I graduated from High School. I used to share a cab with one of the other girls that I lived with, at the time. We lived on the outskirts of town, and she looked really young for her age, like 13 and not 18. One night we took a cab together and the cab driver drove past the turnoff that led to the area that we lived in. When I told him that he passed our turnoff he said, ‘don’t worry I know exactly where I’m taking you girls.’ The other girl carried a hand gun that she had a license for, and she pulled it out, and pressed it against the drivers head. ‘Turn the cab around or I’ll blow your brains out!’ she told him. He immediately stopped and turned the car around. We had him drop us off at the cutoff and walked. When we called the cab office later to tell them, they said that the driver that we described had the night off."
Another time I picked up a dancer at LaDonna’s around 1:00 AM, who was talking on a cell phone from the minute that she got in the cab. After she gave me her destination, she acted as if I weren’t even there, even though she sat up front with me. She was so loud that I couldn’t ignore her if I tried, so I listened to her one way conversation.
“You didn’t hit him again did you?”
“I’m worried about him, he isn’t like all the other kids.”
“I’m going to spend some quality time with him. I know tomorrow I’ll get up early and go for a walk with him before school.”
“Honey, I love you so much, I can’t wait to see you.”
“Why can’t you stay home tonight? I don’t want to be alone.”
“Okay! Fuck you then. Go ahead and leave!”
“My God, what am I going to do?”
When we arrived at her address the meter read $12.60, and she paid me $13.00 in $1.00 bills and told me to keep the change. Jezebel worked all the clubs and turned tricks on the side. She was the consummate hustler, who knew how to exploit her young body for every penny that it was worth. The first time that I drove her she was working at Cheetah’s, but eventually she worked her way up to Stars and even worked at Jiggles up in Portland, once in a while. I’ve been driving her for at least 3 years now, but she is always at a new address. I’ve ascertained that she has a regular boyfriend or husband, I don’t know which, who takes care of the 3 kids who are under 5, when she is working.
One night just about when my shift was over I got a call to the latest address that Jezebel had been living at. When I arrived, she handed me a $50.00 bill and said.
“I want you to wait for me until I come back out. If the fare is any more than what I gave you, I’ll pay you the rest when you get me home. Okay?”
“Okay,” I told her.
After waiting for over half an hour the meter read $32.50, when she returned to the cab and told me to head back to her house. She didn’t say a word on the way back, and the meter was at $41.90, when we arrived, so I handed her $8.00 and she numbly got out of the cab and went into her home.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
“You’re not gonna run the meter while I go in the store are you?”
My passenger inquired.
“What do you tell your boss when he asks you to punch out and work off the clock for free?”
I asked him and explained
“The meter is a cab driver’s time clock and you’re my boss.”
He didn’t say anything,
And I told him that I would give him
Two free minutes,
Before I’d start the meter.
At $40.00 per hour,
That amounts to about $1.32
That I’ll lose,
But then what the heck.
In Luke 6:38,
Where another account of
Jesus’s “Sermon on the mount”
With variations from that found
In the Gospel of Matthew.
I think an exact quote would
Be more appropriate
Than a paraphrase.
“didote, kai dothesetai umin metron kalon pepiesmenon….”
Basically what the Greek translates to
In English is
“Give and it shall be given to you, good measure pressed down….”
Remember that two thousand years ago
Even a hundred years ago
Civilization was agrarian
With food production
A top priority.
Before there was money
There was bartering
Before there were credit cards
There was gold
Everything was measured by weight
A light weight
A watered down volume
Was the epitome
I was ready to start the meter
When my passenger
Came running out of the store
See I told you
I’d be quick
When we got
To his destination
He gave me a
Five dollar tip
And told me
That he didn’t
Know that cab drivers
Didn’t get an hourly wage.
When driving a taxi, you never know who you are going to pick up. Sometimes it’s a cage fighter with a black and blue face, other times it may be a newborn with its mother or even a quantum mechanics physicist calculating the future of Oregon in another hundred years. The possible categories are as diverse as the people that you drive, but most of time they can be sorted out by subject and catalogued for future reference. The subject that I pulled from the file for today is “Wheelchair Stories”.
Shorty was the first double leg amputee that I drove, shortly after I started hacking in 2004. It was on a Saturday night, and I picked him up at “Von’s Corner”, shortly after midnight. Von’s used to be called the “Lana Tavern”, since Lana Street dead ends into its parking lot. It’s one of the rougher neighborhood bars in Salem, where fights occasionally occur, and customers may be singing Karaoke in Spanish. Shorty was waiting outside, where the bouncer had placed him after he caused an altercation inside, and the bar tender called him a cab. I saw him sitting there, in his wheelchair, when I pulled into the parking lot.
“Did you need a cab?” I asked him.
“Yeah,” he answered, “give me a hand getting in.”
Since I never helped a legless person get in a van before, I got out and asked him what I could do. He said that I could lift him up and place him on the seat, but I couldn’t get a good enough grip while he was sitting in the wheelchair, so I got back in the driver’s side and leaned over the passenger seat, to reach for his hands. Once we locked hands, I began pulling, but it was like dead weight. I had to go back in the bar and get someone to push him while I pulled, and finally got him inside. After I collapsed his wheelchair, and put it in the side door, I got Shorty’s destination and started driving.
Shorty’s real name was Ray, he told me, and he said that he lost his legs because of agent orange from when he was in Viet Nam. He said that it took twenty-five years for the cancer to finally do its work, but now all he had left was to wait to die. So he got drunk every day on the disability that the Army gave him, and lived with his brother. When we got to his place he didn’t have any money, but the fare was only $5.10, so I told him not to worry about it. After I got out his wheelchair, I managed to get him in it and wheeled him to the side door that had a ramp.
Another double amputee that I drive every so often is Jim, who likes to get drunk at Nobles on the North East corner of Center and 17th Street. Jim taught me the best technique for loading a legless person into a van. After opening the sliding side door, you push the wheelchair right up to the portal, and the wheelchair seat is level with the van’s floor. Then Jim would scoot from the wheelchair into the van. Of course he wasn’t on the seat, so he couldn’t put on a seat belt, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. Jim told me that he lost his legs because of a logging accident. When I got him home, he paid me and I had to push his wheelchair into the garage, where there was a ramp into the house.
Then one Saturday afternoon, I got a call for Fred Meyer’s, in Keizer, and when I got there, I saw a man in a wheel chair, at the main entrance. He was without legs, but agile, and swung himself into the front seat of my sedan by grabbing the lip around the door opening, on the roof. I asked him how he lost his legs, and he said that one day he broke them both in a car accident, and they were reconstructed with pins. Then one day, five years after the accident, he blacked out, and when he woke up, his legs were gone.
“They told me that an infection from the metal had eaten away at my leg bones until they were decaying, and they had to amputate them to save my life,” he explained. “It’s been 6 months since they amputated, and I’m going in to get prosthetics in another couple of weeks.”
My favorite wheelchair taxi cab story didn’t happen to me, but to the old number 44, Robert Scheiderman, who has since then retired. He told me that one day the boss called him into the back office, before he started his shift, to question him about a complaint that someone called in. It seems that one day he picked up a group of people, who included a crippled man in a wheelchair. There were 6 people, and since he had a sedan, the seat belt law only allowed him to carry 4 of them. Since the apartments that they all lived in weren’t that far away, 2 of them started walking there. Number 44 had to collapse the wheelchair and put it in the trunk, so it took a while for him to get going.
When he arrived at the apartment complex, they paid him and, he took the wheelchair out of the trunk, but the crippled man, said that he could still use his legs some, so he wanted to hold onto his wheelchair, and try walking to his apartment. He was struggling and nearly fell over a couple of times, but managed to make it. Number 44 said that he stood there watching him, when the other two people who were walking came in sight. Then he drove off. One of the people called the taxi office to complain about the driver who took away a crippled man’s wheelchair and made him crawl to his door.
I remember when I attended L.I.F.E. Bible college, which at the time was connected to Angelus Temple, in the Echo Park District of Los Angeles. One of the most famous faith healers of the 20th century, Aimee Semple McPherson founded them both. There was an area that contained discarded wheelchairs, crutches and braces, left behind after her miracle healings services. Too bad sister Aimee didn’t become a cab driver.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I drove three young men who were in their mid twenties from a party in South Salem to the Eola Inn in West Salem, at 3:00 AM, Sunday morning. The trip there took over half an hour, including a stop at the main talker’s house, who was sitting up front, in the 263 Van with me. Since I just finished watching the award winning film about an explosives disposal unit in the Iraq war, called “The Hurt Locker” before I started my shift, I mentioned it to my passengers. They just saw it too, and the guy up front with me told me that one of his friends had his leg blown off in Iraq, when an IED blew up the Humvee he was in. He told me that his friend found a video of the actual explosion posted on the Al Qaeda website.
“You could see him flying fifty feet in the air,” he told me. “I swear he showed it to me. I couldn’t believe it. It was all in their language, and then they said in English “American’s go home to your wives, and leave Iraq, or this is what will happen to you.”
We had a cab driver that was a marine who just got back from Iraq a couple of years ago. His name was Nick Spliethof, and he was driver number 35. Nick was a truck driver in the marines and he was driving an ambulance when it hit an IED that killed the marine in the passenger seat and left Nick with enough shrapnel to get him a monthly disability payment every month after his discharge.
Then one day when I was sitting in front of the Greyhound bus station a good sized well build man, who looked to be in his late thirties with a mustache asked me if I was available. Sure, I told him, as he threw his large leather suitcase in the back seat, and sat up front with me.
“Elmer’s on Market, next to I-5,” he said and continued, “I haven’t had a drink in over a year, and they do have a bar don’t they?”
“Yes,” I told him, as I started driving. On the way there, I found out that he was a military contractor, who spent fifteen months in Iraq and Afghanistan helping the country put together Boy Scout troops, with thousands of young boys. He was helping to build the future of both countries, from the ground up. He said that he had interrogated hundred of insurgents, and they were all from outside countries. In one case he interrogated a man who was from Kazakhstan, and had come to Iraq for military training with Al Qaeda. He was driving a truck across town in Bagdad, when he stopped to get a soda pop from a vendor, when his truck exploded. He surrendered himself to the American military, because he said that he didn’t know that he was supposed to be a suicide bomber.
Another night I picked up a guy at the South Liberty Bar & Grill who kept calling me sir, until I finally asked him if he was in the military. He told me that he was home on leave for a month until he returned to Iraq to finish his year there.
“What is it like there?” I asked him.
“Just like here, except it’s desert, and there would be a gas station on the corner, just like here, but there would also be a pickup truck with a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in the back, with a soldier behind it.”
Driver number 26 was in Operation Desert Storm, and was glad when the US invaded Iraq and finally finished the job that they started in 1991. I’ve watched some of my passengers ship out to, and return from Iraq and Afghanistan, over the past six years multiple times, until I remember them by name and they ask for me to drive them.
“The Hurt Locker” begins with a quote by Chris Hedges , an American journalist who specializes in war correspondence and Middle Eastern and American cultures - “The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug” - from his 2002 publication of “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning”. All of this set my mind in motion to begin to consider the correlation between war and the Bible.
The Old Testament is filled with enough epic battles and gore to fill the script of any present day Hollywood bloodfest producer. So with the Bible as the foundational volume of Western Civilization, it stands to reason that the culture itself is schizophrenic, as is the Bible. After the continual violence of the OT, even through the apocryphal inter-testamental period, the New Testament does an about face, after Judaism is impacted by a variety of religions from Seraphism and Zoroastrianism to Buddhism and Mithraism. Now we are confronted by a new live and let live, non violent philosophy, as espoused by the dominant figure of the New Testament, Jesus “the Christ” of Nazareth. Through the teachings of Jesus and his biggest post resurrection fan, the apostle Paul, we find out that there is equality for all. It doesn’t matter if you are a slave, or even worse, a woman, you are no different in God’s eyes than a free man, and that’s all that matters.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Religion was the path that I took, back in 1971, and it ultimately taught me that I am only one part of the whole picture. According to Christian theology, using the Bible as the primary source of information, we find the analogy of the body of Christ, as used by the apostle Paul in his letters to the churches of the New Testament. I am only one taxi driver in a city with dozens of other ones, who then interact, like yeast with the raw dough comprising the population of that city in the form of fares. Salem, Oregon is only one of thousands of cities, spread all over the planet inhabited by billions of people, and serviced by a million cab drivers. Each person is a potential part of the whole, if they choose to be.
Sometimes the process is reversed, like when the dough lets the yeast know why it exists. Such was the case one Saturday night when I got a call at around 9:00 PM. When I arrived at my destination at an older home in the downtown area of Salem, a familiar figure answered the door. It was one of my regular passengers who worked at one of the many tattoo and piercing establishments that populated the city. Oregon seems to have an out of proportion number of tattoo and piercing businesses in relationship to its population, compared to the rest of the country. At least that was my observation after taking a cross country trip by train, in 2008, to the East Coast and Mid West. The man was about 30 years old, looked to be over 6 feet tall, must have weighed close to 300 lbs., was covered with tattoos and piercings, and dressed in black, with shoulder length hair.
“We’ll be out in a minute,” he told me, as he closed the door.
I returned to my cab and waited for about 5 minutes, until my regular passenger got in the front seat with me, and told me that someone else was coming. After another couple of minutes, a larger man than my passenger, who was also dressed in black with tattoos and piercing, got in the back seat.
“We’re going to the “Triangle Inn”, the new passenger said and asked “do you know where that is?”
“Yes,” I told him and started driving.
On the way there the two men were talking about the events of the day. It seems that the girlfriend of the man in the back seat just had her 4th child, and he was so stressed out by the birth and his girl friend’s demands that he was going out to get drunk. I soon found out that both men worked at the same tattoo shop doing both tattoos and piercings, and they lived in a communal house together.
“I’m sure it was mine!” The man in the back seat exclaimed. “When I looked in its eyes I knew.”
“DNA testing would tell you for sure,” the guy sitting up front with me said.
From their conversation I found out that my passengers and the new father’s girl friend were part of a group that held regular orgy’s. Without contraceptives fate controlled what resulted, and pregnancy was one of them. The man was upset because he really wasn’t sure if the child was his, and he was afraid of the possibility that it wasn’t so he balked at the suggestion of DNA testing.
When we got about half way there the new father began to complain about the way that I was going, claiming that in 16 years of living in Salem, he had never been on this street before. We were on 12th Street South East, near Hoyt at the time, and I was wondering if my passenger was serious, since we were on a main route. After I ascertained that he was serious, I answered him with the same unreasonable logic that he confronted me with.
“I lived Salem for 18 years before I became a taxi driver,” I told him, “and over the past two years, I’ve found out that I didn’t know the first thing about the way that the streets worked. What way do you usually take?” I asked.
“I’ve never been there before,” he told me, and I changed the subject to the fact that I have 7 children that I fathered with my one and only wife. He was impressed and we talked about raising children for the rest of the way, as we headed west on Hoyt. When we arrived at the Triangle, the guy up front paid me the $13.80 fare with $14.00, and let me keep the change.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Most nights have a dead period in them, as the ebb and flow of humanity diminishes into the vacuum that exists between daytime and night time, even on a Saturday night. I pulled into the vacant parking lot of “Vacuum World”, and parked across two parking spaces with my nose pointed towards the driveway leading onto South Commercial. I was feeling tired and welcomed the lull for a chance to put my seat back and close my eyes under the blinders of my “Yellow Cab” baseball cap. It was close to 9:00 PM and the bar crowd would start heading out any time, but with New Years, just a week past, and no respite in the bad economy, as job losses continued, it was hard to predict. I had the radio on but the music was little more than white noise to my ears, as I drifted off to that place that lies in between the conscious and unconscious mind, when suddenly there came a rapping on the driver’s window, that nearly made me jump out of my skin. I ripped the cap off my face and looked out the window to see a police officer standing outside with a flashlight in his hand, as I rolled down the window.
“Are you all right?” He asked.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I told him. “I was just relaxing while I was waiting for my next call.”
“I saw a reclining body that wasn’t moving, and this business is closed, so I couldn’t tell if you were dead, robbed or sleeping.” The policeman told me.
“Thanks for looking out for me officer,” I told him, “but I’m okay.”
After the policeman drove off, I sat up and began thinking about driver number 14, Michelle Howard, who was shot in the head and killed when she drove a fare from Bob’s books, when it was still on Portland Road, to Brooks, on Columbus Day, in 1998. The guy was just released from prison a couple of days earlier. The assailant claims that he didn’t know that the gun was loaded, and it accidentally went off when they hit a bump in the road. Howard just started her shift and she only had the $20.00 starting change that “Yellow Cab” requires. The prosecutor claimed that the defendant shot number 14 because he was angry about the lack of money, and also had suspicions about the possibility of a rape attempt. The guy only got 4 years, I found that out one night when I drove one of Howard’s former good friend’s, who told me. The deceased cab driver was a writing teacher who was gathering information for a book based on her taxi cab driving experiences.
Then there was the “Affordable Cab” driver that was shot in the head over the Memorial Day weekend in 2008. He survived and they caught the tweaking shooter with the same 38 that he used for his attempted murder. Back in 2006 driver number 41 had a heart attack while he was driving a passenger north on Verda Road, in Keizer. He pulled up to a stop sign and slumped over in his seat. The passenger had to call the dispatcher on the cab radio. Just last month a little before Christmas, driver number 16 had a heart attack and died in his cab while waiting for a call at Amtrack, early one December morning. Death comes to us all, and I’d rather meet it in the driver’s seat of my cab, than in a hospital bed. Then again, in my sleep at night, in my own bed would be okay too.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Back in 1971 I was an acid tripping hippie, who moved to Los Angeles, California from Detroit, Michigan and was swept into the Jesus movement revival that emanated from Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. I read the Bible like it was a best-selling novel and memorized as much of it as I could. I wanted to serve God more than anything else in the world, and dedicated as much time as I could to doing what I felt was God’s will in my life, by becoming completely immersed in the local church that I was part of. My heroes were people like George Mueller and Reese Howells, who started orphanages for homeless children, and Brother Andrew and Sergei Kourdakov who were fighting spiritual battles against Satan’s stronghold behind the then impenetrable atheist Communist Iron Curtain.
By the mid 1970’s, I attended Bible college and became a licensed and ordained Foursquare minister, and served as an associate pastor in the same inner city Los Angeles church that I was actively involved in. In the early 1980’s I moved my family to Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, and gave up on the ministry for a variety of reasons. Thirty years have passed since then, and now I’ve lived in Oregon longer than I had in California, and just as long as in my home state of Michigan. Although I worked in churches as a lay minister over the years, I never returned to the full time ministry, until 2004, when I began to drive a taxi cab.
I never intended it to be a return to the ministry, but once I began doing the job a taxi cab driver does, I realized that it was as much of a ministry as being the pastor of a church. The word ministry in the original Greek is “diakonia”, the same English word as deacon, which today is one who serves in the church. A deacon or minister serves the body of Christ the same way that Christ did, as a servant. The word “servant” comes from the Greek word “doulos”, and can also translated as slave. Richard Alpert, the Harvard LSD pioneer with Timothy Leary, after his spiritual rebirth in India, returned the USA, with his new name, Ram Das, which in Sanskrit means “Slave Of God”. So I realized that I had unintentionally returned to the ministry, and that the cab represented my spiritual rebirth, and I was as much a slave of God now, as I had been when my ministerial license was still current.
When a minister serves in the church, all the people come there in their Sunday best and with smiles on their faces. If the pastor is a gifted speaker, he may coax some of his parishioners to pour their hearts out to him, or each other, so prayers can be offered up or spiritual advice given. When a fare enters a taxi cab they bring their world with them, as it is happening at that moment in time, and present it to the cab driver.
Their world may be that of a drunk legless man, who has to be helped out of his wheel chair into the cab and driven home, while he tells you how he lost his legs from diabetes.
Maybe it’s a dark world, like for the guy who went blind after a stroke, or the woman who was born blind.
Maybe it’s a silent world, like for the students who attend the deaf school on Locust Street.
Maybe it’s a lonely world, inhabited by the people who hand me hundred dollar bill’s and ask me to just drive around and listen to their problems.
Maybe it’s the sick and screaming world of the people who can’t afford an ambulance to the Emergency Room.
Maybe it’s the poverty stricken world of the homeless people who ask for a ride to the mission.
Maybe it’s the world of the suicide failures that I pick up the psychiatric hospital.
Maybe it’s the world of the battered women that I help to escape from their abusers.
Maybe it’s the world of the released prisoners that I pick up from the jail and prisons.
Maybe it’s the world of the exotic dancers who have me wait for them, with the meter running, while they turn a trick at 3:00 AM.
Maybe it’s the world of the paraplegic whose wheelchair that I have to load in the cab smells like defecation.
Maybe it’s the world of the septuagenarian chain smoking angry woman who demands that I walk slowly in the pouring rain with her.
Maybe it’s the world of the drunk who vomits all over my cab.
Maybe it’s the world of me cleaning the drunks vomit.
Maybe it’s the man who soils his pants requiring me to place newspapers on the seat before he sits down.
Maybe it’s the world of the couple living together who are arguing over what the woman’s son is doing, and what her ex-husband is saying.
Maybe it’s the world of the cage fighter who is drunk out of his mind and wants me to drive him to the toughest bar in town.
Maybe it’s the world of the tweaker going to drug store for a twelve pack of syringes.
Maybe it’s the world of the methamphetamine manufacturer distributing his product.
Maybe it’s the world of the nurse going to work.
Maybe it’s the world of the organs that they have me transport from one hospital to the other.
Maybe it’s the world of the elderly man that I pick up at the emergency room who tells me about how he was shot on D-Day when he landed at Normandy.
Maybe it’s the world of the woman who tells me about raising her grand-daughter because of her daughter is addicted to crack.
Maybe it’s the world of the Mexican man who can’t speak a word of English and can’t tell me where he wants to go.
Maybe it’s the world of the person who complains about how much it costs to take a cab.
Whatever their world may be, it becomes the cab drivers world as well, at least for the next fifteen or twenty minutes, until they get to their destination. During this interim period the Holy Spirit fulfills its function by using the salt action of the spirit filled taxi cab driver. Not necessarily in word, since words are meaningless without action. Rather the fruit of the spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22&23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So when I drive people in my cab I don’t preach to them about accepting Jesus, instead I try to be Jesus to them.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The spiritual fabric of reality reveals its connections more succinctly to an observant cab driver than most other jobs outside of the investigative realm. Some night’s follow themes developed by archetypal stories that unfold through the lives and actions of fares. Last Friday night’s theme was “LOVE”. When I attended Bible college, during the mid 1970’s, one of my favorite topics to exegete and parse in the original Greek language was the English word “LOVE”. The highest and purest form of love was “agape”, which is the pure unconditional love of God, the kind that Jesus had, when he died on the cross to save mankind form its sins. On the other end of the love spectrum was “eros”, or erotic love, also translated as lust. Then there were “storge”, translated as familial love, and “phileo”, meaning brotherly love. Friday night I saw two incarnations of eros, that painted a pair of diametrically different pictures.
The first took place at around 7:00 PM, when a couple, who appeared to be in their late fifties, called for a cab at one of Salem’s finest Italian restaurants, where a bill for one to two hundred dollars, including wine and cocktails, is normal. On the drive to their home, where they had lived together for the past 36 years, they told me that they were just married. After 36 years of co-habitation they decided that it was time to finally legally get married. I didn’t ask why, but they told me that there were two reasons why they chose January 8 as the day for officially tying the knot. Their very first date was on January 8 and secondly it was Elvis Presley’s birthday. That way, they could wear Hawaiian shirts and play Blue Hawaii every year on their anniversary. They stopped at the store on the way to buy two bottles of champagne, one for tonight and one for brunch tomorrow morning. They were very romantic, and kissed and hugged periodically, while they continued to converse with me, until we arrived at their home. The woman paid the $17.00 bill and gave me a $5.00 tip.
The rest of the night was slow, and I knew that unless I copped a big fare, my take home would be low. With three other cab companies competing with us, the pie was getting sliced thinner every month. Then just after midnight I got a call for the west end of West Salem. It was a 37 year old brunette dressed in tight fitting sweat pants and an equally tight fitting tee shirt, that both showed off her hour glass figure. When she got in the cab she asked me –
“If I give you $100.00 will you wait for me outside West Side Station bar, with your meter running, until I come out, whether it’s five minutes or two hours?”
“Sure,” I told her, and she handed me a C-note.
On the way to the bar, she told me that her husband left her three months earlier, and this is the first time that she was getting out, since then. She said that she was hoping that her ex-husband would come by once in a while, but he never returned once. She spent New Year”s Eve putting together a thousand piece puzzle. She wanted to see if she could find somebody to take home with her for the night, but was nervous, which is why she hired me. When we arrived, she asked me how she looked, so I turned on the light, and saw her perfectly coiffeured hair and lightly made up angelic face. I told her that she could attract anyone from 21 to 70 years old. She said that she was only interested in the range from her age to about fifty. As she left the cab she wanted assurance that I would be waiting for her.
“Yes’ I told her. It was 12:45 AM, when she went into the bar. I sat in my cab with the meter running, while I was reading “East Of Eden”, by John Steinbeck, about Kate, Adam Trask’s murdering prostitute wife. A couple of guys tried to hire me to take them to “Stars” the strip bar on the east side, but I told them that I was hired with the meter running, so I called them another cab.
Around 2:15 AM, my passenger opened my back door and got in with a man who appeared to be in his thirties. She wanted to go to a store to get some Corona beer, so I pulled into the Plaid Pantry on Edgewater. The guy seemed to be a nice polite person, and she seemed to be happy with him, as they kissed and fondled each other as I drove them back to her house. She talked about her teenage son, and the guy asked questions about him by name. When we arrived, the meter was at $66.00, and as they exited the cab, she told me to keep the change.
“Thanks,” I told her, as she and her new boyfriend walked towards the door with their arms around each other.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Every city has its own way of dealing with homeless people. Here in Salem, Oregon they earn spending money by standing on street corners at busy intersections, or freeway off ramps, with cardboard signs, asking for a handout. Some of them, who occasionally take a cab have told me that they can bring in anywhere from one to three hundred dollars a day. Heck that’s more than a stripper makes on a bad day, and they don’t even have to take their clothes off.
One homeless woman that I used to drive, bragged to me how she didn’t pay rent for the past fifteen years because she lived in a tent behind “Costco”, down by Mill Creek, next to I-5, off Highway 22. I dropped her off in the middle of a December rainstorm one night, with a twelve pack of beer and two guys. That same area is where the homeless have one of their camps.
One night I drove a guy that I picked up at Winco, with a bag of burritos and a jug of wine for a party that was happening there. Later that night, at around 2:00 AM, I picked up another homeless man from the emergency room with a face that looked like it ran into a battering ram. The hospital was paying for his ride on their charge account with the cab company. When I asked him where he was going he told me to drop him off at the back Costco’s parking lot. On the way there my fare told me that everyone got drunk at the party they had, and a guy twice his size beat him up, because of an argument that they got in.
Then there was the homeless guy that I picked up one night, around midnight, in the early spring, when it was cool and dry, at Denny’s, on Market. He was sitting on a bench outside, with a sleeping bag, and three shopping bags, with handles. After I helped him load it all in the cab, he told me that he was going to the parking lot across the street, behind the Red Lion.
“Why don’t you save the money and just walk there?” I asked him.
“Don’t worry” he told me, “I’ll give you a tip. They told me that I could sleep in the bushes.”
When we arrived, the meter read $3.70, a dollar more than the $2.70 flag drop that we started at. He had me pull up the island next to the bus stop, where the bushes were. Then he took out the sleeping bag and unrolled it, between two rows of knee high bushes. After he arranged the shopping bags around the sleeping bag, he returned to the cab and asked me what he owed me.
“$3.70,” I told him.
He took a legal sized white envelope out of his coat pocket and opened it up. I could see currency of various denominations, and he pulled out a twenty dollar bill, handed it to me and told me to keep the change. My first reaction was to refuse the tip and return the money to him, but I remember how offended the elderly woman on welfare was, when I told her that she needed it more than me. I rack it up to Karma for the last time that I got burned, or the next time that someone asks me for a handout.
“Thanks” I told him as I took off.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
The emotional roller coaster that comprises a taxi driver’s shift, in the form of the question – how much will I make tonight? was never better illustrated than in the following back to back fares. It was the first Monday of the New Year, and it had been a slow weekend, after the subdued celebration that brought it in. The waning full moon was sometimes visible in the eastern night sky, when the rain clouds that brought the fine spray requiring my wipers every thirty seconds, subsided.
Around 9:00 PM, I picked up a fare at “Papa John’s Pizza” on Center, off Lancaster, who wanted to go to the mini-mart on Commercial and Mission, with a stop at the police station. He told me that he was picking up a confiscated Christmas gift for his daughter, that he wanted me to witness him giving it to her. As we drove he told me that he usually uses Affordable cab, and was stranded in the middle of nowhere by a cocaine addicted cab driver, after a $200.00 trip.
“After that I was picked up by a cocaine using cop,” he told me and continued, “After he arrested me we worked out a deal, where he let me go. The police don’t do that, but this guy was with the Sheriff’s department, and he should have taken me to jail and put me in the holding room, like they usually do.”
I was beginning to think that this guy was either on something or needed to be. We were on Court Street going past the capitol building, when my passenger told me that there was a city underneath the capitol mall, that was made up of 14th century wooden planks. It was a combination torture chamber and insane asylum, he insisted and looked at me sternly for agreement. I ignored him until we turned into the underground parking lot at city hall, where the police station was. Then my passenger said that he would be 15 minutes and to wait for him. I told him that the policy was that we needed to hold some money whenever a passenger left the cab with the meter running. He pulled out a half empty pack of Marboro’s, drew out a personal check for $100.00, that had a burn mark on it, and handed it to me.
“Don’t you have any cash?” I asked him. “We don’t accept personal checks.”
No he said, and then started asking me if I was an independent contractor, and I told him it didn’t matter, because I will not accept a check. Then he said that he wanted to go to the hospital in Corvallis, which is 35 miles south, because he was having a heart attack, unless I just wanted to call 911. Rather than making a scene by asking him to get out of the cab, since there was a police officer exiting his patrol car, I drove him to the mini-mart he originally wanted to go to, which was only a couple of blocks away. On the way there he demanded that I either take him to the hospital in Corvallis or call 911. When I reminded him that he didn’t have any money, he exploded in anger and said not to treat him like a child. Then he got out telling me to wait 10 minutes and the police would be here for me to talk to. My passenger went into the store and somehow convinced the clerk behind the counter to give him a cell phone, which he began talking on, as he glared at me out the window.
I picked up my microphone and called Erin, the dispatcher, “number 25 has a nut case that doesn’t have any money, and owes me $11.90”.
“Then get the emergency room for Sandra” she told me.
When I arrived at ER there was a middle aged woman, with what appeared to be a broken arm, in a sling standing outside waiting. When she got into my cab, she told me that she had to go to Portland, and I told her that I needed $100.00 up front, and she could pay whatever was additional on the meter when we got there. She handed me a hundred dollar bill and asked me to drive her as fast as I could to get her to Portland, so she could get away from Salem, because of all the bad memories. As we drove I asked her how she broke her arm and she told me that it happened while trying to open a bottle of Sprite. The twist off cap was on so tight that she snapped one of the bones in her forearm. Then she immediately said that some people are accusing her boyfriend of doing it, but he’s innocent she insisted. They gave her three percocets to kill the pain, so she was buzzing.
On the way there she asked if we could stop to get something to eat, so I decided to take my lunch break and we got it to go from Taco Bell, at the Brooks truck stop off I-5. After we ate, we drove in silence up to Portland, except for Sandra asking me couple of times how much farther it was. She wanted to go to a Shell gas station off Martin Luther King Boulevard, so we had to cross the Willamette River, to get to the the Rose Garden exit. She became deathly afraid and put her head between her knees, as we passed over the water. When we were back on land, she explained that bridges always terrified her. When I dropped her off the meter read $133.20 and she asked if it would be okay if she just gave me $30.00 more, and I told her okay. I got back to Salem at around midnight, and only had three more calls, totaling around twenty dollars over the remaining four hours of my shift.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
New Years Eve is the busiest night of the year, because of all the parties and traditional celebrations, and this year would be no exception. I was apprehensive about the night, since the moon was going to be full on top of everything else. However, what I didn’t realize, was that it was a blue moon as well. So I braced myself for an insane night of transporting drunken passengers to and from bars and parties. While I was waiting in the office for the day driver to come in with my cab, a couple of the drivers were talking with John, the swing shift dispatcher, before he took over.
Number 54 was talking about some nut that he drove once, who asked him the following question. “What would you do if I pulled a gun on you?”
He said that he responded by telling him “both of us would die, because I’d floor it.”
Then John added “ you have to let them see it in your eyes that you’re crazier than them.”
I hit the street a little after 4:00 PM, to begin my 12 hour shift, with a torrential downpour blotting out any chance of seeing the full moon. I knew that you didn’t have to see luna, to feel it’s effect, which was something that I learned years ago, when I finished my shift one morning. That particular night had been unusually strange, with bizarre episodes occurring all night, while a couple of inches of rain pummeled the valley. Then as I pulled into the cab lot, at the end of my shift, the rain subsided and the clouds parted to reveal a silver circle overhead.
At least there wouldn’t be freezing rain like there was last New Years Eve, sending cars and cabs careening into each other on ice glazed hills, in South and West Salem. All in all the night wasn’t bad, maybe the second full moon of the month cancelled out Luna’s power. My passengers were all well behaved and even docile, compared to the usual loud rowdy obnoxious drunks that comprised my New Years Eve fares. One year, when I had a van full of celebrants at the magic hour, they all pulled out horns and noisemakers, and at the stroke of midnight, when fireworks were exploding in the south western sky, my passengers all let loose in unison with an ear drum exploding barrage of noise. I nearly drove off the road, but this year my cab was empty as I sped towards my next call, in the south, while watching rainbow colored spider webs crawling across the blackness of the torrential midnight sky.
The night passed without event, until my last call, at 3:40 AM. Once again the pattern repeated itself, weaving itself into the fabric of my taxi driving career, with another memorable last call. For some reason, last calls are frequently the best, or most memorable of the night. I can’t remember how many times I would pick somebody up, just before or after I gassed up for the night, and they wanted to go to Portland, which is a $100.00 minimum. Other times, like the junkie going through withdrawal in my cab a couple of weeks ago, my last fare is the most memorable.
Tonight it was the latter category, but like the rest of the night, it was a subdued version of what could be a bad situation. When I arrived at the address Doty gave me in South Salem, there was a party still going on, and a young woman, in a red dress, who appeared to be in her late twenties approached me, as I walked towards the front door.
“I called for the cab,” she said. “We’ll be right there,” then she turned around and walked back towards the house.
I turned around and went back to the sedan that I was driving and sat there watching the activity on the porch in front of me. There were three young men standing there and one of them was jumping around. The woman in the red dress put her hand on the shoulder of the jumping man, and he stopped. There seemed to be some sort of discussion, when a car pulled up, and two young men got out and walked towards the house. At this point the man that the woman was talking to started jumping around again, like he was a boxer in a ring. I rolled down my window, and heard him shouting.
“I’ll take anybody on who has the guts to stand up to me!” At the same time he continued to pummel the air in front of him. Then he stopped and shouted to the house. “That goes for any of you chicken shit mother fucker’s in there. I’ll take anybody on.”
At that point the woman and two men started directing the haranguing harbinger of violence towards my cab. She opened the back door and began coaxing the man, who was her husband to get into the cab, while I waited. She’d get him in, and then he’d get back out and start yelling out his challenge to take anyone on. This went on, until I finally started the meter. At that point the woman managed to force the man into the back seat and close the door. Then she got up front with me, and told me their address on the East side.
As I started to drive, the man became alarmed because of something in the back seat. When I looked back, I saw the rubber molding that surrounds the door, to make it water tight, hanging inside the back seat. I became alarmed and drove up the curb before I stopped the cab, to see what happened. The woman said to ignore it, before her husband got upset, so I took off, and drove across town. The man in back would periodically threaten to beat me up, or kill me, but the woman would tell him to shut up and he would be quiet for a couple of minutes, until he started threatening me again.
When we arrived at their house, the meter read $22.90, and the woman told me to shut the meter off, so her husband wouldn’t see it, because it would make him mad that it cost so much. I immediately shut the meter off and she paid me the fare with a $5.00 tip. After they got out, I looked at the molding and managed to fit it back into the door without any trouble.