Sunday, February 28, 2010
“Hey Joe are you ready to hit the “Hong Kong House,” I said to the octogenarian playing checkers in the hallway next to the med nurse.
The frail figure turned towards me with a blank expression that turned into a smile as he recognized me and spoke with a weak voice, “I think that my bar hopping days are over # 25.
Joe was a regular when I first started driving a cab. He hit the bar every night 7 days a week, 364 days a year. He never went out on New Year’s Eve, because he didn’t like to drink with amateurs, he once told me. He lived in a house located inside the gates of a storage facility, that purchased all the land that he owned, back in the 1980’s, with the stipulation that he could continue to live in the house that he inherited from his parents.
He retired from the regular Army in 1976 after 30 years of service. He enlisted right out of High School, in 1946, right after WWII ended. He was a combat medic for 1 tour in Korea and 3 tours in Vietnam, and proudly wore his combat medic badge, on his Portland Trailblazer baseball cap, next to his silver star. He didn’t talk that much, but if you asked him questions he would always answer them.
Over the course of 4 years, I found out that he flew in a Huey medical evacuation helicopter in Viet Nam, where they would land in hot combat zones picking up the wounded and dead soldiers, to bring them back to base camp. After he was discharged from the Army in 1976, he went to school on the GI bill and got his CNA certification, so he could work in convalescent homes. When he turned 62 and started collecting social security he cut back to part time and fully retired by the time that he was 65. Since the house he lived in was paid for, and the storage company paid all his taxes, all he had to do was buy food and pay for utilities. Upon the event of his death, the storage company already had the money depostited in an escrow account willed to his remaining nephews and nieces, since he never married or had children.
Joe was into origami, so he would fold his taxi fare, in advance, into origami figures of one sort or another. Since he had an $8.00 flat rate, from his house to the bar, and back again, he knew in advance how much the fare would be, so he pre-folded a Hamilton. which included a $2.00 tip, for both trips. Sometimes he’d hand you an angel, other times it would be a dinosaur or an alien, but it was always a ten dollar bill. As the fare went up, when gasoline prices escalated, Joe continued to just give a ten spot, so the tip shrunk.
After he got pneumonia, in 2008, he ended up in the hospital, and has been living in a convalescent home, waiting his turn to enter the great void beyond, ever since. After the med nurse signed my charge slip, I told Joe goodbye and punched in the 4 digit code on the door release keypad, so I could get out.
Friday, February 26, 2010
There are times that I think to myself, “I have enough stories God, I don’t need any more.” Then another one happens. You would think that by this time I would have learned that it doesn’t do any good to suggest to God what He should do, but I’m a slow learner, I’m only 62. Some weekends there are an inordinate amount of jail releases, or maybe it’s just part of the same roulette wheel that supplies all the taxi cab driver’s fares. Anyway, this particular weekend gave me three jail releases who all went far enough to make it worth my while.
The first was a skinny Black man, who looked to be about 40 years old, that I picked up on Friday night around 11:00 PM. I picked him up at the Safeway downtown, and he wanted to go to Dayton, which is 20 miles out of Salem.
“Whenever I go out of town I need money up front,” I told him, “and Dayton is at least $40.00.”
He handed me $30.00 and said that it was all that he had, because he just got released from jail, but he had more money at his house. I took his money and called it in, as I headed towards across the Marion Street bridge. On the drive to Dayton he told me that he was arrested on a warrant for failing to appear in court for a traffic ticket that he contested.
“The cops broke in my front door,” he told me, “and they threw me on the floor and handcuffed my hands behind my back. I told them that they couldn’t treat me that way, but they just laughed and said that they had a warrant and could do whatever they wanted. Is that right?” He asked me, “can they really do that?”
I wasn’t sure whether to answer him, so I remained silent, which ended up being the right thing to do, as he continued questioning the legality of the arresting officers actions. I told him about one of the jail releases that I took to the impound yard one Monday afternoon, after she spent the weekend in jail. She got resisted arrest after being stopped for suspicion of drunk driving, after leaving a bar, at 5:00 PM, when she got the apartment keys from her roommate, at a bar. My story didn’t console him, but drove him deeper into despair, so I remained silent for the duration of the trip.
He directed me down a dark road, with no street lights. Every time that I drive a released prisoner down a dark road, my mind begins paint ugly pictures that I force myself not to see, while I continue driving. I asked him if he was sure that he had money to pay me the balance of the fare, since the meter read nearly $50.00.
“Yeah, I got the money,” he said. “Don’t worry I’ll pay you, I’m not a crook.”
He had me turn down a dirt road that led into a trailer park, and he had me stop in front of his trailer. He had to open the door with his key, so it didn’t look broken, like he said the police left it. He said that he would be right back, and closed the door to the trailer, but I could see inside after he turned on the lights, through the open blinds. After I watched him walk around in circles for 5 minutes, I knocked on the door and he told me to come in. I opened the door and he told me to sit down and asked if I wanted anything to drink. I told him that I need to head back, since we were backed up with calls. At the same time I was suspicious of being in his trailer, since he could easily rob or attack me. You never knew what to expect with a fare, and after 6 years of being a hack, I had passengers attack both me and other passengers. After a couple of minutes he pulled up the couch cushions and pulled out a torn $20.00 bill that had one corner missing. After he handed it to me I got in my cab, and headed back to Salem, still savoring the metallic taste of adrenaline.
Saturday afternoon, my first call was to pick up a release from the jail named Jenna Smijikowki. She appeared to be in her forties, had short blonde hair, was petite, dressed in a pantsuit with a heavy overcoat. She was going to North Salem, and since it’s SOP to collect up front from jail and prison releases, I asked her how she was going to pay and ran her credit card for $25.00. On the way to her house I found out that she got a DUI, and was married to a Polish man who was originally from Chicago. She didn’t want to talk, so the trip was silent, and when I got her to her house, which was nearly in Brooks, it came to nearly $35.00, so she gave me a $10.00 bill to cover the difference, and leave me with over a dollar tip.
Around 8:00 PM, I got another call for the jail. This time it was a guy in his forties, who weighed over 200 lbs, with a beard, wearing a short sleeve shirt with no jacket, in 40 degrees. He was heading to West Salem, and handed me a $20.00, when I told him that I needed money up front. He talked nonstop all the way to his home. He told me that his wife called 911 after she discovered a sawed off shot gun under the couch, that a friend had given him.
“I was trying to figure out what to do with it,” he told me. “Now I don’t have to worry anymore, since the police have it.”
He told me that this was the third time in the last year that he was in jail, but he wasn’t a bad person. He just ran into a string of bad luck and it would soon turn around in his favor. His fare only came to $16.10, but he told me to keep the change.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Saturday night just before Midnight I got a call to the gay bar, to pick up Sheila. As I was driving, I was thinking to myself, that this could be the same woman that I picked up a couple of other times over the past couple of years. If it was, it would be interesting, and lucrative, because the past two times, she handed me a $100.00 bill and had me escort her into a bar with a band, while the taxi meter ran. She was about 5’2’, about 110 lbs, in her fifties, and attractive, with short blonde hair wearing tight black slacks, blue and red flowered white blouse and a black leather jacket.
The first time she just had me sit there, so it would look like she had an escort. She told me that she was a business owner and money meant nothing to her, as she drank glasses of wine, while I had 7 Up. She got up and danced, both by herself and with others, after she failed to get me to accompany her. The second time started the same way, but when we got to the bar, she asked me to have sex with her, while the meter ran at her house. After I refused, we went into the bar, where she picked up a guy who was in his late 30’s, who just got divorced a month earlier, and was pining for his wife. Sheila was buying him drinks and dancing with him, while she did her best to seduce him, but he kept bringing up his ex wife and how much he missed her. We finally drove him home to Turner, and when I dropped Sheila off, the meter was at $162.40, and she handed me another $100.00 bill to go with the first, and she told me to keep the change, as she went into her upscale home, alone.
Tonight Sheila had someone with her, because when I found her, amid the thronging crowd dancing beneath the revolving disco ball, she told me that they would be right out. I waited in my cab, until two women came out, and got in back. Sheila gave me her home address, and the other woman who was much younger was her granddaughter, I found out. On the drive there, they largely ignored me and talked to each other like they were friends.
“I really had a good time,” the younger woman, whose name was Briana said.
“I told you that you would,” Sheila said. “Gay bars are the best places to go dancing, I always have more fun there, and sometimes I actually find someone to go home with. You have to be careful, because sometimes the next morning when you wake up, you wonder how you ended up with this person, but after a few drinks they all look good.”
Briana had a bad case of hiccups and I was starting to get concerned that she may get sick in the cab. She talked about how guys kept buying her drinks and she was drinking them to be polite. Sheila told her that she had to be careful not to mix different type of alcohol together, to avoid getting sick.
“You don’t want to mix hard liquor with beer, or wine,” she said. “Keep them all separate. Hiccups are an indication that you mixed the wrong things together. Hopefully you won’t get sick to your stomach. We’ll have you eat something when we get home,” Sheila told her.
They laughed like school girls, as I drove down the winding roads of the South Salem hills, until we arrived at Sheila’s home. Briana got out and walked towards the house, and in my headlights I could see that she was wearing fishnet tights, with a tight slinky black dress. Sheila paid me the $10.90 fare with a $20.00 bill that she handed me and told me to keep the change.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Sometimes I pick up people that I know, or knew at one time, but maybe haven’t seen in the past ten or fifteen years. Ronnie was one of those. Back in the day when I was still involved in the church, my family and I were part of a large congregation on the outskirts of Salem. People tend to always sit in the same general area, when they regularly gather, so we always sat in the same area that Ronnie sat in. I remember hearing stories about arguments over somebody sitting in the wrong seat, but I never actually witnessed it, since the days of buying your pew space are over, for the most part.
Ronnie has cerebral palsy, and is confined to a wheelchair. He is able to talk well enough to be understood, but is nearly paralyzed from the chest down, but can use his arms and hands to a degree. He can move himself into the cab, and can even hold communion in his hands, and put the elements in his mouth. The church we were all attending was a Pentecostal denomination, so they believe in healings, tongues, miracles and the whole shebang as listed in I Corinthians 12:10. Every Sunday at the end of the service they would invite people to come down to the Alter for prayer and the laying on of hands with an anointing of oil for healing. Ronnie would ask whoever was next to him, to push his wheelchair down to the Alter, so he could be prayed for.
On occasion, the Pastor would have us form prayer circles, of 3-6 people, where we would pray for each other’s needs, as we voiced them. Ronnie would almost always be in my group, and he would always have the same prayer request. “I want to be healed, so I can be normal, like everyone else.”
I haven’t attended that church in over 12 years, but when I first started to drive taxi, I was on the day shift, starting at 4:00 AM. Sunday mornings were as busy with people getting drunk on the Holy Spirit as Saturday night was with their alter egos imbibing liquid Spirits. I got a time call for 10:00 AM, at a residential address, where Ronnie was wheeled out in his wheel chair, by an elderly man, who was his father. After we helped him get in the cab, I collapsed the wheel chair and put it in the trunk of my sedan, securing it with a bungee cord. The elderly man told me that Ronnie was going to the church that I used to attend, for the 10:30 AM service, then he turned and went back into the house.
On the drive there I found out that Ronnie had a baseball card collection that he loved second only to Jesus. He said that he was wrestling with the idea of destroying the entire collection, because it might be the reason why God hasn’t healed him. Then he started to tell me some of his most prized cards. He had every card of Topps 1960 baseball card series, as well as cards from as far back as 1942. His prize was a signed Al Kaline 1959 card. When I told him that I was from Detroit and used to go see the Tigers play in the 50’s his mouth dropped. You’d think that I told him that I had Al Kaline and Harvey Kuenn over my house discussing how many home runs they hit in Briggs stadium.
“What do you think that I should do?” Ronnie asked me.
I decided to tell him the story of how, when I first became a born again Christian in 1971, I wrestled in my own mind whether or not my record album collection of around 300 classic 1960’s albums was getting in the way of my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
“By the Spring of 1972, I destroyed all my secular albums by beating them into fragments with a hammer,” I told him and continued, “I felt an immediate ecstatic release, however, in retrospect, destroying them didn’t bring me any closer to God, but maybe doing it was necessary for being able to focus on the path that God called me to follow. Today, I wish that I had those albums, for their historical worth, plus now that I write album reviews and music history, they would be invaluable. I had all 6 Fugs albums, along with Alice Coopers first 2 releases, before they got recognition with their 3rd,” I excitedly told him. “Then I had both Rotary Connection albums featuring Minnie Riperton, and of course all the Beatles and Dylan, along with local Detroit Bands like Iggy and the Stooges, The MC5, SRC, Bob Seeger System, Third Power, Amboy Dukes, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and The Frost, to just name some.”
“Faith is a funny thing,” I told Ronnie. “Even people who don’t believe in God, believe in faith, because it requires you to believe in some sort of power or energy that you are part of, that is greater than you. The author of Hebrews, whether it’s Paul or Priscilla, said that ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ (NASB) I know stories of people who have achieved incredible goal by using faith. I don’t think that I could have achieved half of what I had to, if it were not for faith, faith in God and faith in myself to do it. However, the kind of faith that you’re talking about is more than a mental change, it requires the direct touch of God, on your physical body, to reverse your disease. So I don’t think that destroying your baseball card collection would get you healed any more than keeping it would prevent it. But then that’s my opinion, you have to do what you feel the Lord wants.
When we arrived at the church, Ronnie looked at me like he was in a daze. After I took his wheel chair out, and told him that it was $8.70, he snapped out of it, and opened his hand which contained a folded square of bills including a five and four one’s. After I helped him into his wheel chair he told me. “I just want to be normal, like everyone else.”
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Being a freelance journalist when I’m not driving my taxi cab influences how I see my job. I may be driving people around, for a living, but I’m also looking for stories. Sometimes I carry a tape recorder, sometimes I jot down frantic notes and sometimes I just rely on my memory, but whatever the case may be, I take it all in. Then over time it oozes back out in the form of blog entries. Every so often I drive other taxi drivers, who drove all over the world, from Moscow and Mexico City to New York and New Orleans. There is always solidarity between members of a common community, and taxi cab drivers are no exception. We all share the same common experiences with transporting humanity, and are happy to share our adventures with each other.
Manuel is a regular that I have driven a hundred times over the years. One night I picked him up at Von’s Corner, one of the roughest bars in town, with his bloodstained shirt all torn and hanging out. After he got in the cab he gave me his address, and as I started to drive he told me that he used to be a taxi cab driver in Mexico City.
“One time I picked up this guy,” he told me, “who pulled a gun out and told me to give him all my money. All taxi cab drivers in Mexico carry guns, because they get robbed all the time. I had my 38 pointed at him while I came to a stop and took his gun out of his hand. Then I made him undress, and I left him standing naked in the middle of the street.”
Another time I got a call to Fred Meyers in Keizer, where I picked up a guy with a load of groceries. I drove him to him tractor trailer that was parked on a gravel road. On our drive he told me that he had been a taxi cab driver in New York City for 5 years, during the 1970’s, after he returned from Viet Nam, where he was in the Marines. His uncle owned a medallion and shared his cab with his nephew on his off time.
“One Sunday morning,” he told me, “I picked up a couple of Puerto Rican guys who had me drive them out to the Bronx, next to the subway yard by a field. When we got there one of them pulled out a gun and told me to get out of the cab. I got out and they took the keys and threw them in the middle of the field, then they made me get on my knees and pull my pockets inside out. After they took all my money they were going to shoot me in the head, but begged them to let me live. They just laughed and as the guy with the gun was ready to shoot, I put up my hand, and he shot me through the palm, and ran off. I flagged down a cab that was driving by, and had him drive me to the emergency room. When we got there, I didn’t have any money, since I was robbed, so he called the cops, who tried to arrest me, until I convinced them that I was a robbed taxi driver. After that I quit driving cab.”
After I got him to his address, he gave me a $4.50 tip, even though the fare was only $5.50. That’s one thing about people who tell me that they were taxi cab drivers, if they tip, I believe them, if they don’t, they’re liars.
Another time I picked up a guy at Greyhound who used to drive cab in Tacoma, Washington. He told me that one night he was driving a guy who had him pull into a dark alley and then pulled out a gun. “He told me to get out of the cab, and I did, then he took all my cash and told me to start walking away from the cab and not to look back. I looked back and he shot me in the stomach. I collapsed and somebody found me and called 911. After that I quit driving taxi.”
The best story was from an Los Angeles taxi driver, who had been robbed two times previous, by black passengers. So he decided that he would begin racial profiling and not drive black passengers any more. One day in the early 1990’s, when he was sitting at LAX, a well dressed black man with a brief case got in his cab and handed him a $100.00 bill and told him to take him to an address by the 6000 block of Central. It was 2:00 AM, but the cash and manicured passenger calmed the driver’s fears. Then when they arrived at their destination on Central, the fare pulled out a gun and made the taxi driver empty his pockets and strip naked. Then after he took the cab keys, he cut the microphone wire to his radio and walked off, leaving the driver stranded in the worst area of L.A., during the middle of the night. The cab driver waited in his cab for over an hour, thinking that the police would drive by and help him, but not one car came by. So around 3:15 he walked, butt naked down the first residential street that he came to and began banging on doors. He didn’t get a response until he banged on the door of the 4th house. When he told his story, a phone was shoved out the door, which he used to call the cab office, who sent a cab to pick him up.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
There are some nights that driving a taxi cab is actually fun, and tonight was one of them. It was a night with the usual winter torrential downpour at 49 degrees, where I was cruising the streets in a toasty warm car and listening to the radio, as I watched the colored lights of the city and traffic streak by. My passengers were all either pleasant or interesting and even the potential problems, like Marvin, the Native American retired Air Force pilot, with occasional temporary leg paralysis, was able to walk today, even without his cane which he lost.
Around 7:00 Pm, I picked up a guy at the “Rack & Cue,” who looked to be in his late fifties. When he saw my copy of Steinbeck’s “Grapes Of Wrath,” began talking about how he was an avid reader, and the 25 point system that he used to rate books. He said that he always read, even when he was drinking at the bar, and he would bring a pair of 2X reading glasses with him.
“Some people call me a genius,” he told me, “because I can read and assimilate ten thousand words a minute.”
The book that was at the top of his list was “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, but then he said that it was also rated by the Library of Congress as the most important book written in the 20th century, to understand America. He also recommended “The Fountainhead” by Rand, and then I threw a few books out, including Steinbeck’s “Grapes Of Wrath” and “East Of Eden” as well as “From Here To Eternity” by: James Jones, who he also considered important. He said that he read all genre’s including horror and science fiction. He considered Stephen King’s “The Stand” to be the best horror novel ever written. He mentioned Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy” and said that Larry Niven’s “The Mote In God’s Eye” was the greatest science fiction book ever written. I dropped him off at the Liberty Spirit, and it was the best fare of the night, so far, along with a $3.00 tip.
My next fare was a music teacher on Nina Street in South Salem, who wanted to go to Walmart. On the way there Nowhere Man by the Beatles was playing on the radio, and he commented on how much of a Beatles fan he was. I told him that Nowhere Man was the first Beatles song that I actually liked, because I didn’t know that it was a Beatles song. By the time that the Beatles came out with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” when I was smoking pot in the Army, I was a hard core fan.
“It was like that with U2 as well,” I told him. “The first time that I heard With Or Without You, off the “Joshua Tree” album, I didn’t realize who was performing the song, and I loved it. After that, I was a U2 fan, just like This led into a discussion about Dylan, who I didn’t fully appreciate, until I found out that most of the song’s that I had in my record collection, like Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want To Do and It Ain’t Me Babe, were originally written and performed by him.
“When Dylan became a ‘born again Christian’ I was working as an associate pastor, of an inner city church, in the North East Los Angeles Barrio, of Highland Park,” I told him. “He was entering my world, and I already knew how he operated along with his creative pattern, so I predicted what he would do, to the consternation of one of the church elders, who balked at my prescient prophecy. It was 1979, and I told him that since Dylan was being criticized for not being explicit enough in his expression of faith with “Slow Train Coming,” that he would next come out with an album that would leave no doubt about his devotion to Jesus. Then he would release an album that would merge Christianity with the world, and then he would return to secular music.
When “Saved” was released, in 1980, I was living in rural Oregon, but I smiled with satisfaction when I played it. The following year, I was living back in Los Angeles when “Shot Of Love” came out, containing both Property Of Jesus and Lenny Bruce. By the time that Infidels was released, I was living in Oregon again, but my prediction came true. I told my passenger that back in 1971, when I first moved to Los Angeles, from Detroit, Michigan, I destroyed my extensive record collection, of some of the best music put out in the 1960’s, after I became a “born again” Jesus freak. He told me that he was also a “born again” Christian, and had destroyed or given away his record collection twice.
Around 10:00 PM, I picked up a young female at the Red Lion, who was returning to Salem on the HUT shuttle from PDX. She had been in San Diego, California over the weekend for a wedding. She was originally from Washington state, near Seattle, and was attending Willamette University, here in Salem. She was majoring in Rhetoric. I told her that it seemed that half of the students that I drove, who attended Willamette, told me that they were majoring in Rhetoric.
“Exactly what is rhetoric, and what kind of a job can you get with a degree in it?” I asked.
“You can get a job in the media, it’s a part of communications,” she told me. “You can work in television, film, politics or anything that requires public speaking or idea persuasion. Sometimes it’s called propaganda.”
“Back in the old days, during the ‘Cold War,’” I told her, “the word propaganda, always referred to what the Communist’s were saying.”
Around Midnight I picked up another returning Willamette student, who arrive on the HUT shuttle. This was unusual, since it meant that they both missed a day of school. This young woman, was returning from her home in Hawaii. She was of Japanese decent and was attending Tokyo International University of America, at Willamette, where she studied Japanese culture and business. I told her how my kids were impacted by Japanese culture by everything from Pokemon to Anime. She laughed and gave me a $2.00 tip when she paid by credit card.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Overall it was a relatively uneventful weekend of driving taxi. Both Friday and Saturday were busy, and booked close to $300.00 each night, along with a total of over $100.00 in tips. The way that I determine whether an episode or passenger is worth including in my blog, or entering in my journal, is by the emotional impact that they make on me, or if I remember them the next day. Sometimes the night is too hectic to try and write journal entries, unless I force myself to, so I just do my job. On those nights I put my memory on auto pilot and wait until it plays itself back, the next day after I wake up. Sometimes the night’s memories can seem uneventful, but as the dross floats to the surface, there remains a story, or a connection, between passengers or incidents.
Around 9:00 PM, on Saturday night, I was driving the number 44 van, when I got a call to a nice house in South Keizer. I sat out front and waited until 3 people got in my cab. An attractive woman who looked to be in her mid 40’s sat up front with me, while a couple who appeared to be in their mid 29’s sat in back. The younger couple were the woman’s daughter and spouse. It was the older woman’s birthday, and they were going to Copper John’s downtown to celebrate. On the way there we talked about movies that they had recently seen and the one that they just watched was fresh in their minds, was “Pretty In Pink”. It was the coming of age movie for the mother, who shared it with her daughter. When we arrived at the bar, the woman up front paid me and gave me a $3.00 tip.
“If you need a cab later,” I told her, “ask for Number 25.”
An hour later I got a call to “Copper John’s,” and I thought that it might be the same group, but it was three women, who appeared to be in their early 30’s. One sat up front with me, and two sat in back, when they told me that they were going to the South Liberty Bar & Grill. The South Liberty Bar is one of the hot spots in Salem, owned by the Beamer family, who own a few other bars as well. After we started driving one of the women in back asked me what my name was, and when I said Bob, they all shrieked and said, “no, anything but Bob.”
“I guess that you must have had a bad experience with someone named Bob,” I told them, “how about Robert?”
“No!” They said, “it has to be something different.”
Suddenly I remembered my alter ego name, Trevor. When you spelled Robert backwards, it read Trebor, so I said, “just call me Trevor.”
They all liked Trevor and began to put their hands all over me, as I continued down the street, then as I entered the parking lot of the South Lib, the woman up front with me asked me to guess the age of the woman in back who was celebrating her birthday. I realized that I would be in trouble if I guessed too high, so I tried to weasel out of it by saying that it was dark and I was looking at her in my rear view mirror, but that didn’t work. I guessed that the woman up front with me was in her early 30’s, so I said 29, they all began cheering. The woman up front paid me and gave me a $5.00 tip, as she told me that the birthday girl was 31 today. After the other two women got out, the woman, whose birthday it was put her hands around my neck and kissed me repeatedly as she thanked me for guessing that she was younger than she was.
They reminded me of another group of women that I drove from Cokie’s Landing to the South Liberty Bar & Grill, on Friday night. Nobody was celebrating a birthday, but they wanted to know my name, and when I said Bob, the woman up front, with me, who had some Hispanic blood in her, said “Roberto, you are Roberto.”
“Yeah, you can call me Robert if you want,” I said.
“Roberto, your name is Roberto,” my passenger insisted.
So I agreed with her and she gave me a $5.00 tip. Around 1:00 AM, I got a call for the South Liberty Bar & Grill, to pick up some people who asked for me. I wasn’t sure exactly who it was, since I dropped off more than one group, plus other people sometimes ask for me. It ended up being the first trio, of the woman in her mid 40’s going out for her birthday with her daughter and son in law. They were going back to the house in South Keizer, but wanted to stop at a 7/11 on the way, which we did. The woman whose birthday it was, had an okay time, but said that she really didn’t fit in the bars that they went to, which were a much younger crowd. When I dropped them all off at my starting address, the woman gave me a $5.00 tip.
One of my last fares of the night was, a group of Mexican young people, who looked to be in their early 20’s. I picked them up at a house party in the downtown area and drove them to the apartments on Silver Park, off Silverton Road. As I drove them they talked in Spanish, with some occasional English. We passed a couple of Sheriff’s cars, who had a guy pulled over, just West of Lancaster. One of the guys got out on the corner of Silverton and Lancaster, while I waited for the light. When I arrived at their apartment, they paid me and the female asked me what my name was.
“Bob,” I told her. Then I thought better of it and said “Roberto, my name is Roberto.”
They all laughed as they got out, and the guy who paid me, gave me a $1.00 tip.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
As the economy has grown worse, rather than better, gambling has run rampant. I drive thousands of people, thousands of miles, each year, mostly on the streets of Salem, so I get to see the big picture, and know what businesses open and close. Some bars have changed ownership 3 or 4 times in the past 6 years, but they keep reopening. Then, along with the bars, which all have video poker machines and keno in them, are a couple dozen Deli’s, like Joe’s, Dee Dee’s or Cooper’s, which, also have keno and video poker machines, and most have opened in the past 2 years. The cab company lost some gambling business because of the bus line offering bus rides out to the casino, for only $5.00, instead of $70.00 by taxi. Believe it or not, there were people who took a cab out to the casino, regularly
One of the regulars who took a cab out to Spirit Mountain casino, almost weekly was a double divorced middle aged legal secretary, named Glenda, who lived in a mobile home park. She was originally married to a charismatic pastor of a church, who was having regular affairs with female parishioners. After they got a divorce she married a State police officer, who was faithful, but had other issues, and divorced her after he retired. Now she stayed single and spent her free time involved in a casino ministry.
“The reason why I go out to the casino,” she told me, “is because there are a number of people that go there that I minister too. It’s like having church, because we all have regular spots at the slots and video poker machines, and pray for each other’s needs, while we gamble. I have one woman, who is in a horrible abusive marriage, and she comes to the casino to escape. Then there is an elderly couple who have wayward grandchildren that they have me pray for. I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as I walk in the front door. One time when I didn’t go to the casino for nearly a month, I found out that one of my parishioners committed suicide, after they lost their house and their divorce was finalized. That was when I promised God that I would do everything in my power to come out, at least once a week, and God is faithful to somehow miraculously provide the money for me to fulfill my promise to him.”
One time I got a call to pick Glenda up, out at the casino, and when she got in my cab, she told me that she didn’t have any money, but would write me a check. When I told her that the company didn’t accept checks, she assured me that the check would be good. Every time that I have ever accepted a check, it’s been a problem, and if a check bounces, I get stuck with a $20.00 penalty fee, from my bank, plus losing the fare. Sometimes when I call them, the number is disconnected, and they don’t even live at the check address anymore. In the best case scenario, I have to become a bill collector and go back to their house and knock on their door. Then there are the rare times that the person leaves an envelope with the money in it at the cab office, but no matter what happens, checks are a problem. The solution to not having to pay the penalty, is going to their bank to cash the check, or at least see if there are sufficient funds to do so.
Since she said that she didn’t have a debit card, and we had talked about spiritual things all the other times that I drove her, I was forced to become a hypocrite, or possibly eat the $60.00 fare. I chose the latter, and the next day, the bank told me that there were insufficient funds in her account. After leaving her phone messages for the next two weeks, the dispatcher sent me to her address, where she gave me $125.00 to cover the money that she owed me, plus have me drive her back out to Spirit Mountain casino, and leave me with a $5.00 tip. Later when I was talking to Driver #1, he told me that she used to be his personal fare out to Spirit Mountain, until she burned him a couple of times. He always collected, but it’s a hassle that you eventually get tired of.
I’ve driven some big winners, home from the bar, like the time that I picked up a guy at Player’s Lounge, who just won $4,000.00 playing video poker. He lived over by felony flats, near the main post office, and on the trip there he bragged about how smart he played the machines to win today. Then he confessed that he owed over $50,000.00 on his credit cards, that he lost gambling, so today’s winnings wouldn’t really help too much. When we arrived at his address, the meter was at $9.90. He pulled out wads of cash from his pockets in the form of $100.00, $50.00, $20.00 and finally a $10.00 bill.
“Keep the change,” he told me, as he handed me the ten spot.
“Thanks,” I told him, as I thought to myself, “maybe I should give him his dime back and tell him that he needs it worst than I do, like number 44, told me that he once did.”
One night I was sitting in front of the Greyhound station, waiting for the buses to come in, when a guy who just arrived in town, approached me to see if I was available. After I loaded his luggage and got his destination in West Salem, we started off. He was coming to visit his brother he told me. Then he told me that his brother’s wife had accrued over $80,000 in credit card debt, playing video poker, on line, on her home computer. When we arrived at his brother’s house, it was dark, but the front picture window curtains were still open. As we pulled into the driveway, we could see a woman sitting at a computer, in the living room, playing video poker.
Friday, February 12, 2010
“Did you read about the guy who jumped off the roof of the three story Salem parkade?” My passenger asked me.
I tried to recall if I had or not, but before I could respond he started to tell me all about it. “Three years ago I lost my job, my visitation rights for my little girl and my wife had just finalized our divorce. I wanted to die, so I threw myself off the top of the parking lot, but all I did was break my arm and leg and cause a bunch of internal damage.”
I just picked him up at the emergency room, where a nurse wheeled him out in a wheelchair, as she rolled her eyeballs, when she saw me waiting. This guy was a real flake, with a demented world view. Later, I found out that number 42 was friends with his mother, but it made it no easier to deal with him. Tonight the hospital was footing the bill, which the nurse gave me a signed charge slip voucher for.
“I broke my arm in 14 places,” he told me. “My leg was nearly shattered, but they managed to reconstruct it with pins and by keeping me in traction for a month. Now I have to go in to have my gall bladder removed. I wish that I had died.
Suicide is a hot potato, when it comes to having an objective discussion about it, and the thing is, even the Bible doesn’t really condemn or condone it. The five examples that come to my mind when I think about it are Abimelech, Sampson, Ahithopel, Zimri and Judas. They were all in a bad way physically, mentally, spiritually or all three.
When I pick up suicide attempts that are released by the psychiatric unit, they usually have a signed voucher, so I don’t have to worry about collecting, when I get them home. Then almost every time that I pick someone up there, they start telling me about what happened. I guess that trying to kill yourself, purposely, or accidentally makes you want to talk about it. After all it is a life altering experience.
The worst case that I saw unfold before me, took place over a two year period, beginning shortly after I began driving cab in 2004. The first time that I picked the woman up was in the early afternoon, and she had just purchased a dozen crystal punch bowls, that I had problems fitting in the Dodge Spirit, that I was driving. As we drove to her domicile, she was reticent, and I finally gave up on conversation. When I arrived at her address, in a large apartment complex, she had me carry everything up to her place, on the second floor. When I walked in the door, it looked like a warehouse, with boxes and clothing stacked and strewn everywhere. After I brought it all up, she asked me to wait for her, so I could driver her to the court house downtown. Then when she came out, she was in high spirits and talked nonstop, as we travelled downtown.
“Don’t you just have to go out and buy yourself something, just to do it, once in a while?” My passenger asked me.
“It depends on whether I have the money to buy it, and need it,” I responded.
She ignored me, and began telling me, “I love this time of the year, fall is my favorite season.”
As we drove she asked me questions, and found out that I was a freelance photographer. She wanted to set up an appointment for a shoot in Bush Park, but first she said that she needed to get back in shape. She said that she used to swim laps at the YMCA, but had slacked off the past couple of years. She had a charge account with Yellow Cab, and paid with a voucher
I drove her many times after that and she remembered that I was a freelance photographer and brought it up a few times. Then one time in December 2006, I picked her up in the downtown mall parking lot. When she got in the cab, her eyes were glazed and she could barely give me her address. It was different from last time and was in West Salem. When I got her there, she paid on a charge voucher, and acted disoriented when she exited my cab. The next week there was a photocopied notice on the bulletin about her being missing, and reward offered for information. Three months later there was a newspaper clipping on the bulletin board about her death. Her bloated body washed up on the banks of the Willamette River in March 2007. Memorial services would be held the next week at the same Catholic Church that I used to pick her up at, when I worked the day shift, on Sunday.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
“Do you believe in God?” My passenger rhetorically asked.
I learned that my passenger’s questions were rhetorical, the hard way. That is, I responded, once. He’s a regular that I drive every 6 months or so, and every time that I drive him, it’s from a bar or lounge, usually after midnight, when he was drunk. How drunk was hard to say, except that he was pissed off. Not the threatening obnoxious kind of anger that forced you into a confrontation, but just a constant flow of speech that always began in a calm reasonable tone of voice, and gradually escalated until he was excitedly talking about whatever the subject of the day was. One time he was talking about marriage and companionship, another time he talked about the economy and the threat of losing his job, today it was religion. He is of Oriental heritage, and looks like an average person with no unusual characteristics. He’s about 5’10”, weighs about 160, is clean shaven and keeps his hair short and neat, and wears average clothing. Everything about him is average, except his angry drunken tirades. Tonight I picked him up at Big Shots, one of the biggest dive bars in Salem, where I direct anyone looking for trouble.
“Jesus was God,” he explained and continued, “so if you believe in Jesus you believe in God. None of us is worthy of untying the shoes of Jesus, but he wore sandals, didn’t he? Yeah, back then they dressed differently, but they probably still dress the same, where the Arabs live in Palestine. Do you think that there will ever be peace in the Holy Land?” Then after a minute of silence he angrily said, “there can be no peace until the prince of peace comes. At least that’s what my pastor says, and he knows what the fuck he’s talking about, because he graduated from seminary. He can read Hebrew and Greek, and explained how the world will end from studying the books of Revelation, Daniel and Ezekiel.”
I found it interesting that he was so well versed in the Bible, and was almost tempted to engage him in conversation, but I thought the better of it and let him continue.
“None of us is worthy of standing before the Father,” he explained and asked, “do you think that you are worthy? Well you’re not. None of us are. Me included. This whole world could be destroyed by a meteor or comet and we would deserve it. Look what we’ve done to the planet and each other. Jesus Christ is our only hope, he is the answer to all of mankind’s problems. At least that’s what my pastor believes, or says he believes. Gee, I hope that he believes what he’s saying. What if he didn’t really believe any of it? What if he’s just acting like he believed, because he had to, too keep his job? What if he thought it was all bullshit, invented by some fiction writer trying to make a fast buck with a new religion a couple of thousand years ago? What do you think?” He asked me.
The air got heavy with expectation, as I realized that he wanted me to respond this time, so I said, “those are interesting points.”
“What do you know?” He asked, “have you graduated from Bible college or seminary? You’re agreeing with me because you want a tip. You cab drivers are all the same
I was tempted to tell him that I did graduate from Bible college, but thought better of it, so I listened to his harangue until we finally arrived at his place, where he paid me and gave me a $1.00 tip.
Last Monday night I picked up a guy at the Super 8, who was going to the Travel Lodge on State Street, that was seething with anger as soon as he entered my cab. He looked to be about 60 years old with a short closely cropped beard, and a regular haircut with salt and pepper hair, weighing about 150 lbs., at 5’5”, with a plaid shirt, blue jean jacket and black levi’s.
“Oregon has more fat people living in it than any place I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Doesn’t anybody here care about the way that they look and the health problems that obesity causes. I hate this place, and Salem is the worst city in the entire state. Of course I can understand that with half a dozen prisons, jails and then the mental institution it’s got a fountainhead of new debris.”
We were driving by the State mental hospital, which was currently undergoing renovation, as his tirade coincided with it, so I decided to try and mellow him out with a change of subject. “They filmed “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” right here at the State mental hospital. In fact I drive a lot of the workers, that were extra’s in the movie, and are now either retired or doing different things. I almost always pick them up at Noble’s on Center and 17, just down the street. One guy who is around 80 now, tells me the same story every time that I pick him up, about the footage that contained him ending up on the cutting room floor, and Jack Nicholson being an asshole.”
That was the wrong thing to say, because it only changed the direction of his anger. “He was absolutely right,” he said, “Jack Nicholson is an asshole. One time when my sister was at a party in Aspen that he was at, he locked her in a trunk for 3 hours. I found out that my passenger was a native Cajun, from New Orleans, Louisiana, who moved to Colorado, in the late 1970’s, and moved back to Mardi Gras city, just before Katrina hit.
Then he ranted and raged about Jack Nicholson, until we arrived at the motel. At that point he apologized for complaining so much, and gave me a $5.00 tip. Then there’s the time that I drove an enraged passenger who punched me in the face and exploded the glassed off my face, but then that’s another story.
Monday, February 8, 2010
While I was driving on Friday night, I looked for my next blog entry to occur, and at the same time I searched my memory for stories that already took place. With hundreds of pages of journal entries from the past 6 years, I have enough memory triggers to finish my 100 chapters to complete my taxi book. However, I suddenly had a brainstorm, as I was jotting down information about an interesting passenger. What if I wrote notes about every fare for an entire night, from the first, to the last, to show how a night develops, and chronicle, the way that each night develops its own theme, which is directly influenced by a multiplicity of factors, including the time of year, local events and most importantly the zeitgeist. So the following are the slightly edited entries that I made, as I waited at red lights, in parking lots, while waiting for fares or even driving on the straightaway, occasionally. The entry may be longer than normal, since I had a total of 26 fares for the night.
I hit the street a few minutes before 4:00 PM, driving number 77, the Buick lesabre sedan, with leather upholstery. It was raining and about 45 degrees, when I called in and got sent to a hair salon in Keizer, where I picked up a 90 year old woman who got her hair done. I drove her home for $5.00, plus a$1.00 tip, as she talked about how hard it was to depend on taxi’s and other people, after driving her whole life. My next call was at the Fred Meyers in Keizer, where I picked up a guy in a wheelchair with a medical dog. After struggling he got in the front passenger seat and his large white dog got in back. On the way to his apartment, off Cherry Ave., he told me that he was paralyzed in 1977 when a friend that he was riding with rolled his car, and my passenger’s neck was broken. Now he needs shoulder replacement surgery, because of overusing his arms to move around. His fare was $5.00 with a $2.00 tip and a neighbor teenager took out the wheelchair and carried in his groceries while I ran his debit card.
I picked up an elderly woman, who was in her 70’s, in North Keizer and drove her to the Red Lion, on Market for a 60 year anniversary party for some friends of hers. We talked about the current divorce rate and the one parent families that create progeny that never saw a complete working family with both father and mother. She handed me a $20.00 dollar bill and said to keep the change for the $15.20 fare. At 5:14 PM, I picked up a woman and three children, aged 10 – 16, who had 2 shopping carts, one with food and one with bricks. After loading everything in the trunk, we drove to her house, and on the way I told her the story of how we overloaded a trailer over 3 times when we moved from Bakersfield, California to Detroit, Michigan in 1984, when the trailer axle broke in Anderson, Indiana. Her fare came to $11.00, and she gave me a $2.00 tip, while her kids and I unloaded the trunk.
At 6:00 PM, I picked up the librarian, who regularly takes a taxi to her home in West Salem, and she told me a joke, as she usually does. “Why did the chicken cross the playground?” She asked, and answered after I shrugged my shoulders, “To get to the other slide.” Then I headed into the deep West to pick up a guy and his two kids, to take them to a home in the South West, off River Road. On the way there we talked about movies and his son asked me if I ever saw Star Wars. The guy worked in flooring, in Portland, and said that Blockbuster video stores all over Oregon were closing, and that a year from now we would be looking back to this time as the good times. He handed me a twenty for his $17.00 fare and said to keep the change.
At 7:00 PM, I picked up 4 guys, in the downtown area, who were going to the “Alice In Chains” concert, at the Armory, by the fairgrounds. On the drive there we talked about how the band recovered from Layne Staley’s drug overdose death, and they were interested in how the stage show would compare, now. It was still raining and they gave me $15.00 for the $11.10 fare. I was dispatched to the Super 8 Motel, but nobody was there, so Erin the dispatcher sent me to the Shilo Inn, where I picked up 3 guys who were going to the Alice In Chains concert. I told them that the traffic was backed up and it would take us 30-40 minutes to get there, if I took the regular way. However, if I took a roundabout way, that would cost $3.00 more, I could get them to the front door. They agreed and gave me a $10.00 when we got there. Next I picked up a group of guys from the Red Lion, and took them to the concert with the same results. Finally I picked up 3 young women, at Newport Bay, who were going to the concert. I told them the same story about the traffic and they said go the best way. One of them said that she thought it would be fun drive around listening to the radio, while you were making money. I told her it was, but that sometimes you had to drive people that you couldn’t wait to get rid of. When I dropped them off at the front door they gave me a $10.00 tip as well.
I got the call to pick up one of our regulars, Carl, who went from Gepetto’s to Michaelangelo’s, to have a few drinks, and play video poker, 7 days a week. Carl is Viet Nam vet, who sometimes tells interesting stories. Today, because of the brouhaha over the “Alice In Chains” concert at the Armory, Carl began to talk about the Rolling Stones. He said that he thought that Mick Jagger was one of the ugliest human being alive, and that Keith Richards didn’t have a memory. I told him about the time that Larry Norman told me about Mick Jagger’s million dollar book deal, that he returned the money after he couldn’t remember enough to write an autobiography. The next call was for a regular who was going to Players Lounge on his night off. Then I shot North to pick up a Black lady at an apartment complex, who wanted to go to the North Walmart.
After that I went East, and Erin sent me to the HUT shuttle. On the way there I stopped at Taco Bell and got 2 burrito’s, that I ate before the bus came in. I got number 49 mad at me, since he was there first, because I parked in front of him, even though I was the first cab called. I may have to apologize, but I won’t see him again after tonight, until next Friday. The elderly lady that I picked up went to North Keizer, and we drove past the newly erected statue of the founder of the city of Keizer. When we arrived at her house, the meter read$17.10, and she gave me a $20.00 bill. On the way back downtown, I picked up 3 guys who flagged me down on North River Road, close to Quinaby Road. They were going to the Silver Spur, and on the way there they talked about the hot chicks that they were going to score. The last guy out handed me a $20.00, and told me to keep the change or the $14.80 fare.
My next call was on the East side, where I picked up a woman, who looked like one of the most problematic regular drunks that takes a taxi. However, it wasn’t her. She was tight on cash with a $100.00 bill that she cashed at a 7/11, and had me drive her to a trailer park by home Depot. She gave me a $10.75 to pay for her $10.30 fare, and asked for my number, so she could call for me later. Sometime after 11:00 PM, I got a call for the Armory, where the Alice In Chains concert was over. When I arrived, I picked up the guys who had come from the Red Lion earlier. They wanted to go to McDonald’s, but the dining room was closed and the drive through line had 8 cars in it, so they got out and gave me $15.00, to pay for the $7.30 fare. Then I picked up a Mexican girl, who was at a 16th birthday party, that was a $3,000.00 blowout, at Reed Opera House. She went to North Salem and her mom paid the $11.50 fare, with no tip.
After I called down, I was dispatched to Denny’s on Market, where I picked up a group of people who had attended the Alice In Chains concert. They said that it was good, and they enjoyed the opening band, whose name they couldn’t remember, and I dropped them off at the Red Lion, where they gave me a $5.00 bill, for the $3.90 fare, and they told me to keep the change. Next I picked up a Mexican guy at Von’s Tavern, who told me about the cultural barrier that he encountered, when he was living with an Arab woman. After I dropped him off, I was following a couple of Gypsy Joker, outlaw motorcycle bikers down 17th Street, in the rain, to Mission, at around 1:30 AM. The woman in the trailer park behind Home Depot called for me, so I picked her up, and drove her to South Salem. She told me that she was a convicted felon, who served time in prison, and was trying to live a straight life. She was married for 5 years and had a 2 and 5 year old child, who she took to the Methodist church every Sunday. She hated to go home, but where else could she go? She asked.
A little after 2:00 AM, I picked up a couple of guys, in front of the Can Can, who were heading to the East side, the caller’s name was Lee. They wanted to play Cash Cab, with questions about Salem, so I obliged.
“Why is Salem called the Cherry City?” I asked, and explained after their dead air, that at the turn of the 20th century, that was its main export. Then I asked them about escaped convict, Diane Downs, and convicted prison official murderer, Frank Gable. I concluded with questions about John Fahey and Larry Norman, so when we arrived at their destination, I didn’t kick them out of the cab, but collected the $14.70 fare and a $5.30 tip. Stars Cabaret was the next stop, as I picked up 2 guys who were going to the Travelodge on State, and had attended the Alice In Chains concert. They were from Vancouver Washington, and wanted to go to the drive through at McDonalds, which was slow. We talked about music groups, and by the time that we finally got to the motel, the meter read $19.70, and they gave me a twenty, with a .30 tip. It was nearly 3:00 AM, when I was sitting on Amtrack, with number’s 2 and 55, exchanging stories, when I got a call.
“Number 25,” Dotty, the graveyard dispatcher announced, over the radio. “Go to the Polk county jail in Dallas, on Jefferson Street, and pick up Jeremy. We already have a credit card run for the $40.00 trip.” I had to get gas first, since I was on an eighth of a tank, and didn’t want to get stranded. Afterwhich, I headed out Highway 22, to the Dallas turnoff, and picked up my passenger, who was standing outside, when I arrived. He got arrested and taken to jail, where he blew an .03, which was not even close to drunk, and was released. I picked him up and drove him to his place in West Salem, where his girlfriend was waiting. The meter read $43.50, but I accepted the $40.00, as enough.
By the time I was clear, and back down town, I was ready to go home, since it was 3:47 AM, but Dotty gave me another call. It was for an address in one of the worst areas of Keizer, where drug dealers and prostitutes live, in the middle of muddy squalor. When I arrived I couldn’t find the address, and concluded that it must be in the back of another house. Before I could move my cab, a man came out of the weeds, growing around the railroad tracks, and opened the back door behind me. After he got in, I asked him to move up front with me, which he promptly did, saying that he understood why I asked him to do that.
Then he asked me, “do you believe in God?”
“Yes,” I told him, to which he responded
“I was praying that God would send me a taxi cab, and you showed up.”
What could I say? Sometimes things happened like that, so I asked him where he was going and he gave me his address, which wasn’t far away. As I began to drive I saw a man standing in front of the house that I was next to. “Did you call for a taxi?” I asked.
“The guy inside did.” He told me.
I told him, that I would be back in five minutes, and drove the guy in my cab to his destination. I guess it was just a coincidence that this guy popped up. On the way there he was talking on his cell phone. He told, the person, who he said was his wife, on the other end, that God sent me to save him, because he needed a ride, since he was in violation of his parole, because he was past his curfew. When I got him home the meter read $7.00, which he gave me with no tip. I immediately returned to the address that my passenger was waiting at. When I arrived, there was nobody in the yard, but then the guy who I talked to before appeared. He had shoulder length hair and a handlebar mustache, with the hard look of an ex con and told me that the guy would be out in a couple of minutes. Shortly thereafter, a beautiful woman, who appeared to be around thirty got in my cab, and said that she was going to some apartments off Fisher Road. When I pick up a beautiful woman at a sleazy address at 4:00 AM, and drive her to an apartment complex where a friend lives, I usually assume that she’s a prostitute. However, in this case, the guy who lived at the address called her, a him, twice, so maybe it’s a she/male. I’ve driven cross dressing transvestites on occasion, and even had one proposition me on a dark rural road. Prostitutes, like strippers, generally did not tip well. When we arrived, the meter read $11.90 and she gave me $12.00. Dotty asked me if I wanted to go home or do another call. I told her that I wanted to go home, and said goodnight.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Runners like everything else, come in clumps. That is a period of time where certain themes, seem to be dominating in archetypal patterns that are synchronistic in appearance. Sometimes the themes may involve passengers who are female, male, of a particular nationality, ethnic group, personality type, attitude, emotional temperament, social scale, intelligence level and dozens of other possibilities. Runners fall in one of those categories, because just like big tippers, short runs and vomiting passengers, more than one seems like more than it is.
Runners are different from scam artists because the scam artist will give you a story to excuse not paying, and then tell you that they’ll pay you tomorrow or next week. A runner is more honest than them, because he lets you know that he isn’t paying now or later, as he bolts out the door down a dark alley or into a maze like apartment complex, like he was trying out for the Olympic track team. After having a few runners, a cab driver will begin to question other cab drivers about their experiences with runners. The result is seeing a similar pattern in every case, which could be called a profile.
Item #1: They are usually male, but not always, and are almost always either teenagers or in their early twenties.
Item #2: They are always picked up at a non residential address, like a business or a street corner.
Item #3: They are always going to either another non residential address, or an approximate location, that they aren’t exactly sure of, but explain that they can direct you there.
Item #4: They always have you park in a tight parking space or in an area where you couldn’t chase them with the cab, but by this time it’s too late to do anything anyway, unless you want to get physical with them and chase and tackle them.
The solution to this problem, is ask for money up front, every time that Item’s 1-3 occur, because the driver has all this information before he begins driving the passengers. At first a driver may be timid, but after getting burned a couple of times, his anger will seethe, long enough to harden him to their complaints at this unfairness. The passengers may then say that their parents or someone else will pay on the other end. At that point the driver will ask the passenger to phone the parent so the driver can talk to them. If they are lying they will make an excuse why they can’t contact them by phone. Unless they have collateral that is worth ten times what the potential fare will be, like a Rolex watch, or a cell phone, gameboy computer game or similar item that the cab driver appraises, he refuses to drive them.
I have personally had about 6 runners, over the past 6 years. Each was different and caught me off guard, because they never happen when you’re expecting them, and like getting your car stolen, you can’t believe that it really is happening. After the first time, I began to get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach soon after we got underway. With the last couple I knew that they were going to run, but I had to let the game play itself out.
The first runner I had was a few months after I started to drive cab, in the early fall of 2004. I picked him up at the Am/Pm Minimart on Lancaster and Ward, one late afternoon, at around 5:30 PM. He was Spanish young man who looked to be about 21 years old.
“Take me to the apartments down the street from the Burger King in Keizer,” he told me.
When I asked for an address, he said that he didn’t know since it was friends place, but he knew where it was. As I talked about how I was a new cab driver and didn’t know the best way to Keizer from Lancaster, he directed me, like he didn’t want to have to pay a dime more for the trip than he had to. He had me pull into a parking space between two cars against the curb, and then he reached into his pocket, with his left hand, as his right hand opened the cab door and he put one foot on the pavement. Then he flung open the door and announced, “I’m out of here!” as he sprinted between two buildings. I called it in as a no money for about $9.00, and licked my wounds.
Six months later, I picked up two Spanish guys with red parkas, with the hoods up. “Town & Country bowling alley in Keizer,” the guy who sat up front with me said, as he played with a $10.00 bill that was folded four times, length wise, by looping it over a finger of his right hand, and pulling in back and forth with his right. He directed me meticulously, even though I knew how to get there, then I felt a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I recognized the face in the parka. A few minutes later he told me instead of the bowling alley take them to the apartments by Burger King.
Suddenly I realized it was the same guy, and he was going to burn me again, but he had the fare in his hand. When he had me pull in the same parking spot as last time, I knew without a doubt that he was going to burn me, so as soon as I put the car in park, I grabbed for the $10.00 bill, but he was faster than me and pulled it away.
“I don’t want to give you this bill,” he said, “it’s valuable. Go get ten dollars from my sister,” he told the guy in the back seat, who opened the door and started walking towards the apartments. When the guy who was walking was out of sight my passenger said, “Wait a minute.” As he opened the door, got out and started running. I shut off the cab, took the keys and ran after them. I saw his foot go into a space left by a missing slat on a wooden fence. The rule is don’t pursue, because they could be laying for you, so I just racked it up to being a sucker.
That guy never burned me again, but then I never drove him again. The next time it was a group of 4 teenagers, that I picked up on a street corner, after failing to find a bad address, on that street at 11:00 PM, on a Monday night. They said that they called and got the address wrong, but it didn’t matter anyway, since I found them.
“Take us to the U-Haul on 12th Street,” the female sitting up front told me, as the 3 guys in the back seat let her do the talking.
My first thought was that the U-Haul would be closed this time of night, but maybe their car was there or some other thing. When we arrived the street that it’s on is a dead end that has a fenced barrier at the end. The female had me pull right up to the barrier, then she said that she had to go get the money, as all the doors opened and everyone got out. Before I could respond they were all running on the other side of the barrier, down the middle of the street, for a lost $14.40 fare.
I won’t bore you with other examples, but suffice it to say that I learned the hard way. It’s money up front with me, if you are under 30 and fit the profile.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Sometimes a night leaves you wishing that you had another job. It’s like that with every job at one time or another, but the thing that most often sets it in motion for me is the feeling of helpless confusion that I feel when I have to leave a fare who I am unable to help to their feet, after they collapse in a drunken stupor. Although it has happened numerous times, there are three distinct episodes that are especially indelible in my memory.
The first incident took place my second year of driving cab, in the Fall of 2005, before the first rains drenched the valley with its torrential downpour during the wet Northwest winters. I picked up a woman at the Triangle Inn, who was going to an address in South Salem that was close to a country club, so it was a nice area. After she mumbled her destination, she passed out and I opened the windows to keep it cool in the cab. That was an important trick that I learned after having to clean passenger regurgitation a few times. Drunks who get sick, tend to do so more readily when the temperature is warm.
We arrived without incident, and I was able to revive her, so that she paid me with a credit card, and included a $5.00 tip. After the transaction was complete she said goodnight, and got out of the cab. Then she took about a half dozen steps to the center of her lawn, and laid down, curling up into the fetal position.
“Are you okay?” I asked, but she waved me off and said that she was fine, and to just leave.
Later that night when I got back to the office, while we were doing our paperwork I told my story. Number 50 then said. “Oh, you mean the lady that lives by Creekside Golf Course in South Salem?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” I answered.
“She does that all the time,” Number 50 said.
The other time was Mick a 300 lb. plus bearded behemoth, who I picked up at Westside Station, one sweltering hot night, the end of July. I was sitting in my cab, waiting when he burst out the door and nearly fell over. The bar tender was escorting him and trying to keep him from falling over, in what looked like a tango, as they put one foot forward, and two back, and then reversed direction. After about 5 minutes of dancing, they traversed the 10 meters between the exit and my cab.
Mick collapsed in my seat, and I asked, “Home?”
“Yeshh,” he slurred.
Since he a was regular and all the cab drivers knew where he lived and we could take him there without any instructions. He was silent during the drive, but on previous trips I had learned that he was of Ukranian heritage and worked as a financial counselor, for the state, by independent contract. He was single and lived in a nice house in the hills of West Salem, in the same area, where the Christian rock star Larry Norman lived before his death in 2008.
When we arrived at his abode, he couldn’t find enough cash in his pockets to pay me, so he drunkenly slurred that he would have to go in the house to get some money. My heart sank when he said this, because he was so drunk that I questioned whether he could even get in the front door, let alone find money to pay me. He wanted me to help him to the door, which I did, and then took his key, after he failed to find the keyhole after 10 or 20 tries, and opened the door. He went inside, while I waited on the porch, until I heard a thud, and a voice cry out.
“Help me,” Mick cried, reminiscent of the movie “The Fly”.
I went up the stairs and found him lying prone on his bedroom floor, with a $50.00 bill in his extended hand. He told me to take the currency, and keep the change, for the $9.50 fare. Then he asked me to help him get up so he could get in his bed 5 feet away. Since I only weigh 160 lbs., I failed to budge Mick, and our sweaty hands slipped out of each other’s grasp each time that we clasped, until I finally gave up and told him that he would have to sleep on the floor. After I gave him a pillow and put a blanket over him, I locked his front door and drove off.
Then just last Monday night I picked up a drunk Native American, who couldn’t hardly walk, but that was due more to being crippled that drunk. His stepson and I helped him to the cab, and after he was inside he asked where his half gallon of whiskey was. His stepson said that the would get it, and after he handed it to him we drove off. He said that he was a retired 32 year veteran of the Air Force, who became a pilot. He enlisted in the early 1950's and spent a couple of tours in Europe, and saw the devastation from WWII first hand. He said that he felt sorry for the people and gave them his rations a lot of times. By the time that the Viet Nam war came along, he was dropping napalm, which broke his heart.
“Have you ever gotten napalm on your skin?” He rhetorically asked. “It burns like hell, and isn’t even on fire. I used to drop bombs of that stuff all over the place.”
When we got to his trailer, he paid me and gave me a$1.00 tip. I helped him out of the cab, with his cane, but he collapsed on the sidewalk. I tried to help him get up, but he was dead weight, even if he wasn’t much bigger than me, and I told him I couldn’t. He told me to leave, when I asked about calling for help.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ll get up, I just need to do it in my time and my way.”
I drove off with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, thinking to myself, “What should I do?”