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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Taxi 6

Yesterday, Wednesday, I worked the 6–6 shift and was as busy as Sarah Palin signing books at a Nazi rally.

Four airport trips

The first was a young couple I picked up at their riverside condo.  They kept me waiting.  She’s an optometrist who teaches at the School of Optometry.  I didn’t catch what he does but he struck me as being a dude.  Not THE DUDE, mind you, just a hey-dude-where’s-my-car dude. THE DUDE, if you recall, ABIDES.  This one was just tagging along. They were headed to San Francisco to an optometry conference where everyone sees eye to eye no doubt.  We chatted briefly about optometry, like I really know a hell of a lot about it.  Nice tip.

Waiting puts the cab out of commission.  We can’t charge for waiting unless asked to wait by the passenger.  For example, if he or she sticks their hand out holding up five fingers, that means 5 minutes and BOING!, the meter starts

The second airport fare was a nice woman I picked up in midtown.  She teaches yoga to children as young as pre-schoolers.  I asked her if the children were hard to control, and she said only the three-yea-olds.  If you’re interested, here’s her web site:

Next I picked up John Hornyak and his wife, also in midtown.  They were headed for L.A. and had some real serious-looking large steel suitcases, the type in which you might expect to find weapons.  His name was very familiar so I asked if he was in the music business and if so did he know Ward Archer.  Yes to both, in fact he recently sold his recording studio to Ward.  Ward was my boss for ten years at Archer Malmo Advertising where I was creative director. We talked about Ward’s success in the recording business and also about what a great guy he is.  I really enjoyed working with Ward.  He did an outstanding job of turning that agency from near collapse when he took over, to one of the largest agencies in the mid south.

Eventually I got around to telling the Hornyaks my name.  “I’ve been hearing about you for years,” said John.  “Well, here I am,” I replied.  I started to say, “It’s me. 250 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal,” but that would have been borrowing from Sputnik Monroe, a popular wrestler in Memphis during the late 50s and mid 60s.  (As an aside to the taxi stories, the next story is a true experience I had with a professional wrestler when I was a kid.  It has northing to do with driving a cab, but you might enjoy it anyway.)  During the eighties and part of the nineties, I received a lot of exposure in the media for my work with the agency, and my posters.  So it’s nice to meet someone who’s heard of me.  Nice people, the Hornyaks.

The last airport fare was a doctor who appeared to be in his sixties.  Picked him up in a gated community in east Memphis.  His specialty is geriatrics, and he teaches at UT Medical School.  He too was headed to a conference.  We chatted cordially about living in Memphis and where we each went to college, and about his son and yada, yada, yada...

Next was a woman near the University of Memphis campus at a run-down looking duplex.  I took her three blocks to the store and back.  When she first got in, she said, “Rough losing five people in two weeks.”  Well, what can you say except, “I’m sorry.”  “God has a plan for all of us.”  WHOA! I didn’t say that.  That’s just not me.  I should have said, “Henry Winkler won’t be around forever either.”  It was a beautiful day and discussing death wasn’t on the trip card.

I lucked out today and got one of the newer Impalas.  Only had 176,000 miles on it.  Impalas are nice because they have good cup holders and I need my beverages.

I picked up a nurse at her clinic and took her to her house where she picked up either her brother or husband.  They had “words” with each other in the yard before getting in the cab.  When they did get in it was stoney silence so I said, “every body happy?”  More silence.

I took an elderly lady from her apartment building to her doctor’s office, and later picked her up and took her home.  She said she was spending thanksgiving here because she wasnt up to traveling.  I felt sorry for her, and declined her tip.

The only other passenger worth mentioning was a young black kid, late teens or early twenties.  I took him to the community college.  When I asked what he was majoring in he said graphic design. Bingo!  “That’s what I do,” I said and filled him in on my background.  His goal is to do animation for the movies, i.e Pixar.  I told him that’s an excellent field to get in, and also said there is a great demand for web designers.  I mentioned that it was good that he was really so focused, and that his parents must have done a good job raising him.  “My mother stuck to me like white on rice,” he said. “I didn't understand it then, but I’ve told her now how much I appreciate it.” The more we talked about design, the more excited he became.  When I dropped him off, we shook hands, I wished him luck, and gave him my web site address.

It does my heart good to see young blacks who are determined to get a good education when so many of their peers are stuck with lousy parents and little hope.


In 1959, I was in the seventh grade at Snowden school.  Every Monday night, my father took me to the wrestling matches downtown at Ellis auditorium. In those days, Elvis and wrestling were the hot topics in Memphis.

For a young kid, wrestling was very exciting.  It was classic good versus bad. I remember witnessing brutal battles among the likes of Sputnik Monroe, The Mighty Yankee, Jackie Fargo, Spider Galento, The Von Brauner brothers, Joe Scarpa, Cowboy Lester Welch, and others.  But everyone’s hero was Billy Wicks.

Billy Wicks was a young, handsome, golden-haired guy from Minnesota who took up wrestling at an early age to overcome the effects of polio. We all loved to watch his ongoing feud with Sputnik Monroe.  It was like watching Batman grappling with The Joker, and I loved every minute.

I also remember seeing Wicks wrestle Gorgeous George, and the time he answered the question, “Who’s tougher? A boxer or a wrestler?,” when he forced former World Heavyweight Champ, Jersey Joe Wolcot into submission.

So it was to my delight when my mother said she worked with a lady who knew Billy Wicks, and how would I like to meet him?

The next Monday night, after the last match, my father took me backstage.  There stood Billy, bigger than life with a big grin on his face.  He offered me his hand and said “Hi Eddie,” put his arm around me an introduced me to some of the wrestlers as “my friend.” I was stunned speechless and about to pee in my pants.

I went home that night with a stack of autographed photos and the anticipation of telling everyone at school about my incredible experience.

A few weeks later, my mother had another surprise: Billy Wicks was coming to dinner at our house.  “Holy shit,” I said under my breath.

Although we usually ate around 6:30, I took up my position on the front steps at 5 p.m. and waited.

Two of the neighborhood kids came by and asked what I was doing. “Waiting for Billy Wicks.  He’s coming to dinner,” I said.  “Yeah, sure,” one of them laughed as they walked off.

Around 6:00, he pulled into our driveway, got out, grinned and said, “Hey Eddie, what’s for dinner?”

It was the greatest night of my life. I sat next to Billy, and we all listened intently as he regaled us with tales of his magnificent prowess.

After dinner, I called the two neighborhood boys and convinced them to come over.  When they arrived they were completely at a loss for words.

Billy entertained us by showing us various wresting holds, using me to demonstrate.

At one point he wrapped his strong arms around my neck and said, “This is the famous sleeper hold.  Eddie, if you feel like you’re going to pass out, just tap my leg.”

I glanced over at my mother who was wringing her hands, then suddenly, everything went black.  As I woke up a few seconds later, Billy said, “You forgot to tap.”

Of course the next day at school, all I could talk about was Billy Wicks coming to dinner, and how he was my best friend.  Nobody believed me, and since we didn’t own a camera, I couldn’t prove it.  On top of that, my home room teacher, Coach Flowers, would accuse Billy of being a faker every time I mentioned his name.

What a bummer!  Here I was with the greatest true story of the seventh grade and nobody believed me.  I felt completely dejected.  What could I do to prove it?

After a couple of days an idea hit me like a freight train: I’ll invite Billy to have lunch at school.

That night I wrote Billy a letter explaining my situation and could he please come to lunch.  I even drew a map of the school so he could find my home room.  I didn’t specify a particular day since I figured he had better things to do.

A few days passed, and I was headed to my home room to get ready to go to lunch when I noticed a crowd standing in front of the door.  I heard someone say, “Eddie, Billy Wicks is in there and he’s looking for you.”  My heart sunk as I entered the room to see Billy towering over a red-faced Coach Flowers.

“Hey Eddie,” Billy said. “I hope I’m not late.”  I was thrilled.  “Screw you, Coach Flowers,” I thought.

Billy and me and Coach Flowers and the entire school went to the cafeteria.  The room was buzzing with excitement as I ate lunch with my best friend.

Afterwards, we all returned to the home room.  Billy sat in a chair next to Coach Flowers’ desk, as one by one, each kid went up to get his autograph while he fielded questions from everyone.

At one point, one of the girls asked about his cauliflower ears. He invited her to come up and touch them as he answered her question. Just as she reached out her hand to touch, he let out a loud grow causing her to scream and the rest of us to laugh uproariously.

When it came time for Billy to leave, he asked Coach Flowers permission to give me a ride around the block in his new Cadillac.  Flowers dared not to say no.

I could tell Billy was proud of his new ride, and especially proud of the gold wrestler hood ornament.

That night, Billy lost his match with Sputnik, but I was the real winner.

© 2010,  Eddie Tucker.  All rights reserved.

(Disclaimer:  The views expressed on this post are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Yellow Cab, Checker Cab, or Premier Transportation Services.)

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