Two Day Shifts
A cab, in some ways, is like Facebook. People log in but I never confirm them as friends, especially if they’re drunk. And when there’s conversation, it’s like posting and commenting.
The other day, a friend posted this message on facework, “I'm trying to eat more healthfully -- but Almond milk is most definitely not the answer. Holy crap!” So my comment was, “Try walnut crappie juice.” A little later, his friend commented, “Walnut crappie juice? I knew you could fry crappie up and serve them with hush puppies, but I had no idea you could juice them.” “In a blender,” I said, and there’s also a crappie martini and a bass sorbite,” I said. “No thanks,” she replied. “Yeah, lady, I also have a very nice bridge for sale.”
My lucky day. I got to drive one of the SUVs, number 27. Easier for me to get in and out of, and I could act ually bend my legs when seated. I didn’t even know they had SUVs, because they’ve all been out when I checked in. It’s all in the timing. If you get to the cab yard too early, there aren’t many cabs from which to choose because the night shift hasn’t come in yet. So the best time to get there is close to 6:30 a.m. when the night shift ends. So I log on and head out.
As soon as I roll out onto the street, the computer signals a pick up at the motel next to the Ornamental Iron Museum where a thirty-something guy gets in. He says the trip is charged to Southern Towing, one of the companies that pushes barges up and down the river. I checked the computer, but see no indication of a voucher so I radio the dispatcher, and tell him the deal. The morning dispatcher has a heavy ebonic accent, and I can never understand what he’s saying, so I have to keep asking him to repeat himself which only pisses him off. However, my passenger understands him so I hand him the mike, and he tells dispatch his name, and explains who at Southern authorizes the charge. Once it’s approved, we head out. I have to take him to Avis car rental near the airport. He has to drive to Cincinnati to meet his boat. He’s a nice guy. He asks me about driving a cab, and I ask him about working the river. Big fare.
I head back toward midtown, and as I get into zone 110, the medical center, the computer dings three times assigning me a trip. I picked up this guy at UT and drove him all the way out to Mullins Station Road next to Shelby Farms. Another big fare. He didn’t say a word the whole time.
I headed back to midtown, zone 111 this time, to get an espresso at Starbucks, and I’m dinged to pick up a woman at an apartment building for seniors on North Parkway. The destination indicated a street in a black neighborhood in north-central Memphis, so I was expecting a black woman. Out came a diminutive white lady who looked to be in her upper eighties. She was making her way to the cab in short, baby steps so I got out and offered to help her. “I’m fine,” she said as she declined my arm. I held the door for her, and then we were off. I couldn’t figure out why she was going to the hood, and in spite of my efforts to ask her, all she talked about was her dogs, and I don’t mean feet. As I turned down the street where she was to be dropped off, I notice three guys just standing on the sidewalk in front one of the houses. I’ve seen this before. It usually indicates dealers, so I watched them in my rearview mirror and sure enough, a car pulls up to them, and one guy bends down and hands a package to the person in the car who then drives off.
As we head down the street, she points out a small, white concrete building. “That’s my son’s lumber business. Turn in there,” she says, I pull into a gravel lot, and stop behind the building. To my right is a large dilapidated structure the color of a thunderstorm sky. It must have at one time housed lumber, but now stood empty. It was a gloomy place. Her son came out and helped her out of the cab. She paid the fare, but no tip.
Later, I go to an address in east Memphis in an upscale neighborhood. It was a trip to the airport. A young man in his thirties comes out carrying a large, cylindrical case and a suitcase. I get out and lift the hatch in the rear. “Going golfing?,” I asked. “Shotguns,” he said. “We’re going to hunt dove and quail in Argentina.” A minute later, an older man joins us, and he sits up front since their guns and luggage took up so much space. “Argentina, huh,? Must be nice,” I offered. “Yeah, we go down about once a year. It’s winter down there now. A good way to escape the heat for a while,” he said. “When you guys aren’t hunting in Argentina, what do you do?,” I had to know. He hesitated, as if ashamed of what he does. “We’re attorneys,” he admitted. “At least your not a politician tweating pictures of your Weiner,” was my reply. He laughed. “What’s Argentina like?,” I asked. “It’s great, especially the meat. Their cattle are all grass-fed, and the meat tastes much better than grain-fed ones.” You ever have any problem traveling with shotguns?,” I asked. “Not really. We have a good friend down there, a woman attorney who always represents us with the customs officials, and she gives them hell if they try to interfere,” he said,” At the airport, I wished them a good trip, and got a nice tip.
Back in midtown I went to the VA Hospital where the passenger walked up to the cab and asked if he’d been in my cab before. I told him no, so he got in. “You’re beard made me think you were another driver who argued with me about forty cents,” he said. I asked him if the driver had a full white beard, and he said yes. “That’s Santa Claus,” I said, and that is what everyone calls him.
Later I went to a house near Rhodes college and picked up a young couple going to the airport. “Where yall flying to?,” I asked. “We’re going to Buffalo so he can meet my parents,” she said. “I went with him to California to meet his.” Both of them teach at the University of Memphis. They were all giggles, and in love. “Ever been to Buffalo?”, he asked. “No. New York City is as far north as I’ve gone,” I answered. They talked about how much they love NYC. I told them about my first trip there in 1974 with my first wife. A friend recommended we stay at the Edison Hotel in Times Square. We didn’t know it at the time, but Times Square in those days was the armpit of the country. When we checked in, the bellhop, who looked like "Ratso" Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, took us to our room. On the elevator, he asked, ”Where youse guys from?” “Memphis,” I answered. “Ah,” he said, “Not like dis shit here.” I went on with my story, telling my passengers that when we entered our room, we couldn’t help but notice a lump on the bed under the bedspread. We pulled the spread back and saw that it was an upside-down, clean salad bowl. “Well, at least it’s clean,” I said. Around 2:00 a.m. we were awakened by a bunch of teenagers who were partying on our floor. I went out and asked them to be quiet. About an hour later, my wife did the same, and about another hour later, I called the desk to complain. Soon after my call, there was a knock on the door. I opened the door to reveal a mafioso-looking house detective dressed in a bright blue sport coat, black shirt and white tie, and with enough grease in his hair to fry a good-size chicken, who, in a thick Brooklyn accent and gravelly voice asked what was the problem. I explained and he said to go back to bed because he’d take care of it. It was quiet from then on. I imagined the headline: “Forty teenagers found floating in the East River.”
We had driven to Washington where we spent a few days, then caught the train to New York. When it came time to leave, we were seated on one of the benches in Penn Station. It was very early in the morning, so there weren’t many people. After a while, a black lady came over and sat next to us. She had some sort of white powder all over her face, but otherwise seemed normal. She asked where we were going and where we were from, then suddenly started demanding that we pay her. “You can’t leave without paying me what you owe,” she screamed, over and over. About thirty feet away were two cops deep in conversation. They were completely oblivious to our situation. We got up and went out to where the trains were. Thankfully, she didn’t follow. Such is New York.
That afternoon, after dropping off an elderly man at his apartment building, I noticed on the computer that I was no longer booked on. I tried, without success, to book on several times, then I phoned the office and was told the computer system was down, and to use the radio. So I picked up the mike, switched the radio from data to voice, and said, “This is 308 (my cab number), I’m in zone 133.” I immediately got a trip. I could hear the dispatcher barking orders to the other drivers, “car 24 are you there? Car 24, where are you? Has anybody seen car 24?” Using the radio was fun for a change. I felt like Broderick Crawford on the TV show, Highway Patrol: “Get in the car, punk!”
© 2011, 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.)