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Monday, June 27, 2011

Taxi 20

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.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Taxi 19

Friday, May 27, 2011.  Day Shift

Driving trips in and out of the various hoods here in Memphis reminds me of an incident in which I was involved in 1961 when I was fourteen.

Two of my buddies and I were headed to a party at the old Jewish Community Center behind the dairy on Madison in midtown.  After one of our parents dropped us off, we decided we needed to get some beer.  None of us looked old enough nor did we have a fake I.D. We had to find someone who, for a few bucks, would contribute to the delinquency of three minors.

We started walking toward a black neighborhood nearby where we were sure to find some guys hanging out on a Saturday night.  When we got about two blocks, we were surrounded by ten or fifteen black guys.  One held a butcher knife and yelled, “Let’s kill ‘em!”  We were too scared to run.  It was as if our feet had melted into the pavement, and we couldn’t budge.  Here we were, three dumb white kids wearing coats and ties in the middle of a gang of angry black men.  Where was Tarzan when you need him?

As we were contemplating our eventual demise, an older man stepped forward.  He appeared to be the leader.  He was my height, perfect for staring into my eyes.  “Didn’t I meet you last week?,” he asked me.  It took me a minute to realize it was Bowlegs Miller.  His band, Bowlegs Miller and The Triangles, played at a dance I attended.  Since I was interested in jazz, I went back stage during the band’s break and talked to him about playing the sax. “YES!.” I responded to his question.  We spent the next three hours sitting on the curb, sharing beer with Bowlegs and the gang.  The guy with the knife was disappointed at not being allowed to slice us up and went home.

The moral of this story:  Get a fake I.D. or get to know your sax players.

Speaking of knives, I picked up a guy in midtown headed to Memphis Country Club.  He was carrying what I first thought was a tool kit.  “Doing some handy work today?,” I asked.  “This is a case of knives,” he answered.  OK, I get it, he’s a knife thrower.  “I’m a cook,” he said, stepping on that theory.  “When I started working at the club, all the other cooks were recent graduates from culinary schools, and each had his own knife.  I decided to get my own so I could keep up.”

I’m sure you all have seen a movie in which someone gets in a cab and says, “Just drive.”  Well, it happened to me.  Normally the cab’s computer displays both the pick-up location and the destination, but not this time.  It was a twenty-something woman I picked up on Morrison Street in midtown.  “Where you going?,” I asked.  “Just drive down Union,” she said.  I asked her, “West or east?”  “Turn right, and drive slow,” she said.  I was curious, but didn’t press the issue.  “I’m lookin’ for a guy without a shirt,” she said.

I don’t know about you, but I hate guys without shirts.  White guys, that is.  Black guys can get away with it because they don’t have pastey-white skin.  They can also get away with shaved heads, whereas white guys with shaved heads just look ill.

What’s the deal with guys without shirts?  Did they simply forget to put one on, or are they trying to break the habit?  Maybe they gave the shirts off their backs to other guys without a shirts.  They could be aliens on a limited budget.  Maybe there’s really only 500 shirts in the world, and we take turns.  And, by the way, what’s the deal with the shoe in the middle of the street?

My passenger wasn’t carrying an extra shirt that I could see, so that wasn’t the reason she was looking for him.  If there was going to be trouble, I wanted to know.  “Did this guy do something to you?,” I asked her.  “He owes me some money,” she replied.  Yep, sounded like trouble to me.

After several blocks she said, “Drive past Printer’s Alley, he might be there.”  Nope, not there.  “Take me to Neil’s,” she said.  Neil’s is a midtown club.  “You don’t know where I can get a job, do ya?,” shed asked me.  “What can you do,” I asked.  “Nothing.  Never had a job.”

She and her husband came here from Louisiana.  He was arrested for distribution, and had been in jail for over a month on a $45,000 bail.  She said the shirtless guy owed her $2,000.  I wonder for what.

Had some good long-distance trips this day.  One was a guy I picked up in the medical center and took him out near Shelby Farms.  He wasn’t interested in conversation, but his money spoke to me.

Went to Willet Street, also in midtown, and picked up a lively thirty-something woman.

When I pulled up, I signaled the computer to call the customer and let her know I was there.  She stuck her head out the door and said she needed five minutes.  “I’ll have to start the meter,” I told her.  “I’m cool with that,” she said.

I was listening to the jazz station, and we she got in she said, “Aw right, good music!”  “Sorry I took so long.  I was up late finishing some business.”  What sort of business are you in?,” I asked.  “I’m a psychologist, she said.  She was very energetic with a good attitude.  I told her about the time in the 70s when I was in therapy following my divorce, private and group.  She asked if it helped.  “Yeah, I slept with two women in the group.” I said.  “Well, that certainly helps,” she replied.

She said her office is off Germantown Parkway, a very long way from midtown.  I asked her, “More neurotics out there?”  “Wi th money, “ she answered.

It was an airport trip, and she was headed to D.C. to meet some friends for a three-day bike trip along the Cheasapeake and Ohio Canal.  I liked her, and her tip.

I usually hang out in the midtown area, otherwise known to us as zone 111.  This zone accounts for most of our business, and midtowners tip better than anyone.

The computer rang out the three dings indicating I have a trip.  It was to an apartment building next to a railroad track on south McLean.  Young twenty-something guy got in for the trip to Bar Dog Tavern downtown where he tends bar.  I asked if the trains bother him.  “I’m from south Boston so I’m used to the noise,” he said.

Got another midtown trip from Madison and Rozelle to Outback Steakhouse on Union.  It was a three-dollar trip, but the young woman gave me a ten.  I like it!

Picked up a woman in the medical center, and took her to the library at the University of Memphis.  She wanted to research their graduate program in higher education.  Another long trip.

Went to a tattoo parlor a Summer and National where a big, young dude got in.  He was dressed in all black with black fingerless gloves and a little black pouch on either side of his belt.  He looked pissed, but when I started talking with him, he had a surprisingly meek voice.  He was learning to be a tattoo artist from his father who owned the shop.  I was taking him to Blues City Cafe on Beale Street.  “Do you work there?,” I asked.  “I’m a bus boy,” he said.  I countered with, “You look like you could bus heads.”   He laughed, and didn’t kill me.

From there I went to the zoo, and picked up a couple from Middleton, New Jersey.  I told them my father was raised in Atlantic City, but I hadn’t been there since 1972 when I attended his funereal.  We talked about the board walk, and how much Atlantic City has changed since 72.  Took the to the Peabody.

Picked up another visiting couple at Stax.  They were from Florida, and had come here as tourists.  They were blown away by the exhibit at Stax.  The guy said he’s a musician, and soul is his kind of music.  I took them to the Westin Hotel downtown, and along the way recommended several restaurants.

© 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.)