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.)