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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Taxi 21

Day Shift

I got to the cab yard just as the night shift was rolling in.  They were all lined up at the pump.  I had my pick.  Number nine was ready to roll so I followed the driver into the office.  “Is number nine running OK?,” I asked him.  I’ve encountered this guy before.  Not the friendly type, in fact, he always looks like he’s either a psychopath or constipated, or a constipated psychopath.  “It runs,” he replied, “What do you want a car to do anyway?”  I just smiled at him, wishing I could offer him a box of ex lax.

Number nine not only ran well, but the air worked, which in ninety-eight degree heat is quite welcome.

My first fare was a regular.  An elderly woman who is an attorney.  She always takes a cab from her condo to the office near the courthouse.  She’s a very pleasant lady.  Always dressed to the nines and full of talk.  She normally dresses conservatively, as one would expect from an attorney, but today she had on a flowered summer dress with bold bright colors, all topped off with a big floppy straw hat.  “You look mighty snazzy today,” I said.  She thanked me, and said she normally wears black, but decided to go all out for one day.  “Hats are coming back in style,” she said.  “Back in the thirties my husband and I went to the Breakers in Palm Beach.  It was summertime, and I had on a dress much like the one I’m wearing now.  Well, when we walked in, everyone was wearing black.  We had to ask if we had just walked into a funereal.”  We both got a chuckle out of that.  “I like that nice shirt you’re wearing,” she told me.  “You look like you wear clothes well,” she said.  “Yeah, I like nice clothes," I replied, "but I’m so fat now that I don’t bother with buying very much.”   “Men look more important with a portly look.  I hate those little skinny ones,” she said.  Usually the word “portly” is followed by “gentleman.”  I’ll buy that.  I’m a portly gentleman.  You never hear, “He’s a portly schmuck.”

Got a fare on Bellevue, just north of Poplar.  An old, run-down apartment building.  As I waited for the passenger, a woman from the next building approached and asked if I could take her to the Family Dollar store.  “I’m waiting on a passenger,” I explained.  My passenger showed up.  A nice, elderly black man wearing a suit and tie, a straw hat, and carrying an umbrella.  I told the woman, “Mam, if he says it’s OK, I can give you a ride.”  He approved, and off we all went, first to drop him off at the VA hospital, then to the Family Dollar store.  Along the way, the two of them chatted and became friends.

The computer signaled a trip.  I hit the accept button, and saw the passenger was at Smith & Nephew, the medical implant company on Brooks Road, and needed to get to the airport.  He was from Cleveland, but instead of my usual rant about that city not deserving the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, I brought up Lebron James’ poor showing in the NBA playoffs.  My passenger expressed his contempt for James, and the manner in which the NBA star deserted his fans.  I agreed wholeheartedly.   The passenger didn’t talk much because he was eating lunch which smelled great and created a craving within me for a corned beef sandwich, which I grabbed later.  I love a good deli style corned beef sandwich.  The best one I ever had was at Canter’s Deli on Fairfax Avenue in L.A. It was piled high and served on a Kaiser roll.  MMMMMMM!

Once I went into Boagie’s Deli in Overton Square.  There are three Boagies in Memphis, and I had always been pleased with the other two.  But the corned beef sandwich I was served at this one was a joke: one slice of meat and enough mustard to cover an obese midget.  I gave it back and said, “I’ll come back when you learn how to make one of these.”  Memphis really hasn’t had an authentic Jewish-style deli since Rosen’s closed in the late sixties.  I should be driving a cab in New York.  My father drove one in Philadelphia, and he too loved corned beef, so it must be the genes.

While in midtown, I got a trip taking a twenty-something guy to the Majestic restaurant downtown where he works.  He was real friendly and spoke with a fine Irish brogue.  He and two of his friends are traveling and working their way around th U.S.  “We were in Los Angeles before coming here.  Didn’t much care for it out there.  Very phony.  Not at all like Memphis with the Blues and such,” he said.  “I bet that accent goes over well with the girls,” I said.  He smiled and said, “It does help.”  From that point on I suggested a few place he might like to go to, and we talked about Guiness Beer.  He said the world’s largest Guiness plant is in Nigeria.

This was international day in the cab.  Later I picked up a woman from India, and took her to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where she is a doctor.  The only thing she said was. “Speed it up, but don’t get a ticket.”  Now if I could only get a passenger who will say, “Follow that car, and make it snappy.”

I took a young man form his home to the University of Memphis.  He was originally from Russia, and is majoring in international business.  He had served in the U.S. army, but didn’t have to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Occasionally I give a ride to a doctor from Methodist Hospital to the Baptist Med Center.  Today was the first time he talked to me.  Turns out he’s from Nigeria.  I told him about my Irish passenger’s telling me about the Guiness plant in Nigeria.  “Yes,” the doctor said, “We love guiness.”  One usually doesn’t think “Nigeria and Guiness.”

That afternoon I went to a hood in north Memphis, and picked up a rather rough-looking guy and took him all the way across town to a hood in south Memphis.  He had me park, and said this was a round trip.  He handed me a twenty to ensure I’d wait.  I watched him in my rearview mirror as he walked down the street past a few houses, then went to the door of one house.  The door opened, he reached in, got something, then returned to the cab.  A drug buy.  Not my first.

I got a signal to pick up at the VA Hospital.  It was the dapper-looking elderly man I had dropped off there that morning.  He needed to go to Kroger in midtown.  He heard jazz playing on the radio, and asked, “Do you like jazz?”  I told him I love it.  “Well then, you can’t do no wrong, man, “ he told me.  “That’s what I do,” he went on.  I asked him what instrument he played.  “Trombone.  Used to own a jazz club, The Gemini on Lamar years back,” he said.  We talked about some of the local jazz musicians from past days in Memphis.  As he got out, he handed me his card and a cassette of one of his albums.  I listened to it when I got home expecting an instrumental featuring him on the trombone, but he turned out to be a crooner with a nice mellow sound.  You can find him on iTunes.  Just look for Lee Miles Stone.  I’ll have to take him out for coffee sometime.