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Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Screaming Bindi in the Back Seat

Early Monday morning I was notified to pick up a woman at a house in midtown, and take her to Fielder Square apartments downtown. When I arrived, I saw a twenty-something woman sitting on the steps with a young man.  They approached the cab and I set the meter for two passengers, but he was just escorting her, so I reset the meter for one.  Just before she got in, she asked him for his phone number.  I assumed someone got lucky the night before.

On the way downtown she asked, “Have you ever woken up and had no idea where you were?”  “Can’t say that I have,” I replied.  She said she’s here from St. Louis visiting her boyfriend.  Last night, they went drinking with some of his friends.  At one point later that night, the boyfriend had to go home early, but she continued drinking with the others.  This morning, she woke up on someone’s couch, two guys whom she didn’t know.  We were on the way to the boyfriend’s apartment.  “He’s going to kill me,” she said.  I shot back, “If you’re lucky, that’s all he’ll do.”

It was annual Elvis week when thousands of fans flock to Memphis to commemorate the King’s death.  People from all over the world can be found at the many events which take place near Graceland.  I had one passenger from Vancouver and a couple in their sixties from Calgary.

I too am an Elvis fan.  Have been since the beginning.  When I was seven, I had the Elvis hair style which I kept in place with Butch Wax.  I even had the classic leather motorcycle jacket with its many zippered pockets.  I clearly remember when Elvis appeared on the Dewey Phillips show, which I watched faithfully everyday after school.

I had a cousin, Alan Fortas, who was friends with Elvis and was part of the entourage otherwise know as the Memphis Mafia.  Alan had the large ears and Elvis called him Hog Ears.  When Elvis did the comeback concert on NBC, on the stage were two guys playing guitars and the middle guy, Alan, on the bongos.

My mother kept me posted on Alan.  I would hear “Elvis bought Alan a Rolex;”  “Elvis bought Alan a Cadillac;”  “Alan’s in rehab.”

There were always reports of Elvis sightings or doings, like when he would rent the Memphian theater just to watch a movie, or the time he rented the entire fairgrounds for him, his friends, and his date, Natalie Wood.  And there were stories of the King’s generosity.

Once, when Elvis was shopping at the Cadillac dealer, he went to get a closer look at one of the new models.  A middle age black woman in a raggety overcoat was also looking at it.  She told him she always dreamed of having a Caddy but knew she could never afford it, so Elvis bought her the car.

The area of town where Graceland sits is called Whitehaven.  The community takes its name from a Colonel Francis White, who was an early settler and major property owner. White was influential in getting a rail line to run through what was first called White's Station, later White Haven and then Whitehaven.  Today it’s predominately African American.  It’s also the armpit of Memphis.

The main thoroughfare is Elvis Presley Boulevard.  A boulevard is usually divided with a median down the center often with above-average quality landscaping and scenery.  EP Blvd. is more like Hell.  The traffic is always heavy, Elvis week or not, and the street is lined from one end to the next with a most hideous conglomeration of stores and fast food joints.  I only go out there if I absolutely have no choice.  Of course it wasn’t like this when Elvis purchased Graceland in the fifties.

But this isn’t the reason I called this meeting.  OK, everybody back in the cab.

My passenger was a woman from India whom I picked up at a small ethnic grocery on Cleveland.  She was wearing traditional Indian garb, and displaying the red dot on the forehead, or bindi.  The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration.  It is also said to protect against demons or bad luck.  The bindi also represents the third eye.  I was taking her to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital according to the info display on the cab’s computer terminal.

I pulled out onto Cleveland and stopped at the light at Poplar where I needed to turn left, but a left turn was illegal at this intersection.  I planned to cross Poplar and cut rough the convenience store’s lot.  As I crossed the intersection, Miss India screams at the top of her lungs, “WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”  It was like someone had blown an air horn right next to my head.  I was so jarred you could have filled me with peach preserves and stored me for winter.  I explained the situation to her.

As I approached the rear of Le Bonheur she screamed, “TURN LEFT HERE!”   Jarred again, I immediately turned into the emergency room driveway for ambulances only.  Another blast from the back seat, “NOT HERE.  THE NEXT STREET!”  I screamed back “OK,” then began laughing because this reminded me of a scene from a W.C. Fields movie.  She laughed too.  I didn’t know if she was laughing at the same thing or if someone telepathically told her a joke through the red portal on her forehead.

I get back on Poplar and turn on Dunlap, and prepare to turn left into the hospital’s main entrance.  “NOT HERE!.” she screams, “ACROSS THE STREET!”  She wasn’t going to the hospital but to the apartment building across the street.  When she paid me, I screamed, “THANK YOU!”

The city of Mumbai must be a loud place with all that screaming.

My next trip was taking a guy to the airport.  Whenever I take people to the airport I ask where they’re flying to, then ask if it’s business or pleasure.  This guy was flying to D.C. on business.  He was in the renewable energy industry and was trying to get a federal grant to develop algae as a source of fuel.  I asked if Obama’s support for renewable energy was having a positive impact.  He said more so than any other president and that Obama was the only president to consider algae as a source of fuel.

Another airport passenger was a guy originally from Denmark but now living in London.  He was headed to Chicago.  He was a consultant to venture capitalists.  He had a job in 2008 traveling around the U.S. shutting down businesses due to the recession.  He said he had to quit because it was emotionally draining.  Nice guy.  He bought a copy of my book.

Later I had a woman in  cab who looked to be in her seventies.  She told me she was once a dj on WHER, the first all-women radio station.  I could tell she enjoyed her years there when she told me that she once had a date with Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger.  They wen to dinner at the Peabody Hotel and then to his room there.  When she giggled, I wondered if he showed her his silver bullet.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

15 Minutes of Fame

6:30 am.  First trip of the day, pick up a woman at the Poplar Lounge.  I pulled into the parking lot and sent a callout to let her know the cab has arrived.  Shortly, a young woman comes out and comes up to my window.  “This may seem a little weird,” she said, “but we’re shooting a music video and need a cab in one of the scenes.”  I asked how long it would take and was told about ten minutes.  “I’ll have to run the meter,” I said.  “That’s fine.  We’ll pay you,” she replied.

After a few minutes, the director/camerman came out the door with the young woman and two guys.  Both guys were wearing retro suits. One’s face was painted white and he was wearing big curlers in his hair.  The other one was wearing a long, white, powdered wig and lipstick.  They were soon joined by two women dressed like hookers. The shorter of the two was carrying a riding crop and her face looked like a failed Latvian dermatology experiment.  The other was either a woman, or a man undergoing a sex change. She was much taller and heavier than the other one, and her large belly was exposed and hanging over her waist.

“Action.”  With the camera rolling, the two guys escorted the women to the cab, helped them get in, then shut the door.  Exciting, huh?  They repeated this action a couple more times and then the guy with the white face pulled out a wad of cash and paid me ten bucks.  I never did find out who they were, nor did I really care.

But this wasn’t the only time I was exposed to film time this day.

Later that morning I went to WMC TV, channel 5 to pick up Ursula Maddon, a news anchor, and her camera man.  They wanted to ride along for a couple of hours and interview me because she was doing a story about me and my book.

We went to Overton Park which provided a quiet setting for the interview.  You can see the interview at

From the park, we went to a house in midtown to pick up a guy who needed to go to the emergency room.  He was waiting for us in the back, and I could see he had injured his foot so I helped him into the van where he was warmly greeted by a news crew.  They explained what they were doing and we headed to Methodist Hospital.  The guy said he had broken his foot Monday night.  Today was Thursday.  I should have asked what took him so long.

When we arrived a the ER, I went in and requested assistance and a wheel chair.  After waiting for several minutes, I went back in to inquire about the wheelchair.  “Ain’t nobody come out there yet?,” the receptionist asked, then said, “I’ll get someone right there.”  Several more minutes went by when I spotted an EMT with an empty stretcher standing next to her ambulance.  I asked her if she would take my passenger into the ER.  “Can’t do it without a work order,” she replied.  “Some humanitarian,” I thought.  Finally, I helped the guy hobble to the ER.

I regaled the news team with some of my stories and often had them laughing hysterically.

The first time I was on TV was in 1973.  I was working as a lab instructor in the graphic design division of the art department at the University of Memphis.  One of the other instructors and I created an animated tv spot for the Memphis Arts Council.  Marge Thrasher, a local tv personality invited us on her live morning show to introduce the commercial and talk about it.  In those days my self confidence was about a bucket short of whole, so prior to going to the tv station at 7:00 am, I took a Valium.  When we got on the air, Marge, who was like a locomotive, quickly realized I was responding very slowly to her questions so she conducted most of the interview with my colleague.  Too make matters worse, the two guys who were there with their antique bottle collection nearly fainted when I accidentally knocked over my empty coke bottle.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

After dropping them off at the tv station, I went to pick up a guy named Wild Bill.  Wild Bill turned out to be blind, but this didn’t stop him from giving me directions.  Surprisingly he knew exactly where to turn.

Later, I was notified of a trip at 877 South Somerville to pick up a Mrs. Lawrence.  While driving up and down the street trying to find the address, I spotted a woman in my mirror waving at me, so I backed up and she got in.  After driving out of this residential community, I asked her if she was going to the address I was given on Lamar.  She said, “No. I’m goin to Broad Street.”  “Are your Mrs. Lawrence?,” I asked.  “No, Sims,” she said.  Great, I picked up the wrong person, but the trip to Broad would be a higher fare, so I continued on my merry way.

Mrs. Sims, unfortunately for me, had a really serious stutter and a thick ebonic dialect and she wanted to talk.  I responded to her with an occasional “Yes,” or “That’s right,” or “I hear ya.”

We arrived at her destination, a community health care facility and I said, “It’s fourteen dollars.”  She replied with, “TennCare’s paying for the cab,” which meant there would be a voucher for me at Yellow Cab.  I got on the radio and called the dispatcher to let her know about picking up the wrong passenger and that I should get the voucher.  The dispatcher had no record of a Mrs. Sims on Somerville, so I was screwed out of fourteen bucks.  Apparently Mrs. Sims had called a different cab company but was too dumb to notice the difference.

After her I had two trips with passengers who each had a thick ebonic dialect and wanted to talk.

Til next time, this is Fast Eddie saying, "Always tip your cab driver or you might end up in the Toxic Taxi."