Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Life of a Hack

Times have been tough lately. I’ve been thinking about driving a cab again.

When I was in my early twenties I drove for Checker Cab. Back then I actually went after jobs I thought I could get material out of. Every job had to be different and interesting.

I’m not sure if anyone turned me on to the job. I just remember walking into the office on Hodiamont right behind the Wabash train station. After a short interview with Barbara Costello (the owner) I was in.

It was pretty easy. I paid them $40.00 a day pro (cab rental) and supplied my own gas. I had to go downtown to the police station where they took my picture and got fingerprints.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

I kept the cab. It was old. A cloud of blue smoke followed me wherever I went. Metal springs from the back seat poked through its upholstery and more than once the company was sent a clothing repair bill.

I lived in that car. I’d sleep at the cab stand in front of a downtown hotel. I only went home to bathe. I considered getting rid of my apartment.

The hours were long because you couldn’t go home until you came up with the company’s $40.00 and gas money. Business was never consistent.

We had a lot of charge accounts but the company would never cough up the money they owed me.

I remember picking up a bunch of kids after school whose sole purpose in life was to torment the cabbie. One of the kids told me he didn’t live at the address I’d been given. I had no way to verify it because no one was home. He insisted they lived miles away. I knew he was lying but I didn’t know what else to do. When we got to the new location he said he was just fooling. I said, “Nope, this is where you get out.” I pushed him into the street and drove away. Half a block away the other kids in the car started laughing. “Look, look they’re beating him up!” they yelled. I looked back and, sure enough, a gang of kids was pounding him. I sped back, he jumped in and we drove off.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when I dropped him off. He hadn’t made a sound since he got back in the car.

A few days later I was called into the office by Barbara. “We have angry parents threatening to sue us on the phone.” She said. “Your kid is a monster,” I yelled into the phone. Everyone in the office laughed and we never heard from them again.

Late one night I picked up a junkie from a hospital. I had to take him down to Malcolm Bliss for methadone. His girlfriend held him as he trembled. He was singing Happiness is a Warm Gun. I wanted to turn around and smack him for butchering the song. I don’t know why but instead of feeling pity I felt he was being incredibly self indulgent. I’ve been burned by junkies before. I just can’t feel pity. Needless to say, Bliss wouldn't pay his fare and I was stiffed for the ride.

A family friend came to stay with my brother and stole everything he owned. “He can’t help it, he’s a junkie’” my brother said. “He’s an a$$hole,” I said.

All the other cab companies were our brothers with the exception of Laclede for some reason. I suppose it was because they were the biggest company in town.

We went to funerals every other weekend. There was the fear in the back of our minds that we’d be next. We were instructed to keep $30.00 on us at all times. That was supposed to be enough to keep a robber from killing you.

I ended up dispatching on the weekends because the money was a sure thing. There was a catch though. I made $50.00 dispatching but I still had to pay my $40.00 cab rental and I wasn’t allowed to drive when I got off. I had an unfair advantage apparently.

The company still wouldn't pay the charge account money they owed me. My mother lent me a gas card and I maxed it out immediately.

The charge situation got so bad we had a special union meeting. Being a cab driver in the Midwest I naturally belonged to the Seafarers Union. I remember raising my arm in solidarity and even being interviewed by a reporter from the Post-Dispatch.

We knew if we went on strike the company would fold owing us a fortune. The union leaders promised they'd talk to the company and we wouldn’t go on strike.

I arrived at the office the next morning to find guys with picket signs marching up and down the street. The company went under and I had to move back in with my mom for a few months until I could get my life back together.

Maybe I don’t want to drive a cab again.

1 comment:

Tracy said...

man, The Seafarers Union. That's pretty cool.