Chicago, Illinois, 3:45 AM on a Cold winter's Saturday Night.
Late, late in the night, in a poor, mostly hispanic neighborhood with gangs a' shooting and a' selling, out picking up the drunks, fools and junkies roaming a Saturday night well after the bars have closed. I'm drinking my last cup of coffee, got it in snuggled in my crotch -- and yea, more than once, I have hit a bump and burned my pecker. All I want is a few more fares and I am on the red train ride back to a life where I never pick up strangers in the dead of night.
This guy is in the cab before I realize that he¢s danger. Most of the time, you don¢t know at first. There is no particular type of person that you can let your guard down around. This one I recognize as a fare jumper from like a month before. I reach down under the seat, pull out the tire out and hold it loosely over my lap, ready to smack him upside the head if he pushes me too far. THIS TIME the threat is a gay, black guy. The night he ripped me off he had just acted like he didn¢t have to pay!! I threatened to kick his ass but he seemed to know I wouldn¢t fight him over a few dollars.
I do not get taken by the same face twice.
"You got money tonight?" I ask him,
His response is almost angry, "Yea, yea. Just get going man."
We are sitting in front of his house, in a bad neighborhood where little kids were always getting caught in the cross fire and young black guys were out selling crack and h and tiny dimes of weed and whatever the hell else they can make some bling off. This is no place for me to make a scene. I start fighting him and he could maybe call in reinforcements from his house.
"I¢m going to have to see the money up front."
"Sure, man, just take off and get going."
"Go one, man, go one.. I'll get out my money... just get going."
I pull away from the dark patch in front of his house, drive out to a major intersection, Division and Western, pull over and tell him, I have to see some money or I am going to throw your ass out."
About then a cop comes driving slowly by. They shine a bright as day, white ray of light into the back seat, right into this guys face. The one on the passenger side tells me
" Hey, cabbie, we have had some problems with him."
The cops know him from past encounters--just what I fucking want to hear about my fare. I tell them
"Thanks for stopping, officers. I¢m checking to see if he has money."
The cop laughs, tells me, "You had better."
I turn back to my now alerted and worried passenger. He is tall and thin, probably good looking enough to get the little boys he meets excited. He is holding one hand up trying to keep the light out of his eyes. I tell him, in my most bad ass, serious voice.
"Show me the money or I am going to have you arrested."
"I think I going to walk," he tells me in a pissed off voice.
"Damn right, you¢re going to walk, asshole. You are lucky these cops are here, or I would kick your ass so hard your'd be tasting terds. Up and down this street, boy, if I catch you flagging me again. I will not say a word, just start wailing on you with this tire iron that I happen to have in my hand."
Turning back to the cops, I use a most cynical voice to say, " He decided to walk."
The cop in the passenger window turns back to his partner and says, "Hear that? He decided to fucking walk."
I hear the back door open and close. Relief passes breifly through my mind whenand I am free of The asshole-cancer-on-society who thinks its cool to jump in taxi¢s without money because there is little a cab driver can do. If we wait for the cops and take all the hours off to file a report, you end up making NO MONEY on a peice of machinery that costs 80 dollars a day. We just bark real loud at the fare jumpers, and then turn up the music, take a break -- whatever... try find some persona inside of that can smile and be nice to the next customer who crawls in out of the dark.
I drove cab for fifteen years. In toledo and chicago. I am going to start putting little vignettes of the nights and days picking up and delivering human cargo into this blog... So much happened that I am amazed I am alive--despite the best efforts of my customers and other cars.