The Rogue Voice


November 01, 2006

Cabby's corner: Mr. Headphones

He replaced the headphones around his ears as I drove out of the park. He smiled distantly and bobbed his head up and down and rocked it from side to side as I drove along.

At Mother’s, he would say something, and the person he was talking to started to say something, he lifted the headphones to his ears, and when he had something to say, he lowered them, and then lifted them without waiting for a retort.

Mr. Headphones
Getting drunk and tuning out the world

By Dell Franklin

By Dell Franklin

I pulled up to a mobile home in one of San Luis Obispo’s many mobile home parks to see this guy sitting in an easy chair on the front porch. He was drinking from a half quart of Bud. A heavyset guy around 30, he was heavily bundled and wore wrap-around shades and headphones and a ballcap. The mobile home, compared to those all around, was pretty rundown. The man in the easy chair took a while to notice me, but when he did he finished off the half quart, crushed the can, discarded it on the porch, and stood and made his way down the steps toward my cab, a pack strapped onto his back. He entered the back of the cab, settled in, and lowered his headphones to his neck.
“Take me to a bar,” he said, and pulled the headphones back up.
“What bar?” I asked. He ignored me, into his music. “WHAT BAR?” I turned and hollared. He lowered his headphones.
“What bar do you want to go to?”
“Downtown, chief. Take me downtown.”
“What bar downtown?”
“It don’t matter. Anywhere downtown where the bars are. You want a beer? I got one in my backpack.”
“No thanks. I’m fine.”
“How about a nip of Schnapps? I got peach.”
“I’m fine.”
He replaced the headphones around his ears as I drove out of the park. He smiled distantly and bobbed his head up and down and rocked it from side to side as I drove along, half observing him in my rear-view mirror. I was soon downtown, on Higuera, the main drag, and halted in front of Mother’s Tavern. There were four bars within a few doors of one another.
“This where you want to go?” I asked. He was just sitting there, smiling to himself, giggling. “IS THIS WHERE YOU WANT TO GO?” I shouted.
He lowered his headphones to his neck. “What?”
“Is this where you wanna go?”
“Yeah, chief. I’ll go in and have a nip. You wait for me. I’ll be right back.”
He placed the headphones around his ears and got out of the cab before I could tell him I did not want to wait around for him, that he should pay now, and when he wanted a ride later he could call our dis-patcher. He lowered his headphones at the window of my cab and showed me his cell phone. “I’ll call you from the bar,” he explained. “What’s your cell number?”
“I don’t have a cell phone.”
“You don't have a cell phone?”
“No. I hate cell phones.”
“All the cabbies got cell phones, chief. How come you don’t have one?”
“I just told you--I hate them. You’re gonna hafta call the dis-patcher. You’re not supposed to call cabbies.”
But he already had his headphones around his ears and walked into the bar next door to Mother’s, the Library, a less upscale establish-ment. Since there were no rides waiting on this lazy late Sunday after-noon, which is usually a dead time, I did not stress over losing fares, though I did consult a fellow cabbie who held the dispatch phone, and he informed me there would be planes arriving at the airport in half an hour.
Just as I got my Sunday LA Times crossword puzzle started, my fare came out. He lowered his headphones. “How’s it goin’, chief?” Before I could answer, he lifted the phones to his ears. “I’m goin’ across the street to the Frog and Peach and have a beer,” he announced and commenced weaving across the street, causing cars to either honk, swerve around him, or stop to observe him wobbling into the Frog. I did my crossword for about 10 minutes and then he was at my window, phones down. “How’s it goin’, chief?” he asked.
“Good...” But the headphones were up as he waltzed into Mother’s. I waited a minute and got out and stood by the door to observe my fare sitting at the bar, conversing and not conversing with a few customers. He would say something, and the person he was talking to started to say something, he lifted the headphones to his ears, and when he had something to say, he lowered them, and then lifted them without waiting for a retort. Finally nobody would talk to him and he was soon back in the cab wanting to go to a neighborhood bar over by the bus station, a mile or so away. The meter was up to $12.
“I think Mr. Z’s is closed,” I told him.
He was into his music, smiling distantly, bobbing and rocking.
“I THINK MISTER Z’S IS CLOSED!” I bellowed as loud as I could, turning to face him.
He lowered his headphones. “What?”
“Go there anyway.” He lifted the headphones. I drove there. They were closed. He got out anyway, stood at the door, knocking, peering in, came back, settled in the back seat. “Take me to the Gas Light,” he said, not bothering to lower his headphones. I drove down a residential artery and turned on Broad Street and pulled into a tiny parking lot at the Gas Light. A few sodden characters stood just off the doorway smoking. My fare got out, entered the bar. I waited a while and then went into the darkness of the Gas Light, and there he was, sitting at the bar, talking and not listening, lifting and lowering his headphones. Then he got on his cell phone. Soon our cabbie/dispatcher was consulting me on my company cell phone, wanting to know what the hell was going on with my fare.
“I’m standing at the door of the Gas Light watching him drink at the bar,” I told him.
“He says he wants a cab.”
“He’s already got a goddamn cab! What do you think I’m doing? I’m waiting for this idiot to finish his drink. If he calls you back, hang up on him.”
“Ten-four,” my dispatcher said disgustedly.
Soon my fare was in the back seat. Wanted to go to another bar downtown, a few blocks from the bars he’d already been in, about a mile away.
“I’m sick of driving you around,” I told him. “I’m gonna take you home.”
But he had the headphones up. I yelled at him. He lowered them. I told him I was driving him home. He begged me to take him to just one more bar, promised a big tip, waved around a wad of twenties.
“Come on, chief, be cool, huh, good bro’?” He lifted the headphones. I drove him to Bull’s Tavern. He staggered in, came back real soon, lowered the headphones. “The pricks won’t serve me,” he announced. “Goddamn pricks. I spend a lotta money in there. They say I’m drunk. I’m not drunk. They say I’m 86’d. I don’t remember nobody 86’ing me, chief.”
“Get in. I’ll take you home.”
He got in, lifted the headphones. “I don’t wanna go home. Take me to McCarthy’s.” He lowered the phones.
“I’m not taking you to McCarthy’s,” I said. “I’m taking you home.”
He grinned, bobbing and rocking. I took off down Higuera, in the opposite direction of McCarthy’s. He lowered his headphones. “Hey, chief. McCarthy’s the other way.” He lifted the headphones.
“I have to go to the end of the block and turn around,” I explained, “because it’s a one-way street. Don’t you know that, you fucking moron. You’ve lived here all your life, and you don’t know what bar’s closed and what bar’s opened, and you don’t know when you’re drunk and not drunk, and you don’t know what bar you’re 86’d from and what bar you’re not 86’d from, and you don’t know the streets…you don’t know your fucking ass from a hole in the ground, you goddamn zombie…how the fuck do you survive…?”
He rocked and bobbed and smiled distantly until he realized I was hauling ass up Higuera, a mile from downtown, almost to Madonna Road. He lowered his headphones.
“Where you goin’, chief?”
“Taking you home, chief.”
“Bullshit! This is my cab. I rule.”
“You’re going home, chief. Put your goddamn headphones back around your ears and enjoy the music.”
“Look, can you take me to my buddy’s house, over on Laurel Lane?”
“No. That’s across town.”
“Fuck, man, you’re an asshole! There goes your tip.”
I swerved into the mobile home park and zipped around, pissing off the residents, and halted at his rundown residence. He was leaf-ing through his wad. The fare was $22. He gave me a twenty, then began carefully counting singles. I snared a bunch from his hand and told him to get out.
“You’re stealin’ my money, chief. Fuckin’ asshole, man.”
“Get out, chief. Call your friend on your cell. OUT!”
“You stole money from me, chief! You’re a thief!”
I had twenty-eight dollars. I tossed him a single, which he snatched. “Get out, chief. You’re 86’d from this cab.”
He got out. It took him a while. “I’m reporting you, chief,” he announced. “I’m callin’ the other cabbie. They take good care-a me. I tip ‘em big. You’re a real fuckin’ puke, man.”
“I’m gonna call the other cabbies and the dispatcher and tell ‘em you’re 86’d, chief, because you’re a fuckin’ puke.”
I pulled away, chuckling. In my rearview mirror, I saw him with his cell phone, weaving in place, squinting at it through his shades, poking at it with his stubby fingers. §

Publisher Dell Franklin can be reached at Read more of his Cabby's Corner series here:

  • Ode to Tobias Wolff
  • Sisters from South Central
  • A soldier's story
  • First fare (hair of the dog)
  • href="">The good lawyer

  • Go to the main page for this month's Rogue Voice


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