Cabby's corner: A rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cab
Fellow cabbies despise the ‘A’ cab. Most of us would rather skip work than drive it, but because we are all poor and hungry, we have no choice.
The two beauties begin arguing heatedly over the cab, their tender young faces taking on a reptilian cast as the invective grows nasty. I have no choice but to get out of my cab in the rain and order them all out until I get things under control.
A rainy New Year’s Eve in the ‘A’ cab
By Dell Franklin
It’s a cold, blustery, rainy New Year’s Eve and I get to drive the “A” cab because I’m the newest addition to the cab company (2 1/2 months) and therefore at the bottom of the pecking order. The only time anybody drives the “A” cab is when other cabs are broken down, or on special occasions when all the drivers are working—like tonight.
Fellow cabbies despise the “A” cab. Most of us would rather skip work than drive it, but because we are all poor and hungry, we have no choice. The cab owner does not like to hear bitching, and especially about his “A” cab, one of our favorite targets of bitchery. A month or so back, after a long, grueling shift that stretched into the wee hours, I left the boss a note that referred to the “A” cab as a “PIECE OF SHIT.” The boss in turn left me a caustic note informing me I would be “fired if I ever again referred to any of his cabs as a PIECE OF SHIT!”
The boss buys dinner for the cab crew in a pleasant restaurant around five in the afternoon before sending us out for New Year’s Eve, which is insane, animalistic, bizarre. As we chow down, he goes over the dos and don’ts on such a night, gets everybody squared away, and grins at me in a leering manner. “Old man,” he says with finality, “you get the ‘A’ cab. Don’t try and take the ‘S’ or ‘G’ cab—they’re reserved for our graveyard drivers.”
I salute him like a good soldier.
Early on, with a light intermittent rain coming down, I get small fares in town. I poop along, the gas gauge, after 40 miles, already beneath the 3/4 tank line. The “A” cab gets around nine miles per gallon, while our other cabs get anywhere between 17 and 20, and run well, all gauges, lights and amenities functioning.
I get a call out in the country a few miles outside of San Luis Obispo, where I am to transport some people back downtown. With rain clouds smothering all moonlight, it is very dark out in the country. The rain comes down harder. I have difficulty seeing, the road because my windows are misting up. I roll down my door window six inches so I can spot signs and hope cold air will dissolve the misting front window. Still, I cannot find the road I’m looking for. I drive a ways, realize I’m half way to Arroyo Grande, and turn around. There is nobody on the road. I’m crawling along like a turtle. Finally, I spot a bank of mailboxes and turn onto a narrow lane.
The rain slants down hard on an angle from the wind and into the cab, saturating me, splattering my log, blurring its ink-stained numbers and locations. I curse. I have to turn the beast around at a dead end and this involves blindly evading water-filled gullies and fence posts. I have a stiff neck already and it takes me several stops and starts, with no power steering. I grind my teeth; I’m losing time, which means losing money, but finally get the beast turned around and as I cruise back a bunch of folks under umbrellas are jumping up and down, gesturing frantically, screaming at me. I pull over. They pile in, grateful to be out of the heavy rain.
“You drove right past us,” chirps a girl.
"Sorry. I didn’t see you. The windows are fogged up.”
“How come the windows are fogged up?”
“It’s freezing in here,” says a young guy.
“Sorry,” I tell him. “Heater quit, too.”
A girl is squished up beside me, turns on the radio, starts hitting buttons, but nothing comes on. I tell her the radio is also dead.
“You poor thing,” she says.
“Tell that to my boss.”
I must write down what time I picked them up and where in my log, but I have no overhead lighting. So I bought this device that clamps to my clipboard and sheds light on the log whenever I open it. Only it has quit after working for about two hours. I can’t see a thing. My bifocals are misted and splattered. In the darkness, I scribble in the log. When I turn off the rural lane onto the country road, the car makes a grinding noise.
“What’s that?” asks the girl beside me, alarmed.
“Well, I’m no mechanic, but I think it’s the tire rubbing against the inside of the fender. Anyway, I hope so.”
“Jesus,” groans a guy in the back. “This thing is a real pig. How fast does it go?”
“It takes several blocks to get up to fifty, and the tranny tugs three times before you get there, but after that, it’s smooth sailing, though it does shimmy at sixty.”
All the way into town I tell the crew about the various maladies plaguing the “A” cab in a longsuffering drone, in my own way begging for tips, and it works. They throw money at me, wish me luck.
Later, in a neighborhood that seems to be a labyrinth, I’m lost, and cursing. I contact my dispatcher, who could perhaps guide me to the residence from her computer, but she lashes out at me in a very strident manner because she is swamped with calls and suggests I use my Thomas Guide map book and hangs up on me before I can explain there’s no interior lighting and my flashlight quit…for God’s sake…you KNOW! I’m in the “A cab—have mercy!
I get out of the cab and stand at my headlights, flipping through my Thomas Guide as the rain pours down on me, sopping up my map, which I study under the cab’s brights. Through rain-splattered bifocals I manage to locate the residence. I scurry back into my cab. Head craned out the window, and cruise around until I find the address and, just before I am about to pull into the driveway and knock on the door—the horn doesn’t work—the dispatcher comes on and in a weary, disgusted voice notifies me that the fare has cancelled after waiting 40 minutes. She sends me somewhere else.
“Shit!” What a rotten night. It is close to midnight and I’ve got a 1/4-tank of gas and I’m not making anywhere near the money I’d hoped for and counted on, and all because of the goddamn “A” cab!
I drive to residences and take students downtown, and where I pick up more students and take them to residences. I drive students from party to party. They all comment on the “A” cab: How you can’t see out of it, and how it’s freezing, and wet inside, and how the radio won’t work, and how the whole beastly thing clunks and rattles and groans and has no guts and is a pig. And to all these charges I continue my longsuffering drone, fretting over my turn of luck, my low place in the cabby pecking order. In almost all cases they over--tip me out of mercy, especially the coeds, soft-hearted creatures who refer to me over and over as “poor thing.”
As I lumber around, hungry, highly caffeineated, shivering, soaked—more or less adapted to my miserable situation—I notice that the dash light gauges have gone out and a new light has flashed on in bright red—ENGINE. A red flag. Now the “A” cab is threatening to quit on me. I get hold of an experienced cabby on my phone and inform him of my problem, explaining that if I get an OT (out-of-town-ride) and the beast quits on me, I’m stranded in the rain.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “The ‘A’ cab always does that. It’s got over three-hundred-thousand miles on it. It’s on its second engine, and the wiring’s a little off, but it won’t quit. The ‘A’ cab, it’s a real drag, but it won’t quit on you.”
After one in the morning, my eyes grainy and sore from straining to see through the dark fog of a rainy New Year’s Eve, I pick up a carload of students downtown and drive them up a narrow, winding road at the edge of town—to a hilltop. The cab strains and groans. Everybody’s drunk, but not so drunk they don’t feel the frost inside the cab, a pig, they agree. It’s fogged up and soggy, rain slants through my open window. Again I repeat in an exhausted, highly persecuted voice my long-suffering refrain. There are cars parked on either side of the narrow street, and I grip the wheel tensely with both hands, head craned out the window so I don’t sideswipe a car.
I succeed in dropping off the students. They toss me money and wish me luck and a happy New Year and then direct me in my turnaround, which includes more grind-ing, squeaking and grappling with the steering wheel. I slither back down the hill and my dispatcher tells me to go downtown and pick up anybody I find in the bar-closing mad-dog free-for-all. My gas gauge is on empty. Somehow, I’m beginning to feel smugly heroic at having negotiated the cab in the ceaseless downpour. There is a certain satisfaction in being victimized. I am now used to the “A” cab, like a soldier resigned to the dirtiest of missions.
I pull up in front of the Mission Grill in downtown SLO, where a cabby is just pulling away with a carload. It is a mob scene with several formally dressed people frantically flagging me down. From across the street, at Bull’s Tavern, a crowd of young folks dash toward me, converging with kids from Mission Grill. Within seconds there are around 10 people squashed into my cab. The all begin announcing their destinations, which vary in direction. I explain that I cannot drive people in opposite directions. Cold and drunk, they start bickering with each other over who called a cab first, who got in first, refusing to budge, like squatters. Some wave bills at me in an attempt to curry favor and bribe. There are two gorgeous coed knockouts in evening dresses that reveal lots of leg and firm breast. One is in the back seat, the other beside me, and the two begin arguing heatedly over the cab, their tender young faces taking on a reptilian cast as the invective grows nasty. I have no choice but to get out of my cab in the rain and order them all out until I get things under control.
Very firm, I take charge, herd them all out.
“Somebody’s got to give in, be fair, be merciful,” I say. “There’s more cabs coming anyway. Somebody be nice—make the sacrifice!”
The two girls are on opposite ends of the cab, and they’re ig-noring me, still jawing at each other. They look haggard and deranged. One of the girls’ neckline has dropped to the side, so that most of her breast is exposed, and I’m staring at it. She doesn’t notice the exposed breast or me, though; she just wants her cab.
“You goddamn bitch,” she screams raggedly at the other girl on the opposite side. “This is MY fucking cab.”
“Don’t call ME a bitch!” shrieks the other. “You goddamn…cunt!”
Guys wince and fall back.
“You can eat my dick,” shrills the first beauty.
“You’d LIKE to eat my dick, wouldn’t you, you ugly…squaw.”
“Don’t call me a squaw, you goddamn whore…”
I start waving my hands, like a referee, as the girl on my side of the cab pulls up the strap of her evening dress and tucks her breast back in. “That’s enough! I won’t have that kind of viciousness in my cab. For God’s sake, what would your parents think about your behavior…?”
Meanwhile, a calm guy around 30, in a suit, tie loosened, eyes bloodshot, seems to have materialized out of nowhere, and nudges me.
“I’ll tip you fifty bucks if you take my party to the Cliffs in Shell Beach,” he says, quietly.
“Hop in,” I say, just as quietly.
While the screaming match between the two beauties continues, the suited guy waves his crew into the cab and before the babes and their lackies can protest I am gone, croaking down the road. I explain to my crew that I must stop for gas, and explain the maladies of the “A” cab, and they’re fine, thankful to have a cab, any kind of cab.
Once I’m sloshing and shimmying along the freeway, headed south on 101, the front window fogs up, and I roll down the side window and warn everybody in back about the rain. The guy who is going to pay for the cab and I begin talking. He graduated from Cal Poly 10 years ago and now lives in San Diego and has started his own software company. He’s just back to party with old college pals. His girlfriend beside me tells me how wonderful I am for giving them a ride. I’m her favorite cab driver, a real prize. She’s so nice she withdraws a handkerchief from her purse and starts wiping down the inside of the windshield so I can see. Her breath smells of Jager-meister. She yacks and wipes, a worker, and I settle back and drive.
I pull up in front of the Cliffs, and the software guy gives me a twenty and a fifty and apologizes for being 50 cents shy when the tab comes to $20.50. I tell him it’s okay and they all thank me effusively for rescuing them from the rain and chaos in SLO, and then I’m back on the road.
It’s two thirty. I check with my dispatcher, who tells me to hurry up and get back downtown, for there are more than 30 fares stacked up all over town and downtown. As I’m tooling along, the red ENGINE light suddenly turns off, and the dash lights reappear. Then a miracle occurs—the defroster comes on, along with the heater. Warm air caresses my wet legs and a steady flow from the defroster clears the fog from inside the windshield. I hit the horn—it works, if weakly. I reach up to turn the switch for the overhead light, and it, too, comes on—weakly. I turn on the radio, find NPR, and—hallalooyah!— it comes on loud and clear, belting out Beethoven’s 6th Pastoral. I turn it up full blast. I am jubilant. The fifty dollar tip has made my night. I glance down at my lap. It is indecipherable—over 30 rides, smeared, streaked, smudged, blotted out.
There is more money to be made now. People tip like crazy at this hour, in this rain, desperate to get home. The rain is at last fizzling down to a mist. I get off the freeway and drive downtown to the main drag, stop at the busiest bar—MOTHER’S TAVERN. Again parties of New Year’s revelers converge on my cab. A group settles in, gives me directions. I start out, while a girl sitting up front starts messing with my radio.
“Don’t touch that radio!” I shout.
She withdraws her hand as if in fear of electrocution. “Can’t we listen to some rap?” she asks in a wee, squeaky, pleady girly voice.
“What about rock…or rhythm and blues…?”
“No,” I say. “It’s Beethoven or walk.”§
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at email@example.com. Read more of his Cabby's Corner series here: