Cabby's corner: The mayoral candidate
He’s a rightwing, know-it-all hardliner, a nut, never read a book, wants to bomb the hell out of everybody.
‘How are you gonna get elected mayor of San Luis Obispo when all you can talk about is the shit on your shoe?’
CABBY’S CORNER, 1988
The mayoral candidate
A malcontent who wants to make parks safe from dog piles
By Dell Franklin
Harley keeps his cab as fastidiously clean as he does his own person, and hands out business cards referring to himself as a “Cab Pilot.” Harley is the only cabby on our staff of nine who personally tailors his uniforms. Harley wears one of those little black Greek caps and maintains a neat mustache beneath an overhanging nose and two close-together eyes that have earned him the behind-the-back nickname among cabbies and dispatchers of “Spuds McKenzie.” Harley runs his cab through a car wash at his own expense nearly every day and claims it is as clean as his personal vehicle, a Honda, on whose engine he brags “one could eat.”
Even though my cab is never washed and I drive a filthy, dented, duck-taped jalopy, and I usually need a haircut and present a ragged, threadbare Yellow Cab uniform, Harley and I get along famously. Before becoming a San Luis Obispo Cab Pilot, Harley taught high school in Bakersfield, California.
“I've got a college degree and what good does it do me?” he asks, as we stand by our cabs at the airport on a beautiful mid-morning waiting for the arrival of a flight from L.A., hoping to cull a fare from a prop plane. Harley sips a nutrition drink while I sip coffee and eat an apple fritter from the donut shop. “You can’t just do your job any more,” he goes on, looking distressed as I take two huge, sumptuous bites from my fritter. “Bureaucrats run the show. Principals. Superintendents. Counselors. Parents. Parents are the worst. You can’t discipline a kid, or you’ve got their parents on your ass, and you’ve got to kiss their asses, and I’ll tell you right now, teachers are the greatest ass kissers and hypocrites of all. They’ll eat lunch with you and have their little social get-togethers, and the pricks’ll stab you in the back, can’t trust any of ‘em, they’re like spies, like…double agents. You wanna know why? Because they’re like everybody else—ambitious. They care more about their ambitions than they do their professions.” He sip-s his drink. “Me? I cared. A big mistake. I wanted kids to learn because I was passionate about history and government and believe the only way this country will succeed is if people get educated. But the kids? Jesus H. Christ, these kids are a different can of worms, they have no discipline, they don’t care, they have no respect, and if you try and discipline them they whine that you don’t respect them. The little monsters tell their parents I’m a hardass, I’m picking on ‘em, and the parents go to the principal and principal’s a bureaucratic asskisser of the highest order, or else he wouldn’t be where he is, because he’s trying to please everybody, so I’m getting blamed for everything, and the kids, they’re just struggling, the parents are perfect, and that’s why I no longer teach…they can shove the job up their goddamn asses!”
“You should be thankful you’re out of Bakersfield, anyway.”
“I’m from Bakersfield.”
“Well, that’s probably what’s wrong with you in the first place.”
His face clouds over. “What do you mean by that?”
“You think Bakersfield’s a great place to be from?”
“It’s not so bad. I went to school there.”
“If it’s so great, why’d you leave?” I ask, knowing the answer.
“Because I was burnt out on teaching and the shrink told me I needed a change. And my mother moved here. Who do you think takes care of the house? Mows the lawn? Does all the odd jobs? You think that worthless parasite of a second husband of hers ever gets off his fat ass to do anything, huh?”
“Well, he’s retired. Retired people shouldn’t have to work.”
He’s staring at me in disbelief. “Retired people keep busy. They tinker in their garages. They garden. They paint. They clean. This guy, he sits on his ass all day watching TV, and when he’s not watching TV he’s got that fucking Rush Limbaugh on the radio. He’s a rightwing, know-it-all hardliner, a nut, never read a book, wants to bomb the hell out of everybody. He’s been retired on a fat aerospace pension since he was fifty-four…my mother’s waited on him like a slave for ten years!”
“Harley, if I was retired on a fat pension I wouldn’t do a damn thing but sit on my ass, too. I’d never do that household bullshit.”
“I’m the one has to do all the household bullshit,” Harley exclaims. “Anything goes wrong, I fix it, while he listens to Rush and calls me a pinko liberal. I hate the bastard.” He finishes off his drink, tosses it in the trash can, fixes his dark, persecuted eyes on me. “Every Tuesday, when I go down to the government center and get my three minutes on radio with the board of supervisors, the prick turns Rush off and listens to me, and when I get home he’s critiquing my performance when I go after the politicians and bureaucrats and corporate whores who are cocking up our small town paradise…he tells my mother—my own mother!—that I’m crazy because I want to run for mayor!”
“He’s got a reasonable point there, jackass that he is, Harley. In any case,” I finished off my fritter and sipped some coffee, “you are letting yourself get all worked up over these assholes and your disgusting stepfather, and you’re playing right into their hands, basically allowing the enemy to control you…and undermine your mental and physical health.”
“I can’t help it, dammit,” he says glumly. “I’ve got a social conscience. That’s why I got bottles of pills and medicines in my cab—I got high blood pressure, a goddamn ulcer, migraines, insomnia, anxiety attacks….” He tugs disconsolately at the brim of his little cap, which he wears to hide his baldness. “I can’t even get drunk any more, because I’m a walking timebomb, too much and I might explode, and the hangovers…I can’t have more than three beers down at McCarthy’s, or it’s hell to pay.”
“Like I say, Harley, you’re allowing these pricks to beat you down, rob you of your sanity and health, when you should be beating them down and destroying their health!”
“I’m trying. That’s why I go on public radio at those Board of Supervisors meetings every Tuesday on my day off and give those pricks three minutes of hell.”
“I’ve heard you. The other day I sat in my cab and listened to you spend two whole minutes talking about how you stepped in a clump of fresh shit at Mitchell Park. Two minutes describing the awfulness of the shit on your shoe, and the big ordeal of cleaning it off, and how it ruined your day, and when your time ran out you had not even talked about rules to keep dog owners from preventing their dogs shitting in our parks. How are you gonna get elected mayor of San Luis Obispo when all you can talk about is the shit on your shoe?” He started to protest but I cut him off, raising my hand as a stop sign. “People think you are a crazed, anal-obsessed lunatic talking about a clump of shit, for Chrissake!”
A plane roars overhead and lands. “That’s what it boils down to dammit—shit!” He waves a stabbing finger in the air. “We get shit on! Every day we get shit on, duped, lied to, and nobody fights, we go along like sheep, taking it. That’s why I raise a stink every Tuesday, and that’s why I’m dead serious about running for mayor.”
“Harley, what if, by some miracle, you win? What would you do? You’ve already antagonized and ostracized the professional grown-up powerbase in the county. You’d end up hiring a bunch of drunks from McCarthy’s, or some homeless flunkies to monitor dogs shitting in the parks. Be realistic, Harley. You can’t run for office. Just keep giving them hell every Tuesday. I always tune you in. I wouldn’t miss it for anything. You’re very entertaining. You’re a card.”
Harley’s radio crackles and he ducks into his cab to answer and is immediately distraught. Our dispatcher is sending him to pick up Alf, a disgusting, filthy, cheap, stinky, morose old retiree who tries to drink himself to death in Bull’s Tavern every day and refuses to die. The bartender always calls Alf a cab when he is stuporous and has to be helped into the cab and out, walked to his door three blocks from the bar. He never tips the twenty cents change from the three moldy, soggy, rumpled singles he hands you for a $2.80 fare. And then you have to spray and air out the cab afterwards.
Just as Harley prepares to take off, looking as though he’s going to his own execution, I am flagged down by a clean-cut Yuppie in a fine business suit, toting val pack, overnight bag, briefcase. Sales type. Always the most generous tippers and genial company. Harley appears near suicidal as I stash the Yuppie’s baggage in the trunk. I am taking him to Shell Beach, a beautiful, leisurely ride, will have a nice talk, and garner an excellent tip.
“What’s the name of that cab driver who just drove off?” he asks me, as we head out of the airport.
“Right. I had his card. Calls himself a cab pilot. Guy’s a real piece of work, huh?”
“Oh yeah. Harley’s an entertainer, a real card.”
“I like him, but jeezus, the guy can overwhelm you, to say the least. He’s into this political agenda, all upset, says he wants to run for mayor…he’s telling me he hates this place and wants to move for whatever reason. I just read where San Luis Obispo was voted one of the top ten most desirable places to live in America. No smog. No crowds. No crime. Beaches next door. A beautiful little paradise. I’ve been trying to move up here for years, but my business is down in L.A.”
“Yeah, Harley went on vacation last year to Santa Fe, New Mexico. He wants to move there. Says the people are nicer and more friendly. And it’s cleaner. That’s the biggest thing with Harley—cleanliness.”
“This place is as clean as it gets.”
“It’s not clean enough for Harley. He says there’s too much dogshit in the parks. One of the reasons he’s gonna run for mayor is to prosecute and incarcerate all those responsible for allowing dogs to shit in our parks and on our sidewalks. In fact, if you’re in town tomorrow, you can catch Harley addressing the board of supervisors on public radio.”
“Jesus, maybe he should move to Santa Fe, huh?”
Six months later, Harley had issues with the cab company hierarchy and either quit or was fired. Nobody really knows the straight story. Anyway, Harley eventually ran for mayor and finished last, but actually garnered some votes, no doubt from McCarthy’s patrons. Because I’ve lived in Cayucos, I couldn’t vote for him, but I would have if I lived in San Luis Obispo, which I really don’t like that much. Too clean. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his Cabby's Corner series here: