Cabby's corner: Old blind Lizzie
Dragging her purse, she cried and shrilled, ‘You’ll be back, you desperate prick.’
‘I’m Lizzie’s son,’ he said, looking tough. ‘And I’m a government agent.’
St. Patrick’s Day, 1989
Old blind Lizzie
And her son, the ‘government agent’
By Dell Franklin
During the winter months following the holidays, unless it’s raining, the cab business in San Luis Obispo is dead. You sit all day reading and working crosswords. You jump when your radio crackles with the dispatcher’s voice. The pickin’s are so slim you’ll take anybody in your cab, endure odious behavior, feel your gorge rise at the degradation of it all. On a bad day, you’ll go along, and go along, until finally, as a human being, you revolt.
A month before St. Patrick’s Day I eighty-sixed a woman around 65 from my cab. She lived in a trailer park and drank at the Gaslight, which was about a mile from her compound. Lizzie described herself in a witch-cackling voice as a “bitch on wheels,” and boasted of burying three “worthless husbands— a cook, a house painter, and a soldier I met during the war when I was an Army nurse.” Lizzie was white-haired, wiry, slightly bent, with a long, pink needle nose and beady eyes that blazed when the juice drove her into diatribes.
“It’s all a bunch of shit,” she always started out, when I’d pick her up in the morning to transport her to the Gaslight.
“Yeh, Lizzie, it sure is when you gotta drive a cab for a living.”
“You don’t know hard times, bub. One of my husbands, the Army bum, he drove a cab after his discharge. They fired him for driving drunk. He was a real prick, useless as any man ever lived, but oh boy, could he bullshit, a real know-it-all-do-nothin’, and when I called him on it the bastard beat me, and I gave it back, took a bat to him…the sonofabitch!”
I was always a tiny bit thankful to get Lizzie in the morning, when she was merely musty and sour from hangover and could get into the cab by herself. Afternoons and early evenings involved going into the smoky bar and listening to the insults and wisecracks from the dingy mopes and prying Lizzie off her stool, leading her out by the arm and helping her into the front seat of the cab where she’d wet herself, and I’d smell her urine on the vinyl seat which always sizzled from the sun beating through the untinted windows. No AC.
“They’re all pricks….” she’d grumble, half-drooling, listing in her seat. “This asshole’s butterin’ me up…well, he ain’t gettin’ shit from me, bub, the nasty ol’ four-flusher. He ain’t got a dime to his name. I made my way, supported bums for husbands, and nobody’s gonna get my money or my meat.”
“Good. You tell ‘em, Lizzie.”
“You’re a wise ass. Like all the rest.”
“Damn right. I’m worse.”
“You gotta girl?”
“Hell no. All the good ones left me, and then the bad ones left me, and now all I got is a cat who tolerates me.”
“Well, you got what you deserved, bub.”
The last time I drove her home she accused me for the umpteenth time of cheating her, and taking advantage of her poor eyesight. The fare was always $4.80, and she usually quibbled over the 20 cents change, sometimes giving it to me, sometimes not, about once a month giving me a dollar. Sometimes she insisted she’d given me a ten instead of a five. “You greedy cabbies can cheat and steal from the company…I don’t give a damn about that…but yah can’t cheat old blind Lizzie, no sir!”
All this after I open her door, lift her out of the cab, half carry her up the short stairway, take her key and open the door, steer her inside and help her into her cushioned rocking chair, fetch her a beer, turn on the TV, and scurry from the musty room to wipe the piss off the front seat before discarding the soggy paper towels into her trash can.
Well, finally one day I’d had it. We were sitting in the cab, and she started with her grumbling.
“That’s it!” I bellowed, startling the poor woman. “I’ve had it with you, Lizzie. You’re eighty-sixed from my cab. Let the other saps take your abuse. Get out of this goddamn cab!”
“Good. Hell with you. Don’t need yer help.” She struggled with the door, fell into the street, spent a minute or two trying to stand, then began crawling up the brief stairway while I mopped up her urine. Dragging her purse, she cried and shrilled, “You'll be back, you desperate prick.” She lay on her back, wedged against the door, fumbling in her purse for a key. “All you cabbies are losers, an’ bums, an’ failures, you’ll be back…”
I drove off and informed the dispatcher I was finished with her. Lizzie called in later to complain, but there was nothing she could do, and soon the other cabbies agreed to eighty-six her, and so Lizzie was flat out of luck, had to mooch rides from bar drunks, most of whom lacked cars, driver’s licenses or the wherewithal to get them.
Then came St. Patrick’s Day. A hectic day for cabbies, and one in which I’d picked up an attractive thirtyish brunette at a garage where her car was being worked on and drove her to work. Office girl. We hit it off and agreed to meet in a downtown bar for an after-work toddy. I worked helter-skelter nonstop from 7 a.m. until after 5 p.m., and was on my way back to the compound when the dispatcher called and asked me to pick up one more—at the Gaslight.
“It better not be Lizzie.”
“No. It’s a guy.”
Carl? I knew of no Carl. The Gaslight at this time had some real unwholesome characters, young and old, and one young guy, with cocaine smeared all over his inflamed nostrils, actually lunged suddenly across the seat and planted a kiss on my neck after ravenously eyeing me up. I backhanded him across the face and quickly deposited him on the curb, Could he be Carl?
It was almost 6 p.m., so I stopped downtown at the bar where I was to meet my date and found her surrounded by drunken men hitting on her. She decided to come with me for my last ride of the day. She sat in the front seat as I pulled up to the Gaslight’s tiny parking area, which is situated on the corner of one of the town’s busiest intersections. I went inside and saw Lizzie listing at the end of the crowded bar, beer can in one hand, cigarette in the other.
“There he is!” she yammered. “Rotten bastard…”
“There he is!” somebody else yelled. “The rotten no-good prick!”
“We’re Lizzie’s friends,” announced a burly construction guy from the poolroom, as he waved a cue menacingly. “We don’t like you, boy.”
I gazed at the bartender, a gal. “Who needs a ride?”
A heavyset mussed up unshaven guy in a tight T-shirt came over.
“I’m Lizzie’s son,” he said, looking tough. “And I’m a government agent.”
“By God, I got friends,” Lizzie yammered. “I don’t need the prick.”
“Yeah, we’re Lizzie's friends.”
Everybody in the packed bar seemed to be growling at me, closing in, telling me they were Lizzie’s friends. I turned and started out. The son tapped my shoulder. I turned back around, prepared.
“I’m ordering you to take my mother home,” he said grimly.
“Take her home yourself,” I said, turning and starting for the door. He jumped around into my path, leveling a finger in my face. I stepped around him and hurried through the door, out into the still warm afternoon. Traffic was lined up. The brunette sat in my cab looking on as I headed toward her, the entire bar, minus Lizzie, spilling out into the parking lot and sidewalk.
“I’m a government agent,” the son yelled again, confronting me at the door of my cab. “I’m ORDERING you to take my mother home.”
“Government agent? You look like a drunk to me.”
His finger was again in my face. “I could kick your ass, bub, if I want, but I can’t, ‘cuz I’m not allowed to ‘cuz I’m a government agent, and we’re not allowed to fight scum like you.”
“Hit him, Carl!” somebody yelled. “Kick his ass!”
I ripped off my Irish drinking cap and flipped it into the cab where my date was huddled up against the door, quailing. I’d been driving for more than ten hours, nonstop, back and forth, up and down the same old streets, fighting traffic, clocking over 200 city miles, sweating, salivating, hemorrhoids itching and burning, head throbbing, putting up with drunks, wanting only to end this hell and get into a cool bar and slug down a merciful shot of Jack and chase it with an ice cold beer.
“Go ahead!” I cried, stepping up chest-to-chest with the agent. “You motherfucker, HIT ME! I give you permission. You cocksucker, I’m begging you—take your best shot!”
Now the crazy bastard stepped back and commenced kicking the front tire of my cab.
“That’s Yellow Cab property!” I hollered, moving toward him. “You government piece of shit, you kick that goddamn tire one more time I’ll call the cops for destroying private property.”
My date, looking terribly distressed, motioned frantically for me to get back in the cab. I ignored her, turned to the crowd. “All of you!” I hollered. “You think Lizzie’s so great? Then YOU take her home! Let her piss in your car, you drunken sonsofbitches!” I pointed to her son, who’d retreated a few paces. "Go clean your mother’s piss off her barstool, or else take your best shot. Make up your mind.”
He backed up, leveling a finger at me. “You’re in trouble,” he said. “You’re gonna be reported. You’ll pay for this. I’ll have your job, asshole.”
“Job!” I shouted, moving toward him. “You want my fucking job? Any of you scumbags want my fucking job?” I was hoarse by now as a din of honking horns accompanied my tirade. “Take my fucking job! Go ahead. I’ll take the girl. You motherfuckers can have the cab.” I waved my arms around, frothing at the mouth. “It’s yours, take it!”
They filed back into the bar, Carl among them, and the cacophony of horns seized as traffic restarted, a couple people yelling encouragement to me from their cars and giving me the thumbs up sign, I got into my cab, heart pumping, fingers trembling, gulping for breath, reeking of adrenalin, gnashing my teeth. My date was wringing her hands, biting her lips.
“My God,” she cried, near tears, “what kind of job is this? How can you…how can you do it?”
“I’ll tell you all about it over a few beers, kid. It’s not all bad. There’s some good out there. Hang with me.”
We drove out to the cab yard and while she got into my jalopy I went into the dispatch office to see Tammy, my dispatcher.
“That was Lizzie’s son at the Gaslight,” I cried. “Goddammit, he says he’s a government agent and he tried to fight me.”
“Government agent?” she said, then laughed. “He’s no government agent. He got fired from the post office in Santa Barbara. You know how hard it is to get fired as a mailman? You’ve got to be the biggest screw-up and idiot on earth.”
The brunette and I hit all the bars until closing time and got on famously, forged a yearlong relationship before it ended. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here: