Cabby's corner: A real winner
A large percentage of fares at county jail are savagely hung over from a night of drinking and are subdued and bedraggled from being busted.
‘Listen, ma’am,’ I said, ‘I’m just a cabby trying to make a living. I don’t wanna kill him if I don’t have to.’
A real winner
He’s a little short and in risk of his life
CABBY’S CORNER, 1988
By Dell Franklin
I was at county jail, out by the state prison and Army base, on the outskirts of town, waiting for a fare when this guy around thirty emerged from the glass door looking like some big lanky gangling, shambling moolyak in farmer’s bib overalls. He jounced along, without rhythm to his gait, poorly defined facial features, unfocused bloodshot eyes, reminding me of a puppet on a string.
You never know what to expect when they send you to county jail. Half the time it’s a no-show, the caller using a cab as back-up while they try to contact a friend or relative to pick them up after a DUI, drunk in public, or a domestic dispute. One time I picked up a guy who got into a verbal altercation with another driver on the freeway and was reported by car phone to the police for giving him the finger in a menacing manner. He was jailed for eight hours.
Even when you find somebody at county jail, it’s usually 50-50 whether they have enough money, or any money, and checks are no good, so they almost always beg you to take them wherever with a promise to pay on arrival of destination. No cabbie is supposed to take anybody anywhere without proof of cash for an out-of-towner, or even a trip into San Luis Obispo (around $14), but sometimes you give them a break on instinct, like the finger-giving guy who lived in Arroyo Grande and tipped me twenty bucks.
A large percentage of fares at county jail are savagely hung over from a night of drinking and are subdued and bedraggled from being busted, cuffed and degraded by police officers. A bad scene. Half the time, in the morning, they are college students. You must keep an eye on them or they’ll puke in your cab, and no amount of disinfectant or
Lysol will remove the stomach-churning stench, which lingers for weeks, a cabby’s nightmare. If they are severely hung over and you see that their jowls quiver like a frog you pull over instantly and order them out of your cab.
“Go on, puke your guts out, but not in MY cab!”
This guy didn’t look like he was going to puke. I didn’t know what to think of him. “How much to Greyhound?” he asked, settling in the back seat. “I can catch the bus to Atascadero.”
“About fifteen bucks.”
“Oh, great. I got it. Say, how much to Atascadero?”
“About forty bucks.”
“Hey, I got it.”
“Can I see your money, pal?”
“Sure.” He showed me a thick wad with a twenty on top.
We started out. I asked him what he was in for. This was a Tues-day evening, around six. I was working alone. Usually a dead night. No body waiting for any rides. He said he was walking down the street about eleven in the morning, drunk, and a cop pulled him aside to check him out and found a joint of weed in his pocket, and so they checked him into jail for drunk in public and possession of marijuana. Mickey Mouse bullshit. Harrassment.
We got into town and he wanted to stop at a liquor store on Monterey to get a sandwich, as he hadn’t eaten all day. Sure. He came out with a bag of goodies and began stuffing himself in the back seat as I pulled onto the freeway, headed north for Atascadero. Despite his bad day, he seemed in high spirits, and I saw why when he pulled a pint of Jim Beam out of his paper bag and took a good snort before returning to some mad chawing of his sandwich, spilling crumbs all over his overalls. While crumbs spilled from his mouth, he explained that he worked part time in a furniture store but was going to quit because the work was too hard for what they were paying him. He was originally from Fresno, and proud of it.
As we climbed up toward Cuesta Grade, he asked: “You take checks, don’t you?”
“No, we don’t.” I pointed to the sign above the dash—ABSOLUTELY NO CHECKS CASHED.
“Well, I’m a little short, pal. No sweat. I only got six dollars left. But I got my bank card. No problem. We’ll stop at my bank.”
When we got to the bank in Atascadero, he couldn’t find the bank card in his wallet or on his body. We went to his residence, which was half a mile away. He lived in a windowless, converted garage, the in-side of which was a rubble heap of clothes and junk. He must have slept atop it, like a cat. He spent five aimless minutes sifting un-successfully through this heap for his card. He did find his check book. No identification on the checks. “Sure you can’t take a check?”
I shook my head.
“Can I pay you tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “Why the fuck would I come all the way back here? You either find a way to pay me, or we’re going back to jail.”
He began combing through the debris, eventually coming up with a card. He held it up, grinning, his teeth big yellow chalky things, like Howdy Doody. We drove back to the bank. I was out of radio contact, didn’t know how busy I was back in San Luis, knew I had a few regulars waiting on me. The moolyak giggled and whistled as he stuck his card in the slot. He had drank most of the bottle, eaten three quarters of the sandwich, all of a big bag of chips. The back seat was a pig pen. He couldn’t get the card to work. I tried it. A voice came on, testifying that the card was invalid. I looked at the expiration date—it was two years past valid. I handed it to the rube.
“You playing games with me, pal?”
“No, man. I must have the wrong card.” He got into the back seat, and I got behind the wheel.
“I said, ‘You playin’ games with me,’ pal?”
“Let’s go back to my place again.” I drove back. He got out of the car. So did I. “Well,” he said, throwing up his hands, shrugging helplessly. “I ain’t got but six bucks. And I need that to live on.” He puffed himself up, looming over me, “What you gonna do about that?”
“I’ll call the cops. Throw your ass back in jail, pal.”
He shook his head, acting cagey. “You can’t do that. You agreed to take me. I know the law. You’re no cop. I’m clear.” He grinned.
I stepped closer. “Then I’ll beat you to a pulp with my crowbar.”
He stepped back. “What if I run?”
“I’ll run you down in this cab, flatten you like road kill.”
He was beginning to get the message. “You’d do that? For a lousy forty bucks?”
“I’d do it for nothing, considering the source. I’m prepared to maim or kill you, right now, right here, on general principles. I’d be doing humanity a favor eliminating you.”
He was backing up. He opened his palms in front of his chest in a protective gesture. “Slow down, man. I got a girlfriend. I mean, well, not really. She kicked me out last week. Ain’t talkin’ to me.” He sighed, shrugging. “It’s my only hope.”
“Get in the cab.”
I drove through town, across the freeway, up onto a knoll, following his instructions, arriving at the seediest, weediest, most godforsaken ramshackle trailer park I’d ever seen. We got out of the cab, walked up a sagging stoop and stood before a scratched, scuffed, splintered screen door. He knocked softly. We waited a while. Then a vile-looking hardscrabble woman came to the door, holding a one-year-old with smeared face. Her eyes were pale, watery, with bags drooping in two St. Bernard-like folds to her mouth. The woman fixed the lummox beside me with a murderous scowl. He slumped and went hang-dog, and then she fixed her flinty agates on me. I nodded. She looked back at the slug, who was staring at the porch, toeing the rotted boards.
“What’re YOU doin’ here, you worthless sonofabitch?” she lashed out at him in a voice that was gravel and nails. “I thought I told you never to put your foot on my porch again, you no-good miserable piece of shit!”
He shrugged. She turned to me, eyes ablaze. “Who the hell is HE?”
I said: “I’m a cab driver. I’ve transported this turd clear from the other side of San Luis, from county jail. He said he’d have money to pay, but he didn’t. It’s either back to jail, or I maim or kill the sonofabitch. I killed thirty-seven people in ‘Nam, and I wouldn’t feel half bad about making this puke number thirty-eight.”
She leveled her gaze at me. “It’s fine by me if you kill the worthless sonofabitch. Go ahead. Be my guest.”
“Listen, ma’am,” I said, very conciliatory, noticing the lummox shrink visibly. “I’m just a cabby trying to make a living. I don’t wanna kill him if I don’t have to.”
She nodded, switching hands with her baby. “Can you take his check?”
She glanced at him, shaking her head with weary resignation tinged with exasperation. Then looked at me. “How much?”
She seemed to contemplate the price tag. Then: “If I give you forty dollars will you drive this asshole as far away from here as you can? I’ve been trying to get rid of him for weeks.”
I nodded. “I promise, ma’am.”
She disappeared into the house. We waited in silence. She re-turned and handed me two twenties. The turd quickly retreated to the back seat of the cab. I thanked the woman and got in the cab just as the slug drained what was left in his whiskey bottle. He was grinning and giggling, almost gloating.
“I did it again,” he said. “Heehee. Man, did I make out like a bandit, huh?”
“Yeah, you’re a real winner.”
He crunched up his sandwich, finishing it, crumbs and stains all over his T-shirt and overalls. “Could you take me to the closest bar?”
I shook my head. "This is Atascadero, remember? The Central Coast Bible belt. There’s thirty-five churches and two bars. Why don’t I drop you off at the Mormon church.”
“Ha ha. How about the liquor store?”
I dropped him off at the liquor store. Before he got out, he said: “Would you really kill me for forty bucks?"
“I told you, I’d do it for nothing,” I said, and drove off. §
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: