The Rogue Voice

A LITERARY JOURNAL WITH AN EDGE

July 01, 2007

Cabby's Corner: Fast times with Grace Ivey





Photo illustration by Stacey Warde









She reminds me of a polly Puritan I was in love with in high school, a predicament that provoked self-loathing in me at the time.

Her face, though wintry, has fine features, and her grey eyes sparkle when her commentary or mine becomes barbed.



CABBY’S CORNER, 1987-1989

Fast times with Grace Ivey


By Dell Franklin


At exactly 3:45 in the afternoon of a Friday I am to pick up Grace Ivey just as I do every Friday, and I do my damndest to be on time, because Grace is a stickler. Grace is also a bookkeeper, and on Fridays I drive her to a department store in the big mall off the freeway where she does their books. Every cab driver has “regulars,” who prefer a certain cab driver. Old Sam Sanchez has several elderly ladies he takes to the bank or market, and a drunk he transports after a morning of boozing in McCarthy’s. If Sam cannot make it, or is off, this drunk requests me. Otherwise, Grace is my only regular.
Grace considers a ride with any of the other daytime drivers—Harley, Cal, Lyle, Nate, and Greg—as akin to eating lye. Grace is a mid-fifties divorcee who wears those old black clunky low-platform heels, thick flesh-colored hose, ankle-length dark dresses and ruffled white shirts buttoned at the throat. In cool weather she wears a top coat. Her hair is blue-grey and short but wavy and she wears rimless glasses. Her face, though wintry, has fine features, and her grey eyes sparkle when her commentary or mine becomes barbed. Her body is solid and must have been something in her day, and I wonder if she knew it.
She reminds me of a polly Puritan I was in love with in high school, a predicament that provoked self-loathing in me at the time.
I make it on time—exactly at 3:45—and feel good about pleasing Grace, who always nods understandingly when I’m late and blame it on the dispatcher. I never honk the horn, which would be rude, because Grace always lurks behind the solid white door and comes out the moment I pull up, turning to lock the door, then walking over the green astroturf rug that runs along the entire veranda of the 1930s white, woodframe home. There are little blue flower boxes at the blue shuttered windows, and one trusty rocking chair on the veranda. Thick curtains obscure any glimpse of the interior. The grassless yard is comprised of evenly graded pebbles and some evenly spaced cacti and succulents. Nothing is out of place. Nothing ever changes.
Grace comes through the low, white picket fence gate and I am instantly out of the cab like a millionaire’s flunky chauffeur to open the rear door for Grace to step in, who niftily tucks the front of her skirt and situates herself while I softly close the door and scurry to get back behind the wheel.
“Well, how are you doing this afternoon, Dell?” Grace asks.
“Hectic as always, on Fridays, Grace, but I’m bearing up. How’s it going with you?”
“Oh, about the same. I’m keeping busy.”
“I’m glad, Grace. The Lord wants no idle hands in his realm.”
She chuckles, places her hands primly on her knees. Grace and I usually have pretty much the same conversation, unless I have a humorous, passably risque story for her. Grace has long since told me about her ex husband—a high school sweetheart who by turns tended bar, drove a cab, painted houses, dug postholes, pounded nails, flirted with various other jobs and avocations, almost always quitting or getting axed, always late with alimony and child support, until there was no alimony and child support, so that she raised her son alone. The husband, a sometimes employed drifter drunk, still resided somewhere in Arroyo Grande—12 miles away—and supposedly drank in a bar called Ralph & Duane’s. The son is married with family and is an insurance adjuster in Seattle. “I’m still looking for a looking for a bar job, Grace,” I say, taking the usual route through sluggish Friday afternoon traffic.
“Well, I certainly don’t see why you’re not hired. You have the personality and the experience, God knows. I would hire you if I owned a bar, ha ha. Of course, I don’t go to bars.”
“I’ve been trying for over a year now, Grace. I worked in clubs for seventeen years down south, have excellent references, but they don’t want people from down south. They want local pretty boys, half my age, or young girls with big breasts for bartenders these days, not guys like me, with funny stories and an attitude.”
“Well, as much as I’d like to see you get the job you covet, and deserve, I would miss not having you as my cab driver on Fridays.”
“Yeah, but you survived before I came along, didn’t you, Grace?”
“Sam Sanchez took me for years, and I have no complaint. He is courteous and prompt, and his cab is immaculate, but there is something about him lately I’m not quite right with. I always get the feeling that he mocks me.”
“Sam wouldn’t do that. He likes and respects you.”
“Well, he’s changed his hours, you know, and likes to get off early, around three, so there’s no use worrying about it.”
As I negotiate the short, one-and-a-half mile ride, I say: “Well, there’s always Lyle. He’s not a bad guy.”
“The man never says a word. Never opens the door for me. He’s a writer? A screenwriter? Where does he get his material if he doesn’t talk to people?”
“He doesn’t talk to any of us, either. Very secretive.”
“Well, I don’t see how in the world he ever sells a screenplay,” she huffs.
“In any case, if I do manage to get hired, there’s always Nate.”
“Oh my God,” she grouses. “The man is so…full of it. I honestly wish HE would be quiet and secretive, like Lyle, instead of yapping. A real know-it-all. And he claims to be some kind of comedian?”
“From time to time he is booked at the local comedy club.”
“Well, they must be pretty hard up for laughs around here,” Grace chirps. “Unless there’s a demand for boring, off-color jokes.”
“Well, there’s always Harley Hunter. He’s an excellent cab pilot,”
“Cab pilot? Huh! Please, Dell, do not get me started on Harley! The man is forty-five years old and still lives with his mother! I already know his life story and his political beliefs, and I’ve had it up to here with his complaints about his step-father…”
“The retireee who listens to Rush Limbaugh all day and won’t trim the lawn, makes Harley do everything after a day’s work.”
“Oh, of course. Good God, why doesn’t he just move out?”
“You’ll have to ask Harley that question, Grace.”
“Harrumph! You ask him a question and he’ll never shut up…he talks more than that damn Nate…”
“Well, there’s always Cal. A very good driver.”
“Now that man, you know, he was the most evil drunk in San Luis Obispo before he got saved and quit drinking. There’s not a person in town who didn’t hate him, including his ex wives, whom he beat. And now, oh my God, so self-righteous, and he knows I know him, and we don’t talk. I just do not want to be in the same cab with him, Dell.”
“Well, I feel that Greg the golfer is harmless.”
“He’s tolerable, but he refuses to pick me up. Why, I don’t know.”
”Sam says all golfers are cheap. Greg’s on the satellite tour. Sam says all golfers are cheats. Greg won’t even buy a donut. We’ll offer to buy him a donut and coffee at Sunshine Donuts in the morning, but he won’t eat donuts, he’s a vegetarian, and I guess he feels that if we buy him a coffee he’ll have to reciprocate. So Sam always buys him coffee, just to make him miserable, because he knows Greg feels guilty about not reciprocating. But the poor guy, he’s so pathologically cheap he can’t bring himself to buy you a fifty-cent coffee, even if you buy HIM one every day of the week.”
Grace nods knowingly as I check her out in the rearview mirror, just as we pull into the mall. “I knew there was something wrong with that man the moment I sat down in his cab the first time. I can’t stand a cheap man. I will say one thing about my ex-husband—deadbeat that he is, when he had it he spent it, and the poor thing, he is anything but a cheat. Just a hopeless case.”
I pull up to the crystal-clear glass doors of a national chain department store, jump out and open the door for Grace, who totes her huge handbag with books and such. She always comes prepared with exact change—a five, a single, and a quarter for a $5.50 ride. I hear she tips the other cabbies 50 cents. I get the extra quarter, of course, because I’m special, and possibly for entertainment value. Yes, if I’m no good for women, at the very least I’m always amusing, I think.
“I’ll see you at six o’clock, Dell, thank you for the ride. I always enjoy it.”
I start my shift at 7 in the morning and am supposed to get off at 5 p.m., but since Grace wants me to return for her at 6, and has no more use for the early swingshift drivers than she does the day drivers, I hang around to oblige her, even though I’d rather get the hell out of town and return to Cayucos to drink with the Happy Hour crowd, bluecollar boys who like to hear the latest cab stories while we drink beers and shots.
About a year or so back, I informed Grace quite casually that I had not turned in my income tax in seven years. She was appalled and almost troubled. I told her that I felt I had some money coming, so Grace offered to do my taxes. I brought her a sheaf of pay vouchers and income tax forms, some of them faded and wrinkled, and the following week when I picked her up she handed me a neatly compiled form to send to the IRS, informing me I had over a thousand dollars coming. I was thrilled! When my money finally came, Grace did not wish me to pay her for her services, but when I insisted she told me "”to give me what you can afford.” I gave her a crackling fresh hundred dollar bill, and she was thrilled!
While the early swing shift drivers tool around with fares, I take it easy and get to the supermarket early for Grace, hoping she is not way-laid by a slow checker or long lines in the market. She is usually punctual and waiting beside her shoppig cart in front when I pull up. I get there at 5:45. If I can hustle her home early, get to the compound and log in and rush home, I can make the last fifteen minutes of Happy Hour.
I sit and wait, I get out and peek in the supermarket. It is jam-packed, and standing at the end of a long line next to her shopping cart is Grace. She is not happy with this. I suppose she has better things to do at home than waiting in line. She once, when late, complained of a slow checker whom she could not believe still held a job. We discussed how it was almost impossible to fire people these days.
Finally, at 6:10, Grace emerges, and I am out of my cab, opening the trunk, wedging the cart against the bumper of the car while Grace hovers near.
“Now be careful with the eggs, Dell,” she says looking worried.
I have picked Grace on this identical trip almost every Friday for about a year and a half, save a time or two, and not once has she failed to remind me to be careful with the eggs. A cracked egg discovered later on in her kitchen might be traumatic, so I am always very careful, making sure to gently place the eggs in the trunk, realizing Grace does not take me for a stupid person who cannot remember to be gentle with her eggs after having been told so after seventy some trips, but that it is her nature to be extra careful, and that she is certainly a habitual person who is obsessed with “making sure.”
On the drive home, in heavy traffic, Grace realizes I am tense and in a hurry to get her home and frustrated by pokey drivers and long lines of cars bottled up behind street lights. Grace herself, of course, wants to get home, too, I know, for there are many things she doubtless has to do, things I wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
When I finally pull up in front of her house, jump out, first to open her door, then to open the trunk and quickly carry her few bags to place on the seat of the rocking chair.
“Now be careful with those eggs, Dell,” Grace warns, fretting.
“Your eggs are in good hands,” I say, as I carry the bag containing her eggs up to the porch. “The other night I woke up in a cold sweat, Grace, around three in the norning. I have this recurring nightmare—somehow, again, I dropped all your eggs and every one cracked, and there was yolk everywhere, on the ground, on your shoes, on my shoes, in the trunk, on my pants…”
Grace’s wintry face spreads into a web of smile lines and her eyes twinkle. “God,” she murmurs. “It’s frightening. You remind me so much of my ex husband. But I know you’re really not like him, at all.” §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at publisher@roguevoice.com. Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at publisher@roguevoice.com.
Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here:
  • Ode to Tobias Wolff
  • Sisters from South Central
  • A soldier's story
  • First fare (hair of the dog)
  • The good lawyer
  • Mr. Headphones
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • A rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cab
  • The mayoral candidate
  • Old blind Lizzie
  • Cheerleader
  • A real winner
  • The culture war


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