Cabby's Corner: One hundred degrees in the shade
My cab sits blistering under the sun, heaving, panting, wheezing as people walk by and pause to wonder why it is not turned off.
I have visions of the Porterville and Fresno behemoth women stewing in a gigantic pot in some remote jungle with a village of scrawny Hmongs dancing around them.
CABBY’S CORNER, 198Os
One hundred degrees in the shade
And more than half a ton of muumuus in an even hotter cab
By Dell Franklin
It’s 107 degrees, high noon, a Saturday, one of the hottest days on record, and I’ve been hacking since 9 o’clock with a blinding hangover.
The Ford LTD cab I’ve been driving (like all our other cars) has no AC or tinted windows and the seats are vinyl, so that the heat sizzles and turns the interior into a sauna.
I’m wearing a polyester short-sleeve Yellow Cab shirt and brown pants and I’m soaked through like some soggy creature who’s just slithered out of a swamp, and I smell like it, don’t know why I showed up for work, except that I’m poor, very poor, and a fool.
While sitting on a bench in the shade at the airport, waiting for a guy who’s coming in from L.A. on a prop job, my cab sits blis-tering under the sun, heaving, panting, wheezing as people walk by and pause to wonder why it is not turned off; it is one of only two cabs running (the others are in the garage for repair). While stumbling around in a hangover fog earlier, I jarred my face against the corner of the cab door and busted one of the stems of my aviator sun-glasses so that they sag on my wounded sweaty face, and I cannot imagine the thoughts of passengers who at first espy the wheezing filthy cab and then my disheveled presence on the bench.
A man in summer suit with Valpack, overnight bag, and briefcase, emerges from the swinging door and walks toward the cab. I rise and walk over to meet him as he looks me over: from dingy tennis shoes to beltless waistline to tattered shirt with Yellow Cab insignia to mottled face and soiled Irish linen drinking cap purchased in 1976 on a pub crawl through most of Ireland.
He nods, and I’m happy I can’t see his eyes behind designer shades. I open the back door for him and stuff his gear in the trunk and settle behind the wheel. “God it’s hot,” he says.
“A hundred and seven,” I say. “And this cab has no AC or tinted windows and the seats are on fire. Sorry. Not my fault. You’re going to the Embassy Suites, right?”
“Right. Thank you.” He leans forward, concerned. “Why doesn’t this cab have AC? All the cabs in Los Angeles have AC.”
“Because the corporate sadists who run this shoestsring operation as a subsidy don’t give a damn about us.” I’m driving out of the air-port and onto a main artery. “They even made us join their chickenshit union, which has no benefits, except if I get killed in an accident they’ll send a hundred bucks to my mother for burial. Ha ha ha. You see, they own school buses and a transportation empire second to none in this country, but we must pay some kind of Mickey Mouse union dues so the execs can have a little slush fund when they have their conven-tions and get drunk and buy whores while they’re away from their wives.”
He falls back, sighing. “Wow. You’re one angry employee, aren’t you, Mr.…?”
“Franklin. Dell Franklin. Very angry employee. On a day like this, which involves nonstop suffering, do they care about my not having AC while they lounge around their pools in Vegas or wherever with their highballs and call girls after butchering a golf course, ey?”
He leans forward again, points. “Why do you have that huge swatch of duct tape covering the ignition?”
“To guard against turning it off, in case I follow my natural inclination to turn off the engine when I am not driving the car.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Franklin, but I’m a little lost here…”
“Something to do with the crank shaft. Don’t ask me, I’m no mechanic. You see, if we turn the engine off, it won’t start again. There's only one other cab out there, and it barely runs. We were supposed to get a part for this cab a week ago, but it never came, so this cab has been running continuously for nearly a week. The engine has over 200,000 miles, so it could blow at any time. We’re like the Pony Express—one guy gets off the horse, the other jumps on, only the poor horse at least gets fed and watered down.”
He sits back, already lathered in sweat, mopping at his face with a monogrammed hanky. “Good God,” he croaks, and sits silently for the remainder of the ride, until I pull into the Embassy Suites entrance. I jump out and open his door and then withdraw his baggage and place it lightly on the ground. He requests a receipt for tax purposes, which I expertly fill out. The ride is eleven bucks and he tips me four dollars instead of a sawbuck and when I thank him like a thankful slave he hands me his business card.
“Mr. Franklin, I work for the corporation that employs you,” he says. “I’m here to check out a few irregularities, and I promise you I will look into the complaints you’ve registered. They are legitimate. Thank you for an interesting and informative ride.”
We shake hands like pals. Yeah, sure. You beautifully tailored and manicured prick, you could have slipped me the sawbuck for morale purposes and ego appreciation. Lip service.
All I’ve wanted to do all morning is pull over under a massive tree on shady Mill Street and open my doors and push the seat back and sprawl out and suffer, but we’ve been busy all morning, and now Tammy tells me we’re backed up and I must return to the airport and pick up some people and drive them to California Men’s Colony, the minimum and medium security prison on the outskirts of town.
When I arrive at the airport in the noisy LTD (the tappets are ticking and rattling), two exhausted and grumpy looking elephantine women are awaiting me in the shade, clad in muumuus, fanning themselves, faces flushed. I skid to a stop and jump out and take their baggage while they squeeze into the back seat, an obvious mother and daughter, together tipping the scales at least at 500 beans. I stash their suitcases in the trunk and start out. The two ladies fan themselves feverishly and pant like polar bears in a desert and ask about the AC, and I explain there’s no AC, and they tell me they’re from Florida and did not expect this kind of inhuman heat and can I return to the prison to take them to their motel after their visit, and I tell them yes, and they clam up, fan and sweat, and I drop them off at the prison and head back into town.
I stay busy for three straight hours, back and forth, up and down the outdated grid in the increasing Saturday afternoon traffic, everybody out buying tools and material for air-conditioned home care, driving slow, getting in my way, drawing my wrath.
At 3:30 p.m., my dispatcher sends me back to the minimum security side of the prison to fetch the two women in muumuus. They are sitting on a bench, looking peaked and lifeless, just barely able to lift their massive bulk when I come skidding to a stop. After they’re properly squeezed in and settled, still fanning their sweat-glazed inflamed faces, I start down the single lane road that leads to Highway 1 and San Luis Obispo.
These ladies are staying in some cheap bungalow-like motel rooms across from the Greyhound station.
My radio crackles and Tammy calls and asks if my passengers would mind if I picked up another woman at CMC East, the medium security side of the prison. I ask them, and they nod that it is OK. I swerve around and approach the other side of the prison, where a large crowd of visitors is headed toward the parking lot of glinting chrome. A mammoth woman, dwarfing in size the two in my back seat, also in a muumuu, carrying a Bible and transparent plastic purse with single bills and coins, wearing shades and clogs, walks right around my cab and gets into the front seat beside me. She is sweat-glazed, pink as a hog, and wheezing. She could be an albino but I cannot tell the color of her eyes because of the shades.
“Greyhound,” she rasps, and opens her Bible.
I am about to pull away when I hear a desperate, shrill voice call out: “Cabby! Cabby! Wait!”
I halt, and turn to spot yet another obese woman heading my way in the usual muumuu and shades and flat clogs, and she, too, is toting a Bible, and this one is so immense she resembles the Fat Lady one sees in a carnival freak show, dwarfing the monster sitting shotgun. She moves in struggling lurches, her chin sagging down to her enormous breasts.
Panting and wheezing and sweat-glazed, she sizes up the situation in the cab and commences to open the rear door and squeeze herself into the back seat. The two ladies back there are squished like sardines against the door, the older one’s eyes popping from her face, helpless, pleading with me in desperation. “No, no, no…” she cries. “For God’s sake don’t let her IN!”
I take immediate control of the situation, jump out of my cab, and stand by my door: “You!” I shout, pointing at the human jello mould wedged into the back seat. “You move to the front.” Now I bend down into my window. “You!” I shout, indicating Shotgun. “Take the back seat! Switch! I want a switch here.”
Unhappy with my commands, yet docile, they do as ordered. Shotgun takes a while to unglue herself from the sticky front seat and watches the carnival woman awkwardly extricate herself from the back seat. The switch, in slow motion, is complete. In the back seat they are all crammed together with no room to spare, not even enough room to fan themselves, a morose crew. The cab is now lowered significantly and appears to be sinking into the blistered, melting asphalt. I get in, adding another 185 pounds to well over half a ton, two pillow-like arms nudged up against me—like sitting beside a giant bean bag. I wonder seriously if the LTD can survive this mash of humanity.
Out on the highway, there is a hill to ascend. I’m not sure we’ll make it as a line of cars slow up behind us as we chug slowly, strain-ing, groaning, panting, losing power. Amazingly, for the first time of the day, there is no comment about the lack of AC, though my new shotgun partner has a comment.
“This thing’s a real dog. What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s been running nonstop for a week. This car will continue to run, and slowly but surely it is losing power and dying, and could die any minute now.”
“Hummmph,” is her response, and she opens her Bible.
We manage to overtake the hill and begin coasting down, picking up speed. My aviator glasses, damaged from the shot to my head this morning, fall off my face and land in the cavernous lap of the carnival woman, and she picks them up with her pudgy hand and hands them to me without looking, and I toss them on the dash and ask her where she’s from.
“Porterville,” she says.
“What’s Porterville like?”
I nod. “Do you like Porterville?”
“I used to, ‘til the H-mongs came.”
“Boat people. The H-mongs trap cats and cook ‘em. They trapped my cat. They’re no good. They ruined my neighborhood.”
“We got the Veet Nameez in Fresno,” says the former Shotgun from the back seat. “They’re no better than them H-mongs. Fresno use-ta be a good place ‘til all the Mexicans and Veet Nameez took over.”
“Them H-mongs would sooner kill a person and cook ‘em as they would a cat,” says Shotgun. “They don’t believe in God.”
“Them Veet Nameez don’t neither. I wish they’d go back to where they come from.”
We enter San Luis Obispo and move sluggishly on the main artery, Santa Rosa. The ladies are quiet. The two women from Florida look as though they’ll either cry or scream.
“So whattaya do for fun in Porterville?” I ask Shotgun.
“There ain’t nothin’ to do in Porterville,” she says, and reopens her Bible at the ribbon-like marker. “Porterville’s a pit.”
“Do they have any McDonald’s?”
“Three? In a small town like that?”
“I said they got three!” she snaps, obviously weary of my inquisition, sighing mountainously, slapping shut her Bible.
I let the subject drop and head toward Greyhound. The poor things have a long, stifling-hot bus ride and the Valley’s an even hotter cauldron.
I have visions of the Porterville and Fresno behemoth women stewing in a gigantic pot in some remote jungle with a village of scrawny Hmongs dancing around them, whooping and hopping and throwing spears, faces
and bodies smeared with grease paint as they anticipate a Bacchanalian feast that will keep them going for at least a week, until they return to their customary ways of growing food and trapping animals.
I’m watching my meter. The usual fare to Greyhound is eleven dollars. I could charge the Valley women eleven a piece, along with the other two, which is the usual procedure, but I’m going to give them a break. I’ll charge them eleven dollars for the entire ride, but try and slow down and push it to around $11.40 to see if they’ll give me a sixty cent tip. When I pull into the station the meter reads $11.60. Just before I arrive, I explain to the ladies the deal I’m giving them. They grunt. I am surprised at how quickly they remove themselves from the cab. The four of them stand together and divvy up singles, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pay me with exact change.
I remove the baggage for the two ladies from Florida, place it on the ground. The older one asks if I could drive them across the street to the cheap motel bungalows. It is less than a 50-yard walk. I get back in my cab and drive off. It’s hotter than ever. §
Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at publisher@rogue voice.com.
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