Taxicab Confidential aka The Devil in the Backseat

Babes, barf, bullets…

3 words that summarize the gig of taxi driving.

Some of you know that a few years ago (during a mini-retirement) I was in need of income, and the best laid plans that I had amounted to diddly. Jobs were damn hard to come by, so I sucked it up and got behind the wheel of Taxi #638 for 9 months or so…

And my oh my, it was a crazy, dirty, dangerous job (that I also had more fun doing then by rights I should have).

A few of those days stand out more than others. The New Year’s Eve that I spent driving #638 was the night I made the most money ever.

It was also the night I almost died.

But I jump ahead: here are a few of the highs and lows of hurtling towards mayhem behind the wheel on St. Louis’ streets.

1- The Devil in the Backseat

“I’m not the Devil, dude.”

Aw fuck, no good conversation EVER starts with that sentence. I picked him up at the South County Mall. His destination was unclear. Bad sign #1.

He talked to himself. A lot. And screamed. And cursed.

When I asked him where he was headed, he hemmed and hawed and had trouble forming a coherent sentence.

Drugs, I thought. Or just mentally ill.

Call me a bad person, but I really didn’t give a shit. After 2 minutes, I was ready to throw the crazy sonuvabitch out on Lemay Ferry and take the hit from the dispatchers.

I finally understood that he wanted food first. He directed me to the QuikTrip and got out to get a couple of hot dogs. Or so he said.

He actually just stood inside the door at QuikTrip and stared at me.

There are moments in life when one wishes that they had ready access to a gun. Or mace. Or Chinese throwing stars. This would have been one of those times.

He came out empty-handed and just sat in the back seat. Silent. Brooding.

Where to next?

He tried to tell me that he wanted to go to a hotel in an area where I knew there were no hotels.

It was at that point I knew that he was up to something. Fortunately, I was the one driving. I cranked up that old bad-ass Police Interceptor and screeched out onto Lindbergh. I pulled in to the lot of that crappy Motel 6 that used be there (Now thankfully demolished) and said,

“Ride’s over. Get out.”

He argued. I told him to get the fuck out on his own or I would come get his ass out myself. And he’d be staying overnight in the hospital instead of a cut-rate dive motel.

He looked at me and I stared right back into his eyes with the scariest look I could muster, even though my innards felt like jelly.

He got out and then tried to get back in so I laid some rubber down on that parking lot. Time to call it a night.

2 – Talisha

The area public schools have to provide transportation to certain types of students. There aren’t enough buses to do this so taxis do a lot of school runs. Some are fairly lucrative tickets and some aren’t. Talisha was a $8 fare that I grabbed every chance I could, even if it meant missing a higher paying trip.

She was a sweet, beautiful 7 year old with brown skin and dark eyes. I had to go into the school to pick her up and sign her out, and I always walked her to her grandma’s apartment door. She would hold my hand and skip down the school hall. I would tie her shoes for her and carry her books. She would make things for me at school: paper snowflakes, crayon drawings. We’d talk about her day on the short ride home. She’d tell about the things that her mom and grandma were up to. (I had given multiple rides to both over the months and we knew each other by name).

One day she was sad. It was “Wear your pajamas to school day” but she told me that she didn’t have any “bajammies” so she didn’t get to participate. That broke my heart. I wish I would have known about it the day before, because I would have bought some for her.

Of all the people I met driving, I miss her the most, and hope that she is doing well. I hope that she finally had some bajammies to wear to school on Pajama Day. Love you, T!

3 – For Auld Lang… holy shit, what was that?”

New Year’s Eve was drunk with the promise of lots of cash and lots of drunks. I had a core group of regulars who called upon me to guarantee them a safe ride that night. I started about 4pm and I knew that I’d be lucky to be home by 4am. I was all over town. Brentwood to Downtown. Webster to the West End. Affton to the Ritz-Carlton. Lots of sharp-dressed folks ready to get their party on.

The a slow spell. I started picking up fares from dispatch and I drew a short run in South St. Louis. State street to state street. As you STL folks know, the state streets can be kinda sketchy. I picked up a nice young woman and she told me her destination. I believe it was on Oregon Street at a dead end. It was about 9:30pm.

I pulled up in front of her building and as she was paying me

WHUMP!

It sounded like somebody threw a chunk of asphalt at the car.

Her eyes were big. “Where they shootin’ from?” she asked.

I told that I thought it was just a kid throwing rocks. “Naw, they shootin'” she said again.

Foolish or not, I decided to get out and make sure that the young lady got in her door safely. I opened the door and glanced across the roof of the car. A fresh, shiny divot in the steel showed me exactly where the bullet hit. 2 inches to the left and an inch or two down and that sucker would have been in the back of my head.

I got her to the door and ran back to the car.

All right, assholes, if you want a second shot, it is going to be at a fast-moving target. I cranked 638 around back in the direction that the bullet came from (dead end street, remember) and romped on it. The beautiful thing about police model Crown Vics is that even with a 120,000 miles on them, they can still flat out burn up the street.

I roared through the streets and didn’t stop until I was a few miles away. I pulled into a mini-mart and calmed my nerves by watching drunks stagger in and out, with one occasionally displaying what they had most recently enjoyed eating by spray-puking in front of my car. I came within a hair of calling the cab company, telling them where the bastard would be parked and that they could come and get it, that I was done. Instead I drove home, took an hour break and dropped off a lot of cash. And I hit the streets back around 11. I wisely decided not to tell my wife about the bullet until the next day.

Friends I have more of these to tell, so look for part two. It will involve sexual propositions and cocaine. Those two elements always lead to good experiences.

Happy New Year! Be safe out there.

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Corn, water and wood Christmas

Folks, I gotta be honest with you. This whole Christmas thing is not working for me this year. 2014 has not been much of a year of celebration. Our family has lost a lot and most of all my dad lost his wife. He has been like a ship without an anchor ever since.

Every year, it seems to get harder and harder to find the elusive “Christmas Spirit.” I got a temporary reprieve while my kids were little, and seeing their eyes sparkle with the magic that they were starting to wrap their little minds around helped me re-kindle some of those elusive, dormant feelings.

But they are older now, and Santa’s spell was broken last year by a careless comment by a teacher at their school. That did ease a lot of pressure of me, but by the same token it allowed me to embrace my inner Grinch and hate the holiday.

There were times that the majesty of the spiritual element also helped me. The birth of Jesus and the ensuing narrative bolstered my outlook. Now, with the wisdom and cynicism that comes from age and experience, that candle has flickered out.

What’s left? Holiday store displays that show up before Halloween and Christmas music by Thanksgiving gives me plenty of surly ammunition.

I try to douse the fires with the old Christmas movie standbys, but I find myself ready to shiv Ralphie and the rest of his family with a whittled-down fragment of the Leg lamp.

Again I ask, what’s left?

If you’ve ever seen the sort-of-funny-but-forgettable “Scrooged” with Bill Murray, you might not have made it to the end. But the end is the best part, with a Murray soliloquy that redeems the whole flick for me. It goes something like this:

It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

And that’s something I can actually buy into.

For a couple of hours, we are the people we always hoped we would be

And I think about what has really brought me the most true joy in recent years. And that is the idea that in some way I was able to make a positive difference in someone else’s lot in life.

Here’s how:

Back in 2002, I heard of a (now defunct) group called Friends of the Lakota People. It basically connected donors with struggling senior citizens in America’s own Third World, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Through that group, I met the man that my family now calls Grandpa Joe. Joe is a Sioux gentleman with whom I have been associated with for 12 years. My wife and I Christmas shopped for him one year, buying blue jeans and work boots (and me tucking a $50 bill in his card to make sure he had some dinner for Christmas). I loved taking that package to the post office and prayed that it would help brighten his holiday in that hopeless, impoverished place. Through the years, my gifts to him have been simpler, usually just having a couple hundred bucks worth of propane delivered to his house to keep his water hot and heaters going a little while longer.

The basics. Which mean so much if you don’t have them.

One of the few Christmas songs that I still actually enjoy listening to is “Corn, Water and Wood” by Michael Martin Murphey. For those of you going “Whut? Who?” MMM is a western music performer noted for his cowboy music compilations and that song is on “Cowboy Christmas – Cowboy Songs 2”. A very sweet and nostalgic album.

Anyway, the song talks of a lonely cowboy working the holiday out on the desert with nothing but aggravation. Then he dreams of 3 dark-skinned men telling him to “give thanks for the corn, water and wood.” Food and water and warmth. The basics.

I take that to heart. While my personal situation may suck, at least I have corn, water and wood. So does my family.

And going back to Mr. Murray, he also mentions that even if you make a homeless person a sandwich and give them an old blanket from your closet, it might be enough for them to consider it a miracle.

I may not have enough money to help Grandpa Joe, but I am still going to call him today and see how he is. He NEVER asks me for anything. I have to extract it from him like teeth. But I will try to scratch together something to help his basics.

If you are reading this, you most likely have your own corn, water and wood. If you find yourself in a similar mindset to myself, instead of wallowing you could make a little miracle happen for someone else. For just a couple of hours, be the person that you always hoped you would be. Give thanks for your corn, water and wood. You might just feel a little Christmas magic of your own.

And my friend, that sho’ does feel fine.

Merry Christmas to all of you. Thank you for reading my words. I appreciate those who take the time to comment. I wish you all the best, and promise to try and keep delivering something worth reading.

Dan

A trip to the Confessional

I have an awesome idea for a post today… a baring of the soul. A laying out of one of the deepest, darkest secrets that I carry.

A trip to the Confessional, if you will.

But I’ve decided that a post of such a nature violates that unwritten society/friendship/spousal rules of the things you can post, and the things you don’t. Because you don’t want to upset/disturb those around you with the stench of your dirty laundry.

What I have decided upon is to ask a favor of you, dear reader.

Believe it or not, YOU play a big part in what it is that I do.

I thrive on the comments that I receive about this blog. It matters not whether they are left here, or posted on Facebook or sent to me privately.

I love them all.

It’s not the ego stroke that I’m after. Don’t get me wrong. I never tire of hearing that I’m a great writer. But those of you who spell out exactly what you love about the posts or those of you that share them with your friends really take me to the next level and make me think more seriously about full-time writing.

I check the stats on this blog every day. It tells me how many visitors and where they came from. (For some mysterious reason, I get a lot of views from South America. Talk about WTF. How do they even know about this?)
Views and visitors make me happy. Comments and messages take me a little closer to Heaven.

So as I climb up on your Santa’s lap, and you ask me what I want for Christmas, I will ask this of you:

Tell me what your favorite post is and why.

Is it the fiction? The Autobiography? The “Faction?”

What is that you love most about the blog? Tell me, and I promise you more of what you love.

And I, in return, promise not to be a selfish lover. I will return the favor by providing you more of what you want. I may even create a special post, just for the best comments to be shared with the commenter. At that point, we together can decide if it should make its way to this electronic page.

Or should we, as they say, leave it in the confessional…

The Secret

A secret arrived at my door a couple of days ago…wrapped in plain brown paper.

I shouldn’t say “a secret.” I should say “The Secret.”

I don’t remember how I discovered The Secret. It was several years ago, in the midst of one of those deep valleys in life that one must traverse from time to time.

It matters not, for The Secret is one of the truest laws that I have ever experienced.

Boiling it down to its essence, The Secret delivers the deepest desires of your soul to you. The things/people/experiences that you hunger for – if you put enough intention and energy behind your desire, you will receive it.

The longer I live, the truer The Secret proves itself to be.

Allow me to give you a few examples of my own:

As any of you that know/read me, I am a unique breed of cat. Most guys have dream cars, and I was no exception. My divergence from the normal guy “dream car” was pretty extreme. And exceptionally rare.

And not to mention, I was broke. So any rational, intelligent human being would look at the pieces of that particular puzzle and say “Not a chance in Hell…”

It’s a good thing that I am not rational nor intelligent.

And what was my dream car at that time? A hearse. A ’70s Lincoln hearse.

Yeah I know. Freudian analytics could go crazy here.

I was working at a funeral home at the time. One of my co-workers told me about a friend of his that collected professional cars (which are hearses, ambulances and limousines in case you wanted to know) and he had his cars on this new-fangled thingy called a website.

I scrolled through the pictures on painfully slow dial-up internet (you remember that, don’t you?) The third or fourth car on the list jumped of the screen and slapped me like a pimp.

1979 AHA Lincoln Hearse. Ahhh…masturbatory material for the demented.

There he was. Midnight Blue. Damn near 30 feet long. Glorious louvered headlight covers that were the trademark of that era Lincoln.

And close. Oh so close that I could touch it.

Later, in the afterglow, I spoke with my co-worker and thanked him for telling me about the website. I confessed my forbidden love of the Lincoln. He laughed.

And unbeknownst to me, he called the owner of that car. He inquired about his interest in parting with same. And then he came over to my desk with a folded piece of paper.

“He’ll sell it to you if you are interested. The price is on the paper.”

Thanks, but this broke-ass boy can’t afford the thought, much less the car. He shrugged and said, well if you change you mind, the price and his cell number is on the paper.

Curiosity got the better of me. How many ducats would this majestic chariot require? I looked at the paper.

I was shocked. I put it back down on my desk.

I picked it up and looked at it again. My mind tried to wrap around the amount and how he could justify it.

Written on the paper: 0

and a phone number.

For 2 and a half years I owned my dream car. I sold it to get a down payment together for my house.

But it was okay with me. I had it. Drove it. Showed it off. The mission was accomplished.

Another example: my previous job. The years 2010 and 2011 pretty well sucked for employment. I left a job that was going to cause me to stroke out. I was pretty sure that I was on the fast track to being shit-canned so I made the decision to leave on my own and not have to do the “all the crap from my office hastily thrown in a bankers box” walk of shame.

Job hunting was dismal. I drove a taxi (ohh so many stories during that brief stint). And then, for safety and sanity’s sake, I got a job working from home for a rental car company doing reservations.

Oy vey. I have never hated a job more in my life. The profound stupidity and rudeness that I encountered on a daily basis almost drove me to drink and/or lose whatever little religion I have left in me.

I dreamt of getting a phone call. With a fabulous job offer. That would take me to new and exciting places. Oh yeah, and make a lot of money.

I posted a bitchy remark on Facebook about a job that didn’t pan out. Just venting. A Facebook message from a friend arrived soon after. And then an email.

And then, the phone call.

It was a Friday. The good man on the other end of the line said “I need a date that you fly down here to meet me.” I picked the following Thursday. With a bounce in my step, I strolled through the airport, got my shoes shined and tipped well. Drank a beer or two. Flew to Phoenix. Interviewed. Had to call off from my reservations job with the wonderful excuse “sorry, I am in Phoenix and won’t be back until tonight.”

The phone chat I had with my reservations manager (an extremely good guy) the next day was also wonderfully awkward.

“So you were in “Phoenix” yesterday, ehh?” I could tell he wasn’t sure of it’s truthfulness.

“Yep, I was.” For what, he asked.

“A job interview.” A pregnant pause on his end. And then a long conversation about life goals and dreams.

I got the job. Flew to Phoenix to train. Nothing has ever felt so good as my flight there and back. On the way back, I bumped myself up to First Class (best $50 I ever spent) to celebrate.

I had that job for about a year.

A final example of The Secret in action. I was really needing money. The holidays were coming up and so were the bills.

If only I had about 10 grand. That would take care of a lot and maybe give myself some breathing room to write.

I fixated on that amount. I had no thoughts of where the money would come from, or why or how. I just had that figure in my head. For a couple of months. I said nothing to anyone.

Just before Thanksgiving, I received a most unexpected gift. A check.

The amount? 10,000.

It led to one of the best holiday seasons that I had ever had.

I have other examples of The Secret manifesting itself in my life, but I won’t bore you with them here.

My gift to you this holiday season is this: You can fail or lose what you don’t want, so you might as well dwell on and ask for what you do want. And allow the Universe time to deliver your request. (A paraphrase from Jim Carrey’s Commencement Speech at Maharishi University. Youtube it.)

My current employer was the vehicle with which the Universe decided to remind me of The Secret. I had forgotten it here of late, wallowing instead in self-pity and self-loathing.

I am living proof that you don’t need to do or be anything special for your dreams to come true.

You just need to be you. Focus on what you want. Be purposeful, intentional and most importantly be grateful.

That is The Secret. My payment to the Universe was to share it with you.

To end this, here is quote from The Secret:

“Creation is always happening. Every time an individual has a thought, or a prolonged chronic way of thinking, they’re in the creation process. Something is going to manifest out of those thoughts. What you are thinking now is creating your future life. You create your life with your thoughts. Because you are always thinking, you are always creating. What you think about the most or focus on the most, is what will appear as your life. Like all the laws of nature, there is utter perfection in this law. You create your life. Whatever you sow, you reap! Your thoughts are seeds, and the harvest you reap will depend on the seeds you plant. If you are complaining, the law of attraction will powerfully bring into your life more situations for you to complain about. If you are listening to someone else complain and focusing on that, sympathizing with them, agreeing with them, in that moment, you are attracting more situations to yourself to complain about. The law is simply reflecting and giving back to you exactly what you are focusing on with your thoughts. With this powerful knowledge, you can completely change every circumstance and event in your entire life, by changing the way you think.”

Spend the waning days of this year thinking about what you want to be different in your life. If you need help, grab a copy of The Secret in either book or movie form. With the right kind of eyes and mind, your life will change.

It’s the dreams that count.