Will you celebrate with me?

Tomorrow is a momentous day… for me at least.

One year ago tomorrow, I launched this blog, with the purpose of amazing, entertaining and astounding you.

I may have fallen a little short. I re-read some of those early posts, full of the green sap of hope and enthusiasm. I even placed an expectation of “3 writings a week” in one of them.

Can you hear the manic laughter? That’s my Muse. Saying something along the lines of “Bitch, please.”

But I stuck with it, submitting 30 or so writings for consumption (and/or regurgitation).

Some obviously resonated more than others. I saw lots of hits at first, then slowly tapering off to the occasional hiccup bump. My band member friends call empty rooms “playing to the crickets.” It seems as though I’ve been writing for the crickets.

Hey, I get it. Life gets in the way. Many things vie for our attention these days, especially things like assertive offspring who somehow feel entitled to my free time.

Who am I kidding? I have very little “free time” and even less time to write.

But I feel like a success. I maintained some steady output of words despite long separations from the Muse. Sometimes, I wrung the words out of whatever life happened to be handing me at that moment.

And some of you read them. A few of you even read them all. Fewer still were exceptionally kind enough to comment, like or share them via Facebook, et al.

For that, you have my undying gratitude. I got just enough feedback to keep me going during those barren days at the keyboard.

One year. 30-odd posts. Hundreds of views. Thousands of words.

Finally, those gibbering spirits of my long-dead writing coaches (Bukowski, Papa Hemingway, the good Dr. Thompson) have abated some. And I can look in the mirror with confidence and say,

I am a writer. A writer who stuck to something for an entire year.

So I will celebrate Bloggerelstl’s birthday tomorrow. With a toast, and perhaps a cigarette or three.

And I will celebrate all of you, who continue to stick with me.

I thank you. I. Thank. You!

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.

Will Ferguson Burn?

I have purposefully avoided writing about the situation here in my fair city.  As a young man, I watched LA burn on CNN in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict.

Never once did I dream that such could take place in St. Louis.

For you out-of-town folk, the view you are getting of Ferguson (and by default, St. Louis) is that we are one big impoverished area just ripe for unrest.

In all truthfulness, Ferguson is a nice little area.  I dated a woman from Ferguson before I met my wife and spent a lot of time there.  I used by snacks, gas and cigarettes at the Quik Trip that famously went up in flames during the riots.  It was/is a mixed ethnic community where working class and middle class lived peacefully together for the most part.  I’m sure that there were incidents that fouled the Utopian dream, but I never felt unsafe.  (Even when a guy I stopped to help in the middle of the night that threatened to kill me – but that’s another story for another day)

All of that changed in August.  I happened to be in the woods of Wisconsin when the shooting occurred and watched the initial reports on the news.

I was sad.  And angry.  But mostly sad.

I was sad that the Ferguson I knew and liked is gone forever.

I HATED how different factions tried to spin the narrative to suit their own agenda.  Especially the reprehensible Photo-shopped abominations that painted Michael Brown as a gun-happy gangster and the bogus pictures of a beaten man in the hospital that was supposedly Darren Wilson that have since been debunked.

I equally hate how police officers have been painted with a broad brush as trigger-happy hillbilly morons jest itchin’ to shoot.  I know too many cops to allow that to pass without mention.   Mainly they are ordinary people doing an awful job and just want to get home alive.

That being said, there are good people and bad people, good cops and bad cops.  What amazes me is the amount of gray area there is in this situation.  I am NOT passing judgement on this situation, let me hasten to say.  I am not a member of the jury, nor was I a witness nor am I privy to any special information about the case.

There are a lot of unanswered questions that I have.  IF Darren Wilson killed the man wrongfully, let him go to prison and experience the treatment that convicted cops get from their fellow inmates.

IF Michael Brown did indeed attack the police officer and try to take his gun, then there is little I can condemn the officer of.

But those are both big IF’s.

I don’t have a horse in this particular race, except for the health and well-being of my fellow St. Louisans and the good people of Ferguson.

I hope that the protests are as peaceful as possible.  I hope that their right to free speech is carefully protected.   I hope that some good comes of all of this.

I hope that the police are safe and get home to their families at night in one piece.

I hope that no more lives are lost.

The announcement is coming any minute now.   I hope Ferguson burns no more.

I hope.