Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Something About Human Nature


The line of running cabs are parked out in front of the bars and it's 2 am on Two Street in February hovering right about 40 below. I took my place in the line and noticed a man lying in the snowy street bleeding so, after a minute of sizing up the scene, I get out of the car to check on him, but before I get far another cabbie calls me over. At the same time, a group of three young Indians come out of the bar, walk up to the man and stomp on him for awhile, and I mean stomp him until that man is scary still. I start to say something and the cabbie next to me grabs my elbow and squeezes hard,

"SHUT the fuck up, Greenhorn".

The young men laugh a little and go back inside, a thin cloud of frozen breath rises from the bloody mouth of the still man - this was there second trip.

"White man offered a squaw money for sex", says the cabbie, "It's Native Justice, stay the fuck away from it".


It's the same corner on a different night with even colder temperatures - that "hurts to breathe" cold, like dry fire, and your breath doesn't even want to come out. There's a dog tied to a light pole right there on the corner - spotlit and whining in the unbelievable cold outside the bar. An occassional drunk staggers by and gives that dog a double take - "it's too fucking cold, man"- and the cabbies are talking among themselves about what ought to be done to the owner. That dog is walking in place, and just crying, trying to keep his pads from freezing to the sidewalk. Finally the owner comes out, unhitches the dog, and approaches one cab after another until he gets up to my station wagon and I tell him to get the fuckin dog inside before he kills it. I take him to where he wants to go in silence and disgust, dog curled in a ball in the warmth of the car, and he tips me $300 and says "the rest of those motherfuckers wouldn't even take my dog".


My first week on the job, and I'm hustling, but making next to nothing, in fact it's costing me money to put gas in the cab. It's late, the bars are closing, and I'm flying - taking short hops from bars to house - two and three dollar trips, most of them beligerent or hardly conscious, and I'm being mostly civil and taking abuse. Finally, I get a good trip of about 10 dollars. It's a woman who stopped being young many years ago wearing a beautiful fur parka that she made herself. When I pull up in front of her house the meter says $10.60, and she tells me -without even checking - that she's got no money. I'm pissed now - this is premeditated - and before I can even ask about whether anyone inside the house has money, she has unzipped me.

When you lie down with dogs, you are a dog, and you should not be surprised when a dog bites you.

 I drove to her place to collect on about $200 in rubber checks that I accepted when I was still the stripper's driver, and knocked on the door and discovered a very tall man waiting there for me.

He was 1) wearing the colors of a certain well known motorcycle club, 2) holding a nine millimeter pistol directly up to my left eye, 3) holding a business card up to my right eye, and 4) saying that he'd been hired to do a job and my body would never be found.

I was 1) realizing that I was friendless and alone in this cold world, 2) noticing that my thought process slowed to a crawl, and I was not afraid - I was stupid, 3) remembering the name of one of my fellow cabbies who was loosely affiliated with this particular club. Then I was talking quickly but very calmly saying that this guy could vouch for me.
My tall aquaintance gave me 24 hours to make this happen, and I left feeling mildly sick and sort of dizzy and I felt as though I was painted flourescent orange in this endless and unbroken expanse of white.


I went to my room - as transparent as a fishbowl - and sat on the bed and gagged weakly. Every face I saw was twisted and horrible and the sun rose just above the horizon and then went down again like some search plane completely indifferent to my wet matched signal fire and frozen stumps. I used the pay phone to call the dispatcher and asked for Crazy Rob, who by some miracle was driving this day and by a second miracle promptly called me back. I told him about my meeting and he was quiet for a minute and then said,

"You're fucked...don't go anywhere"

I must have fallen asleep, startled awake in darkness, realized I was alive, got dressed, and went in for my shift. I drove in this sort of ghost world, my head feeling scoped - like JFK, every fare was an assassin, and I was stiff and resigned to death.

"Zero Nine, go to two", said the radio - my cab number being invited to an alternate frequency.

I went, what else was there to do? - "This is Nine, go."

Crazy Rob said, "Someone wants to talk to you, Nine".

It was the tall fellow in the leather jacket,

"Yeah, don't worry about that shit back there, but you might want to avoid the bitch, she's got a .38 on the table waiting for you and a story that you tried to rape her. If I see you again, I'll get you a beer"

"Roger that," I said,"you won't".

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More from Fairbanks

On this night, Lorraine was drunk like I never saw her and spilling out all over. She's one of the bar tenders that very nearly had me killed because I was a clean-cut white boy from nowhere who showed up driving the bar trade around nights in a cab - FBI or some kind of narc, for sure. Tonight, her tongue is loose because she's facing an indictment for dealing coke out of the bar, and she's scared and naming names, but only to me, and here is where I'll prove I can be trusted. My cab is a confessional and a crime scene and I am bound by a special kind of confidentiality, the kind that keeps you breathing. I carry her down the icy walk into her place - she gives me the keys - and straight to her bed, where I pull off her boots and she starts to unbuckle my belt disoriented and misunderstanding the transaction entirely. I sit with her and talk to her quietly, holding her hand, stroking her hair - she's crying now.

She quieted down after a long time of crying with me making all kinds of reassurances, and I promised to drive her to the court myself tomorrow to help her get through it. She kissed my hand and said alright, that she was fine now and going to sleep, so I took my leave. I'd been tied up with her for a couple of hours now and I'd be lucky if I'd even make gas and lease by morning, so I was ready to get back to it. Something told me to go back though, and I wasn't clear if it was the voice above my waist or the one below that was talking, but I went back. I still had her key, so I opened the door softly just in time to see her take a little .22 caliber Derringer out of a drawer. When she saw me she took off, with me lighting out after her, and she put the little gun to her head.

I slapped that gun out of her hand hard - we both scrambled for it across the floor - and she was wild. I came up with it, and she pounded and slapped and scratched on me until I had to pin her to the bed. She started the crying again, and I laid there with her until she finally passed out, then I sat in a chair a while longer and felt this good and bad thing pushing and pulling again, so I took the pistol with me and left.

The court date came and went and she never spoke of that night or any of it. But when she called for a cab from the bar for one of her customers, I never heard anymore comments about narcs or FBIs. About a month after it all blew over, I ordered a beer from her after my shift and paid her with two bucks and a little pistol.

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