Sorry, it’s been awhile since my last post. Not lack of desire, but definitely lack of time. Back then and now I often find myself on the road less traveled. Sometimes, it teaches something, sometimes it just slows everything down….
As most of you have already guessed or know from reading these posts, I drove during the evening and overnight hours. Perhaps the most dangerous time to be a cab driver if you were unwary or unwise. Nights also provide the biggest diversity in the people riding. Days although safer, are filled with people who put on airs of respectability, a lot of business people, elderly, folks without drivers licenses, and the like. People tend to mind their P’s and Q’s so to speak. The company I worked for even delivered lunches to elderly and shut-ins many of whom had little or no contact with the general population except for their daily lunch delivery, some by choice many more by health problems. All of which is great and necessary but nights truly bring out the real in people. One evening I had a call to the Oak Park Police station. There are two things that can be said about police station pick ups, the first is they always have money (the Pd’s check before they’ll call) and their always interesting. Knowing a lot of the guys on Oak Park’s police dept I figured I pull up the police drive leading right in front of the front doors rather than pull up to the front in the parking lot (always helps to go out drinking with the local cops. Heck, I still do it today! ;))
So my passenger comes walking out half in walk half in a stagger; Oh great a drunk! I think myself; “He better not vomit in the cab…”, but a customer is a customer and I’m sure Oak Park made sure he had cash before turning him loose on society again. “Hi you here for a Paul?” He stammered while almost falling over. “I’m here for Paul if there’s more than one you’ll have to figure it out between yourselves.” I said, while thinking; “Oh yes this ones a puker. Damn it!” He was still too drunk to react to my snarky comment poking fun at his drunken grammar, with one hand on the cab he made he way around 407 and enter through the correct door.
Yes, there is a “correct door” to get into a cab by, it’s the passenger side rear door. Most drivers hate having a single passenger sitting directly behind them, they feel much more comfortable with the passenger where they can see them.
After adjusting himself into a comfortable position on the seat he leaned forward, that drunken kind of swaggering lean forward and dropped a twenty onto the front passenger seat. Then in what was more like a falling flop the he landed against the back seat and muttered out an address on the north side of Oak Park. It was then that I noticed how messed up he really was, his face was covered in bruises and scabs, there was blood on his clothes and he reeked of booze. On our way out of the drive I kept thinking to myself; This guy’s going to lose it in the backseat. Leaving the driveway we pulled right in front of an Oak Park squad. I couldn’t see the driver so I just waved and kept going, I watched him turn into the drive through the rear view mirror as we made our way down the side street to Madison street I kept the windows open hoping the fresh air would keep him lucid enough for the ride home and maybe give me a heads up if there was about to be an accident in the backseat. The ride was mostly uneventful the guy seemed half lost in thought and half lost in booze when he finally said; “I got a DWUI…” “A DWUI?” I replied. I’d never heard of a DWUI, so still annoyed and not convinced I wasn’t going to have to clean out the back of the cab I quipped; ” Driving Without Understanding Intersections?”
In Illinois if you get caught driving while intoxicated it’s called a DUI for Driving Under the Influence, other states they call it other things like DWI or Driving While Intoxicated. To my knowledge there is no state that has a DWUI…
He was quiet for a second while he pondered what I said then he replied; “You know, I was driving after having too much to drink.” “I figured that, did you hit anyone?” I said. “No I hit a couple of parked cars and a tree.” he responded. “The car is totaled, damn tree didn’t budge they said, they think I had passed out at that point.” “I don’t remember anything after leaving the bar until I woke up in the ambulance.” “Wow, I’m surprised they let you leave the bar if you were really messed up.” I stated, realizing if I kept him talking I’d be able to keep him more alert during the short ride across town, not that I’m squeamish about cleaning up vomit but you can’t smell out of the cab for days. Since 407 had a cloth interior it definitely would have taken days, not to mention it probably would have killed my night since no-one would want to sit in the back with what would have been a powerful stench for at least the rest of the night. “Well at least you didn’t injure anyone, that would have made things worse.” I offered. “Yeah there is that, but I drive a damn truck for a living.” He was getting that edgy aggravated drunk tone in his voice as the magnitude of what happened to him was beginning to penetrate the wall of booze and other drugs keeping him in that sort oblivious state where you can acknowledge and recognize where you are and what you’ve done while not being able to grasp the depth of your actions.
The veil for him was lifting, I let him sit quiet in the backseat for the thankfully short trip. He did request that we drive by where the accident happened he wanted to see if his car was still there. I have to admit I was bit curious to see how bad the car was since it’s owner was a mess. However, Oak Park with its brutal efficiency in these matters had the site pretty much cleaned up, there was one car with some minor damage on it still there, but his car and the other one had already been towed and the area cleaned of any substantial debris. The only clue to what had happened there was a huge gaping tear in the bark of the tree he hit exposing and splintering the inner trunk of the tree. We sat there at the site of his accident while he studied the area mumbling to himself and trying to remember what had happened. Finally I spoke; “Well guy, Thank God no one was killed or even injured, you did one hell of a job on that tree.” “Yeah, take me home.” He had almost made it home, I thought it better not to point that out to him. At his house I grabbed the twenty off the passenger seat and started making change, “Keep it bud, thanks for the ride, to bad it wasn’t earlier.” he said while climbing out of the car. I grabbed one of the companies cards and handed to him; “Here, you’ll probably need this till you get things straightened out.” I said. He nodded thanked me again and walked noticeably straighter towards the house. As I pulled off I shook my head and thought; “That guy is in for a rough ride.” Illinois had just enacted tougher drunk driving legislation a year or two earlier and the courts were still brutal on people brought in and commercial drivers licenses were getting revoked on DUI convictions. So there was a real chance his trucking days were over. I was also relieved we got through the trip without him vomiting.
I received a call in Oak Park to meet the police at the corner of Oak Park Avenue and Washington Boulevard as I rolled up to the intersection I observed two Oak Park squads sitting there one with it lights on the other with just its hazards flashing the two officers there were talking to three people, two African-American women and one African-American man one officer had one of the women and the man few feet away from the second officer and the other woman. I pulled up behind the squads hit my hazards and jumped out of the cars and approached the officer and single woman. I recognized the officer right away as Mike, a guy I known for a few years at this point and had met back when I was the night manager of one the local 711s in Oak Park. “You guys need cab?” I said as I approached, causing the Officer to look my way, he had a shocked expression that quickly turned into a smile as he stuck out his hand and said;”Marty! You’re driving a cab now?” “Yep, someone’s gotta keep an eye on you guys!” I replied while shaking his hand. “Give me a second,” with that he turned and went back to the woman. I looked around the scene while I stood there, it was at that point that I recognized the other office as someone I knew also named Mike.
In those days Oak Park seemed to have cornered the market on officers named Mike, OK, maybe not cornered the market but there sure were a lot of them.
I sat on the front hood of the car and watched both officers at work, each was taking statements from the people they were with. Then they spent a couple of minutes conferring with each other than Mike went back to the single woman and lead her to the cab, I went and grabbed the passenger side rear door (yes,the “correct” door) and opened it for the woman. As they approached Mike was saying to her; “Ma’am I know this guy personally, his name is Marty, he’s a good guy, he’ll get you home safe.” The woman said hello to me and sat down in the back seat “I have to talk to Marty for a second, then you’ll be on your way home.” She nodded and settled into the seat as I closed the door. By that time the other Mike had his people back in their car and they were pulling off as he walked up to the cab and shook my hand; “Marty! How ya doing? Driving a cab?” “Yep, it’s dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.” I replied. “Your customer and her cousin and the cousin’s boyfriend were out partying tonight and apparently the cousin passed out and the boyfriend tried making a pass at your customer, it started a bit of an argument between them. But now your customer needs to get home and understandably doesn’t want to ride all the back to the south-side with them.” Mike added “She has twenty-five dollars on her and if it’s more can get the rest when she gets to her destination.” “No problem that should get her most of the way there.” I replied. Myself and the two Mikes took a couple of minutes to catch up and what we’d been up to, we shook hands again I jumped into the cab and me and my passenger were off.
She gave me her address which was near the old Chicago Stockyards, on Throop street a few blocks south of 47th street the south border of the stockyards a section of the city that was stuck in past the whole area had been in decline before the stockyards closed completely in 1971. During the first part of the trip she sat quietly in the back seat, still fuming over the incident. But the silence just gave her time to stew about the incident and finally she spoke; “Did those officers tell you what happened?” She asked in voice that was cold with a tinge anger still simmering from her disagreement with her cousins boyfriend. “All they said to me, was that you the guy had an argument about something and that you needed a ride home.” I replied; “They didn’t say too much about what you two were in conflict over, just some basic information I needed to know before taking you home.” “They told me you had about twenty-five dollars on you for the ride and that you were going to the south-side.” She got quiet again for a few seconds, then she spoke again; “All black men are dogs, that son-of-a-bitch was grabbing at me while my cousin was asleep right there in the front seat.” “He’s suppose to be with her.” she added after a brief pause. “That’s not good.” I said. “You got that right!” “I tried to pretend I was asleep and kept brushing him off, but he just kept getting bolder, finally I had enough! That’s when I started hollerin’ at him to leave me the hell alone.” “That got my cousin up, I told her what happened, and do you know what she did?” “She listen to his bullshit story that I was coming on to him while she was sleepin’ and that I was touching on him! She should know me by now that I would never do that, not to her, not my cousin, she was more like a sister to me and she knows that and yet sided with him!” Her voice was a tangle of anger, remorse, and hurt, that shocked kind of bittersweet hurt that betrayal brings as she told her tale. She continue talking about the relationship she used to have with her cousin and how this new guy had changed her. He had some kind of hold on her she said. By this point she was crying in the backseat. Not wailing, just the profoundly sad kind of crying that women do when life slaps them hard with some new reality that they don’t want to be, and yet feel powerless to change it. I reached for a supply of napkins I kept in the car and handed her a few. for bit she sobbed quietly staring out the window at the constantly changing scenes around us as we traveled to her home.
After her brief period of lamenting and the quiet period or re-assessment of what life had hit her with was over and the tears had stopped. she settled back into a more relaxed posture in the back seat and announced; “I need to find me a good white man, you single?” I’m not sure if it was just my perception, but her words hung there in the cab like a sand storm rapidly approaching, you can see it coming but there’s nowhere to go. Meanwhile my mind rapidly searched for an answer that wouldn’t upset her. “I am single, but I already have a girl-friend and we’re pretty happy together. But thank you for the offer.” I tried my best to be warm and not unreceptive to her, though unavailable because of my commitment to another person. “You are huh? That’s too bad, the good ones always are.” she replied. “Whew” I thought to myself, I actually wasn’t dating anyone this gal wasn’t my type. The stockyards we’re coming into sight as we neared her home. The neighborhood had changed too. The first thing I noticed was the curbs were gone, and the traffic light was suspended by a wire in the middle of the street, not like the rest of the city. At least not like the rest of the city I would later discover that the far south-east side of Chicago near Indiana was also an area were the streets have no curbs. We were stopped at the light at 47th and Throop. “Make right here then we down about three blocks.” She said while adding;” Thank you for listening to me ramble on about my problems tonite. That officer was right, you’re a nice guy.” “Thank you, and no problem you were just venting and you had every right too after what happened” I replied; ” Have yourself a great night, if you can, sorry about troubles with your cousin, always a shame when family members fall out.” I had slowed the cab down “This the street?” I asked “Yes, about four houses down, I’ll have to run in and get more money.” She replied as I looked at the meter it was at $34 and some odd cents. “Nah, the twenty-five will cover it don’t worry about the rest” “You sure? I can get it?” She sounded a bit surprised. “Yeah the twenty-five will be fine, you didn’t plan on having to cab it tonite and you’ve had a rough night so the twenty-five is fine” by this time I had stopped in front of the fourth house on the block. “Alright then, thank you again, your girls a lucky lady” with that she handed me the twenty-five she had and got out. I waited for a moment and watched her walk to the house. It the dark and dimly lit street it appeared to be a nice little place but seemed a little out-of-place the neighborhood around it was a bit rough, though there were other homes on the block that similarly maintained in between them were vacant lots and homes not in such great shape. She waved when she got to the door and with that I was off.
On the trip out of the area I got stopped again at the light at 47th & Throop. This time I had a minute to really look around, it was like being in the country I though to myself. The old stockyards were on my right and completely unlit, for what seemed like a mile in each direction north and east of me, the only things visible were the remnants of torn-down buildings and other objects casting shadowy outlines against the distant city lights and the night sky. The areas south and west had only sporadic lights along the roadway and the side streets seemed to have even less. There was one building on the corner it was obviously maintained but all the lights were out and it stood there eerily dark its gray asphalt siding reminiscent of by-gone days. I couldn’t see another car in any direction adding to feeling that I was in a rural area. Then of course reality took hold again as the light turn green and I thought to myself, maybe the shortage of other vehicles was due to the fact that no-one passed through here unless they needed to be here. That idea I found a bit unsettling as I made my way back to more “populated” areas. The trip back to town uneventful as I went passed Midway Airport I received a voice request. Matt, a butcher by trade was dispatching. Matt was a butcher at one of the local grocery stores that got let go after the store decided to trim the staff trimming their meats. I switched the radio to voice; “407 to dispatch.” “Yeah, Marty everything ok? I got a call from an office Mike… after you picked up that police call and he asked me keep an eye on you if I could. Was there any problems?” Laughing I replied; “Nope, customer at her destination, down by the old stockyards, I’m at Midway now heading back.” “That’s fun area, how did you like it at night?” He replied. “It’s a place lost in time that’s for sure” I said, he added chuckling “I’ve been there during the day, don’t think I’d want to be there at night, rough area. Hey I got a will call at Midway in a bit you want to wait there’s no-one down that way?” “Sure I’ll hit the White Castle and then to the holding lot. How long before the order?” I replied. “Forty minutes is when it’s due” He responded. “10-4 I’ll be here.” I replied, switched the radio back to data and headed off to storm the castle.