My ex found the job for me on Craig’s list, one of the many I wasn’t qualified for, but it was the best option I had from the other jobs she forwarded to me. Daycare and social work weren’t really jobs I had developed any experience with, but I didn’t bitch too much. The more time she spent sending me stupid jobs from Craig’s list, the less time she spent memorizing passages from my journal that I wrote about her friends when I found out she was reading my journal. With driving a cab I could bullshit a little, so it made the job seem more attainable.
Stephan, the owner of two Lincoln cabs, seemed vaguely familiar while he interviewed me—quizzed me on my knowledge of the streets of Portland and my driving record. It wasn’t until after I had left the interview that I realized he had given me, my ex, and a friend of mine from Mississippi a ride home one night in January several weeks before. The three of us were toasted and when he told me that business was slow in the winter, I told him he should run people over then charge them to take them to the emergency room.
Stephan, whose real name I found out later was Mustapha, showed me around the first day; places to go when calls weren’t going into dispatch. The train station was best because you could get free coffee and the paper every morning. Sometimes you could get a fare to Brunswick or Augusta or even Boston. Most times, though, they were just local fares and more often than not, a short trip down the road to the Greyhound station. He showed me how the rotation worked, and gave me a warning. He told me not to fight at the train station. Cabbies are fucking nuts. Cabbies fight with other cabbies. I didn’t understand the extent of this until I had the opportunity to sit at the train station and wait for it. Most of the time, the fights started out as shouting matches. Some fat grease-ball would bitch at another cabbie for poaching his fare then say something about Allah. I liked the fights. They made the rotation move quicker.
I drove the day shift, 6 AM to 6 PM. Steve-O, the night driver, lived in a motel in Scarborough that offered winter rentals. He was a small, ratty looking man with poor dental hygiene and the few remaining teeth in his mouth were proof of that. He would pick me up at the end of his shift with the stench of beer in the car thicker than my ex’s breath when she stumbled home at five in the morning from having “a” drink after work. Sometimes I would drop Steve-O off at a bar down on Commercial—watch him stagger to a few doors before he found the right one, the one with a neon sign hanging in it. Sometimes I dropped him off at home. One morning he’d pissed himself, and all over the seat, but that was a week or so after I crashed the cab.
My third day on the job there was a blizzard. It had started in the night, and Steve-O had gotten the Lincoln stuck and used the sand from the trunk to get out. A rear wheel drive vehicle, for those of you who don’t know, is absolute shit on slick roads without weight in the trunk. I had just dropped off a fare and was headed back to the train station on I295. At 45 MPH the ass end of the Lincoln swung into the passing lane. I corrected noticing the 18 wheeler coming up behind me. The cab fish tailed the other way then did a three-sixty before slamming into the guard rail. The cab bounced away and spun perpendicular to the interstate. Fortunately, I was facing an exit ramp and got the car out of the way of the honking doom machine heading straight for me. I called my ex first, and her only question was, “Are you going to get fired?” I had kind of expected her to ask if I was alright, but maybe I was being needy.
Mustapha wasn’t as angry as I thought he would be, and even less angry after I crossed 295 into the median to pick up the headlamp that had flown out and pieces of the shattered grill. We bought a six-pack, or six beers as Mustapha put it, and I put the headlamp back in. Despite that, however, the cab still had to go into the shop. The crash had crushed the bumper and the fender and dented the hood. Mustapha gave me a second chance, and reluctantly, I took it.
Business was slow, and I was on a roll of shitty three or four-dollar fares. Spend twelve hours a day in a cab scooping up four dollars a ride and you’ll end up with around twenty bucks in your pocket after you pay the lease and refill the tank. I needed money, much more than twenty bucks a day. I began to understand why cabbies went a little nuts and I’d only been on the job for less than a month. There had also been a string of cab stick-ups so I started bringing my Glock. The tire iron gave me little comfort with the knowledge that every sketchy fucker I picked up at Hannaford or the bus station might put a gun to the back of my head. No, I didn’t have a license to carry a piece, but I didn’t have a livery license either.
The day I finally quit, dispatch gave me a fare. It was the smallest fare I’d incurred while I drove a cab. The douche bag I picked up had given the address to the apartment complex he lived in, not his apartment so it took me an extra fifteen minutes to find his place. It’s the first time in my life I’ve found an Irish brogue annoying. He gimped from his apartment down to the cab with an air cast on his right leg and started bitching before he’d gotten in.
“It’s my first day of work and yer fifteen minutes late,” he said.
“Typically, a home address helps us find the place a little quicker,” I told him. “Where to?”
“The Red Cross.”
The Red Cross was literally two tenths of a mile from the front door of his apartment. The fare was just over two dollars and when I pulled to the front door of his new place of employment I almost told him not to worry about the fare until he opened his mouth.
“Well,” he said. “I’m afraid I’m not going to be paying for this ride.”
“That’s a good reason to be afraid. Give me my fucking money,” I looked down at the Glock and the tire iron.
“You were late. I’m not paying.”
I hit the automatic door locks, lifted the tire iron to the top of the seat and turned. “Motherfucker, you’re going to give me my money or when I’m done breaking your other leg and stomping that Irish brogue out of your throat, you’ll spend your first day at work getting a blood transfusion.” (I’ve omitted the number of times the word fuck and cunt actually appeared in this sentence.)
I’d never seen anyone scramble that fast without a gimp leg. I radioed dispatch to let them know I was out of the seat, turned the engine off, and went inside. The Irishman was just inside the front doors talking to his new boss who saw me and put his hands up and took a step back. “Is there a problem?” He asked. It wasn’t until then, when I pointed at the Irishman, that I realized I still had the tire iron in my hand. Still, the realization did little to change the situation.
“Your new employee owes me cab fare. I want my money.” I said, lowering the tire iron and holding it close to my leg.
The Irishman’s boss looked at him in confusion while the lad dug around in his pocket and counted what he owed in quarters into the palm of his shaking hand. I took his money and after I turned, I noticed a donation jar near the doors. I dropped the quarters in there and went back out to the cab. Cabbies are fucking nuts, and I had an ex pushing me to insanity. She didn’t need the competition.