Monday, June 18, 2007

Friday snippets

I drive only on weekends now, so the opportunity for material is somewhat reduced. Thanks to all who repeatedly visit in search of more posts detailing my unremarkable life as Cabhack. I'll try to post at least one a week, unless I find nothing halfway amusing to write about.

Friday I headed into the nearby town of Almonte, where I picked up a 70-something gent and his 50-ish sidekick. The older fella climbed into the front, the other gent into the back, and we headed for the Legion. The old lad was quite a bit more soused than his buddy, and talked aimlessly during our short ride. I wasn't following anything he was saying, when he suddenly stopped talking, and started frantically blowing air through his lips. I looked over, concerned he was having a serious health crisis. Spittle arced in a fine spray towards the dash, and drool dribbled from his chin. Then he turned to look at me, smiling stupidly.

"Damn, I wish I could whistle like I used to."

We had just passed an elderly lady ambling slowly along the sidewalk, apparently presenting an attractive enough target for the old boy to pull out his whistling act, without the necessary embouchure to pull it off. He continued to practice until I dropped him off, filling the cab with his booze-laden breath and spittle. When he exited, he said he'd need a ride back soon, 'cuz he'd nearly had his fill already. As he stumbled crookedly towards the Legion entrance, I realized he would never know when he had his fill, because he wouldn't wake up if he ever did. He reminded of a gentleman I used to routinely drive around town, until the fateful night he had his fill ( Another Saturday Night and Footnote to Sunday's post).

Later on I picked up two guys behind an older apartment simplex in town. They were in the rear parking lot, sitting at a picnic table, burning mosquito candles that flickered enough light to illuminate a table loaded with empties. "'s our ride!" one of them bellowed in my direction. They boarded, one up front, one in back.

"How are ya tonight?" the front-loaded passenger queried way too loudly as he settled in.

"Good thanks. Where are you headed?"

I took them to a local nightspot on the edge of town where live music was promised. There were just two cars in the parking lot. The lads were speaking with the increased volume drinking seems to necessitate, but they were harmless and good-natured, intent on having fun and a few laughs. They spoke in the valley-drawl common to the outlying communities of Ottawa.

"Take us someplace else...where's the music tonight?"

As a cab-driver/tour guide, I'm not much of a bargain. Not that there's much to choose from.

"Well, The Thirsty Moose usually has something going on, and if there's no music, at least the waitresses are worth a gander..."

That seemed to sell the deal, so I headed back towards main street, and listened to the lads chatter and jibe.

"I got my cowboy hat on!" said the guy in back, apropos of nothing. "I don't want to go nowheres with my cowboy hat if there's no music!" His logic was lost on me, but self-evident to the guy up front.

"Hell lad, no worries. No one's gonna bother with yer hat."

"Are you wearing your cowboy boots?" Apparently the cowboy theme had some import to these boys.

"Hell no. Just my sneakers." A pause followed while he formulated his personal theory on dress code. "I only wear my boots to weddings, funerals, and first dates, 'long with a nice, clean shirt...and my big-buckle belt!"

I was picturing Hank Owens staring somberly into an open casket, tacky and sparkling despite the muted lighting of a funeral home.

The night was otherwise brutally slow. I received a call at 2am to head 15 minutes out of town to pick up some young lads, parked in the lot of a convenience store on the highway towards Toronto. The boys were sitting in a late model Volkswagen, and were in no hurry to acknowledge me. I sat a minute, then called out to see if they'd hailed a cab. One got out, opened the trunk, and carted a cooler to the cab. A second boy, all of 18, drifted over with a couple of bottles of open liquor. The third lad remained in the Volkswagen, either uninterested in leaving, or unaware the others already had. They were trying to climb into the cab with the booze, when I put a stop to it.

"Booze in the trunk boys."

"Hey man, how are ya...Ok, we'll put it in the trunk. But can we take some in the car?"

"No. Trunk please." I made no effort to sound like I'm getting tired of drunk people. But I suspect that's how I sounded...

They loaded the trunk with the cooler and the bottles, and dragged the third lad to the cab. He clearly needed better handlers, but I was content to let them fumble him into the back on their own.

"Where to lads?"

"Hey man...what's happenin'...!!!"

Drunk small talk is as fascinating as small talk in general.

"Where you guys going?"

"Head down the highway, first right maaannn..!"

I headed out. One of the lads in back had sized me up, and proffered an observation couched within a question.

"Hey man, I'll bet you got your groove on in the 70's?"

I didn't respond, given I wasn't sure what he was on about. He enlightened me soon enough.

"Hey man, can we smoke a doobie on the way?"

"No, not in the car lads...wait till you get out."

"Ahhh...c'mon man. You can have some too...You look like you might need it maaaannnn..."

Their generosity notwithstanding, I wasn't about to have them fire one up in the cab, and I let them know as much. I don't smoke pot, but admitted to having inhaled once upon a long time ago.

"No problem...nooo problem."

We were on a dirt road, headed to a community on the banks of the Mississippi River. Not THE Mississippi River, just our local namesake.

"What music do you like? Who's your favourite band?" The one lad decided he was going to figure me out, find some common ground.

I considered, not for long, and came up with something I figured would throw him completely off.

"Steely Dan"

"Whaaaat? Who's Stevie Band? Do you like Ozzy? Black Sabbath? Ozzie rules!!!"

Four questions and an endorsement.

I confessed no admiration for Ozzie, but my inquisitor ignored me. He was arguing now with his buddies about the merits of Ozzie and Sabbath, and they slammed each other's opinions as we approached the drop off.

"We're getting out here...stop here..."

I pulled up in front of a black iron gate surrounding an impressive compound on the river. It belonged to the neighbour of one of the lads. They intended to walk the rest of the way, and indulge themselves in a smoke on the walk.

They unloaded, gathered their cooler and loose liquor bottles, and paid up the $30 fare, a hefty charge given the trip was a fairly short one. Cab rides from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere can be costly, especially when hailed from the middle of almost somewhere. Which is where I headed back to, once I completed the obligatory handshakes with all three lads, and left them to their fun.

"Classic Rock Rules Man!" was the last thing I heard before I turned up my radio, and headed for the bright lights of almost somewhere.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I meet a little girl

Regularly driving drunks and other assorted addicts about tends to generate callouses on my empathy receptors. But a recent fare blew a fresh breeze into an otherwise blue cheese kind of day.

I arrived at a local public school, with instructions to gather up my fare inside, where I was required to sign her out. The sign-out book was down a hall, outside the door of a room filled with kids awaiting their respective rides to various after-school daycares in town. A tiny, freckle-faced girl appeared at the door when her name was called, and we walked out to the cab together. She lugged her school bag, a spare pair of shoes, and hopped into the backseat. I closed the door, walked around the back of the cab, and caught her peeking into a grocery bag I'd left on the rear seat. I had just picked up some cookies at the local Price Chopper, and hadn't yet been home to drop them off.

I settled into my seat, and asked her if she'd seen anything she liked.

"I'm sorry, I was just looking...” she said apologetically, but not meekly.

"Do you like cookies?" I had a suspicion.

"Yes." One word, but her tone suggested I was, somewhat lamely, stating the obvious.

"Well, you can have one if you like."

"Would you like one?" She was a generous soul, and wanted me to share her cookie-joy.


She worked the bag open, and pulled out a couple of Fudgeeos.

"Here you go..." She handed one to me over the seat. I accepted her offer with thanks, and watched as she settled back and began devouring the cookie. We continued in silence for a bit, enjoying the mild sugar rush. She then offered an observation.

"You're not my regular driver."

"No, I'm not. Who normally drives you?"

"Rick..." She paused, considering. "Sometimes Geoff." Another pause. "Do you want another one?" She was angling I gathered.

"No thanks." I let her sit a moment, as her gaze settled upon the open bag. "Would you like another one?"

She smiled, pleased that her stratagem had worked. "Yes...thanks!"

Cookies apparently work like sodium pentathol on some youngsters. Or maybe it was just the sugar. But the mildly shy reserve that had so far characterized our first meeting dissolved like glucose in her bloodstream.

"Do you know my friend Rachel?" It seemed likely to her that everyone knew Rachel.

I confessed my ignorance. "No, I don't. Who's Rachel?"

"She's my friend." She sat a moment, considering. "She's an actress." This was delivered with such assurance, I pursued the obvious line of questioning.

"An actress? Is she someone I should know?"

"She's trying out for Spiderman 3." There was a casual certainty to her tone that made me sit up straight.

"Wow!" Since Spiderman 3 was already in the theatres, I had my doubts, but the exchange was becoming more amusing as she wound up. "Who is she in the movie?"

"Well, I don't know if she made the movie yet...but she might!"

"So she tried out, and she might be in it?" I'm not crown prosecutor material. I'm just a curious hack.

"Can I have another cookie?" Her hand was already in the bag. She had figured me out in less than 5 minutes. That was faster than most, but she had fewer ingrained doubts to clog up her assessment.

"Sure you can. Help yourself." The cookie was on her lips before I responded.

"Rachel's going to be famous. You should go see the movie. Then you'll know who I'm talking about."

We pulled up to the daycare, another school in town, and she sat a moment, trying to finish her cookie in order to free up her hands to gather her belongings.

"Would you like another one to take with you?" I probably shouldn't have offered, but I was feeling nostalgic about my own childhood cookie gluttony, and couldn't resist. Hell, I could've given her the entire bag at this point.

Jenny gathered up her stuff, opened the door, climbed out, and reached back to pick up her spare shoes. She looked over the seat to see me watching, and smiled a beamer that just about killed me.

"Bye Jenny."

I watched as she half-skipped towards the doors, and I smiled like an idiot as I pulled away, suddenly missing my own freckle-faced little girl with a pain that is not a subject for these posts.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Prom Night

I had just finished a day working with a friend in his contracting business, and was about to crack a cold one, when a voice called tentatively from my porch.

"Hello...hello? Is anyone home?

I went to the door to find a cabbie co-worker standing there, uncertain if he had the right place.

"Did you know you're due for a Limo run in Stittsville in 27 minutes?"

"Today?" Stupid questions come to me effortlessly.

Stittsville is twenty minutes distant, so I had little time to spare. I showered, scraped a dull razor across my chops, and donned my costume: khaki-coloured casual pants, blue shirt and a tie to match. I was in the Limo and on the highway within 15 minutes, headed for the pickup.

I arrived 15 minutes late at a comfortable suburban home. The lawn was littered with prom dresses, gaudily attired young men, and peacock proud parents milling about snapping pics of their glittering offspring. A black stretch limo sat in the lane, buffed and impressive next to my much older, certainly less impressive, but every bit as long, white Continental. Size matters on Prom Night.

I headed to the porch, through the madding crowd, and came upon a well dressed gent reclining there, sipping from a plastic water bottle. My first impression was that he owned the place. So I offered a greeting, and asked if he knew where I could find the man whose name was on the contract. He looked me up and down, a derisive smile spreading like a disease across his face, and I knew immediately he was the driver of the black stretch in the laneway. I was clearly the loser in this pissing contest.

"Knock on the door. I think they're out back. Someone will help you out."

His tone implied I needed all the help I could muster, masterfully condescending. So I kicked his chair out from beneath his skinny ass, and pounced upon him, my fists pummeling his smug face.

Not really.

I knocked, and was greeted by the young lady I was contracted to ferry about town for the evening. She was a sweet and gracious girl, respectful despite my patchily-shaved face and modest attire. We settled the outstanding account on the spot, with an extra $40 for me, and a cold bottle of water to boot.

The kids all carried backpacks, which they loaded into the trunk, and as the picture-taking subsided, we climbed aboard, and departed.

They were already mildly greased on punch, but with their parents smiling mugs receding in the rear window, the gloves came off, and the booze started to flow.

We hit the Queensway, Ottawa's main artery, and settled in behind a slow moving compact. The driver, and lone occupant, began waving his arm outside the window. He gave the peace sign I think, waved again, clenched his fist, and my initial amusement gave way to mild aggravation as his antics continued. He was driving well below the limit, but I was momentarily content to remain behind: there was no urgency to "get there", and traffic on the two lanes headed east was heavy enough to forbid my leapfrogging him. But the arm gestures continued, and the space in front of him had grown enough to make passing a necessity. I picked my spot, swung the derelict beast into the passing lane, and, as I overtook him, turned to glance at the face belonging to the highly animated arm. It was my boss! He'd been conducting that little symphony for my benefit, and was probably just as aggravated as he'd been aggravating. I tossed him a wave, and sped past, doubtless annoying him further.

I dropped them off on a side street beside the hall, eschewing the spectacle of red-carpet service: several cop cars parked out front were making a gloriously cliche limo-emergence difficult, and all of my charges were under-aged by at least a year. The kids seemed not to mind, and we arranged to meet three hours later.

Three hours later.

My charges once again hopped aboard, and we headed for the University of Ottawa, where recently-vacated student residences were rented for the night. One couple remained behind while the rest headed inside to change. I was reading a magazine, straining my eyes in the dim light, when the car began rocking side to side. A mirror check ruled against an outside agent. The rocking continued, subsided, continued again, and went on, impressively I thought, for about fifteen minutes. I felt a pang of nostalgia for the glory days of my youth.

Music was blaring from a speaker inconceivably mounted in the front of the limo, and pointed towards the rear compartment, a customized setup that couldn't be more impressively idiotic. Even were the music not the utterly mind-numbing crap kids have developed an ear for, it would've proved a painful listen. I have no tolerance for music devoid of melody, lyrical interest, some degree of instrumental prowess and a dash of originality, four facets modern pop avoids with remarkable consistency. The more repetitive and predictable the sound, the higher it scores on the pop charts. Modern popular music is, by and large, dreck.

The kids boarded once again, complained loudly about the smell of consummated lust pervading the limo, and chided the couple responsible for their lack of restraint. I took directions through the divider, closed it, and dropped them off at a bar in Aylmer at midnight. We had crossed into the province of Quebec, where the drinking age is 18. By 12:30am, they were back aboard, demanding a ride to Addictions, a nightclub in Hull where one is encouraged, ostensibly, to indulge habitually in compulsive behaviour. The location triggered a mixed-bag of memories: it was a bar I'd been beaten up in by bouncers some 25 years before. Anglo's in Hull were once popular targets for group attacks by bouncers who, meatheads though they were, could nonetheless appreciate five to one odds. The cops always sided with their French brethren when it came time to take out the English trash. Whether things have changed much I don't know, but my young charges returned to the limo, happily none the worse for wear.

I returned the kids to the university dorms, and bade them all good night. Oddly, and sweetly, they all gathered around, shook my hand warmly, and thanked me genuinely for my efforts. They pressed a wad of bills into my hand, an additional gratuity that was more than double the earlier one, and expressed hope that it was enough, uncertain what amount was acceptable. They then decided the car needed cleaning. They gathered up all accumulated bottles and garbage, thanked me again, and waved as I pulled out, suddenly impressed as hell with the job their parents had done.
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