Sunday, December 20, 2009

Driver Number 26

Bill Smith was driver #26 when I first started driving taxi. He’d been a hack himself for 10 years, at the time, but told me that it was originally just supposed to be a temporary job. It was the first job that he got after he was discharged from the Navy, where he was a corpsman for 4 years, including being attached to the Marines, during “Operation Desert Storm”.

“I landed with the first Marine expeditionary force, after Saddam invaded Kuwait,” Bill told me. “We dug in and stayed there, while all the troops from the coalition landed, then throughout the war and for the cleanup afterwards. We were the last to leave.”

During that time Bill went for weeks without getting any sleep, because of the sirens that sounded every time that Iraq shot a SCUD missile at them, which went on regularly throughout the night. The sleep deprivation led to sever disorientation and hallucinations, which eventually landed him the hospital for rest and a psychiatric evaluation prior to returning to duty. He was declared mentally and physically fit after a couple of days of sleep and got an honorable discharge, after his enlistment was finished.

I worked with Bill for nearly 4 years before he Moved to Lincoln City, and began using his military medic skills as a CNA in a convalescent home. Bill liked to talk, and when we had a slow night, I could usually find him at the downtown taxi stand in front of Greyhound. One night he told me about the time that he was involved in the Mexican Valentine’s Day Massacre, right after he first started, in the early 1990’s.

“I picked up a Mexican family of four” he told me. “The father sat up front with me, and the mom and 2 daughters sat in the back of my sedan. There had been a Mexican Dance at the Armory, and hundreds of people were milling around outside. My passengers were going to McMinnville, and I was ready to leave when a young man approached my cab. I thought that he wanted a ride, so I rolled down my window to tell him that I was already taken, but he walked right by me, to the front of my cab. I saw something in his hand, and realized that it was a gun, which he raised and started firing into the crowd. Then I heard whizzing bullets ricocheting off the parking lot pavement, and realized that someone in the crowd was firing back at the shooter in front of my cab, who reloaded his gun with another clip and was ready to start firing again. Without thinking I reflexively put the car in reverse and did a 180 degree turn at full throttle, and slingshot the cab into the street. I shut off the cab radio and we drove the 30 mile trip to McMinnville without saying a word. When we arrived, I took my passengers names, addresses and phone number, to give the police, when I got back to Salem. The newspaper said that the shooter by my cab was from a Mexican gang in Los Angeles, and he was shooting at rival gang members. The shooter by my cab was the only one killed, after he wounded 10 innocent people.”

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