Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Taxi Driving Journalist

Being a freelance journalist when I’m not driving my taxi cab influences how I see my job. I may be driving people around, for a living, but I’m also looking for stories. Sometimes I carry a tape recorder, sometimes I jot down frantic notes and sometimes I just rely on my memory, but whatever the case may be, I take it all in. Then over time it oozes back out in the form of blog entries. Every so often I drive other taxi drivers, who drove all over the world, from Moscow and Mexico City to New York and New Orleans. There is always solidarity between members of a common community, and taxi cab drivers are no exception. We all share the same common experiences with transporting humanity, and are happy to share our adventures with each other.

Manuel is a regular that I have driven a hundred times over the years. One night I picked him up at Von’s Corner, one of the roughest bars in town, with his bloodstained shirt all torn and hanging out. After he got in the cab he gave me his address, and as I started to drive he told me that he used to be a taxi cab driver in Mexico City.

“One time I picked up this guy,” he told me, “who pulled a gun out and told me to give him all my money. All taxi cab drivers in Mexico carry guns, because they get robbed all the time. I had my 38 pointed at him while I came to a stop and took his gun out of his hand. Then I made him undress, and I left him standing naked in the middle of the street.”

Another time I got a call to Fred Meyers in Keizer, where I picked up a guy with a load of groceries. I drove him to him tractor trailer that was parked on a gravel road. On our drive he told me that he had been a taxi cab driver in New York City for 5 years, during the 1970’s, after he returned from Viet Nam, where he was in the Marines. His uncle owned a medallion and shared his cab with his nephew on his off time.

“One Sunday morning,” he told me, “I picked up a couple of Puerto Rican guys who had me drive them out to the Bronx, next to the subway yard by a field. When we got there one of them pulled out a gun and told me to get out of the cab. I got out and they took the keys and threw them in the middle of the field, then they made me get on my knees and pull my pockets inside out. After they took all my money they were going to shoot me in the head, but begged them to let me live. They just laughed and as the guy with the gun was ready to shoot, I put up my hand, and he shot me through the palm, and ran off. I flagged down a cab that was driving by, and had him drive me to the emergency room. When we got there, I didn’t have any money, since I was robbed, so he called the cops, who tried to arrest me, until I convinced them that I was a robbed taxi driver. After that I quit driving cab.”

After I got him to his address, he gave me a $4.50 tip, even though the fare was only $5.50. That’s one thing about people who tell me that they were taxi cab drivers, if they tip, I believe them, if they don’t, they’re liars.

Another time I picked up a guy at Greyhound who used to drive cab in Tacoma, Washington. He told me that one night he was driving a guy who had him pull into a dark alley and then pulled out a gun. “He told me to get out of the cab, and I did, then he took all my cash and told me to start walking away from the cab and not to look back. I looked back and he shot me in the stomach. I collapsed and somebody found me and called 911. After that I quit driving taxi.”

The best story was from an Los Angeles taxi driver, who had been robbed two times previous, by black passengers. So he decided that he would begin racial profiling and not drive black passengers any more. One day in the early 1990’s, when he was sitting at LAX, a well dressed black man with a brief case got in his cab and handed him a $100.00 bill and told him to take him to an address by the 6000 block of Central. It was 2:00 AM, but the cash and manicured passenger calmed the driver’s fears. Then when they arrived at their destination on Central, the fare pulled out a gun and made the taxi driver empty his pockets and strip naked. Then after he took the cab keys, he cut the microphone wire to his radio and walked off, leaving the driver stranded in the worst area of L.A., during the middle of the night. The cab driver waited in his cab for over an hour, thinking that the police would drive by and help him, but not one car came by. So around 3:15 he walked, butt naked down the first residential street that he came to and began banging on doors. He didn’t get a response until he banged on the door of the 4th house. When he told his story, a phone was shoved out the door, which he used to call the cab office, who sent a cab to pick him up.

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