Earnest Gibbons, Bluetop taxi, at your service. I drive car 34, just like sweetness, the late great Walter Payton, the greatest running back that ever lived. I’ve worked the night shift, the day shift and all the shifts in between. There isn’t much that I haven’t seen, between the service, the Post Office, and driving these crazy people home.
I’ve had all walks of life in my cab; you can tell a lot about a person in a short amount of time, especially the drinkers, they’ll tell you everything. I am one of seven thousand licensed cabs in this city, driving around and getting folks where they need to go.
I’ve been mugged before, but only once, my first year driving. I can gauge a person better than most. I can tell from the get-go if we will have problems. I can tell whether you will leave a tip or short me, all before we stop.
I feel I know America better than most. I know the people. How they interact with one another, how they talk to one another, and how they feel about each other. For me, it doesn’t matter where you’re going; it’s what you’re saying. I’m always listening, gathering the information. I’m glad to be back too, after everything that happened a few months back.
It was a typical day, I remember the lunch hour was busier than most, starting with two hot shot attorneys heading out for a quick bite. Both exhausted, working long hours, away from their family. In this case, with hushed voices, one lawyer is telling the other of an intern he’s seeing on the side. He goes on in detail about the late romps in the office, and what he’s telling his wife.
“Kim keeps calling, leaving voicemails, texting, and then more voicemails. The damn phone fell off my desk it kept vibrating.”
“And you're banging the blonde in your office? What's her name again, Katie?”
“Yeah, you've seen her, the one in accounting. So finally I called Kim, told her I’m running late with a deposition.”
They go on like this for a few more blocks. Then he glances around, leans in, and tells his lawyer buddy that she’s pregnant, and he’s not talking about the wife. This man has a wife and kids at home and a pregnant intern on the side, and there's more.
“I told her under no circumstances can she do this to me. I've got a wife, you know?”
“Man, you've got to get this taken care of.”
They’re discussing these intimate details in the back seat of my cab, like I'm not even there, but I am. And I’m listening.
After lunch, I pick up a couple wanna be gangsters. Maybe 16 or 17 years old with their pants hanging off their rear end. One's black, the other white, each wearing T-shirts big enough for the both of them to fit in together. They get in the cab and mumble some sort of street slang. I can't understand either one of them.
“Yo man drop us at Scamps, you know what I'm sayin'?”
A brief thought entered my head. I'm dragging them out of my cab by their scrawny little necks. I remove my belt and begin to give these two a serious whipping. A horn snaps me back to reality. Green light. I punch the gas, we arrive without incident. I still don't know what they we’re saying.
Let's see, after those two it was a heavyset woman. She poured herself into the backseat, wearing a rancid combination of fragrance and lotion. I started to gag, before rolling down my window.
“Could you leave that up, it’s a little chilly out?” She asked while maneuvering her plump bottom to get into the seat.
“Sure lady, where to?”
“North Michigan Avenue, I’m meeting some girlfriends”
I watched as she clutched her purse, as if any moment I would pull over, snatch it, and take off running while leaving the idling cab.
We arrived at her destination and for my troubles I am rewarded with a handsome $1 tip. I was just thankful she was out of the car so I could breathe again.
You may be wondering why I work one of the most hated professions. I don't see it that way. Working with the public has its rewards. Sure people often look down on us, but I’m a student of mankind, this cab is my classroom.
I started driving after getting laid off from the post office. For thirty- two faithful years I worked there, delivering the mail in sleet or snow, rain or shine. I never missed a day, old faithful Earnest they used to say. I guess that was forgotten when it came time for layoffs. So I started driving the cab. It’s not too bad, keeps me moving, and gives me a sense of purpose.
Every day, I come across the widest range of people. Different colors, creeds, ethnic groups, and religions. Gay, straight, bisexual, and asexual, you name it, they all sit down in that back seat and tell their stories while I get them where they need to go.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the perfume lady. The day was just heating up.
The perfume lady made her exit and I started airing out the cab when this kid, college age I'm guessing, hopped into the back seat. I looked at him through the rearview and saw his eyes; his lifeless eyes Eyes that didn't look human, like he never had a mother.
“Where to?” I said, feeling a bit uncomfortable.
“The Waterfront Center”
I set the meter and headed towards the riverwalk. He was clutching a backpack and looking nervous. I’m trying to figure out what this kid was up to. It’s 80 degrees out, and he’s wearing jeans with a hooded sweatshirt. His cold eyes darted around in all directions, I’m no detective, but I knew this kid has bad intentions. I feared the worst.
I figured I would try to get him to talk by asking him something simple. “You going to the presentation?”
It was Citizen’s day and thousands of people were headed to the waterfront for a celebration culminating with the Mayor’s speech. He shifted his legs but remained silent. When I looked back again he’s staring at me through the mirror. Damn, this kid’s not right, I thought to myself.
We continued a few more blocks in silence; I kept an eye on the back. I watched as he stared out of the window, looking at nothing in particular. He shifted his legs again, that’s when I saw it. Inside the bag I could make out the handle of a gun. It looked like a .45, although was hard to tell. He didn't seem to notice that I had seen it. The kid wasn’t going to rob me, but that was what scared me. Ah shit, I’m thinking, What have I gotten myself into now?
Back in my post office days, I remember an incident at the main branch one particular day. I’m taking a break from my training class, we always had some type of training going on, we did more training than working. I came into the lobby and see these two guys arguing. They start pushing and shoving and one guy pulls out a pistol. Everyone gasps and someone screams. The guy with the gun points the weapon at the other guy's face, for what seemed like an eternity. Someone in the back called the cops and within minutes they swarm the parking lot.
The guy with the gun looked scared and nervous, shaking and what not. The other guy though, was just so calm. I remember him staring at the gun, telling the guy holding it to pull the trigger. Telling him to pull the trigger or else he would find him and kill him. Well, the guy with the gun finally surrendered to the police. The scene started to die down and the cops interviewed witnesses. I couldn't help staring at the one guy, the one that had the gun pulled on him. I have no doubt that if the roles had been reversed someone would have been dead.
This kid had those same eyes, the eyes of a killer. As I said, I’m not a trained detective, but I can feel my instincts telling me to do something. We only had a few more blocks until his stop, I thought about dialing 911, or radioing in to dispatch with the safe phrase. We have a system here at Bluetop, if I radio in and say Parker, could you tell me where Parker is? That means I’m in trouble.
I decided I couldn't do this. I would still have to let this guy out, and if I did that I was afraid someone would die. I looked back at him again. He had one hand in his book bag and he’s looking right at me through the rear view. I’m a cab driver, not a navy seal, but it was time for action.
We we’re about a block away from the Waterfront entrance. I could hear the music at this point, there was a big crowd, in the thousands. We we’re approaching quickly and I’m scanning the road looking from side to side when I saw it. There’s no shortage of old warehouses downtown, most of them abandoned. I saw what I was looking for on the next block, a box truck sitting out in front of a loading dock. I noticed there was no driver. Then glanced down at my seat belt to make sure it was buckled, said a quick prayer, and kicked my plan into action.
I put the pedal down to the floor and Sweetness came to life. I drove straight for the truck and just as we were about to collide, I cut it sharp to the left, swinging the back end into the back of the truck. I don’t remember much else, but I hear this caused a hell of a commotion.
All of this happened about 2 months ago, and my life hasn’t been the same. I woke up in the hospital a few days later, a bit groggy, but alive. I had a broken collarbone and three broken ribs, the doctor said I would make a full recovery, but it hurt like hell.
When I woke up, my daughter Kendra was by my side. I could see she was happy I’m okay, but I detected some anger.
“What were you thinking? You could have killed yourself.”
“I….I really don’t know.”
“My father, the hero…crazy old man.” She says, but I could see her starting to smile.
She set the paper on my lap:
“Cab Driver Foils Killer’s Plot”
“You’re pretty big news Daddy; I wish mom were here to see.”
I thought about Joyce, she passed away 5 years ago. She would have been proud, and this made me smile, but sad too.
“We have to get you a new suit, the Mayor wants to present an award to you.”
“Wait, what happened with that kid?”
“The wreck did a number on him, multiple fractures and breaks. He’s still in intensive care. Anyway, after the collision, the ambulance and cops came, it was this whole big spectacle. They pulled you away from the car and then went for him. They thought he was dead at first, but they found a pulse. The cops found his bag and that’s where it get’s interesting. He had two glock .45 handguns and 10 clips of ammunition.”
“I remember seeing the gun.” I say, trying to put the pieces together.
“Yeah, according to the paper, he also had tear gas, a gas mask, and some sort of homemade smoke bomb. And that’s not all Dad, there was a note.”
“A suicide note, but it was more like some sort of mission statement. Dad, he was going after the Mayor. You saved the Mayor’s life.”
So I’m presented with an award. Outstanding citizenship award something or another. The Tribune was there, a few cameras flashing, and I’m asked to say a few words. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something about how I’m going to miss my car. This got a few laughs and then the Mayor chimed in and said he would be glad to replace the car.
I still miss my old car, but this new cab is a smooth ride. It’s some sort of hybrid so it’s pretty good on gas too. I named it Sweetness, just like the other one. A kid from the college paper just did another story on me so I’m still getting some attention, not sure how long it will last. I’m not sure I want it to. I've thought about that day many times in the last few months. Was I brave or just stupid? Maybe a little bit of both.
As for that kid, I hope that he pulls through; maybe he can get some help. A lot of people say the world would be better off without him. I'm not one to judge, people need direction from time to time. If you've seen what I've seen you learn to expect the unexpected. Maybe that day was a test for both him and me. Like I said, I'm a student of mankind.
Copyright 2012 Pete Fanning
Other Short Stories by Weestro:
- A Cruel World
As his wife's guardian, Hank finds there are some things he can't prevent.
- Freddy's Date
Trying to impress his buddies, Freddy gets in over his head when he is the one being called out.
- The Principal's Office
A short story about a teacher having a difficult time conforming to the school's changing environment.
- Criminally Cliche
A short story packed with some of the worst cliches you will find.
- A Stranger's Help
One stranger's kindness sparks an unlikely bond between two passengers on a plane.