Cab drivers are an interesting group of people. Every one that I’ve ever met seems to to walk a fine line between eccentricity and being totally unhinged. I recently met a cab driver who fell squarely into the latter group.
My driver was a tall, thin, bald man dressed in jeans and a checked short sleeve button up shirt. He was on his phone when I got into the back of the cab. He did not turn around when I got in, only asked over his shoulder, “Are you Mee-han?” His voice was harsh and hard to place. Russian maybe or middle eastern.
“I’m Meghan, yes.”
He nodded absently and swung the cab away from the curb, phone still stuck to his left ear.
I jumped a little when he suddenly yelled into the phone, “The computer isn’t working!” I heard a woman’s voice respond.
He was less than pleased with her response.
“Do you want I should turn it off?” A pause. He leaned toward the small screen, holding the phone to his ear. He pressed a button. “Fine, but I’m telling you, it doesn’t work!” Another pause and a sigh. “I’ll try again.”
He punched a few buttons on a small computer console mounted to the dashboard and the screen went black. He glanced occasionally from the computer screen to the road.
With a vague sense of unease, and maybe a moment of precognition, I thought, Neither hand is on the steering wheel right now.
I didn’t want to overreact, so I distracted myself with my phone.
I sent my husband a text: My cab driver is an angry, angry man.
My phone buzzed in my hand.
My husband texting me back: Be safe.
My driver wrapped up his conversation with cabbie computer tech support as we turned onto the freeway. He tossed the phone into the empty passenger seat and glanced back at me in the rear view mirror.
“This new owner of my company,” he gestured contemptuously to the small black console. “He keep messing up the business with this computer.” His accent was thick, and I struggled to understand what he was saying.
I made a small, noncommittal noise. I didn’t want to talk to this guy, didn’t want to listen to him rant for the next thirty miles. I got my wish for a few all too brief minutes.
The cab was silent for another five miles or so, but it was not the comfortable silence of a driver recognizing their passenger doesn’t want to talk. It was the thick, awkward silence between two people, one of which feels obligated to hold a conversation and is trying to figure out what to say.
Finally he picked a starting place. “So, where I pick you up, you work in that building?” The answer was obvious, but it was as good a place to start as any
“Yes,” I said. I did not elaborate.
“So what you do there? You an engineer?”
I tried to keep my answer impersonal. “No, I help the engineers, though.”
“Me, I have an engineering degree from Russia.” His brown eyes watched me through the rear view mirror. He slung his right arm casually over the back of the passenger seat, his hand resting lightly on the back of the passenger seat head rest.
I recoiled a little. The way I saw it, the front of the vehicle was his territory, the back was mine.
“Oh?” I was staring at his hairy arm and forgot what we were talking about.
“Oh, okay.” I smiled politely and nodded, then pushed a button on my phone.
Evidently that was not the answer he was looking for because he chose that moment to take both hands off the wheel, turn his entire body around and look at me.
“You know what that is? Industrial engineering?”
“Nuh uh,” I shook my head. In retrospect, I think it was more in negation of the situation than answer to his question.
He gave me a long, silent stare, then turned around again. I swallowed my heart back into my chest.
My phone buzzed again.
My husband: You okay?
I couldn’t answer. I was afraid to look away lest he decide to get my attention in a more terrifying way.
“Mechanical engineering? You know now?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “I know now. Sure.”
“How I get a job there? Who’s the big boss there? The big manager. Maybe I could go meet him.”
“Uh, I think you’d have to apply first.”
“I picked up a guy in that other building by yours. He was in a nice suit. Niiice suit. I stopped by the curb and asked him if he needed a cab. ‘No I don’t need no fuckin’ cab,’ he says to me.”
I kept nodding, a polite smile frozen to my face.
Internally I whimpered, Oh. My. God. He’s a hand talker.
“Me, I’m rude. I don’t like anyone to talk to me like that. I curse back at them. My mouth,” he cupped his fingers over his mouth in case I didn’t know what body part he meant, “it’s bad. But this time, I’m nice. I told him, ‘Hey man, it’s hot, you get in my cab and you get free air conditioning.’ And he got in my cab and I took him downtown. Him, he liked the way I talked to him. He liked being rude and I didn’t talk back and he liked that. He gave me his card and he’s the general manager for this big French company.”
“Maybe you should call him.” I had to say something or he might turn around again.
He leaned forward and stared at me in the rear view mirror. “If I get an engineer job, how much I make?”
I felt caught. “I don’t know. Maybe start at ninety, ninety five a year?”
“How much a month?”
“I guess that would depend on your tax bracket.”
Dear Jesus, I prayed, please don’t let me die while discussing tax brackets with a crazy person. Thank you and amen.
“But how much is that?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, panicking a little. This was starting to feel less like an information seeking and more like an inquisition.
In self-defense, I pulled up the calculator app on my phone.
“About seven thousand a month before taxes?”
My phone buzzed in my hand.
Another text: Do I need to come look for you?
“Driving cabs, it’s good money. You know how much I bring home every month?”
I shook my head.
“If you start driving at six thirty in the morning and go home at six thirty at night, fifteen thousand a month.”
“Yeah!” He gave me another hard stare in the rear view mirror as though I’d said I didn’t believe him.
“Wow. I didn’t know.” I wasn’t sure that I did believe him, but I sure as hell didn’t want to make him mad.
“Yeah! But cab drivers, they’re bad. Like I come pick you up? If another cab driver hears a customer waiting, he’ll go get the customer first so he gets paid and I don’t. But they don’t do that to me. They know I’m crazy. I’ll chase them on the road. They don’t mess with cab two three four. “
I decided then that the phrase “chase them on the road” should never be spoken in a cab outside of the movies. It does not inspire confidence.
My husband sent me another text: Hello?
“Yeah, they know. I’m rude. You have to be rude. You can’t just be…” He made a wishy washy gesture with one hand.
“Like I got into a big fight with a cop. He pulled me over and he said he was going to take me to jail, and I asked him ‘Man why you talk too much?’ But I showed him. That ticket?” He waved his hand. “Dismissed. Cops they don’t like cab drivers. If they take our license away we just drop it down to Class B or A, then we get it moved back up to C. You have to know the system.
Out of sheer morbid curiosity (because honestly, I was already in the cab, so what good would the information do me at this point?) I wanted to ask asked if he was in possession of a valid license but my phone buzzed.
Another text. This time from my cell phone provider. Your phone is being tracked via GPS.
It’s probably best that I didn’t ask about his license. There are some questions we are just better off not knowing the answers to.
After what seemed like the world’s longest thirty mile drive, we finally we pulled up to the parking lot. I tried not to be too obvious by jumping out of the car while it was still moving, but I think maybe I still looked a little eager. He pulled away, presumably to find some other unsuspecting customer and I called my husband to let him know I was alive if slightly traumatized.
And now I am very, very careful to let cab drivers have their way on the road.