Thursday, November 13, 2008


Clam is back in Paris. He got involved with this woman who wanted to live there, moved there, and only came back once. He was back for a year or 2, a few years back. Back long enough to paint some Madison landscapes, one of which graces the wall in Roy Boy's office.

When I first started driving, I didn't understand the nick name thing. The reason we have nick names is because you're not supposed to address people with their actual name over the radio. Thus it's ok to address Clam as what ever number he's driving, or as Clam, but not as Tom. Like all rules, there are some exceptions, and some of those exceptions are all the time, but the way you're supposed to do it is stick a nick name on that driver. Over 20 years ago, Clam was the lead singer in a group called the Clams. It was J. Crudley Do-Right who explained to me about nick names and Clam's nick name in particular. I wonder what J. Crudley is doing these days........

When Clam was doing his cameo driving I was telling him about the little war I have going with the guy who is argueably the sleazist driver of all time. The first time I ever met that driver, I'd been away driving truck for a couple of years, and he didn't know who I was. Mr. Sleaze, HEY that's his new name!!!! I can put him in the blog now!!!! Mr. Sleaze and I had this little conflict going, which had been on going for years. He was actually mad enough that he came up to my cab at the end of a shift and kicked it in the back lot once. None of us like Mr. Sleaze. I asked Clam for suggestions as to how to raise Mr. Sleaze's blood pressure and get him as angry as possible. Clam said, "Try blowing him a kiss."

It had been about a year when I finally got the chance to blow Mr. Sleaze a kiss. We were on Observatory, we both had to stop at the 4 way stop at Elm and Observatory. As we started up and passed each other, I was west bound, he east, I blew Mr. Sleaze a kiss in the middle of the intersection. He had deliverys in, and a delivery to pick east of where he was, but he did a U turn in the middle of the street and started following me. I'd watch him in the rear view mirror, and he was constantly motioning me with the index finger on his right hand to come to him. He wanted me to pull over so we could get into a fist fight. He's done crazy stuff like that before. I had a delivery to pick out by Hilldale. I let him follow me to about Farley and University.

At this point, I keyed the mike and said to the diapatcher, "Hey, J. D. Guess what Mr. Sleaze is doing?"

J. D. came back with, "Do tell, what is he doing?"

"Well, he's following me, trying to motion me to pull over. I think he wants to kill me, but you'll have to ask him what his intentions are. I have a call to pick by Hilldale, and he has deliverys in and a call to pick east of here, but he's westbound on University now, following me."

Over the radio came J. D.'s voice, "Ah, Mr. Sleaze, you're where do what?"

A minute later, "Mr. Sleaze, I'm told you're westbound on University with calls to get right now. As I pick through the delivery stack, I find that to be true. I strongly suggest you get about your business, or I'm going to take your calls back." At this point, Mr. Sleaze broke off from following me, and I assume he continued his day.

A dispatcher I'm going to call Turd (I'll tell that story later, it's cute), later told me that he was in the office when Roy Boy called in Mr. Sleaze and asked him to explain himself. Mr. Sleaze, who is a grand master of lying, was stammering and trying to lie to Roy Boy and tell him that he was never on my tail, west bound on University with calls going east bound to get. Turd said it was absolutely hysterical. Roy of course, had checked back through the stacks so he knew what I was doing, supposed to do, what Sleaze was doing, what he was supposed to do, and he was really making the guy grovel, while everyone in the office, and everyone coming and going was guffawing out loud.

I was proud of the fact that Sleaze hated me so much. I wonder if he still has me at the top of his list of people he'd like to kill. There are just some people you simply MUST piss off, gotta do it, it's the way the cosmos works.


Buck was one of the greatest dispatchers we ever had on the day shift. He was even tempered, could handle a huge board, and had a great sense of humor. I can't recall him ever getting angry with anyone. It's my understanding that his wife got a good job in California, they moved there, and are living happily ever after. I certainly hope so Buck.

I think my finest memory of Buck on the radio came after a rotund fellow who, still works for the company, was going off on Bullfrog. That fellow gets so wound that sometimes he can't continue, so there would be a silence of say 90 seconds, and a new voice would come on. He hasn't dispatched in years. Such was the case that morning, he said, "And I don't stay mad for just a day or two, Bullfrog. I stay mad for a whole month!!!!!"

I couldn't resist. I waited for a pause of about 15 seconds, which would insure that my wise acre comment would get in, and said, "So does that mean that you hate all of us, all the time?" There was a silence of at least 2 minutes after that crack.

Then Buck's calm, unflappable voice came on, and he said, "Ah, yeah 60, I think that's what that means. He's mad at all of you, all the time." There was a little hint of a snicker in his voice, apparantly as the rotund guy was shaking with anger, Buck had chuckled out loud.

Another cute memory of Buck was when Bubba washed out of teaching school. When any of us wash out of anything, we always come back. Cab driving is forever for most of us. Bubba had confided to me that the second graders used to call him Grover in class, after the children's TV show character. So, I keyed the mike and said, "Al, you know what the kids used to call Bubba?" He said he didn't, so I said, "They used to call him Grover."

Buck thought about it for a minute, and then, just like on the TV, just like you'd call a child from the back yard, "Grover. Oh, Grover." That went on for a couple of weeks. It still amazes me that Bubba would ever let anybody find out about that.

My final memory of Buck on the radio was one early September morning when I had a kid who was about 10 years old in the cab. I was taking him home from school at about 10:00 am on the first day of school. We were about 1/2 there when he said brightly, "Know why they sent me home from school?" I said I didn't, so tell me why. He said, "I've got lice."

There is a former pharmacist in the office, so I keyed the mike and said, "Ah, Buck, this kid in the cab has lice. Ask T.H.M. if he has any suggestions on how to handle that." There was a long silence.

After about 5 minutes Bucks chuckling voice came back with, "Well, you might want to wipe down the seat, don't you think? And, you might want to avoid rubbing heads with him too." I dropped the kid near the office, so I went straight to the garage. I've never cleaned a seat cleaner. I cleaned it much cleaner that I did after the dwarf.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Jive Duck

I was reading another drivers blog, and for some reason this popped into my head. It harks back to the things people ask you in a cab.

We had, perhaps still have, a special needs passenger who would always start the ride with, "Hi, what's your name." I tried telling her what my name was a few times, but she was famous for doing this. It was her little attention getting thing to do, every day. She was a daytime rider, and any day driver has better things to do than to amuse a special needs passenger, like keep track of everything that's on the board, bid on calls, and in general try to make money. Amusing this person, basicly would cost you money. Once she got your attention, she expected you to talk to her, the whole ride.

So, I started to tell her my name was Duck. I was a duck, and a jive one at that. She'd say that I couldn't be Duck, but over the years, she's come to adress me as Duck. She even started talking to me, pretty much, like a fairly normal person. Wow, somebody respects me.


We've had a couple of really good looking drivers over the years, Raven was one of them. He was in his 20's. His classic comment was, "Cabdriving isn't a job, it's a lifestyle."

The 'real job' he finally got was working for a telecom provider. He'd come back and drive 4 or 5 sifts a year, and I'd always ask him if he was slumming. There is/was a little of me in him, he's part of the family, he likes coming home to see the family just like any normal person would. Normal? Did I say normal? A cab driver? He was close to normal.

The local freebie weekly paper with all the personal ads in it often uses a highlight personal as an advertising tool. See this highly cool personal ad, yours could be just as cool, buy yourself a personal ad, you'll love it, right? One week, there's this bad quality photo of this guy in a leather/lace outfit, whip in hand, with the caption, "I just want somebody to call me sir." I looked at that and said to myself, that's Raven. I showed it to the folks in the office at the cab company, and they all looked at it and said, "It kind of looks like him, but it isn't him. It's definitely not Raven."

There was no question in my mind, but Raven was well liked, nobody wanted it to be Raven. I guess my problem was, I didn't care if Raven was like that, aside from it being amusing. One of the MT drivers I like is into Goth, makes no secret of it, wears black nail polish, and so on, none of us care, he's a good guy. Those black short pants with the little suspenders and the studs, and the cute leather cops hat, it's ok to wear that stuff, and it's ok to snicker, it's a free country.

At about this time, I was having issues with the last roommate I will ever have. Said roommate was also into the Goth nonsense. Unfortunately, I've been forced to conclude that most of the people who are into this nonsense are people you do not want to have much to do with, this roommate and friends were, as my father would have described them, leaches on society. In an effort to help me out, a friend on the Internet from Wilmington, Del. sent me a couple of photos of this roommate on the dance floor, shaking his bootie on leather and lace night at a place on Commercial. Guess who was right behind him, shaking his whip, and wearing his outfit. Raven. They were really good quality photos, and there was no question about who it was. I printed the 2 photos, and took them over to the office. Well, do you believe me now?

Raven only ever came back for one more shift. Kind of reminds me of a recent episode of the Soprano's. It's a shame when you lose family members. It's nice to know that in our family, they only move away, most of them are still around out there, somewhere.

Thanksgiving with my family.

The last time I drove a Thanksgiving, it was bad. I was only on for 8 hours, the weather was mild, it was slow, and I got ripped off. Monday morning, I told Roy Boy that I'd never drive another one, and with his usual composure he told me that if I felt that way, I shouldn't. Truth is, I like spending Thanksgiving with my family, and my family is the people at the cab company. So, I shouldn't care if I make money or not. I didn't drive it last year, I had a health issue, but I think this year I will drive it, even if I don't make a cent.

The ripped off, of a couple of years ago, went like this....... I get this ride to pick out by Whitney and Raymond for 2 going to the gin. (The gin is UW hospital) I went out there and they took their sweet time coming out and getting into the cab. The woman had a very unstylish, brand new coat on, her mother had a ratty older coat. The new coat probably came from some food pantry type program to provide winter coats, these folks came out of a small apartment building that I wouldn't want to live in. They were black, and looked like your typical poor people. Why is it that they're never ready to go? Their time is worthless, so the cab drivers time must be worthless too, right? And if the cab driver doesn't like it, they'll just call another cab, and make that one wait too. There was NOTHING else to do, or I would have taken off.

When they finally do get in the cab, the younger woman immediately starts this wailing over her baby. "Oh, my baby. Oh, my baby." It isn't sincere, she's acting, and she's doing it badly. She does this wailing, all the way to the hospital.

When she gets to the hospital, she immediately says, "The hospitals going to pay for it with a voucher." Yeah, like I'm stupid enough to let her and her mother vanish into that hospital without paying me. I get out and go with them. Her mother looks reluctant to go in, like she's looking around for someplace to quickly wander off to. I follow the younger woman, the one who's basically hired the cab, into the emergency entrance. She knew right where she was going, the woman we went to was part of the emergency staff.

This woman who's a hospital staffer said to her immediately, "I told you, we will not pay for a cab ride with a voucher." Then she turned to me. "I'll call the police", she said. She was just as bad, worse perhaps than the woman who was ripping me off, because she figured she'd kick me out of the hospital, which would result in the ride being free. I wonder how many drivers that woman has facilitated ripping off?

I said, "Oh, do call the police! I'd really like to have a cop right about now. If this woman isn't going to pay me, and had no intention of paying me, and you knew about it in advance, then she's committed a crime. I'm going to go outside and wait in my cab for the cop I'm going to call over the cab radio. Since you've discussed this with this woman in advance, I'm sure you know precisely who she is, and identification will be no further problem. I'm also sure that if a cop, hospital cop or street cop, asks you who she is, you'll identify her. Thanks, you've been very useful." The real injustice, is that the woman who works for the hospital can't get a ticket too, I wonder..... Misprison of Felony? Nah, she'd claim she made a valiant attempt to prevent this woman from ripping me off, but it's a nice thought. (If you want to know the specifics of Misprison, ask in the comments)

I went outside and asked the dispatcher to call me a cop. At this point, this whole affair is going to result in a dead loss of more than 60 minutes, and I'm only working an 8. It's been dead all day, I'll be lucky if I can pay for the cab. Most other drivers would drive away from this, but that only encourages these 2 to rip off another driver for the return ride. I'd kind of like to see them walk home.

A hospital cop comes out, and I tell him that I'm waiting for a street cop that my dispatcher has called for me. Under this circumstance, he can't force me to take off. He smiles and says that it's ok, this woman is trouble, the baby in question is in the hospital for seizures, and they're working on taking the baby from the mother. Under a circumstance like that, he's willing to write the citation, because it's just one more brick in the wall of taking that kid away. Then the Shorewood cop who responded to the call from my dispatcher pulled up. I explained the situation to him. He said that one of the 2 of them would cite her, of course I have no way of knowing if they did. It was slow for them too, it was something to do, so they probably did.

I'm just speculating, but I don't think that woman gave a damn about that kid. The kid was a meal ticket. The greatest loss was that it would take a long time to find another chump to knock her up, which would start the job of welfare mother going again. There's no unemployment for her. She was following her mother in this career. Her mother didn't give a damn about either of them, but it was her meal ticket too. She was willing to change a few diapers for 3 squares and a bed, winter was coming, where would the rent come from now?

The hospital cop implied that they were attempting to prove the woman was an unfit mother, because of drug use when she was pregnant. The idea was that they could take that baby away on that basis. Nice guy. That's his agenda. Ever wonder why health care costs are going up, out of control? Somebody is paying for all this forensic testing, and that somebody is us. In truth, the woman probably did not use drugs when she was pregnant. The seizures were probably caused by the bug spray that would have been applied to the baseboards in the roach infested building they lived in. I had a dog who had seizures once. For the first 8 years of his life, he had seizures, and then we moved. The next 10 years of his life, no seizures. I'm sure it was the residual from getting rid of roaches, that was doing it. If that woman hadn't been so stupid, she would have found a way to pay me, I could have told her about bug spray and seizures, and she could have defended herself.

Thanksgiving, bah humbug. But it is a chance to spend quality time with my family. Yeah, I'll drive it again this year, and I'll even buy a pumpkin pie and ice cream for the office.

Monday, November 10, 2008


One of the things you discover when you start driving a cab is how bad some people smell. Stanky was what some call a steady regular. She lived out at Truax, and it's been enough years that I can't recall where her regular rides went.

Some people who stink just smell bad. Ever heard the term stinking drunk? They stink, but the smell doesn't attach itself to the seat usually. There are other people who have hygene issues, and when they get up and leave the smell is about 3 times worse, Stanky was one of these. She was a native American, and she always wore this gunny sack type dress. She must have had more than 1 dress, perhaps they all looked alike, what I see in my minds eye is her in this brown smock that always looked the same.

I never had any trouble with her. Fast Eddie on the other hand, told me that one day Stanky got in and he picked up a latino couple soon after. Stanky started talking to these folks in spanish, and while most of us don't speak spanish, there are words we all know, like dinero and dollares. Fast Eddie cut her off right away, he said "No panhandling in my cab!" Stanky looked at him in shock, and was immediatly silent. Just another reason why you didn't want Stanky in your cab.

The worst mistake you can make is carrying a gun.

Do cab drivers carry guns? Travis Bickle did in the movie. I've known a few guys who did.

The guy who bought Hammer's house when he got that choice job, was carrying one when he picked up a couple at the Crown Plaza one night. It was luger, WWII version, he was into guns. He kept it in a sock, with some other stuff like a roll of quarters. His wife still drives, one night about a year ago, she made the comment to me that if someone pulls a knife on you and you can take it away from them, you can use it on them.

His wife was wrong, and I told her why. When the cops get there, there's going to be a victim, bleeding, claiming that the evil cab driver cut them up for no reason. This should have been obvious to her, but for some reason it wasn't. The actual truth she was reaching for was something my grandfather told me 50 years ago, never pull a weapon on anybody unless you're going to kill them with it, otherwise they'll take it away from you and use it on you. Not quite the same thing, is it? My grandfather had worked on the Detroit waterfront as a young man, he knew what he was talking about.

What happened to her husband after the pair from the Crown Plaza got in, was they got into a fist fight in the back seat. What do you do, if a man and woman are pounding the crap out of each other in the back seat? He tried, telling them to get out of the cab. They didn't like that idea, so they stopped fighting each other and jointly tried to drag him over the seat into the back seat. He told me he figgured they might kill him. He said that when he was starting to lose consciousness, he brought that luger out of the sock. All he intended to do was show it to them, scare them a little, show them he could fight back.

They let go of him right away, but the guy started howling, "He's got a gun. He's got a gun." He was still howling this when the cops got there. The front desk from the Crown Plaza had seen the fight going outside their front door and they called the cops. Once the guy in the back seat saw that gun, there was no way he was going to get out of the cab.

There was a restraining order prohibiting contact between these 2. The cops had no interest in that, whatsoever. Our driver did get taken to jail and charged with carrying a gun. Was he planning on killing someone? Truth is, he was lucky they didn't kill him with his own gun. All it cost him was being banned from the business for over a year, over a year on paper, he lost the gun too, of course. Thousands in legal expenses to keep him out of prision, and an indelible track record for carrying a gun. Hardly worth it, how many beatings would you take in a year or 2 in prision?

Did he come back to the business? Yes he did, but the die was cast, he'd taken steps to find himself a better life. He's a card carrying journyman electrician these days. Maybe it was the right thing for his life, but what would have happened if he'd been forced to use it? He might still be in prison.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The board.

Back in the day, the board was a clip board, now it's the desktop in front of the guy on the radio. On it he has all the slips for the rides that haven't been assigned, laid out sort of like a game of solitare. There will be single slips, and little columns of slips. A column of slips is a run. An example of a run might be these calls, 820 Williamson to 1400 Regent, The Comeback to Ian's, and The Cardinal (2) to Wando's. That run would be 4 people, a load. The dispatcher would read it off as, "3 calls, a load, starting in the 800 Willimason, ending the stadium."

The guy answering the phone writes down the time, the source of the ride, the destination, and number of people on a 3" x 3" slip of paper. The pad of paper is on a clip board. He rips the slip off and slides it through an opening like a tellers window, this is refered to as sliding it through or sliding it under the glass. So when the dispatcher says, "And sliding across is.....", that's a brand new call.

Back in the day, the same guy answered the phone and handled the radio. All the rides he needed to assign would fit under a rubberband that they had on the clipboard running from top to bottom. When there were no slips under the rubber band, you had a clear board. The rubber band is still there today, but only when it's really really slow do slips ever get tucked under it. Today, clear board still means no slips, but what they're really talking about is the desktop in front of the dispatcher.

Have I ever read off the board? Sure. Every driver who is willing to sit behind that mike for a minute has. Can I read it off fast? About the 3rd time I read the same board off, I can say it pretty fast. Can I dispatch competently? No.

When drivers bid on the calls on the board, frequently 2 or more drivers will try to talk at the same time. This results in garbled transmission, much like AM radio with one station washing over another. So the dispatcher will hear a little sliver of a voice he knows, and he'll come back with, "Come in 80." 80 will come in and tell him what he's doing and where he is, and if he heard another voice, or a little piece of a number, he'll then perhaps say, "Now try it number ending in 3." 63 will respond. Then he might say, "Try it R. C.", and I'll come in. Then he may say, "try it even number in the 90's." Dispatching isn't easy when it's busy.

A rookie ear

I was a rookie once. It's hard to imagine, for me or anybody else, but 20 years ago I was an innocent, smiling cab driver who had visions of helping nice grandmotherly little old ladies to the door everytime. If it was a choice between me making an extra 5 bucks and helping that little old lady to the door, I passed up the 5 bucks.

The first assault on that innocence will come from the dispatchers. You'll sometimes hear them say to a new driver, "You handle the radio very well, have you driven a cab before?"

Dispatchers talk really fast, you won't be able to understand a word they say for the first 2 or 3 weeks when it's busy. The smart thing to do, is not even try. Work a few Saturday and Sunday day shifts, to begin to get an ear for it. If the dispatcher on those initial days is a nice guy, he'll even tell you what you're doing wrong and patiently tell you not to do it like you're doing it and tell you what you should have said. If it's not very busy, the dispatcher can 'follow you around', that is remember what you're doing, and ask you for bids. A bid is when you ask for a call.

The first time I ever attempted a weekday, I was near St. Mary's, and there was a call at the 5 points going almost right to the office. So, I asked for it. I was empty, dead heading to the office, it fit right in with what I was doing. I probably asked for it something like this, "60 at Park and Emerald, needing to check in. Does that 1100 Vilas going to 500 S. Dickenson fit with me?" The guy on the radio was not a nice guy, it was Louie.

Louie came back with, "60 that's not how we bid. Try it again, and do it right this time."

So, I tried some varaitions of the first attempt, and he came back with progressively impatient replys. I tried about 4 times and gave up. I drove past the call, and drove straight to the office and checked in. I was sitting there doing my envelope when Roy Boy came in and offered appology for Louie. I wasn't real happy about driving past money, but I told him I'd make money inspite of the dispatcher.

The drivers room after a recent Saturday night 3p-3a, prepairing to drop my envelope.

The guy who'd taken me on my training was Bobby. Instead of teaching me how to bid, he'd bid on all the calls, and then sent me running into the companies to pick up the deliveries. Bobby kept the money on those shifts, and got paid for training a greenhorn driver. They have since changed the system, the trainee keeps the money, and the trainer simply gets paid. Showing the greenhorn how to use the radio, is required.

There are a lot of things that will tick off a dispatcher. Lying to the dispatcher will be remembered for months, perhaps years, and if you're a rookie, you might not even realize you're lying. Inappropriate bids, from too far away, or asking for something you think fits but he doesn't think fits, will be remembered for days, perhaps weeks, again, a rookie isn't doing it intentionally. This said, we have people who lie constantly, do inappropriate stuff constantly, and everybody knows it, but they're not rookies. Sleazy isn't tolerated in rookies. It's not easy being sleazy, you need to have mastered all the skills to do it and get away with it.

After you reach the point where you can hear what the guys saying, you still have to listen to all of it. You won't be able to listen selectively, that comes after about 2 years. How long it will take to know what's appropriate varies with the kinds of shifts you drive.