You do tend to meet some interesting people when you drive a cab--people you'd never encounter otherwise.
I work the Asheville Airport on weekdays, but on Saturdays and Sundays, during the day I am Night and Day Taxi in Hendersonville. The company doesn't have a dispatcher; they just give you their company cell phone and turn you loose.
About Noon last Sunday I was half asleep, sitting in my cab downtown, when the phone jarred me awake.
I picked it up. "Night and Day Taxi."
"Hey, I'd like to request a cab to come pick me up at one o'clock."
He went on to give his address, but he instructed me to meet him at the convenience store just down the block from him.
As it happens, it was a rainy day, so I assured him it would be no problem to come right to his doorstep. He said no, just meet him at the Marathon store.
I sort of hate time calls like that--they can seriously fuck up your flow. What happens if you get another call at 12:30, do you try to squeeze them in or do you have to turn them down? Time calls just stress me out.
Anyway, I figured I might as well get there early, so at 12:40 or so I was sitting in the parking lot of the convenience store.
He called me at about 12:45. "Hey, I'm the guy who ordered the cab for 1:00, I'd just like to confirm that you're coming?"
"As a matter of fact, man, I'm sitting in the parking lot of the Marathon station right now--I'm looking at your mailbox and your driveway as we speak. You sure you don't want me to come on up to your house? So you don't have to walk through the rain?"
"No, no, no, man, just sit tight. I'll be right there."
It hadn't quite dawned on me yet, but here was a customer who urgently wanted his cab.
I generally prefer for customers to sit in the back, but sometimes I'll clear off the front seat for them, which involves putting my laptop and whatever books I've brought with me to read in my rummage-sale briefcase and depositing it in the trunk. It's more trouble then I usually care to go to, but this guy was talking to me like I was already sort of his buddy, so I figured it might be worth my while to cater to him, tip-wise.
He fooled me, though. He got in the back. "I want to go to the the Octopus Garden at 2000 Spartanburg Highway; I'll only be in there a minute or two, so if you could just wait on me?"
This was turning out much better than I had expected. I was picking him up in Laurel Park and the place he wanted me to take him was down in East Flat Rock--and I assumed I'd be taking him right back to Laurel Park again. Awesome.
I generally try to make conversation with my fares. One good ploy is to ask them what's going on at their destination.
I had previously been told at some point that his destination was a "smoke shop", so I (naively) asked, "What's the attraction at The Octopus Garden? I know they have the cheapest prices for cigarettes and all, but look at what you're spending on cab fare."
"Naw, man, I ain't after cigarettes, I need to get some of that herbal smoke, you know?"
I did know, vaguely. "That's the stuff that's supposed to be just like marijuana?"
"You got it, man. They open at 1:00 on Sunday. I've been waiting all morninng."
Okay, so I needed to re-define "smoke shop". Well, that's part of being a cab driver. You live and learn.
It developed that he was joining the marines soon, and that he'd been smoking pot since he was 13 (he was now 27) and that he didn't want to disgrace the marine corps by doing anything illegal. Fortunately, the herbal smoke was just as good as the illegal shit.
Like I say, you live and learn.
I had to wonder if this young man was really cut out to be a marine, but it would have been rude of me to say so.
"I've been staying with my aunt, that's why I didn't want you to come up to the house. As far as she knows, I just went out for a walk."
"In the rain?"
We pulled up to the Octopus Garden. "Whenever I pass this place," I said, "I always think of the old song..."
"What old song?"
"The Beatles Song! Come on..."
I sang, "I'd like to be.... under the sea..."
"I never heard that one. But I bet they named their shop after that song."
Probably. But time flies, and fame is fleeting...
I found myself at a loss for words.
Anyway, I took him back to Laurel Park after he got what he'd been jonesing for, and he gave me a nice tip, and he left me feeling vaguely positive about the future of his generation.
I don't think he'll last too long in the marines, though...