Driving a cab teaches you to cultivate your inner asshole. Especially at night. I drove a taxi for the Prometheus Cab Co. for four years in Fayetteville. Despite uneven pay it remains one of the best jobs I ever had. I quit when I got engaged to a tall blonde Texan party girl I’d known and chased for years at that point, who was stuck in a halfway house in Tulsa and said she wanted to move to a place where she could kick back and play her guitar. I suggested Eureka Springs and she said yes, so I quit the job and moved. And then she bailed on the whole thing and I haven’t seen her since. Luckily my roommate, a card magician and nude photographer, moved up with me to split the rent.
But that’s another story. I would say passengers for the night-time taxi driver fall into four categories: 1) people who lost their drivers’ licenses and usually need rides to the liquor store or bar, 2) drunks going home from bars, 3) people looking for drugs, and 4) strippers.
People with DUIs are your bread and butter, along with little old ladies who ride to Walmart for groceries, then have you load and unload everything, and under-tip. But since I worked too late for the little old ladies, instead I got the red-nosed guys staying at those pay-by-the-week motels who wanted their usual nightly run up the street to Quicker Liquor. The fares were small but predictable, and the conversations were typically pleasant. Only once in awhile was the guy such a pain in the butt you wished you could just go to the liquor store for him and bring it back, but that’s bootlegging according to the law, so you had to haul the bastard along for the trip.
Drunks going home from bars were another matter. More than once I had to call upon that inner asshole and jump their cases if they started giving me the runaround, or couldn’t remember where they were going, or gave me crap about the fare being too much. (I didn’t have the time or energy to cheat people on their fares – there’s always another fare waiting, and repeat business happens a lot.)
I didn’t get stiffed too often. Three times I can remember. You kind of develop a spidey-sense for that. Interestingly, 2 or the 3 times I got burned were good-looking women. My bad. The other time was this guy I’d hauled before, so I trusted him. Cab drivers have a looong memory though, so once you burn ‘em, you’ve just lost your taxi privileges, at least with that driver.
One night I picked up a pair of cute blondes who needed a ride home from the club they were at, up in Rogers. So I drove them to some crappy little duplex in a run-down part of Fayetteville near its most authentic run-down strip joint, Bottoms Up.
They went inside to get the money and never came out. I knocked for awhile. Lights out, no response. I don’t know if they hid out till I had to go on another run or went out the back door or what.
I was pissed, but as they Klingons say, revenge is a dish best served cold. About six months later, I got a call from Club West out toward Farmington on the edge of town. It was a dark and stormy night, as they say, and business had been slow. So I get there, and who comes waltzing out but these same two blondes, trying not to get their make-up wet as they run to jump in the back seat.
I had to smile. I pulled out and drove a couple miles down the road, well away from any good shelter and still halfway across town from where they lived. Then I pulled over and stopped.
“I guess you don’t remember me,” I said. “I’m the guy you ripped off for $30 six months ago. You still owe me.”
“We don’t have that kind of money!” one of them protested. “And you can’t refuse to take us! We’ll call in on you!”
“Nice try,” I said. I reached back and opened their door. “Get the f—k out of my cab, bitches. Your taxi privileges have just been revoked. Bye.”
Yes, they cussed a blue streak and called me names I’d ever even heard of, but they got out. And as I pulled away and looked back and saw them in the red glow of my taillights, looking like a couple of water-logged rats, cussing in the dark, it was sooooo worth it.
People looking for drugs are time consuming but potentially profitable if you’re careful. When someone gets in the cab and wants to go to a house and wait for them – which you do, being careful to run time on the meter because it’s a dollar a minute or used to be – and then comes out and wants you to take them another place, you know they’re looking. Which is fine by me, since in a college town there weren’t that many places even remotely dangerous. Doing it in New Orleans or wherever would be a whole nother story. Anyway, the trick at that point is to keep reminding them about running the meter, and make sure they have the cash. Get them to show it to you. If you’re too shy to do that, you’ll get skinned. You don’t want to spend an hour or two running someone all over town and then find out they spent the cab fare on a bag of weed or whatever. Because they never intended to go on such a wild goose chase, but they did and they owe you for it.
To me, searching for drugs is the most boring exercise in the history of the world, so much so I’d rather just do without. But that’s just me. But I never had too much trouble with driving people around like that. If nothing else, you can always make them pay you in whatever it is they were looking for, and sell it or trade it for something you do like.
Which leads us to strippers.Ah, sweet strippers. I went to college on government money, and I’ll tell ya, every dancer in Fayetteville got a little piece of that action. And it was well worth it. I love me some exotic dancers.
The guy who owned half the Prometheus Cab Co., who supposedly had shady organized crime connections, also owned a handful of strip joints around NW Arkansas. Therefore any dancers who rode to work in our cabs got half price off their fare, so over the months I got to know probably a dozen of them.
I got along with all of them. What’s not to like? Beautiful women who like to dance nekkid for money. People who work for tips recognize one another, and as long as I treated ‘em nice and wasn’t some kind of perv, they tipped me as well as I would’ve them (and often did).
I probably dated 4 or 5 dancers over the years. At that point in my life, I assumed melodrama, shouting, crazy phone calls at 2 a.m., massive amounts of whiskey, and jealous boyfriends – in other words, the whole Jerry Springer reality tunnel – were a fair exchange for all that smooth skin, flashing eyes, and perfect derrieres. I was even married for six month (my most recent wife) to a former stripper who still had all her old costumes and would put on shows for me when she was in the mood, i.e., about the end of the first pint.
It was all great and terrible. Cops, broken glass, nights without sleep for good reasons and bad, confusion and madness and above all else, half nekkid wimmen.
I only knew one that whole time though who wasn’t crazy as hell. She was a laid back girl from Cherokee Village, tall with long brown hair and a killer bod. We never actually got serious, but I loved to take her out to dinner, just to watch guys’ eyes bug out when I walked in with her on my arm. It was like being in somebody else’s movie. I took some many tall babes out for dinner before I went broke that the head waiter at Herman’s Steak House would say, “Would you like your usual table, sir?” Living the dream!
Being a taxi driver gave me the best of all worlds in terms of work. When it was slow, I could stop off at the house smoke a bowl or 2 and hang around till a call came thru. When it was busy, it was all asses & elbows, scrambling around to get the fares picked up and dropped off and on to the next one; football games, bar rushes, money bulging out of your pockets. My old flannel shirt with all the pockets I used to wear when I was working still smells like money.
As with many another of my life adventures, it ended over a woman, which isn’t really accusatory – it just seems to be how my life’s worked. Women make the world go round, even if you have to take a cab to get there.
Emmet Sudsbury is a media writer in the middle of Arkansas. Former newspaperman, taxi driver, etc. Three ex-wives, looking for number four.