Vampire Hours

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I first drove a taxi in the early 90s in Boston. In 2001 I made a zine called Hack about my early days in the business. There was a second issue about a year later and that would've been that, but in 2003 I returned to the taxi trade here in Chicago. In 2007, I revived Hack as a blog and now I'll be posting about my adventures behind the wheel here at the Reader's blog. When I'm not driving, painting is my primary diversion, examples of which can be found here. Thank you very much for your attention.


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Hauling up and down empty avenues on winter weeknights can be its own kind of hell. But in those instants that one feels like the last being drawing breath, others make their presence felt. The truly dedicated drinkers, the lonely lunatics, the speed-addled tow truckers, the cops looking for an excuse, and the other cabbies foolish enough to be out fighting for the few sorry scraps left to be had . . .

The winter snow-route parking ban brings schools of haulers out onto the quiet thoroughfares to conduct their insane death races. Tow trucks turn feral at night, treating moving vehicles like stationary obstacles, paying only cursory attention to traffic signals, ignoring lane configurations altogether. Having one of these panting, hungry beasts riding your ass will wake you from the deepest reverie. And having to drag a carcass back to the yard doesn't slow their pace any; some leave a trail of sparks off some poor SUV's bumper in their wake, no time for niceties in their mad dash. Like taxis, each is adorned with its own war paint or coat of arms and each seems dimly aware of the competition without allowing it more than tense tolerance. They're lone wolves out to get their prey, stash it, then come drooling for more . . .

The cops sit in their cruisers, driver's side to driver's side, talking about whatever it is that cops talk about. The blue swirling lights, visible from miles away, cause the rest of us to approach with trepidation, then veer slowly into oncoming lanes to avoid the great meeting of minds, cursing under our breath about tax dollars, double standards, and all those other things we can't or won't ever change. Others fly by, sirens blaring, en route to back up their brethren, five or six of them surrounding some souped-up Toyota with after-market rims, spinners, maybe some neon so it's even less conspicuous. Several guard the perimeter making sure their odd rituals aren't scrutinized too closely by the laity. Best to keep one's head down and glide by meekly, below their radar, not rousing any suspicions . . .

People who just don't know any better venture out on these nights when they should really stay in. The ones that aren't on urgent missions to or from their local tavern want things that never quite add up. The cheerful, ragged girl from Ukrainian Village is one. She wanted to go to the west side. Then she asked to stop at Village Pizza on Chicago and Western for a slice, when we'd already driven past it. Next, she insisted on going by the place with the bulletproof glass for her smokes. At the Citgo station after that she ran in with her cigarette half-lit, spending a good five minutes inside as the meter ticked away. Emerging with a fistful of lottery tickets and a box of Boo Berry cereal. "Never see this shit any more, couldn't help gettin' it . . . These mutherfuckers out here don't realize I got a taxi waiting. They take they sweet-ass time . . . " She has me drop her at an all-night sub-and-gyro joint, the shopping spree apparently not quite over . . .

Aside from the occasional distraction, early weeknights are thankless drudgery. Watching the needle on the fuel gauge creeping southward while counting and recounting the stack of singles that just won't multiply. There's always, mercifully, the fare that you decide is the last of the night. Mine's waving in front of a corner bar across the street. I hang a U-turn just as she crosses over to my side of the street. Completing the circle, she jumps in, shivering from the whipping wind, "Do you usually work these hours? Are you a night owl?" she asks. "Yup, vampire hours," I answer. Getting a laugh out of a pretty girl from this tired line makes the preceding hours almost worth it. Almost . . .

Click here for more Hack. And follow me on twitter here.

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