Fruitless Loops


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Two types fill a cabdriver with dread: those looking to score and those looking for a free ride.

A man flagged me down from a bus stop on Fullerton in Lincoln Park. He was headed some three miles west, apparently sick of waiting for the #74. The trip passed in silence until we pulled off onto one of the K streets and he said to stop. "My wife's been cheating on me and I'm gonna go in there and kill her. I got no money. What you think about that?"

What I thought was that his marital difficulties were none of my concern and that he'd just cheated me out of 15 minutes, and I told him as much before sending him on his way.

Another guy called for a taxi from an all-night diner on Archer. Shaking, sweating, and shifty-eyed, he directed me to the west side. Over the Eisenhower, north on Pulaski, we slowed for him to look over the merchants: guys that hid their faces in hoodies, shouted out to passing cars, and signaled their crew if there was a bite. "You know what's going on here, right?" he asked, and I told him not to say it. He tossed me a $20 as down payment.

We pulled into the parking lot of a fried fish joint, and he rolled down his window and conducted his business.

Now he was in a hurry to get out of there and return to that Archer diner. He kept asking if I was OK with where we'd gone; when he paid me about double what was on the meter that definitely made it easier to take. He walked into the overlit restaurant still sweating buckets, though that'd pass in no time now that he'd scored.

With the makeup, voices, and flamboyant clothes, none of the four could definitively be classified as either female or male; they were in that sweet spot calculated to appeal to the widest clientele.

They ran over from their perch in the Punkin Donuts parking lot at Belmont and Clark, where they'd been all night, talking up the lonely people trolling for love. They sang along to B96 as we hit Lake Shore Drive and kept it up all the way down to the Dan Ryan. We exited on 63rd Street and all were suddenly silent except for occasional instructions to turn left or right. Then we stopped at an abandoned lot, the cab doors flew open, and they scattered like cockroaches under the kitchen light.

He stood in the middle of Division near Leavitt, forcing cars to veer around him. The bandaged hand was from a recent stint at the nearby Saint Mary of Nazareth, maybe the most hideous hospital in the city. He asked if he could smoke and if I had a light. I didn't, so we stopped at a liquor store to buy one, handing me his dead cellphone to see if it would fit my charger while I waited for him to return. After he got back in the cigarette calmed him for spell, but soon he was rustling around in the shopping bags spread all over the back seat.

The destination he'd requested was changed as we approached what was left of Cabrini-Green. First we turned into one of the new subdivisons. Whatever he was looking for wasn't in any of the culs-de-sac therein, so we took Scott Street past one of the last bombed-out towers at a crawl while he scanned the desolation for some sign. We made several more fruitless loops before he said to stop. We were facing south on Clybourn across from the Dominick's. There was a pause, and I guessed he was getting ready to run, but he must've lost his nerve and began to count out his singles. Just as he was finally getting out of the cab, a rotund form in pink sweatpants came into view. She was only going a couple blocks, to those row houses off Chicago Avenue, the other sorry remnant of Cabrini. She thanked me profusely for stopping and said to lock the doors. Glad just to get a ride so unlike the ones only looking for something to take.


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