Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Answer time 2

"How did you end up driving a cab?"
Read Part 1 Here

You asked me questions and I promised answers. So here we go.

1. What is the biggest prejudice/label that you feel that people attribute to you as a cabbie? And do you feel there is some truth to that label. The good old "no smoke without fire" or are they way off?

The biggest prejudice, I'd say, is that we are cheats. And it makes sense, no? After all, we get paid by the kilometer and by the minute. On a very basic level, it is in our interests to take very long and slow detours. The company I work for is blessedly free of this. With our fares being so low, there's really no profit in cheating people. I make far more money getting you to where you need to go, and then picking up another fare.

Is there truth to the prejudice? Sadly, yes. This is a very real problem in the Swedish taxi business, and it all comes back to de-regulation. I've discussed this before.  It is also a matter of supply far outstripping the demand; there are far more cabbies than fares, because driving a cab is in essence unskilled labour. It is a business that holds a large amount of people from the bottom rungs of the pecking order.

There's an unpleasant political aspect to this. Sweden is known for a very liberal immigration policy. And one of the chief questions a society asks itself when it takes in immigrants/asylum-seekers is this: Now they are here. What do we do with them?

A civilised society will attempt to make the integration process smooth; get the immigrants working, and within a generation or two they will have made for themselves a place in society. The trouble is that there is a scarcity of work in this country. Add to the fact that if you come here as a refugee, or from a non-european country, you're doubly screwed because you lack a lot of the skills and knowledge necessary for smooth operation within Swedish society.

You're also in a position where any job seems like a good job. And so, this has given a rise to certain predatory practices among the competition. Representatives for the group that owns, among other companies, Taxi K will go to the local employment office, offer a job which pays "up to 20 000 sek a month, where you can set your own schedule, and then take a vacation to Hawaii if you want" (paraphrase of an actual quote), even giving you the opportunity to take a course and get a license. This is all fine and dandy, right?

Well, what they fail to mention is this: 20 000 sek is possible, if you work 12 hour shifts, six to seven nights a week. Sure, you can set your own schedule, but you won't get paid for any free time you allot yourself. In fact, there will be shifts where you barely will get paid at all. And you will be in constant competition with 300 other people who are in the exact same boat as you.

So what's a socially disadvantaged cabby to do when he manages to get a customer? Why, he must make it count. And the simplest way to make it count is to make sure that you make as much money as possible from the trip. Thus, cheating and off-meter payment become not only an option, but even a necessity.

Furthermore, deregulation has allowed countless of people to register their own cars as independent cabs. And there's no cap on the prices you can set for your own car. In fact, if there was a cap, you'd probably be out of luck, because it is expensive to own a cab and its expensive to drive one. So again, cheating becomes a necessity. In fact, things have gotten so bad that the authorities in Stockholm have laid down the law in order to deal with the problem. That's a step, I suppose, but it's only treating a symptom. The deeper disease remains uncured.

2. My question is how much extra do you charge someone if they soil your taxi? 

I've not yet had anyone truly soil my cab (except a demented old woman I found bleeding in the street. I helped her into my cab, where she peed all over the seat. Since I wasn't raised by wolves, I simply waited with her until the ambulance came and took her away). However, if they do, I demand that they clean up, and then I demand that they pay me at least an entire night's wages, as my shift will effectively be over (you don't clean up vomit or shit or the like: you return the car to HQ for sanitation and then go home). People are usually willing to pay, if my colleagues are to be believed. If they refuse, there's not a lot I can do unless I'm ready to take them to court on vandalism charges.

3. And has there ever been a customer that has tried to rob you? 

Once. Picked up a bunch of rough Yugoslavian bastards out in Seed Grove. They were going to Mount Agnes. During the trip, they demanded that I turn up the music. I realized that they wanted me to turn up the music so I couldn't hear what they were saying. Bad vibes all around. I decided I was being a racist and pushed my bigotted fears aside. As we approached Mount Agnes, the guy next to me started to moan and complain about feeling sick. I asked him if I should stop the car.
"Stop at the parking lot..." he gasped. So I stopped the car.

With a swiftness and coordination that was downright impressive, Sicko grabbed the smartphone we use as an onboard computer, and then dashed out of the car, followed by his three friends. By the time I realized what had happened, they were far far away.

Looking back, I am equal parts impressed, pissed off, and scornful. Impressed, because of how perfectly coordinated they were. They had clearly done this before, and had developed some skill. Pissed off because I was mildly traumatized and without the smartphone I was unable to continue working that night. And scornful, because that smartphone is worthless. The app we use has burned its image into the screen, and it is bound to the company. So off they went with a practically worthless piece of technology. I say they can keep it. Most likely they will never achieve anything greater than that.

4. What's the stupidest thing you've ever been asked?

"What tickles your fine crotch?"

5. What is the kindest thing you've witnessed as a cabbie ? (To balance out all the bad stuff)
I don't really witness a lot of kindness. But as far as kind people go, the saint ranks pretty damn high. Oh, also... There was this one time I was driving through Rose Grove, and a small crowd was gathered around this fallen old guy. I stepped out to see if I could offer any assistance He had gotten a heart attack and fallen over. One the prostitutes had had wrapped a sanitary towel over the gash in his head, and cracked dirty jokes in order to keep him conscious until the ambulance came. Considering what misery she lives in, I find her actions pretty damn noble.

Answer time 1.

"What's the worst thing you've ever encountered?"

You asked me questions and I promised answers. So here we go.

1) How do you avoid the urge to run these people down where they stand?

Short answer: My parents raised me well.

As a matter of fact, I did give in to that urge once. I was down on Warehouse Street, which is a small stretch right in the center of town. It's got a couple of very popular bars and restaurants, frequented by locals. Rarely do you pick up people there that are from out of town.

Anyway, Warehouse Street is an original street from back when the city was founded. It is narrow, and it is paved with cobblestones. Add to the fact that the local joints like to put tables and chairs outside their doors so as to accommodate people during the summer, and you have yourself a nightmare from an automobile-perspective.

So I had just picked up a bunch of merry revelers, and we were about to drive to the nearest intersection. Sadly, there was a crowd gathered in front of the car. I did the usual crowd-dispersal routine:
1. Flash the headlights.
No response.
2. Rev the engine.
No response.
3. Emit a series of short, insistent honks through the horn.
Response.

The crowd dispersed, giving me sour looks all the way. I returned the looks with a huge grin and a waving hand. A couple of people gave me the finger, which I took as a sign that I was doing the right thing.

However, one girl refused to move. She was this tiny pixie, with a flowery dress and a sweet smile. I repeated the routine, but she would not budge.

So I edged the car closer and closer to her, showing her that I meant business. I was saying, in the limited language of a driver, that she should get out of the way, because I was not stopping. She replied, in the limited language of pedestrians, that I could keep on coming, because she wasn't moving.

Very well, I thought. The car closed in, centimeter by centimeter. It was the slowest game of chicken ever played. But just as I was about to hit the breaks and admit defeat, she bent forward, and lay down on the hood.

My customers gasped. I smiled. She had upped the stakes. I was happy to continue playing. So with this adorable faerie clinging to the hood, I slowly rolled all the way to Warehouse Street. Coming to the intersection I stopped. She let go of the hood, blew me a kiss, and wandered happily back to her friends on Warehouse Street.

I fell in love with her right then and there and I never saw her again.

2) What's the grossest thing you've ever had to clean off the inside of your cabs roof? 

I've never had to clean anything off the inside of the roof. God help me the day I will have to.

3) How do you know Mama Crustaceaus?

Mama Crustaceous is a fine woman, a mean poker player, and has no tolerance for your bullshit. Leave it at that.

Read Part 2 Here

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Filling a hole.

"Man, all those crazy people you meet..."
"More tragic than crazy, really..."

As some of you know, I'm guilty of aiding and abetting criminal activities. I am also guilty of enabling self destructive behaviour. Whether intended or not, sooner or later a cabby will play a part in making the world just a tiny bit darker. Hell, follow the proper chain of cause and effect, and it is entirely possible that I bear some responsibility for some current or future atrocity.

Oh Crabby, if only you hadn't thrown out that guy...

Tonight's story happened a couple of years ago. Christmas and New Years had come and gone, and the people had woken up to the fact that they didn't have any money left. Consequently, they remained indoors in the evenings, and pickings were very slim indeed for those of us who live off others' disposable income. I had just dropped off a customer in May Town, and had begun rolling off to Iron Square. The plan was to park by the 711, and quietly hope that some weekday drunk would stumble by and ask for a ride. Hope is the keyword here, because what I expected was another forty minutes of sitting on my ass, reading a book, and not getting paid.

I was in luck, however. The com hissed, and dispatch hailed me:
"Car 3, May Town, Saw Street."
I try to avoid May Town. It is an area infested with dingy bars and the broken down people who frequent them. I don't have anything against those people, but the fact is that they usually call cabs when they're too drunk to walk two blocks home. Economically speaking, May Town sucks. These days it's a bit different, of course, thanks to gentrification. Still, it was one of those nights where one will take whatever horse is available, and avoid looking it in the mouth.

"Car 3, five minutes."
"Car 3 five, confirm."
"Confirmed, Car 3."

So off I went to Saw street. And as the fare appeared on the display, I smiled. It was going to Shamrock Street, way on the other side of the river. Not a great fare, but decent none the less.  So I arrived at Saw Street, and my fare was already waiting for me.

He was well built; muscular, with long curly hair. However, that's all you can say for his appearance; his skin was almost grey in its pallor, and his eyes had that tense, trembling look of the truly desperate.

"How much will it cost? I don't have a lot of money."
Fuck you, mister. Fuck you to death. "How much do you have?"
"About 150," he showed me two crumpled bills. I nodded.
"That should about cover it."
"Thanks, you're a life-saver."
"Don't mention it."

So off we went. During the trip, his phone rang. He was very quick to answer it.

"Hey baby... yeah I'm in the cab. It'll be about ten minutes. Yeah, I can't wait.... all right. Bye."

The hand holding the phone dropped to his lap and he drew a long, miserable sigh.

"I'm a fucking idiot."
"Girlfriend problems?"
He barked a bitter laugh.
"I don't even know her name."

Since it was more of a monologue than a dialogue, I'll attempt to recreate it for you. All that I brought to the table was mostly nods, expected questions, and liberal applications of "Aha?" and "Go on".

"I don't know her. I didn't even know she existed until about half an hour ago. I got in touch with her through <some hookup-site>. The fucked up thing is that I have a fiancé and a son. He's only four. Anyway... yeah. I guess I'm a sex-addict. I'm fine for a night or two, but the moment I'm alone I head back to the computer. I get laid maybe two or three times a week, and never with the same person.

"Every time I do it, I promise it will be the last. I don't even enjoy it. When I cum, I feel nothing. It's just spasms, you know? Afterward, I feel sick and I go back home. I even have a fake number I can give them. I don't want them calling me, I don't want to remember them. Most of them are as fucked up as I am.

"Hey, at least it's not heroin, right? I mean, there are worse things to be addicted to, right? That's crap, buddy. I've been addicted to all kinds of shit. It's all the same. It's all just bullshit. I stay off it for a while, and things go fine, and then... Christ, the anxiety... It's like... It's like something is chasing you. Something horrible, and you don't give a fuck about who you trample. You just want to get away. But you don't.

"It started with drugs. I was a musician. Played in a rock band. Did the whole rock'n'roll lifestyle. Whatever there was to snort, I snorted. Pills too. Weed. Even tried junk once, but thank god I never got stuck on that. Anyway, I managed to leave that all behind. Started taking care of myself. Started eating right, and working out. I worked out a lot. I looked great. I felt great. And as long as I kept working out, I felt great.

"At some point, I realized that I was fuckable. Like, chiselled fucking adonis fuckable. I mean, what's the point of having a great body if you don't get to use it, right? So I started hitting bars to pick up chicks. Like, constantly. And that made me feel great. Then it made me feel good. Then it made me feel... not bad."

"I don't know what I'm so fucking scared of. I have a good life. Steady income, a girl who loves me, the greatest son ever. But... drugs, or working out, or fucking... there's always something I need not to feel like complete shit. I don't know how to break it. I know I'm destroying everything, but I ... I don't know what to do."

By now we had arrived at Shamrock Street. He gave me the money.

"Look," I said. "I can take you back home. Free of charge. Go back to your family, and tomorrow, get help."

And he hung his head for a second, then shook his head. "I appreciate it, buddy. But if you do, in an hour I'll be right back here."

A girl appeared in the door. She was wearing sweatpants, an oversized t-shirt and no makeup. Her face looked just as grim as his. Somehow I doubted she was looking forward to this.

"Your change, sir." I said.
"Keep it."

He left the car, and walked up to her. They embraced, and kissed with a level of passion I can only describe as "adequate".

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Question time.

"What's it like driving a cab?"
"A great job. A terrible profession."

I'm going to try something new here. In the spirit of Reddit's Ask Me Anything, I'm giving you people the opportunity here to ask me anything. It can be anything from clarifying a previous entry to general things you'd like to know about. I've noted that I have not a few readers spread across the world, and it would be cool to see just what kind of people, if any, read this.

So leave a question in the comments below and I'll get to answering.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The future of this country.

"All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take 'em to Harlem. I don't care. Don't make no difference to me." -Taxi Driver

(story after the jump)

A friend of mine will regularly point out that I'm corny as all hell. I happily admit it. Growing up, I was one of those kids who regularly identified tropes and clichés in popular culture and sought to actively apply them on my surroundings. I am still that kid. One-liners, catch-phrases, quotes, nicknames, I love it all. I will occasionally try to put a lid on it, as the habit at best will make my friends chuckle, but most commonly will make them groan.

With my customers it is different. There's a stereotype about the bitter, world-weary cabby who's seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train; a shell of a man who nightly delves into the shit of the world with nothing more than grim, scornful patience. I am quite happy to occasionally play into that stereotype. It amuses me, and it often amuses my customers. Hell, I do it all the time in my writing.

Playing with this, there's a catch-phrase that keeps coming back. It can be used pretty much anywhere, but most often it comes up when some young maniac(s) run straight out into the street in front of the car, or fight in an alleyway, or throw up on the sidewalk. With a tired, doomed voice I intone: "There he/she/they goes - the future of this country".

It amuses me. And it amuses my customers; they often laugh far more than the line is worth. Mostly because they have their own disdain for young people. I don't really have disdain for young people. Impatience, yes. Irritation over lack of experience/maturity, sure. But not really disdain. After all, I was once just as stupid as they are, and their kids will be. It's a natural part of the human experience.
____________________________________________________________________________

On occasion, I will meet someone who merits every cruel and spiteful thing ever hurled by the irrelevant generation toward their young. Last Wednesday, I'd been keeping very busy. For a solid seven and a half hours, I'd been flying all over town and beyond, stopping only to get coffee and gum. It was time for a break, and it had just rained. So I pulled up on one of the side streets near Iron Square and left the car, in order to take in some fresh, rain-laden air and do some stretching.

It was very peaceful. The air was cool and damp, smelling of wet grass, asphalt, and salt from the sea. Down the street, I saw a group of about four very drunk guys waving down a car from Taxi G. The cab stopped by them, and their Botticelli-faced leader leaned in through the window. I couldn't hear the exchange, but within a minute, the cab rolled away, leaving Botticelli and his cohorts screaming abuse at it on the sidewalk. Obviously, the cabby hadn't wanted to drive them, no matter how angelic they looked.

Why you gotta be like that, bro?

 I knew what would happen next. Botticelli and his friends would see me, and they would say: "Lo, tis Taxi M! Let us approach and thus save our feet and our purse!"

And I would be in the delightful position of deciding whether my time and dignity was worth whatever cash they would pay for my services. Now these kids had the look of fine young brats, and fine young brats tend to get very drunk, tend to live far away, and tend to have no trouble at all spending their parents money on cab trips to their faraway homes. They also tend to be rotten to the core. So I waited. And indeed, they saw me.

"Hey!" cried Botticelli and ran toward me with his arms open, as if I was his long lost brother. "Bring it in, big guy! You can't deny a hug!"

"I can," I replied and stuck out my hand. "But I can offer you a handshake."

He stood for a moment with his arms out, clearly taken aback. This kid was young. He couldn't have been more than 20, most likely 18. I got the sense that he had had his first shave last year. When I made no move to embrace him, he grabbed my hand in both of his and shook it vigorously.

"Good to see you, dude! You gotta help us."
"What's up?" I asked.
"Lola's!"

Lola's is one of this city's three strip clubs. The strippers often employ our services. Often, they are rude and stingy to a fault, but that's an entirely different story. I smiled and jerked my thumb.

"Lola's is one block over. You're not far at all."
"Naw, man! You gotta drive us! We need us some whores!"
"Oh," I said, all my preconceptions about Botticelli completely confirmed. "Well, then you're in the wrong place. Rose Grove is in that direction." I pointed.

He shook his head. "No, we want the whores at Lola's."

It is amazing how much a smile can hide quiet, seething hatred. "But they're not whores. They're strippers."

"Look, man," he said and launched into his own catch phrase, one he had clearly been working on all night: "A whore on stage so sweet, better than one on the street."

I raised an eyebrow. "But they're strippers. Not whores."
"There's no difference."

"Oh but there is", I said. "Try to make the girls at Lola's do anything but dance... well, at best you'll be thrown out. At worst, you'll get your arms broken."

"Come on," said his friends, as they walked past. "He's not going to drive us."
"Are you a gamer?" said Botticelli, with a predatory look in his swimming eyes. I have seen that look before, in high-school bullies. "Cause you kinda look like a nerd."

"I'm not." I said sweetly, though I couldn't fault his observation.

"No shame, dude! I play videogames all the time. I play it so much, I got fired from my last job. But seriously dude, what do you do?"

"I drive a cab," i said, nodding toward the car.

"You don't do that for fun," he scoffed. "Come on man. What tickles your fine crotch?"

"Why don't you ask your parents?" I said, grinning right back at him. I started moving toward the cab. He of course followed me into it.
"No, seriously," I could tell he was furious, but he was fighting to keep the banter light-hearted. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what you do."

"Don't you have strippers waiting for you?" I asked.
"They can wait. This is important. What do you do!"

"I drive a cab. And my break is over. If you want to continue this conversation, I'm turning on the meter."

He stared at me, and stared at my hand hovering over the meter. "Tell me, or I'll wreck your shit." He was still smiling.

"No," I said, staring him straight into his eyes. "You will not."

Artist's impression.

Before the silence between us could become uncomfortable, he clapped me on the shoulder and said:
"You're a good dude, mr Cabman. Catch you later."

This kid will one day grow up to be an important person in business, law, or politics. Let's hope he tries something untowards at Lola's before that happens.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Grand Theft Ice-cream.

"Drunk people think they're the kings of the world. What they don't understand is that the service industry is a republic."

(This is a long one. There are two separate stories here, divided for your convenience.)

One of my colleagues gave me a ride home. He's a rookie; three weeks into the business. Already he works five nights a week, fighting for every coin. I remember being that guy, back when I still had the energy and the innocence to believe that this was a fine way to make a living. He'll learn though. We all do.

However, he did call me an "old veteran" and asked me for advice, which pleased me far more than I am comfortable admitting.

Tonight, I was on fire. Fare after fare after fare, with nary a break. Everything went smoothly, except for one notable fare. It was a mother and a daughter, both of them middle aged. The daughter clearly was not happy with the oncoming decay of her mortal flesh, and so had sought to prevent it by working out and copious injections of all manner of neurotoxins to her face. She looked like a particularly beautiful cadaver. My initial suspicion was that the amount of polish on her surface directly correlated to her complete lack of depth. This was soon confirmed.

The trip started out fairly standard; talk about the weather. Such a cold summer. Such a rainy summer. This isn't really summer, is it? You can't trust the weather-report. Its never warm during the summer. Its probably going to rain again. On. And on. And on. Etc, etc, world without end, amen.

God, I hate talking about the weather. Especially in this country, where summer is literally front-page news. And it doesn't matter how lovely the summer is, because the moment there's even a hint of rain or chill in the air, people will break down and whine. Dear reader, if you ever end up in my cab, please understand that I would rather discuss my hemorrhoids with you than the weather. Those, at least, can be treated.

Anyway, what set this particular lecture on amateur metereology apart were the many references to Spain, where she lived, and how hot it was there, and how different it was.

I get it, lady. You moved to better climes. Good on you. No need to rub it in.

A reckless asshole passed us by, attempting to break the sound barrier while angrily honking at anyone who had the audacity not to risk other people's lives on the road. I swore softly at him.

"See, this is what I'm talking about!" she snarled. "The police never go after these assholes!"

"Well," said I, unsure of how the police related to preceding climate discussion. "The police are kinda tied up in Bishop's Yard, what with the gang war."

"This country is too soft," she scoffed. "Look at america. No nonsense there. They shoot the bad guys, and their punishments are much harsher."

"Yes," I said, "And despite this, their crime rate is much higher than ours."

"You can't say that! Its a much bigger country than ours! Besides, do you know how many Mexicans illegally enter the US every night? A thousand? Ten thousand? Give me your best guess."

"100 000?" I asked, hating myself and hating her, for now I knew where this conversation was going.

"Exactly! And we're in the exact same situation!"

Of course we are. Because one of our neighbouring countries is a corrupt place overrun by drug lords, with zero opportunities for the population. Don't believe the hype; Finland is a shithole. I sighed, and listened while she went off on an increasingly erratic and racist rant about Syria, Afghanistan and "all them arab people".

"I don't follow you," I said honestly. She was literally making no sense, jumping from one part of the topic to another, with only ignorance as a common thread.

"Oh," she sneered. "So are you saying that you want three million Syrians to enter our country, and live on money that should go to our elderly?"

This was the level of stupid I was dealing with. I chose to remain silent, as she continued ranting. What really offended me by all of this was not the xenophobia. Aside from it being a fairly natural reaction to the unknown, there are valid points to make when criticizing this country's immigration policy. There are valid criticisms to level against our justice system. Immigration and refuge-seeking is fraught with all kinds of problems that need to be addressed. My problem was her ignorance. Her utter, selfish pride in her reasoning. She was so sure of her own idiocy that she could laugh at those who disagreed with her.

Xenophobia I can understand. Having a contrary view to the dominant political climate I can understand too. But the rejoicing in one's own ignorance to the point of laughing at people who can and regularly do prove you wrong is a fucking crime. This is NOT what we gained sentience for, damn it.

I finally cut the conversation short by saying: "Look, you're obviously very upset and perhaps we should drop the subject."

We did. And the world was new.

Later she stormed out of the cab before we arrived at the location, ostensibly to "pick up a few things" at the nearby supermarket. However, the way she slammed the door told me she was furious. It was up to her mortified mother to pay the fare.

"Ma'm, please speak to your daughter about this. Because if I drive her again, and she maintains that attitude, I can guarantee it will be a very short trip for her."

*

By the end of the shift, I was exhausted. Quietly I prayed for one final fare, one final fare that would take me above quota and allow me to go home with a measure of peace. The Lord God of Cabs was merciful and did just that. The fellow was going to Bishops Yard, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from HQ, meaning I could drop him off first, and then drop off the cab and crawl back home. Bingo.

How to describe these fellows... One was very small. In his early twenties, with a thick dark beard and stylish hairdo, and a foxish face. The other... well...

I hear he has a posse

So, off we went. 
"Would you mind if we go to the drive-through at McDonalds on the way?" asked Mr Fox. "We need to pick up some breakfast."

"Sure," said I. And why not? Time spent in the drive-through is time I get paid for. Then the BDG in the back seat opened his mouth, and out came a steady stream of words. He had that thick, scanian-swedish accent that I will forever equate with manure, sheepfucking, and tooth decay. Words can't do justice to the insanity that spouted from the man's mouth, but I will attempt a paraphrase.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I was an ice-cream man? Man this was back when I ran with the other albanians down in Oaktown. And you know us albanians, right? Crazy as shit. We will shoot first, ask questions later and shoot again. So one summer we met this colombian guy, Diego. Great guy. Honest as fuck. And he offered us the purest, whitest coke you can imagine. Said he had a cousin back in Bogotá who was with the cartels. We did a line, and it had us screaming, man.  So I turned to him and I said; 'Diego, give me fifty grams'. He told me 'fuck you, you broke fuck'. But this is the kind of guy Diego was, you know? He let us do a few more lines, because he was just that great.

"But it was a hot day, remember? Summer down in Oaktown. And so we heard the jingle from the ice-cream van. So I said to Agron: Fuck man, lets get some ice-cream. Ten minutes later, BAM! The ice-cream man was lying on the side of the road, tied up with duct tape, and we were off in his van, blaring the jingle all accross town."

"Well," said I, trying not to laugh. "Aim for the stars, and you'll land in the treetops."

"Exactly, man! We wanted ice-cream, so we took the entire van. That's fucking ambition right there. And whenever we saw a bunch of kids, we stopped. They came running to buy ice-cream. And we sold to to them. 200 a pop, we said. And they said: we don't have 200. So we said: Shut up, little shits. Give us what you got!

"Man, we were fucked up! Finally we pulled over on the side of the road, by this huge field. Full of flowers, shit was beautiful. So we sat down by the van, each of us with a box of ice-cream cones in our laps and stuffed our faces. Then the cops came, because we were fucking stupid and didn't realize that there was a GPS tracker in the van."

"Jesus, dude," I said. "How the hell did you get away with it?"

"Oh it was close," he said. "But I got lucky. The van was returned after all, and Agron decided to take the blame. Great guy, Agron. Six months he did for me, while I got a slap on the wrist. I owe that guy so much."

After that, for a solid 25 minutes, André the severely criminal Giant kept babbling about cars he had stolen, how he had lost his virginity to a "land-whale" in a truckbed filled with recently harvested beans, and about his friend Agron who had once taken on twenty cops, laughing all the way.

"But these days, I'm as white as newly fallen snow on lilies. The straight and narrow for me. But not too narrow, cause  I'm kind of a fat bastard."

There were so many stories, too wild, too detailed, and too many to be put down here. Most, if not all, were probably bullshit. And if they are true, then this guy was a very special breed of scumbag indeed. Still, as he and Mr Fox wandered off and I started making my way back to HQ, I was reminded of a line by Hunter S. Thompson (because I'm trite as fuck):

"There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die."

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

"That's my sister. Don't you dare fuck with her."
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir."

Another night, another shift ended. I'm beginning to feel the old weariness creep up on me. To be fair, I've signed myself up for slavery. Throughout the month of July, I will be working five nights a week. With any luck, I'll make double my usual monthly wage.

So far it has gone well. Summer really is the right time to be a cabby. Its warm, its lucrative, and more than anything else, people are nice. That does a lot to keep a man going. But you didn't come here for the tired reflections of a weary cabby, hm? You came here for something entertaining, or at least thought provoking. Let's see if I can deliver.

*

As the proverbial Chinese curse goes, it has been interesting times. Tonight was Thursday, and Thursday is usually a decent night. In fact, I was goddamn cheerful. The money had been rolling in, and things were peachy. Of course, even the clearest sky must make room for a cloud of two. The first was a half-hour trip from the airport to Sheriff's Yard. The fare was a woman who worked at a commercial "research company" who specialized in skin products and dietary supplements. What followed was essentially a half hour lecture, riddled with pseudo-science. A few samples from the conversation, complete with the things I wish I had retorted with:

"Because of acid rain, there are no nutrients in the soil. Plants can't absorb minerals and vitamins from the soil, making them essentially empty leaves."
Retort: plants, like all living organisms, need minerals and vitamins too. If what you're saying is true, then we'd see massive extinctions plants and of herbivores all over the world, as nobody is giving them any dietary supplements.

"Well, we are all made of energy, so of course it is important that a Healer actually knows how to balance it."
Retort: The very fact that you say 'we are all made of energy' suggests that you (like so many of your peers) have no fucking clue what energy is, much less how it is part of our makeup.

"Well, its all a matter of interpretation. After all, in science you get the answers you pay for."
Retort: Big words, coming from someone who works for a commercial research company.

"Yes, there's so many fraudulent healers. Which is a shame, because those with genuine healing powers often get grouped in with them."
Retort: Fuck you. Our ancestors fought and starved and died, for millennia, going through an existence where everything could and would kill you. Throughout the ages, they stood screaming at the cold, uncaring void that they would survive and they would thrive. They would understand the world and they would master it. About a century ago, that struggle paid off. Finally, after untold aeons of strife, mankind got their collective shit together and could finally strike back at the shit that has been plaguing the world's animals since for ever: famine, predators and pestilence are now, if not defeated then at the very least held at bay. YOU, my dear fare, have no right to take pride in your ignorance and make a living out of it. You spit on the graves of all our ancestors, all the way back to the pre-cambrian soup out of which life crawled. You, and all those who believe as you do, are a big black mark in humanity's record of achievements. Fuck. You.

I of course said not a word. How could I? If I had been even slightly honest with her, I would have lost a significant chunk of income.

*

Still, I would not let this keep me down. I soldiered on with a cheery smile, and as the night wore on, drunk people started to feel the urge to return back home. And so, I got the call to head to Iron Square to pick up some dude named Jack. As I arrived, I settled back into my seat and waited. I noticed with grim amusement a couple; the guy was this massive bull of a man. All muscles, no neck. Hanging from his arm, flopping about like a ragdoll, was this tiny girl. I noted that there was a handbag not far from them, its contents spilled out all over the wet side-walk.

Poor bastards, I thought. I don't envy the cabby that'll have to take them home.

Suddenly there was a trembling in the air, as if in a celestial realm far beyond human understanding, a great omnipotent Creator was trying His damnedest not to laugh at the poor cabby. For behold, here the great man-bull turned his gaze toward me. Literally dragging the limp creature along, he approached the cab.

"I'm Jack. This is my cousin."

Here I was presented with a choice: I could exercise my right to deny them service. It is my experience that even tiny people can hold a surprising amount of alcohol-laced bile and gastric fluids. Had I been a smarter man, I may have done just that. Instead, I turned to a waiter who had stepped outside the bar for a breath of air. He was watching the spectacle with amused sympathy. I told him to help me out and get some plastic bags. If Raggedy Ann here decided to throw up, I wanted to be at least nominally prepared.

"My bag!" she growled as he carefully folded her and placed her in the back seat. "Gimme my bag."

"Sure sure, I'll get it. But you have to sit up, okay?"

"Whatever, gimme bag!" she collapsed, looking more like a deflated balloon than anything resembling a human.

As Jack trundled away to get her bag, I turned to face her, if only to assess the situation and be prepared to act.

She smiled at me in that lazy, droopy way reserved for the very drunk or very dead.
"Wanna see....?"

"Excuse me?"

Without bothering with a response, she pulled down the front of her dress. Dangling from her nipple was a piercing the size of a padlock. I turned away immediately; the heavenly tittering I had heard before started to become a rumbling guffaw.

"I've got another one too," she said. "Wanna see?"
"No, no that's fine-" I closed my eyes and bowed my head, while the LORD was screaming with laughter.

"Keep your fucking panties on!" Jack had returned to save the day. "I told you before, nobody wants to see that shit."

She murmured something rude. He got into the cab and said: "I am so sorry for my cousin. She's very drunk."

"No no..." I said. "It's fine."

"If she throws up, I'll compensate you all the way. No questions asked, nothing. We just want to go home."

So I took them home. And while she whimpered throughout the trip, she did not throw up. Once we arrived at the destination, I helped Jack untangle her from the safety belt and carry her to the door. He was very grateful.

Once the trip was over, I realized I'd been holding my breath. Every second with Jack and his intimately be-jewelled cousin had been a struggle for sanity. With them gone, the tension released, taking all my energy with me.

The next couple of hours, I drove around in a fog of exhaustion and disinterest. I don't envy her the headache she'll have when she awakes. But I do hope she'll find someone to show off her piercings to. I'm sure they're all quite lovely.