Currently, I don’t have a car. Long story there, but the fact is that (for the time being) I am dependent on taxis, buses, trains, friends and co-workers. On most days, I get by without any real problems.
However, yesterday, I had created a real dilemma for myself.
I needed to be somewhere thity (or so) miles east of where I live by 1:00 pm. Yet, at 10:00am, I still hadn’t found a ride.
I was beginning to worry.
I had “price checked” the fare of a round-trip taxi ride to my appointment, around 7:30am, but the price they quoted me over the phone was nothing short of strong armed robbery. Yet, with “Andy’s Taxi” being the only taxi company in our town, I had no real bargaining power. So, I was scrambling like a fearful quarterback running from the impending doom of blitzing linebackers.
No one was available to help me.
I had a ride set, or so I thought, from my ex-wife but something came up “last minute” with her car and she had put it into the shop for repairs. I stumbled across that information upon waking when I called her to verify my ride. Apparently, I hadn’t “communicated clearly” on the importance of truly needing a ride somewhere. After a long discussion, followed by a surrendered apology for “speaking harshly” to her, I was still dead in the water regarding transportation.
So, I called the taxi company “Andy’s”, again, in a futile attempt of renegotiating their first quote.
They didn’t budge.
Reluctantly, I gave in.
The dispatcher informed me that a driver would be at my apartment no later than noon but no earlier than 11:55am. She had also warned me that the driver would wait no longer than five minutes for me to come outside. I had found that information to be oddly irritating and, as a result, strange words were begining to form on my already aggravated lips. However, there are times in my life, I have learned, where my noisy little brain should be wisely restricted from having access to my noisy big mouth. This was one of those times, I concluded. As a result, I wished her well in the robbery business (softly) and I informed her I that I would be outside my apartment ready and waiting by noon.
The “Andy’s” driver showed up at 11:45 am.
I purposely waited until noon to come outside, smiling the entire fifteen minutes that I made them wait.
“Andy’s taxi” is a privately owned “small business” here in rural N. W. Illinois. I’ve used them on occasion because, locally, they offer a “flat-rate” of $5.00, one way, anywhere in town. Anywhere outside of town, though, they rake folks over the coals and ruthlessly char the working-mans flesh without care, apparently.
This ride, both ways, was costing me $150.00.
I had planned to annoy the living hell out of the taxi driver for the entire trip, out of pure spite. Andy’s taxi, in my experience, has only two “regular” drivers: a pushy, foul mouthed, chain smoking, lesbian – or – a middle aged Green Bay Packers fan with a cleft lip, who constantly chews on his moustache and is always running late.
My guess, from the obnoxiously early arrival, was that my driver was the pushy lesbian.
When I opened the passenger side front door of the painfully dull grey mini van, however, I saw neither driver.
“The world” had diagnosed me with having PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) many years ago. Someone, probably with too much education, somewhere, came up with that term. I don’t know what that term means to the folks who have education dripping from the corners of their mouths, but, to me, it means I have some quirks about myself.
One of those quirks is that I can see people, “in their frame”, as I call it.
My driver appeared to be in his mid-to-late sixties. Even though he was sitting in the drivers seat, I could tell he was over six feet tall and well over two hundred pounds of solid. He may have had an extra fifteen, or so, pounds but he seemed content with his weight. He could move easily, if needed, whenever he needed.
Also, hidden in a holster along the left side of his torso, he was carrying a concealed weapon. Easily accessible with his right hand, if necessary, and he was extremely comfortable wearing it. The weapon hung comfortably as if it grew as a part of his body, it so appeared. My guess, from the slight bulge of his partially opened jacket, is that it was either a .380 or a nine double mike (9mm).
He had short cropped salt and pepper hair, old school aviator sunglasses covering his eyes and he was missing his left thumb from the palm – complete amputation. He had scratched the barely visible scar there, as if it still itched, when he noticed me noticing it.
I knew, too, that just as sure that I was sitting there sizing him up, he had me pegged, as well, with dead nuts accuracy.
My aggravation dissolved and my hyper-heightened awareness subsided almost immediately.
He broke the ice first.
“Where did you serve, son?”
“Army. Wiesbaden Air Base, 12th Evacuation Hospital during the Gulf War then Ft. Benning, sir. How about you?”, I replied.
“Army too. 1st Cav in Mainz, right across the river from Wiesbaden, then the 101st (Airborne) in Danang, Vietnam, from 66-67 (the bad years). Got my ass tore up and came home. You got wings kid or are you a fucking leg?”
“I got my wings in ’93, sir. Ain’t been called a leg since.”
“God damned right, you ain’t! Airborne is a way of life. And stop calling me sir. I’m seventy-five years old, I still work for my living and my name’s Frank. Everyone calls me Andy, though.”
“Andy? As in ‘Andys Taxi’?”, I inquired?
“Yep. Its an annoying business name, right? That’s why I picked it. Its from my middle name: Andrew. The old Mayor called me, one day, and asked me to lunch. While eatin, he asked me to open a taxi company. I said, ‘if you pay for lunch, I’ll think about it’. That cheap fucker didn’t buy lunch, don’t ya know, but he gave me the grant to open up shop. So, here I am.”
We spent the forty minute ride to my appointment, and forty minute ride back, talking about ex wives, businesses, rifles, Germany, his sex life and my lack there of. He did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. Only once, during the course of us being together, do I regret asking something that I had asked him.
During a slight lull in the conversation, after he was talking about driving a cab, I had asked him, “I hear driving a taxi can be kind of dangerous. Is that true, Frank?”
Without pause, without judgment or sarcasm and without any hint of ego or pride, he said to me matter of factly, “Son, you and I ain’t afraid of having a weapon pointed at us. Where some folks may shake, you and I kinda get excited. Don’t we?”
My reply was redundant and unnecessary, yet I vocalized the words anyway.
“Yes, Frank. We do.”
As it would turn out, just as my daddy used to tell me, money isn’t everything.