Damn, man… this is starting to become a TRADITION now, dude… are we gonna do this every Halloween?
Clayton called the weekend before Halloween, asking if I can pick up him and his new wife Clara and take them to a bar. I said of course I can, and I headed over to his place immediately. I don’t see Clayton and Clara as much anymore, not so much because that they are married now, but because they are getting serious and building a business together, and they don’t go out as much… you know, becoming grown-ups. And they seem to be off to a pretty good start, from what I can gather. They are generally in the marketing field, and my old career and their new business are peripherally related but don’t quite intersect, but we can “see each other over the fence”, as it were, and we speak a lot of the same language. And from everything they have told me, I expect nothing less from their new enterprise than modest success, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they built a very successful and lucrative business in three or five or ten years. While my first post about him might make him sound like a drunken clown in a zombie costume, Clayton is really smart, as is Clara, and they seem to know their craft pretty well.
I will all but put someone out of my car to go take care of this guy. Clayton has earned a lot of goodwill with me, just by virtue of being an excellent customer for right around two years. I still remember the first night I met Clayton, and that is remarkable, because thousands of people have been in my car that I would never remember if shown a photograph. I got a call one night back when I first joined my current company and I was hungry for work… there might have been six or seven of us working back then, in the entire company. Clayton calls and said he called two different taxi companies tonight, and no one will pick him up, he’s been waiting two hours, and he’s willing to pay extra if someone can pick him and his girlfriend up in the next thirty minutes.
I told him that I would be there in ten minutes, and he says, “Does that mean less than thirty minutes?”
I said, “That means less than twelve,” and I pulled up at his house in eight. I took them to their destination and he gave me twenty bucks on a ten or eleven dollar fare. He called at the end of the night and I picked him up quickly and took them home, and Clayton has called me ever since. Clayton is an excellent tipper; a crappy tip from Clayton is 50 percent, and a lot of times, he tips 100 percent or more. This is the way to endear yourself to a taxi driver with a kid.
And Clayton rarely keeps me waiting. This is a big deal to me. I would wager that if you surveyed one thousand taxi drivers and asked them, “What one thing would you tell passengers to do to make your job better?”, the overwhelming response would be,
“Be ready to go when I arrive.”
I don’t know who coined the phrase “time is money”, but I would bet it was a taxi driver. I have a finite amount of time before the bars close, and the more customers I can serve in that limited time, the more money I will make. But so many people have this attitude like, Hey, guys… the taxi is here, so kill off your drinks, find your purse, finish your cigarettes, close the garage door, somebody get the cat in, change your shirt, go take a dump, fix your mascara, take one more bong hit, help me find my contact lens, and tell the cabbie we will be right out, in two or three more minutes…
Keeping me waiting is a sure-fire way to find yourself calling another taxi. I am really itchy to go after three minutes, and I am almost always gone after five, unless I know this ride is going somewhere good. On a busy Saturday night, if twelve people make me wait five minutes, that is an hour of time that could have been extremely profitable for me. But this is a concept you simply can not make these people understand, in this moment, even if you spelled it out to them. Sometimes my irritation shows on my face, and they always seem to say something like, “What…? We are paying for this… we’re gonna take care of you…”
And I WANT to say to them,
“No, I’M paying for this… you have wasted a significant amount of my time already, so if you can’t get the rest of your people in the car in the next sixty seconds or so, I am going to leave. In the time that I have been waiting for you boneheads to get your proverbial poop in a group, I could have already driven to the Driftwood Hotel, where a taxi driver of my skill and acumen could find a $50 or $75 or $100 fare, instead of pulling his dick with you moronic dipshits and your $7 ride to Lester’s Dive Bar! Forty-five seconds, Sugartits! Let’s go! Load ’em or leave ’em!”
But of course, I never say that… well, almost never…
And Clayton is one of about five or eight of my regulars whose credit is good with me, even though he always has money and it would probably never occur to him to even ask for such a thing. Occasionally, people will propose that if I will give them a fifteen dollar ride tonight, I can come back to their house tomorrow and they will pay me double. I always pass on these sorts of proposals. You don’t have fifteen dollars, or a credit or debit card that will sustain that charge? Thanks, but no thanks. This goes back to time being money… every minute spent chasing down money owed is a minute not spent actually earning money.
On the other hand, I drive a bartender named Ricardo two or three or four times a week, and I have driven him for almost as long as I have been a taxi driver. He always gives me a twenty for his ten dollar fare, every single time. Ricardo is also someone whose credit is good with me. If Ricardo somehow didn’t have any money tonight, I know he’s good for it, and he’ll settle up next week, and probably give me five or ten extra bucks for my trouble.
Likewise, if Clara called me tonight and said she had an emergency and needed to go on a 150 mile ride, right fuggin’ now, and couldn’t pay me till next week, I’m already on the way. Clara is gonna get to wherever she needs to go, and we can square this bill later.
Taxi drivers hear all sorts of fantastic and outlandish stories, and it is not inconceivable that I could show up to a call and a guy would say to me, “We are having a family emergency and it is too much to explain, but this is my twelve year old cousin, and she doesn’t speak any English, but she needs to be at the Orlando International Airport to board a flight to Estonia no later than 6 AM. I need you to drive her there, park your car, and walk her to the gate and turn her over to airline personnel as an unaccompanied minor. I know this is going to be expensive, and I don’t have any money right now, but if you come back Tuesday, I will take care of you.”
If this is me, this guy is just outta gas. I am not going to accept this ride. But if Clayton were to give me this crazy spiel, I would just shrug and say, “Consider it done. Little Ludmilla here is in good hands. I’ll text you Tuesday afternoon.”
So Clayton and Clara get in, and they are going to two early Halloween parties, so I am dropping them off at a bar, then Clayton will call me in an hour or two to go to the second party, which is being held at a business afterhours. They are dressed like hillbillies, with Clayton wearing bib overalls and a goofy straw hat and carrying a fake gun, and these hillbilly costumes are for the benefit of someone they are meeting at the second party. I never really got what the connection between the hillbilly costumes and the second party was, but they were going there on business, and Clayton is confident that he is going to nail down a couple of new projects for their budding business tonight.
I dropped Clayton and Clara off at the first party, and he gave me thirty-five dollars on a twenty dollar fare. He called two hours later, and they are already loaded. It seems that coincidentally, there was a private birthday party at this bar for a guy he went to high school with, and his friend’s mother recognized Clayton and called him over, and he and Clara have been drinking for free for the last two hours, and they both have a good buzz on.
Now we are on the way to the second party, and Clayton is kind of loud and braggadocious… this is weird, because Clayton never acts like this. Even when really wasted, Clayton isn’t loud and obnoxious, but he is in the back seat yelling to his wife about how he is gonna kick ass tonight, how these guys are never going to know what hit ’em, how he is gonna slamdunk these people and own their business for years to come. Maybe this is just how he psyches himself up for a business meeting, but I’m concerned that he might be drunker than he thinks he is, and his party/business meeting might go poorly. I dropped them off, and Clayton gave me fifty dollars for a thirty dollar fare.
Three hours later, Clayton calls again, and I go to pick them up. I called him on arrival, and he tells me they will be right out. I wait five or seven more minutes, and then he calls again, telling me to be patient, they will be right out. Five more minutes pass, and still no Clayton. Clayton calls again, saying that Clara has lost her purse, and they will be right out. Another five minutes pass.
I don’t wait fifteen or twenty minutes for anyone, and if this was anybody but Clayton, I would be long gone. But like I said, Clayton has earned a lot of slack from me. Clayton finally comes out, holds up one finger to me, then goes back inside. Another five minutes pass. Finally, they both came out, and now they are looking around the outside tables and chairs for the missing purse. Finally, Clayton finds her little clutch purse… and where was it?
In the voluminous back pocket of his Goodwill high-water bib overalls.
Clayton looked a little sheepish as they got in, and Clara apologized for Clayton’s boneheadedness. They are both trashed, and Clayton is yelling about how he did indeed kick some ass tonight. He’s bellowing, “Forget the gawddamn purse, did you see that? Did you see your man tonight, babe? Your man knocked it outta the park tonight! I killed it! I fuggin’ KILLED IT! Those guys are gonna be paying our bills for TWO YEARS!”
I am convinced that Clayton is subject to carsickness, especially when he’s had some drinks, because after just a mile or two, he looks a little green. He’s groaning in between ranting about how he kicked ass tonight, and he leans forward with his forearms on his knees and his forehead against the seat in front of him, and this is the precise position he was in last Halloween, right before he heaved. I said, “Are you OK, brother? You gonna puke?”
Clayton says, “I think so… better pull over…”
At this moment, I am in a chaotic construction zone, doing 45 or 50 MPH with cars all around me, and the road is lined with barricades and barrels intentionally placed there to keep people off the shoulder. There is simply no place to pull over here. Clara remembers last Halloween, and shouts at her husband, “Clayton, climb over into the front seat so you can puke out the window!”
I yelled, “No!” Clayton is a big guy, tall and lanky, at least 6-3 or 6-4, and the last thing I need at this moment is this big, lumbering, 220 pound wasted guy trying to clamber over the seat into the front. I said, “Hang on, dude… just 45 more seconds, and I can pull over and get you The Bucket Of Shame! Hold it… hold it…”
I finally get to a place where I can pull over, and I dashed to the back of my car to get my bucket. I hear Clayton yell, “Dude, you gotta open this door… open this door… right now, man…”
I bolted to the passenger door and opened it, and Clayton barrels out, takes three or four steps, then bends over at the waist and starts puking on the grass. After retching for thirty or forty-five seconds, he turns around and faces Clara and I, staggering around in high-water bib overalls with his ankles showing and vomit on his chin, and resumes bellowing about how he kicked ass tonight.
Ever see the movie Training Day with Denzel Washington? The scene at the end where he is screaming in the street about, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me”…? For some reason, that’s what I was immediately reminded of…
Clayton is standing on the grass, weaving a little and screaming, “Did you see me babe? Did you see your man tonight? I fuggin’ KILLED it! Those guys are going to be calling us every damn week! I own their asses now! Those guys are going to be paying our bills FOR YEARS! I am THE MAN! Did you see your man tonight, baby? I showed them what’s what!”
I said, “Dude, you are fuggin’ killin’ me… you are standing on the side of the road in a puddle of your own vomit! If you are done puking, can you please wipe off your shoes on the grass and get back in the car?”
Again, if this was anyone but Clayton, I wouldn’t be putting him back in my car, I would be pulling Clara out. Between the wait time and this little vomit stop, this ride should have been over by now, and I should be on to my next passenger, but instead I am standing on the side of the road with cars whizzing past us, trying to push this big drunk guy with vomit on his chin back into my car while he bellows about how he kicked ass tonight.
So we are on the way again, and Clayton heaves loudly into my bucket for the rest of the ride. He says, “Dude, I am so sorry… uuuuurrrggghhh… but I just went to Home Depot last week and I have a brand-new five gallon bucket for you in my garage… rrrolllfffff… I ruined your bucket, so you gotta let me give you a new one… blllllecccchhh…”
I said, “No, my bucket is fine… a five gallon is too big. My three gallon bucket is just the right size. It’s OK, man, really… this is why I carry it. You didn’t ruin anything.”
So Clayton retches and groans into the bucket for the rest of the way home, and Clara, even though she’s pretty wasted too, has an expression of mild exasperation and disapproval on her face as she watches this little spectacle. I got them home, and I don’t recall what the meter said, but this would have been around a $45 ride. Clayton gave me $80 and apologized again, but I told him no worries… I had already picked out one of his neighbor’s houses with a poorly-aimed lawn sprinkler, and I stopped for a moment, rinsed out my bucket in the sprinkler, sprayed it with Lysol, wiped it out with a paper towel, and I was finally back to work.
So you see, while I wouldn’t have tolerated one tenth of this bullshit from a new, first-time passenger, I really am perfectly fine with dealing with this from Clayton, because Clayton puts a lot of money in my pocket. On this night alone, he was worth $165, and while he wasted a little of my time, he tipped me well for it and he didn’t befoul my car, and like I said previously, he has EARNED some slack from me.
I have championed the use of a bucket since my first puker, and I tell other drivers all the time that they too should carry one, but as far as I know, I am the only taxi driver with the good sense to do this. Several of the drivers I know carry plastic grocery bags for potential pukers, but those bags can have holes in them, and they are a hard target for some wasted idiot to hit. The rigid, basketball-sized aperature of my bucket is a far superior target for someone with severely impaired motor function. As I came back online, I put out on the company communications system, “I have said it before and I will say it again… you are simply not a pro if you do not carry a bucket… my bucket just saved me from being down for the rest of the night.”
One of the guys in my company is a long-time taxi driver, and sensing the opportunity to razz me a little for having a puker, he replied, “You aren’t a pro if you DO carry a bucket. I haven’t had a puker in my car for a very long time.”
Well, maybe Jay shouldn’t be such a boastful person… “Pride goeth before a fall…” isn’t that the verse? Not an hour later, Jay had a delightful passenger in the back seat of his very plush Lincoln…
The next day, I woke up to find a text message from Clayton on my phone…
“My greatest apologies.”
I texted back that he had nothing to apologize for… and he didn’t, as he didn’t trash my car, he paid me well for my time, and gave me some new fodder for the blog. I bet Jay didn’t get an apology text message for having to clean his carpet and leather seats…