I was sitting outside a bar on a slow weeknight last week, when I saw a heavy-set black woman walking down the sidewalk toward me. She was wearing a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops, carrying a hardback book in one hand and what looks like two plastic grocery bags of clothing in the other. She looks directly at me and changes her trajectory and starts walking directly toward my car. She smiles and says, “Hey, do you remember me?”
I did not remember her at first… she says, “I’m Regina… You drove me down to the Quikie-Mart at Pineapple and 24th Street two weeks ago… we talked about Obama, remember?”
I remembered her, now that she reminded me. I seemed to recall that she was dressed a little better the last time I saw her… I think I might have gotten her after a big reggae show. She came up to my car a couple weeks back and wanted to go to a convenience store on the edge of the hood. It was only a seven or eight dollar ride, but when someone wants to go to the edge of the hood, you want to make sure they have money. A good way to do that is to cheerfully ask, “Is this going to be cash or charge?” How they answer that question can clue you in as to whether or not this might be a problem passenger. Crackheads and scammers will usually stammer and dither and have a story to tell when confronted with that question, whereas people with money tend to answer you confidently and directly.
She asked if it would be more than twelve or fifteen dollars, and I said that it would be less than ten, and she indicated we were all good, so I took off. The radio was on low volume in the background, and the news story on the radio mentioned a recent poll putting Obama’s approval rating at 44%. I said, “44 percent approval… That’s not good. Are you an Obama supporter? Did you vote for Obama?”
Regina said, “I didn’t vote last time, but I did vote for Obama the first time.”
I said, “Well, what is your approval rating? How do you think he is doing?”
Regina said, ” I don’t know… shit should be better, right? I mean, I see all these people on the TV saying that the economy is getting better, but it ain’t any better where I live. Ain’t nobody got a job… Lord knows I can’t find a job. I worked for a while at a linen service, washing tablecloths and towels for restaurants and hotels and such, but they laid me off, and several other people got laid off too, almost two years ago, and ain’t nobody hiring. But my bills keep going up, food keeps going up, it’s really hard… shit should be better.”
I pulled into the parking lot of the convenience store and asked her if she wanted me to wait for her, but she said she only lives a few blocks away and this will be fine. She paid her fare, tipped me a buck or two, and I pulled away.
But back to tonite, Regina says, “I wanted to ask you for a favor… can you take me to the corner of Palm Avenue and 10th Street?”
I said, “Sure I can… What is over there?”
She says, “There is a domestic violence safe house over there… I walked from 26th Street, but I am just so tired…”
Now that she is up close, I can see that one of her eyes is puffy and swollen. I said, “And you don’t have any money?”, and she told me that she just left with some clothes.
I’m not an uncharitable person, but I don’t do a lot of charity work while I am on the job. I can count the number of free rides I have given people on one hand. This is my occupation… this is how I pay the bills, this is how I put groceries on the table and keep my daughter in daycare and Flintstones vitamins and Cheerios and Barbie panties and Hello Kitty attire. Every minute spent dicking around with someone that has no money is a minute not spent with someone who does. So if I give someone a free ride, they must not only need it, but they must also deserve it, too.
But as I have often said, just like my Dad, I am the biggest mark for strays, runaways, and damsels in distress. This ride would be like a four or five dollar fare, so I told Regina to get in, and I took her to the corner she mentioned. I asked her what happened, and she says sometimes when her Boo drinks, he gets angry and abusive… she attributed it to the fact that he can’t get work, just odd jobs here and there, trimming trees and occasional day laborer work. She said that a man’s got his pride, and she thought his pride was wounded, and that is why he lashes out when he is drinking.
As I pulled up to the corner, I told Regina that I was happy to take her to the door and watch her get safely inside, but she said that she is not supposed to give the exact location, for the security of the women and kids staying there. So I wished her well, and told her that I hoped things get better for her and her man. She thanked me and got out, and I watched her walk up the sidewalk into the darkness, carrying her book and her Publix grocery bags of clothes.
I did my paperwork, put the car in gear, and as I headed back downtown, I said to myself out loud, “You are correct, Regina… shit should be better…”