As I have mentioned before here and here and here, people lose the most astonishing things in taxis. Phones, wallets, sunglasses, knives, cocaine, joints, beer, condoms, shoes, lip gloss, and even medicated vaginal wipes… But last weekend, I had a passenger forget the most surprising item ever.
I rounded a corner right after bar close downtown, and I saw a group of vodka zombies on the grass in front of a hotel. There were at least eight or ten of them, and four or five of them see me and start waving their arms over their heads like castaways spotting the first ship they have seen in years. Several of them start lurching toward my car, all yelling about taking them home and grasping at my locked door handles.
Dealing with zombies is the worst part of my job… I just hate these wasted idiots. Effective communication is all but impossible, they don’t listen, they yell constantly, they are rude, abusive, and belligerent, they are just generally unpleasant and hard to deal with. But sometimes a group of zombies will have a leader, and the ability to spot that leader quickly is an invaluable skill for a taxi driver. If you can get that leader on your side and get him working with you, he can help corral and control these retards until you can get them safely home.
Several of the zombies are clawing at my door handles, and I yelled, “Hey, guys, slow down… How many people do we have? I can only carry six. I can get a second taxi here in two or three minutes if we need it.”
A few of the zombies start pointing at each other and start trying to get a head count, but none of these wasted nitwits possess the counting skills of my three year old in their current condition. A very tiny, very cute, and very trashed blonde woman about 30 years old standing on the grass screams, “Give us a ride! I own a Tastee-Freez, bitch!”
I wasn’t sure how that was relevant or germane to this interaction, but I turned my attention back to the guys in the street. One guy standing by my window looks a little less shithammered than the rest, and I tell him that it’s really simple… I can’t have more asses than seat belts, and he says, “No, I get it… you can’t overload your car.”
I was surprised… that was really easy. Usually, making wasted people understand this concept is almost impossible. Oftentimes it is easier to just drive away from a group that is too big than to try to explain this to them. The guy looks at his crew all yelling and laughing and staggering around in the street, and the blonde bellows, “Tastee-Freez, you pussies! Reckanize, bitchezzz!“, and stumbles backwards and falls flat on her ass.
The guy shakes his head and says softly, “What a clusterfuck…” and I had a feeling that this guy might be a leader. He starts asking his friends if this guy can crash on that guy’s couch, and can we send that guy home with that couple, and he formulates a plan to get everyone a ride out of here. Just then, another taxi rounded the corner, and the leader put three or four of his compatriots in that taxi, and herds the other five into my car.
“Kyle” jumps in the front seat and tells me we need to go to an address about two miles from my house, and I live about fifteen miles from here. This is what we call “getting paid to go home”, or getting your last fare of the night that serendipidously takes you almost home or back to the place you drop off your car, and this rarely happens for me. Most nights, I have a 30 or 45 minute drive home, depending on where my last passenger went, so I was glad I endured all that drunken buffoonery to get this $45 ride that will take me almost home.
The ride starts out loud, with lots of laughing and yelling… One guy screamed something about Tastee-Freez and everyone laughed, and the blonde yelled, “Damn right! Tastee-Fucking-Freez, bitchezzz!” I guessed this is some inside joke that I’m not in on. But after a few minutes, everyone kinda nods out, and it is a quiet ride to our destination. I chatted quietly with Kyle in the front seat, and it turns out that he is a firefighter, which explains why that even when drunk, he instantly grasped the significance of not overloading the car… he is in the public safety field.
So we get to their destination, and Kyle takes up a collection from his gang to pay the fare, and he hands me a pile of bills that adds up to 55 or 60 bucks. One of the guys standing outside the car says, “What are you going to do, Kyle? How are you getting home?”
Kyle says, “Well, I guess I will call a taxi and see if I can get back home.”
I said, “Dude, you just got out of a taxi… where do you need to go?”
Kyle said, “I thought you said you were going home after this ride…”
I said, “Well, not when I still have a passenger in my presence… where do you live?”
Kyle says he lives several towns away in Heron Lake, a gated golf course community that is at least a $50 ride. I told him to get back in the car, and we head out. So while I didn’t end up getting paid to go home, I was pretty pleased that my last passengers of the night were going to total over 100 bucks, all on their own. Yeah, I’ll be working a little late, but Daddy is bringing home the bacon tonight…
So Kyle and I are talking on the drive, and I said, “So, I get this all the time… Tell me your best firefighter story…”
Kyle tells me this story about when he first started the job, they got a call to a house where the neighbors reported a foul odor and had not seen their neighbor in a while… newspapers piled up on the doorstep, flies covering the insides of the windows, and I think I know where this story is going. Kyle says his team looked at him and said, “OK, Rookie, this one is all yours…” and his team pushed him through a window they pried open. The guy inside was two or three weeks dead in his Lazy-Boy, clutching his chest, he’s bloated up like a manatee and he’s blue and green and black and purple and yellow, every color but skin tone, and part of his leg is gnawed off. His little mongrel dog is dead by the back door of dehydration and starvation after apparently drinking all the water in the toilets and chewing on Dad’s leg until he got too rotten. The AC was off, it was like 95 degrees in there, flies and maggots everywhere, and the air was thick with the stench of death and dogshit. He said he unlocked the front door and let the cops in to conduct their investigation, then went outside and puked.
I said, “Yeah, my stomach is twitching a little, too…”
Kyle went on to say that he has seen some terrible shit in this job, people that he knew died horribly, people burned to death in houses and cars, but he told me you just have to tune it out and do the job. If you can’t tune it out, you can’t save others. But the flipside of that coin is that you can indeed save people’s lives, with some surprising regularity. He told me about going into a burning house where a woman and her teenage son were overcome with smoke and fumes from burning carpet and couches, and he dragged them out to safety… they might have had 60 more seconds to live. Now this woman comes by the fire station at least once a month with homemade cakes and pies and cookies, for more than two years, just to thank them for saving her and her son.
I said, “That’s awesome… what an incredible fringe benefit. I tell people all the time that I’m not a cop or a firefighter or a paramedic, but by God, I save lives every damned night. Look at your crew we just dropped off… can you imagine any of those guys driving? I rarely even get a thank you, let alone a “thank you for keeping me from dying in a fiery head-on collision” card… just not a big seller at the Hallmark store.”
So I get Kyle home, he pays his fare, and he tips me twenty bucks. I asked him if he goes downtown where I found him often, and he says not too often… perhaps once every two or three months. I gave him my card and told him that the next time he goes downtown, I would be pleased if he called me for a ride home. He stuck my card in his wallet and walked up to the door as I pulled away and headed for home.
I had gone perhaps a mile when my phone rang, and Kyle is on the phone, and he sounds trashed and frantic. He says, “Hey man, you gotta come back right now! How far away are you?”
I said, “I’m only a mile away… what’s wrong? Did you forget something?”
He says, “Yes! Please come right back!”
So I turned around and headed back. I turned on the interior light and shone my flashlight around the floor and the seat, but I didn’t see anything he dropped. Kyle was waiting in his driveway for me, and when I pulled in, he opened the rear door rather than the front. I spun around and said, “What did you forget?”
Curled up in the far back seat of my van was the cute, petite blonde that was bellowing about Tastee-Freez, completely passed out directly behind me in the third row seat where I could not see her. In the entire 30 minute drive with Kyle, I had no idea she was back there. If she had woken up and said something during the drive, she would have completely freaked me out, because I thought we dropped her with the rest of her party, and that I was alone in the car with Kyle. Had she woken up and said, “Hey!” while he was talking about maggots and rot and purple dead guys with their foot chewed off, I think the odds are very high that I would have shit my pants and crashed my car in the next four seconds.
Or alternately, what if Kyle had passed out on his couch and I had driven home, parked my car in my driveway, had a few beers and gone to bed, and three hours later, there is a hungover blonde screaming and beating on my door with a dead cell phone, who woke up only when the temperature reached 99 degrees, locked in my taxi, and demanding to know where the fuck she is?
I started laughing and said, “Dude, people forget all sorts of shit in taxis, but a cute blonde is a first for me… I don’t think my wife will let me keep her…”
Kyle says, “Don’t say anything, for God’s sake…” and he starts laughing too.
So I got out and helped Kyle get her out of my car. I held her arm and gently helped her out and said, “C’mon, little Miss Tastee-Freez… We are home…”
And the blonde, eyes still closed, yelled, “You Dairy Queen muthafuckahs ain’t shit, bitchezzz!”
I still haven’t figured out what all that Tastee-Freez bullshit was about…