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Home Again: Driving Dr. Radical

December 2, 2007, 10:48 pm

Although the AAA was not the last conference I am going to this year, it is the last one I am going to this calendar year. Phew. And my return home was marked by the oddest taxi ride ever.

Those who are familiar with Shoreline’s taxi history know that it is a somewhat recent event to have taxis at the train station at all. Back in the ‘seventies, I remember slogging up to the Oligarch campus with my duffle bag on my shoulder, block after block, usually in the cold. There were often troops of us going up together, and this before the days of suitcases with wheels even. Sometimes we would have to stop for a drink or two on the way. It was that bad.

In any case, there are now lots of taxis: whether all those medallions existed before and were being held off the market in hopes that Oligarch University would relocate to another town, or whether the city did something to create them who knows. That they are there is all that matters. So, as at most transportation centers, when you emerge from the train station, you line up in the cold, driving rain and wait to get into a long string of cabs, one by one, as they pull up.

My driver, who looked a lot like Samuel Beckett, said after my bags were stowed and he had started to pull out of the station driveway: “I hope you don’t think you are going to pay me with a twenty.”

“I don’t know,” I said, pulling my wallet out, although I had been holding onto the option of paying with a twenty. “Would you like me to check?”

“Yes,” he snapped, “Because I don’t have any change!” Meanwhile, he is driving down the main drag outside the train station and heading in the general direction of my house. “This is about a five dollar ride. Do you have a five? Or a ten? People always want to pay for short rides with big bills on Sundays when you can’t go to the bank.”

I pay with twenties every day of the week, but hell, I was game. I pawed through a wallet full of the various receipts I will staple to my travel reimbursement report tomorrow. Nada. “Uh,” I said, “I think I only have four ones.”

“SHIT!” he yelled.

“Well calm down,” I said, firmly but soothingly. “We can go to my house,” since we were already halfway there; “and I’ll go in and get you a couple more dollars. Then at least you’ll have some change for the next customer.”

He was not mollified. “An hour ago a girl tried to pay for a three dollar cab ride with a fifty,” Beckett snarled. “Can you beat that?” No, actually, I couldn’t. The base price of a ride is $2.50: this customer must have wanted a ride around the corner to buy crack, or to be driven into the parking lot to pick up her car, since you can’t go anywhere for three dollars in Shoreline.

“Dreadful,” I said, trying to place myself on the side of the working stiff. “What are people thinking?” Just then the driver tapped the brakes and skidded sideways a few inches before coming to a stop.

“SHIT!” he yelled. “That just takes the cake! Black ice! GODDAMNIT!” We were now within four blocks of my house, Thank Goddess. “This is the lowest point in 49 years of driving a cab!” he ranted. Egad, 49 years? Is your Ph.D. in English or Philosophy, my friend? (Just kidding!!!)

“Well,” I said softly, “Maybe it will be all uphill from here.” We turned the corner into my street.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “Maybe I’ll just dig a fuckin’ hole and jump in and pull the dirt over my head.” OKayyyy…..

We pulled up in front of my house, and he got out and unloaded my bags. I handed him the four ones and said, “Now wait here and I’ll go in and get more money,” since of course, it wasn’t even a five dollar ride, it was a seven dollar ride. What I didn’t tell him was that he would be receiving the other four dollars (who could resist tipping such a charming guy?) in quarters because no one else was home and I would be getting it out of the Bottomless Dish of Change that accumulates in a bowl on my dresser. The prospect of handing him sixteen quarters was causing me some anxiety, until I noticed — to my astonishment and relief — that he had gotten back in the cab and driven away as fast as the sheet ice would allow.

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Prompted by Acephalous, I went to the list of New York Times “100 Notable Books of the Year,” and realized that I have read exactly four of them. And two I used for an article I am writing. How can this be, given that I probably read around 200 books in 2007? And that I read for pleasure more or less at every available moment? Am I reading too few popular books? (I meant to read the Tina Brown on Princess Di.) Too many academic press books? Too many books that were published in 2006 or before? And who made up that list anyway? I think the academic bloggers should do their own list of Notable Books.

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