By Phil Rossi
I already told Snapper I wasn’t making any pickups at the Holiday Inn. Protocol in the cab business states the dispatcher is the boss, and he tells the drivers where to go. Not tonight. In one of the hotel ballrooms, my high school class was holding our ten-year reunion.
On work-release and driving a cab for Comet Taxi, I wasn’t in the mood to advertise my flunked-out life. My classmates wondering how far I’d fallen as we collide at the taxi stand in lieu of the open bar. Thanks, but no thanks.
Decades have habits of grinding out and showing up early. My ten-year goal was to spit through this night like a missile and make this big shot splash. Just like Janis Joplin, blasting into hers as a rock star.
The Facebook page posted the reunion from seven to eleven. Once I got into my shift, Snapper did right, feeding me calls nowhere near the Holiday Inn. The anxiety eased, and I forgot all about the reunion. Already past midnight when I returned from an out of town fare.
“Pick up at Lionel’s Cafe. They gotta lady goin’ down to the train station,” Snapper said over the tablet.
Rolling up to Lionel’s Cafe, I spotted a huddle of smokers in the parking lot. Ten years in the tank, and despite the bald heads and husky frames, I fingered my old schoolmates. The reunion wrapped up at the ballroom and splintered off to Lionel’s. Great. I let Snapper know I arrived.
“I’m a little busy right now. Go inside and announce yourself,” he said.
Yeah, right—when hell freezes over. I used my cell to tip Lionel’s, the bird they ordered was at the curb. I then watched Juanita Martinez leave the cafe, stir up my butterflies and approach the cab.
An old crush and classmate, Juanita, didn’t give a duck’s ass I skipped the reunion to drive a taxi. She told me what a snooze I missed. Gossip, hookups, and bloated fables. The rest remained inside Lionel’s, playing power ballads over the jukebox.
I didn’t get into my ‘since we left high school story’. The liftoff, crash, and shame. How I siphoned capital gains, snarfed Doctor Feelgood’s stash, and burned down the fast lane. Once the high life spit me out, I was fried to pieces, strung-out, and buzzed in to face fraud charges.
The hearing showed a heart full of soul and commuted my sentence to a halfway house. I followed a curfew and scored a job washing dishes. A square deal compared to prison, where the boy scouts are known to bite your ears off.
“I wish you would have called. I wanted to help,” Juanita said.
A big time lawyer in the city. Married, junior partner, then divorced, Juanita tumbled through the rocks herself. What the reunion taught me, is beneath the working man’s sun, the picks and shovels get heavy for everybody.
I told Juanita I appreciated her concern and to let it go. I’m done with drugs and running scams out of boiler rooms. Driving a taxi on overnights forces you to think a bit. Mainly about how you got here, and the downtime you need to plot your escape.
“Call me, or e-mail. We could meet for drinks, coffee, whatever,” Juanita said while passing me her business card. I told her I would as we reached the train station.
I anchored the cab and watched Juanita slip into the terminal. I wasn’t too concerned about what might happen between us, or might not.
More determined to do something with myself, no matter the caseload and price. All on the straight, with no shortcuts or monkey business. I punched the gas, lighting off for the promise of the near future, and a fresh start for the next ten years.