I have to write these by 9 a.m. Friday mornings, and I usually try to get at least one paragraph down before 6 a.m. It’s now 6:10 a.m. I’m late!
Editor’s note: Wes is one of the few writers I’ve ever known (excluding myself) who honors a deadline. Don’t tell him that because he could stop, and I’d have nothing to edit Friday mornings.
Speaking of being late, I used to be a cab driver. I still have nightmares about that. I have more nightmares about cab driving than about any other period of my life, and that includes the four years I was homeless.
A lot of the nightmares are about being dispatched to pick up a fare at a location and being late getting there. The nightmares start with me being a little bit late and progress to seriocomic levels of lateness. It becomes clear by the end I will never get where I’m supposed to be because I’ve entered the Twilight Zone, never to escape. “Twilight” creator Rod Serling turns up and drives the point home: We hear “daaah-da-da-da-da-da-dum,” and the credits roll.
I think it was back in the 1990s when then-City Attorney Mark Sidran wanted to overhaul cab company regulations because he couldn’t ever get a cab within 5 minutes of calling for one at 4-bloody-30 in the bleeding afternoon at the King County Courthouse. When I heard the complaint, I wondered if he was high.
Of course his cabs took longer than 5 minutes to get there. There was gridlock on all downtown Seattle streets at that hour. You call for a cab at 4:30 p.m. and expect it at 4:35? Hahaha. How do I get my free government teleporter? Lick these colored dots and think good thoughts? OK, sure!
The nightmares weren’t all about being stuck in gridlock, though. There were also ones where being late came about because of starvation.
See, the thing is, cab drivers didn’t make a lot of money, and I made less than average. I really sucked at being a cab driver.
The good drivers knew to keep track of events going on and would plan to be where the events were. I never could bring myself to figure out where the concerts and games were and when they’d let out. I’m fundamentally asocial. I’d just sit interminably at cab stands until either a customer walked up, got in and told me where to drive them or until I got a call from dispatch on the radio.
So, let’s say I didn’t get a dispatch for three hours, and in all that time no one walks up for a cab. Then finally, a guy walks up, gets in and says, “I need to go five blocks up the street here to a convenience store.” Worth a dollar in those days. Just then the dispatcher calls and gives me an address to get to. So, knowing that if I tell the dispatcher I’m occupied with a fare going five blocks I will be put back on the list for another dispatch and have to wait another three hours or more for the next dispatch, and because I needed fares to be able to eat, I confirm the dispatch.
Then the nightmare moment. As the guy goes into the convenience store, he says, “I need you to wait here. I’ll be going on somewhere else after this.”
Well, five or six more stops downtown later, and the dispatcher is telling me the customer is demanding to know when I will get there. Again, the need to eat compels me to deny being occupied.
In the nightmare, I keep telling the dispatcher “another 5 minutes.” In real life, most often the walk-up customer would finally get dropped off for good, so I’d be free to race to the dispatched address and get pulled over by a cop on the way.
I’d get a ticket for 5 miles over the speed limit, or running a stop sign, or whatever. Which would come out of my earnings. Which would mean eating less. Which would mean I’d be hungrier the next day, and the whole scenario would be set up again.
If only I could have been declared an employee of the cab company and they had to pay me a wage. I might have relaxed and told the dispatcher I was occupied to a 7-11, so I’d be passed up. I’d never have had to be late. Except for traffic jams.
Dr. Wes Browning is a one time math professor who has experienced homelessness several times. He supplied the art for the first cover of Real Change in November of 1994 and has been involved with the organization ever since. This is his weekly column, Adventures in Irony, a dry verbal romp of the absurd. He can be reached at drwes (at) realchangenews (dot) org
Read more of the Oct. 28 - Nov. 3, 2020 issue.