"Nobody ever does until they do."
One of the occupational hazards I have to take into consideration when I ply my trade is the human body and its fluids. While most people have the decency to keep their precious bodily fluids on the inside of their bodies, every once in a while things get messy.
Jared Diamond suggests that the human habit of consuming things that are obviously toxic has an evolutionary benefit. He compares it to the peacock, whose spectacular tail is its way of telling the world that its so badass that it can have such an idiotic and ungainly thing and still survive.
"You do not fuck with me... unless you intend to fuck me, in which case, you're welcome."
By this logic, the attitude and headaches I suffer in my line of work are all part of an elaborate mating ritual. And when somebody's insides finally have had enough and spill out all over my workplace, I should tremble in awe at the culmination of such an intricate, strange dance which began millions of years ago.
I would, but I don't. I'm as transcendental as the next guy, but the moment the cosmic ballet fucks up something specific in my life, it can go hang. Because if you vomit in a cab, the cab has to be sanitized, effectively taking it out of comission for the night. Thus, by vomiting in a cab you can and will cost the cabby his entire shift. Throwing up in a cab is not causing a minor inconvenience; it will really fuck up someone's life.
Now, I am one of the lucky ones. Nobody has ever thrown up in my cab. They've thrown up down the side of it, I've stopped so they can throw up outsíde, and I've offered water and mints to more embarrassed party people than I can count. But so far, I've never had the displeasure of someone actually throwing up inside-
Ok, that's a lie. There was this one time. But thinking about it makes me feel like throwing up.
However, it can't all be glamour and righteous fury. Let's get this over with.
A few months ago, I was given a fare from Galileo Street to Catchfly Street; a good, long trip worth at least 270. So I arrived and waited. Then I saw them;
a man and a woman, looking ragged and worn, carrying shopping bags full of stuff. The wheels of paranoia started turning in my head and I remembered what my colleague Bert had told me a while back; about a couple of junkies, male and female, carrying lots of shit in paper bags, whom he had driven to Galileo street. They had then run off without paying.
I called him.
"Bert, you remember those junkies you told me about? The ones on Galileo street who didn't pay their fare?"
"Yeah, what of them?"
I looked at the screen, at the name that had been given. "What were their names?"
By now, they were nearby and coming closer.
"I might be driving them right now."
"What, are they in the car?"
"No, they-" the woman knocked on the window. "Fuck it, I'll call you back."
I hung up and turned to them and made a decision. If they ran off without paying, I'd write off the trip and not be pissed off about it. More out of preserving my own sanity, than out of any charitable feelings. I let them into the cab and off we went.
They didn't seem to have much to say to me, and I didn't have much to say to them. But the man seemed to have a problem with his lungs; he was coughing. A lot.
And there was a distinct, splashing sound following every third cough or so.
A cold, indignant fury came over me, and very softly I said:
"What in the name of hell do you think you're doing? Are you throwing up in my cab?"
"It's cool, man," said the woman. "He's got a bag."
A fucking bag.
I didn't say anything. I just very quietly, and very methodically pulled over at a gas station. Then I said:
"This is where you get off."
"You heard me. Get out and throw up in someone else's cab."
"But I have a bag!"
"It would've been so easy for you to give me a heads up when the trip started. That would be the polite thing to do. Instead you sit there, throw up, and try to justify yourself by saying that you came prepared-"
"But I'm sick!, you asshole!"
"Damn straight you are -"
"Will you shut up?" said the woman. "He's got cancer."
"Did you just tell-" I froze. "Wait, what?"
"Yes! The chemo makes me throw up."
There was a moment that seemed to stretch on forever. And in that moment, things started to add up. These people did not smell. Junkies and boozehounds tend to have a scent about them; a constant miasma hovering about marking their presence. What's more, these people looked tired, worn, and furious, but they did not have that look of ruination that's typical for someone stuck in substance abuse. And finally, and most damingly, despite sloshing contents of the bag and the foul dribble on the man's chin, there was not even a hint of vomit in the air. Completely odourless. Like the vomit of someone who hasn't eaten. Like the vomit of a chemo-patient.
All my cold rage and righteous indignation drained away, leaving a stagnant pool of shame. I turned off the meter.
"... I am so very sorry."
They were surprisingly understanding about the whole episode. I took the bag and threw it away. Then I went into the gas-station and got a new bag, which I lined with yet another one, which I presented to him. He accepted it and my apology graciously.
At the end of the trip, when they paid me, I tried telling them that the ride was for free, that it was the least I could do for their trouble. The man wouldn't have it. So I accepted his money, and watched him and his lady friend disappear into the night.
Despite the bag, there was a puddle of clear, odourless slime on the floor in the back. I cleaned this up without so much as a groan of displeasure.