(story after the jump)
A friend of mine will regularly point out that I'm corny as all hell. I happily admit it. Growing up, I was one of those kids who regularly identified tropes and clichés in popular culture and sought to actively apply them on my surroundings. I am still that kid. One-liners, catch-phrases, quotes, nicknames, I love it all. I will occasionally try to put a lid on it, as the habit at best will make my friends chuckle, but most commonly will make them groan.
With my customers it is different. There's a stereotype about the bitter, world-weary cabby who's seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train; a shell of a man who nightly delves into the shit of the world with nothing more than grim, scornful patience. I am quite happy to occasionally play into that stereotype. It amuses me, and it often amuses my customers. Hell, I do it all the time in my writing.
Playing with this, there's a catch-phrase that keeps coming back. It can be used pretty much anywhere, but most often it comes up when some young maniac(s) run straight out into the street in front of the car, or fight in an alleyway, or throw up on the sidewalk. With a tired, doomed voice I intone: "There he/she/they goes - the future of this country".
It amuses me. And it amuses my customers; they often laugh far more than the line is worth. Mostly because they have their own disdain for young people. I don't really have disdain for young people. Impatience, yes. Irritation over lack of experience/maturity, sure. But not really disdain. After all, I was once just as stupid as they are, and their kids will be. It's a natural part of the human experience.
On occasion, I will meet someone who merits every cruel and spiteful thing ever hurled by the irrelevant generation toward their young. Last Wednesday, I'd been keeping very busy. For a solid seven and a half hours, I'd been flying all over town and beyond, stopping only to get coffee and gum. It was time for a break, and it had just rained. So I pulled up on one of the side streets near Iron Square and left the car, in order to take in some fresh, rain-laden air and do some stretching.
It was very peaceful. The air was cool and damp, smelling of wet grass, asphalt, and salt from the sea. Down the street, I saw a group of about four very drunk guys waving down a car from Taxi G. The cab stopped by them, and their Botticelli-faced leader leaned in through the window. I couldn't hear the exchange, but within a minute, the cab rolled away, leaving Botticelli and his cohorts screaming abuse at it on the sidewalk. Obviously, the cabby hadn't wanted to drive them, no matter how angelic they looked.
Why you gotta be like that, bro?
I knew what would happen next. Botticelli and his friends would see me, and they would say: "Lo, tis Taxi M! Let us approach and thus save our feet and our purse!"
And I would be in the delightful position of deciding whether my time and dignity was worth whatever cash they would pay for my services. Now these kids had the look of fine young brats, and fine young brats tend to get very drunk, tend to live far away, and tend to have no trouble at all spending their parents money on cab trips to their faraway homes. They also tend to be rotten to the core. So I waited. And indeed, they saw me.
"Hey!" cried Botticelli and ran toward me with his arms open, as if I was his long lost brother. "Bring it in, big guy! You can't deny a hug!"
"I can," I replied and stuck out my hand. "But I can offer you a handshake."
He stood for a moment with his arms out, clearly taken aback. This kid was young. He couldn't have been more than 20, most likely 18. I got the sense that he had had his first shave last year. When I made no move to embrace him, he grabbed my hand in both of his and shook it vigorously.
"Good to see you, dude! You gotta help us."
"What's up?" I asked.
Lola's is one of this city's three strip clubs. The strippers often employ our services. Often, they are rude and stingy to a fault, but that's an entirely different story. I smiled and jerked my thumb.
"Lola's is one block over. You're not far at all."
"Naw, man! You gotta drive us! We need us some whores!"
"Oh," I said, all my preconceptions about Botticelli completely confirmed. "Well, then you're in the wrong place. Rose Grove is in that direction." I pointed.
He shook his head. "No, we want the whores at Lola's."
It is amazing how much a smile can hide quiet, seething hatred. "But they're not whores. They're strippers."
"Look, man," he said and launched into his own catch phrase, one he had clearly been working on all night: "A whore on stage so sweet, better than one on the street."
I raised an eyebrow. "But they're strippers. Not whores."
"There's no difference."
"Oh but there is", I said. "Try to make the girls at Lola's do anything but dance... well, at best you'll be thrown out. At worst, you'll get your arms broken."
"Come on," said his friends, as they walked past. "He's not going to drive us."
"Are you a gamer?" said Botticelli, with a predatory look in his swimming eyes. I have seen that look before, in high-school bullies. "Cause you kinda look like a nerd."
"I'm not." I said sweetly, though I couldn't fault his observation.
"No shame, dude! I play videogames all the time. I play it so much, I got fired from my last job. But seriously dude, what do you do?"
"I drive a cab," i said, nodding toward the car.
"You don't do that for fun," he scoffed. "Come on man. What tickles your fine crotch?"
"Why don't you ask your parents?" I said, grinning right back at him. I started moving toward the cab. He of course followed me into it.
"No, seriously," I could tell he was furious, but he was fighting to keep the banter light-hearted. "I'm not leaving until you tell me what you do."
"Don't you have strippers waiting for you?" I asked.
"They can wait. This is important. What do you do!"
"I drive a cab. And my break is over. If you want to continue this conversation, I'm turning on the meter."
He stared at me, and stared at my hand hovering over the meter. "Tell me, or I'll wreck your shit." He was still smiling.
"No," I said, staring him straight into his eyes. "You will not."
Before the silence between us could become uncomfortable, he clapped me on the shoulder and said:
"You're a good dude, mr Cabman. Catch you later."
This kid will one day grow up to be an important person in business, law, or politics. Let's hope he tries something untowards at Lola's before that happens.