Sunday, December 02, 2007

Home Again: Driving Dr. Radical

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.

7 comments:

squadratomagico said...

I feel really sad for Beckett Taxi Driver. He must have been having a helluva day... or week... or life? Anyway, thanks for portraying him so vividly.

Susan said...

Of all the odd taxi drivers I've had in Shoreline, none has equaled Beckett... It just shows that where the radical goes, excitement always follows!

Anonymous said...

I know that Beckett's behavior was out of line but I cannot help but get stuck on his point about being paid w/ a $50 for a $3 fair and expected to produce change. To me your story is so clearly about the growing rift between the increasingly desperate working/subsistence class and the economically privileged. I can only imagine how many gifted Shoreline students & faculty he is demeaned by regularly in the course of providing them a needed service (as I too remember that walk pre-taxis) & tho his anger was clearly misplaced when aimed at you . . . the very fact that his answer to the situation of bank closures and large bills was to contemplate suicide speaks volumes about how radically different his real of experience, and the world that divides it from most academics, is becoming. I hope that he made it home safely and to some sense of dignity in the same way that I am glad you made it home that way despite being the target of his alienation.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to beat a dead horse and I honestly feel sorry about thw whacking you have taken over the DIW affair. But seriously, you just can't go aroud saying or inferring that people committed or may have committed horrendous crimes when they have been publicly exonerated and particularly when they didn't do it!
The reason people are so upset about what you wrote is that they respect the position you hold in
a prestigious American University in teh American Studies department
and because these were accusations of an horrendous nature. If we weren't so appalled at the nature of the alleged crimes, respectful of your position and therefore of your opinion, everyone wouldn't get so upset. There were real people facing real prison time for NOTHING.Also, they were students and you are a teacher which also ups the ante in the trust arena.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Anonymous,

Don't believe everything you read. I never said those young men raped the woman, and assertions that I did are just wrong. Furthermore, my post (which was about media representation) went up before the students were exonerated. That said, I never said they committed a crime -- only that the actions of the group (hiring strippers, drinking until they lost judgement) put members of the group in jeopardy, that something happened to the woman who made the charges, that the team had a history of drunken and violent behavior and that members of the team were collectively responsible for letting the situation get out of hand. I never made any "charges" against the indicted students - if anything, the charge I made was that as a society we are very quick to assume that privileged, white people are "innocent" and marginalized, poor, black people are lying. That one marginalized, poor black woman actually lied does not change my view of how our culture operates; that those four young men did not rape her does not change my view that they had no business bringing her there in the first place and treating her badly when she wasn't in shape to deliver the pornographic display they had paid for.

Durham in Wonderland is a very peculiar blog, and the man who writes it someone who has a long history of identifying people who disagree with him as enemies and attacking them viciously; and making himself the center of attention by claiming to be the chief authority on controversial issues. I wouldn't form opinions about me or about the past from the postings of the blog author or the reader. As a matter of fact, don't form an opinion about him from this blog either: read DIW, Google his tenure case, and see what you think, if you are interested.

The only reason I am leaving your post up and answering it -- since your comment has nothing to do with the post it is attached to and I generally do not respond to these things at the length the DIW people would like -- is, honestly, you sound like one of my students and far too nice and reasonable to be one of the DIW people. So if you ever want to talk about this phenomenon, or my role in it, I hope you come to office hours.

best, TR

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think one way to tell the difference is that there is a little more turquoise jewelry and native American "vests" or belts or some other "native" wares adorning a small portion of the attendees. This is how I can always tell I am in the anthropology meeting.

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