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Short trips are a problem for cab drivers everywhere, and more than a few Springs operators do what they can to avoid them. They usually amount to near walking-distance jaunts for riders to Walmart or the liquor store, then home. Fares and tips are low, and they take the driver off-queue for longer, more cost-effective trips.

In addition, they also tend — more often than longer rides — to invite memorable rants or harangues on a range of topics, to be heard by drivers and not responded to. (It seems we're chosen to simply audit these fits and accusations when no one else will.) For example:

"If they'd just get rid of the fucking weeds around here! And the skunks! Get these guys sittin' on their asses in County out to mow, the place would look half decent. How much can that cost? Looks like a fucking labor camp! Rocks everywhere ..."

This from a Home Depot customer in his 40s, equipped with new-bought lawn care stuff I'd just loaded in the back for him. I half-expected him to jump out and tackle the weeds himself.

From another:

"I'm in pain 24 hours a day. My pain never goes away. I've got real severe arthritis from the base of my skull all the way down my back. Below my waist. I've got it in both knees, in my shoulders. My back looks like a damn ... racetrack or something. A big curve. God help me ... 'Nothin' we can do for you,' they tell me."

He was a trim and fit-looking man in his 70s, sharply but casually dressed, enduring great discomfort with dignity as best he could. From hearing him, you wondered if aging was sometimes really worth the effort.

On the other end of the physical spectrum, a heavy-set young woman got in recently, proclaimed she liked movies, then continued:

"But it's getting too expensive to go. And if I don't see a movie that's really worth it, I don't go. I don't like a lot of obscenities in the movie, a lot of language. Action movies are fun, but that's all they want to put in it. ... Some of these movies, I don't see how people can stand to go watch them.

"I don't see how they can call them 'kids movies' when they have R-rated stuff. Like back in the '90s they did the Alien movies. That's not for children, don't make toys for it! And don't put toys for movies that have inappropriate things in them for children in toy stores. That's wrong. Then the kids want to see the movie, but the movie is not for their age group. They're gonna learn a lot of nasty language and violent behavior. I wish somebody would do something about it. I see kids imitate things ..."

Another traveler was on his way to Hawaii. I told him I had many riders who rhapsodized about the place, loved it, couldn't wait to land there. He said:

"Well, they're just idiots. You know, if their whole thing is to go to their hundred-dollar luau, and fuckin' get gouged for every goddamned thing on the planet, that's totally on them. But what ends up happening is these people, uh, get convinced into this whole 'Aloha' thing, and my grandmother had that same thing, where she was all about the 'Aloha,' you know. It's so fuckin' cheesy. Go watch the Brady Bunch luau movie. It's retarded ..."

Come to think of it, that airport ride was actually a longer trip. Which meant there was plenty of time to talk further about families, and money.

"I kinda grew up having cocktail parties on the boat and shit like that. I didn't really understand that the rest of the world doesn't live that way. You know, I just didn't fuckin' understand it. Most people are just fighting to pay the damn mortgage all the time. And it's just a totally different lifestyle, totally different, and I've got a 5-year-old and she's in school here, and I'm not thrilled about having her go to school in such a place because this is kinda trashy as far as I'm concerned ..."

What becomes of all these stray frustrations is anybody's guess. But the rider deposits them and leaves, and you wonder at the end of the day just where we're going, before heading home yourself to weed the lawn, watch the news, fall asleep during a movie, think about a vacation, do aerobics, or look over your 5-year-old's spelling exercise. If she even has one.

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