Business after-hours 

Taxi Driver

Drug dealers in Colorado Springs have a way of finding you, like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Prostitutes are the same. They just appear out of nowhere in times of need or desire. They know who you are and what you want.

I'm witness to it from the driver's seat, as they negotiate with customers on the phone. From perfecting — like any salesman, I suppose — techniques for approaching and maintaining clients, of derailing "sales resistance" and keeping repeat customers, they develop an ethereal but still ingratiating method that seems right from the '60s TV cartoon: He always says hello and he's really glad to meet ya!

Old Colorado City after midnight is a favored enterprise zone for one of these chummy suppliers of nonprescription barbiturates. He appeared right at home, drifting out of a sleepy apartment complex at the foot of a hill, where the houses are all clumped and cluttered together and everyone for blocks around feels like your neighbor. It's a haven of small lots and indifferently fenced yards, but cozy and quiet. There's a church and an elementary school nearby.

I must speak somewhat generically here for fear of reprisal. So "Casper" it must be, not 6'1", 190 pounds, 27-35 years old, with long brown hair and tattoos on both forearms, etc., that sort of thing.

Like daytime businesspeople, Casper had no hesitation about conducting transactions over the phone from the backseat of a moving taxicab. They really set up office, and speak freely. About anything.

Location, price and quantity are discussed like auto parts. But it's the tone that makes the strongest impression, a vocalized bond of trust and dependability with the client, almost a chant, that hard drugs are abundant and stable in the Springs, and you know who to call. We're all friends here, aren't we?

As of yet, this was my sole encounter with Casper. Of the two or three other deals I am sure of witnessing, however, he seemed the most concerned about the customer being alone, with no friends or bystanders around. "Are you alone? Are you alone?" he repeated into the phone.

"Hey, man. I need to go another way. Can we turn around?" He'd put the cell phone away, having made a time- and price-sensitive deal right there in the cab. Now, as his driver, I was unofficially in the drug business, aiding and abetting, wasn't I? Whenever someone speaks to you as "man" you know trouble may be ahead.

"Sure, man," I said. And off we went.

From overhearing his conversation I understood this was not a transaction of more than a few hundred dollars, and to relax. Casper did not have a lot of stuff in his possession to get rid of or caught with in case of a bust. As I understood, that can have a determining effect on the length of any sentence. Besides, from glances in the rearview mirror Casper appeared relaxed himself. In fact, he had been in that condition all along. He crossed one knee over the other and gazed out the window at the shrouded homes of domestic tranquility.

"Jesus is my lord and savior," he blurted, leaning toward me now with doubled urgency. Both feet were planted squarely on the taxi floor, a hand on each knee. "It's a fucked-up world and I never asked to be here but I know he's looking after me every day, and you, too, and I'll be okay. You know that, don't you? That everything is going to be okay?"

No, I don't know that, to say the least, especially at 2:30 a.m. in a U.S. city like Colorado Springs of over one half million people. But that was beside the point. I muttered something back, noncommittal of any position or advocacy, and got by on that.

We arrived at his destination, a funky residence hotel high above Manitou Springs, and he paid and tipped generously, and disembarked, taking my card.

To my surprise, I've seen Casper since in daylight hours, talking and laughing on the street, as if we had some unfinished business. Maybe we do.



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