Whenever a bartender flags you down you know things are going to be bad. Either a too-drunk patron had them call for a cab, or they’re throwing somebody out because they’re too drunk.
Like bartenders, hairdressers, priests and legitimate therapists, we cabbies are often called upon to dispense advice. Why on earth people would presume that I would have any words of wisdom for them is beyond my meager powers of comprehension. I’m a goddam cab driver fer cryin’ out loud.
With that in mind, I’m cruising up Palafox Street in downtown Pensacola last night when a guy hails me outside of the Helen Back bar. He gives me the, “Wait one,” hand gesture and goes back inside. That’s when I spot his t-shirt with the “Helen Back” logo. I think to myself, “Just drive away, Bob, just drive away.” But no.
Subsequently he comes back, and he’s just about carrying this little blond woman. Skinny thing, tiny…late 20’s or early 30’s. He plops her unceremoniously in my front seat and wordlessly shuts the door. Uh-oh. She immediately turns to me and says, “I am NOT going to get sick in your car.” Then she gives me an address that’s not too far away. Hardly reassured, I drive off. I keep a blue plastic pail (the kind kids play with on the beach) within quick reach in the event the drunks I carry have any accidents.
Before we get far, she’s sobbing. Against my better judgment, I ask her what’s wrong? She doesn’t answer, just alternates between sobbing and mumbling incoherently. And she seems vaguely pissed at me for some reason, saying that I don’t really care about her. Which I don’t, to be honest. Ten minutes from now she’ll be out of my cab and out of my life.
As we motor toward her house she suddenly sits straight up and angrily informs me I’m going the wrong way. “I guess that’s your plan, huh…to charge me as much as you can?” One has to be careful when insulting a cab driver. We’re likely to pull over and kick your drunken ass out. There is no law that says I must get people to their destination. Anyway, she quickly realizes her mistake, but does not apologize.
Finally she starts making sense. Between her sobs I learn that she’s all alone in the world. Her husband left her, she’s estranged from her son, they don’t talk to her…she has no family, and all of her “best friends” have turned out to be not friends at all but merely coworkers. All alone. And…of course…she misses her dead father terribly; he died thirteen years ago, she says.
We get to her house. The fare is eight dollars. “Can you please just show me some compassion?” she verily demands. “Can you please just say SOMETHING to me…give me SOME advice?”
Hey toots, I'm just some fuckin' guy, you know? But okay, you axed for it. I start off as gently as I can, kind of knowing how this conversation is going to go. “Ma’am, it’s been my experience that if you have a relationship with God, you’ll never be alone in life…you’ll never be lonely. No matter what happens, God is always with you.”
Before the words are even out of my mouth, I hear the tongue-cluck and the sigh. I knew they were coming. “Oh, I don’t have a relationship with God,” she spits. “I have a relationship with pantheism.” I don’t have time to ask her to explain because she quickly adds, “I tried the God-thing.”
The God-thing. I’m tempted to ask, “How’s that working out for ya?” but I don’t. She starts fumbling around, pretending to look for her purse. I decide that it’s time to help her out of the car, whether she actually gives me any money or not. But she finds the purse, pulls ten crumpled dollars out and makes a big show of dumping them on the floor between the seats.
“Thanks for nothing," she hisses as she walks away.
I feel sorry for people like her…people so wrapped up in themselves and their own misery and self-pity that they drive others away. From the very brief glimpse I got of this young woman’s life, I completely understand why she’s all alone and bitter. I get back in my cab, shake my head and I drive away too.