A different passenger, an old retired woman who used to work for the university, who was going to pay her cable bill, told me about a little restaurant in the Italian neighborhood called The Three Sisters (one of whom shortly died.) When this woman first moved to Madison in her 30's, she tried to go there for dinner once, but they refused to serve and "unaccompanied woman." And later, she went back with her little white-haired mother, sure they would serve her this time, yet they still refused to serve women alone. She assured me she was no spring chicken and even when she was, she was no one a man would try to pick up in a restaurant.
She also told me that her husband died four years ago. She turned off the internet because they only used it for his business. She never drove so she still doesn't. Her husband owns a Prius, but it's just been sitting in the driveway all this time. She doesn't even know where the keys are. I think it's because she doesn't realize that a Prius doesn't have a normal-looking key. But she's happy, because walking and busing gets her out more. She'd rather walk eight blocks to catch a bus she knows is coming rather than find a new bus closer to her house.
I picked up an early-twentysomething man at his house on the far-west end of Madison. He was going downtown to pick up his car because he'd gotten too drunk to drive and left his car behind. We driving for about three blocks when he said, "Shit, pull over! That's my car!" What? "That's my car, stop!" And he got out and apologized and gave me ten bucks for my trouble. So, yes, dear readers, he likely drove most of the way home drunk and didn't even remember doing it.
I almost lost it though when the woman turned to her seven-year old daughter and said, "Did you learn anything today?" The daughter gave a hesitant nod. "Really?" her mother said, "Because you need to know how important this is!"
It was so difficult not to turn around and say, "Listen, your mother is right - it is very important to be involved in the political process, but it is also very important to be informed about the issues, to know how to do research, to think critically, and to not get all of your information from FOX News. Where were your parents when Bush started two wars off the budget? Where were your parents when Bush gave the top 1% of the richest Americans a tax cut, again, not paid for? What are your parents doing here today when they were among the 95% of Americans who just got a tax CUT under Obama? Your parents are fucking morons and you need to grow up, get an education, and get the hell away from them as fast as you can!"
But I'm a nice cab driver. But I did giggle when we pulled up to their bus and they realized they'd left the bus's headlights on the whole time they were at the rally.
I also met Bert I. Gordon, the sci-fi & horror movie director, who made such cult classics as Empire of the Ants and The Amazing Colossal Man. He graduated from here in Madison back in 1950ish and went off to Hollywood and hasn't been back since. He's here for the Wisconsin Film Festival. They're screening his film The Magic Sword (1962), which is "a medieval adventure starring Basil Rathbone (the 1940s-era Sherlock Holmes) as Lodac the evil sorcerer. The film opens with the good witch Sybil in her potion room fretting about her foster son who has likely succumbed to a terrible curse — of being in love. Her two-headed assistant agrees." He'll also be giving a talk of some kind. He was really pleasant and seemed very embarrassed about how much time had passed.
Given the choice, I'll take old school monster movie directors over teabagger activists any day. The teabaggers even tipped better - see, that's my conscience speaking louder than my wallet. Maybe I have more in common with the teabaggers than I thought - I, too, am willing to vote against my own economic self-interest! Buh-dum-tsssssssss! Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week! Please tip your bartender and waitstaff.
I needn't wonder long - the first thing he says when he gets in the cab is, "How much is this going to cost? Cuz I've got $55 and I want to know what my budget is going to be in the store. I need a few magazines to get me through, you know. You're a guy, you understand."
The rest of the cab ride he explained his problem - his computer's hard drive died, and a man's got needs, you know, and the imagination only goes so far, you know, and he's got a big check coming soon, but he doesn't know if he'll have enough left over to get the computer fixed, so, you know, he's got to have some magazines for the meantime, and don't worry he won't be in there long cuz it doesn't really matter what magazines, he's not picky, he just needs something.
His fare was $20 and he tipped me seventy-five cents. So apparently he's got $34.25 worth of porn mags to get him through until his big check gets here. Good luck, guy.
Yesterday I was picking up a passenger at one of Madison's "massage parlors" (winkwinknudgenudgesaynomoresaynomore) and while I was waiting, a guy came out and when he looked up and saw me sitting there... he looked so embarrassed. He averted his eyes and quickly hobbled off toward his car. Hobbled? Why was he hobbling? He looked like your stereotypical Sconnie. Average height, slightly pudgy, pale, non-descript buzzed hair, oversized Badgers sweatshirt, cheap faded workman's pants. However, when I looked at his feet to see why he was walking odd, I noticed that over his aged tube socks he was wearing the most flamboyant pair of lepoard-print five-inch fuck-me heels I have ever seen. The dichotomy between ankle-up and ankle-down threw me for a minute and I understood that his embarrassment at seeing me wasn't because he was caught coming out of a "massage parlor" but instead, I'm thinking it might have been his choice in footwear. Maybe, who can say? Perhaps he wears them to the construction site.
The conversations I heard, OMG. It seemed like knowing things was some sort of weird social stigma or a faux pas. If one of the girls pointed out a fact, even something as small as knowing where a particular restaurant was, the rest of them giggled about it and said, "OMG How do you know that?!" in a tone of voice that said they were scandalized. It was the oddest thing, as if they groomed ignorance. The biggest laughs were right after someone would say, "OMG I didn't know that."
And they really said OMG all the time. Sometimes it was OH. MY. GOD. and sometimes it was OMIGOD really fast.
They also got ridiculously excited whenever they saw a national chain store. "OMG Applebees! OMG They have a Wendy's! We HAVE to go!" Perhaps they were coasties and were surprised that podunk Madison actually has national stores?
I got maybe five blocks from their sorority house before one of them said "I have *never* seen this part of Madison before!"
The other odd thing was that they discussed what they were going to eat when they got to IHOP, as if they all needed to get group approval before ordering. The majority of the time discussing this issue was devoted to one girl who wasn't sure if it would be okay to order a cheeseburger. There was an awkward silence before another one finally said, "Well, it is a diner and it's the afternoon."
"Yeah, but you don't think it would be too weird if I ordered chocolate milk too?"
"Oh, that's okay - it's like the classic thing, right, the cheeseburger and milkshake and that's like the same thing."
The nice girl who looked like a young, pre-surgery, pre-drugged out LIndsay Lohan, who organized the sixteen-person outing. She seemed to be the hive queen. When she spoke the others listened and her opinion seemed to be the most deferred-to. "OMG, you are the best planner!" was said several times by various members of the hive.
We had a nice chat about whether or not there was a bridge to the west side Denny's and when asked for the tenth time how she knew where something was she told the hive that she and I share a wavelength and she was borrowing my taxi driver knowledge. "And he's laughing because he knows it's true!"
They tipped me $2 and disappeared inside the IHOP. Each one said thank you as they exited the cab. I sort of felt like a bus driver on a field trip.
As soon as the boy got in the taxi, he grabbed my bike helmet and said, "What's this?"
"That's my bike helmet," I replied as I started to drive.
"For your bike?"
"I thought it was for your driving," the boy said.
"No, my driving isn't that bad."
We talked about our bikes. I explained why bike helmets are important, so you don't break your head. We exchanged stories about times we got hurt on our bikes. This boy had fallen over once. I hit a tree on a ramp. We both had our bikes broken at one point. After the tree, I had to get a new bike, it was broken so bad. The boy said his mom was fixing his. He didn't know what was wrong with it.
We arrived at their apartment building and I said good-bye to my fellow bicycle enthusiast; I told him it was very nice to talk to him. His mom/sister/guardian didn't say a word the whole time, but I said good bye to her as well.
I watched them walk across the parking lot toward their front door. I turned, checked my mirrors and started to back up. Just as I started to move, I glanced back toward their apartment and the boy had run all the way back to the taxi and was saying something I couldn't hear through the glass. I rolled down my window. "What was that you said?"
"You forgot to high-five."
"Oh," I said as I reached my arm out the window toward him, palm out. He ran forward and gave me a high-five, a hard and solid smack. He said bye as he turned and ran back toward his apartment door, smiling. We waved good bye one last time as I drove away. It was nice to have a friend for a few minutes.
Today, I picked him up again. This time he was smoking as he walked toward the taxi. He bumped into the car as he fumbled for the door handle. "Sorry, I'm blind," he said. That's okay, I told him. As we drove, this time to the emergency room, he said, "I have to have my tonsils out."
I didn't like him. I didn't want to breathe his sick air. I didn't talk much. He seemed to know the city well enough. As I made turns, he would guess what street we were on and he was usually right. He asked me what the weather was like, how bright the sun was. He told me his name. I told him mine. At the emergency room, I walked him inside. He held my arm, shuffling beside me.
On Sunday, I also picked up a drunk man at a hotel. I know he was drunk because he had the been-up-all-night-drinking stink. Maybe he wasn't still drunk, but he had been, and it showed in his face. He coughed continuously. It wasn't a cigarette cough, a scratchy Winston cough, and it wasn't the phlegm-lined cough of the sick. I couldn't place it.
I was driving him to his new apartment. His brother knocked over a candle "fucking around" and burned down his house. This is all of the story I got before our stop along the way - the liquor store. He returned with several bottles in brown paper bags. I noticed cuts and scars up and down his forearms, a cutter. He told me he was sleeping and heard yelling. He woke up, thinking his brother and girlfriend were arguing. He opened his door and heard a woosh as a wall of flame, a backdraft, came hurling toward him. He quickly slammed the door closed but not before he caught deep lung-fulls of hot air, smoke, and soot. He jumped out of his second-floor window to safety.
He lamented having to get an apartment on the south side. His whole family, he said, on his dad's side, lived on the south side and he thought he'd finally escaped it. His mom's family lived on the east side. I reminded him he didn't have to stay, he could move away again. He was quiet for a moment then told me about how the Red Cross helped him out a little after his house burned down. We arrived at his new apartment. I wished him luck and he left me a sizable tip .