Scenes from the Toaster – This Town is a Ghost Town… and she hears voices –

Thursdays are okay, as I am prone to say. It is never beau-coup busy nor does it sincerely suck. People like to go out on Thursdays. It is sort of a pre-weekend warm up thing. It was a bit different tonight. “This Town is a Ghost Town,” by The Specials, kept coming to mind.

Call after call – an hour or more apart – I somehow managed to get the folks that were only going a few blocks. $6 here… wait, wait, wait… $5 there… wait, wait, wait some more… and $4.25 over there. Wash, rinse, repeat. It really was looking bleak… a Ghost Town of micro-fares.

But I had my Deep House music and my laptop to keep me company. (I never played The Specials. That would have been too painful.) Checking in with Facebook friends is quite comforting while in the Toaster. Cabbies of old must have had to make do with crossword puzzles and/or reading a lot of books.

I had barely gotten $75 on the meter (I get half the meter) after 10 hours in my little, beat up Scion/Toaster – with 320,000 miles of stories on it – when I decided to gas up and take an early out. “Early out” – after ten hours – now that is something I never thought I’d say or do. But life has a way of changing. This is the new normal for me, for now.

At the pump, I get a call from dispatch… St. Mary’s Emergency Room. These calls are common and the fares are uncommonly small. Old people going to the nearby Senior Center, patients being transferred to the psychiatric hospital $7 dollars away (no tips allowed on the prepaid voucher) and Rx meds being dropped off at the same location for patients already there. That’s okay, I will take what I can. It is a slow, slow night… and on these nights, cabbies can’t be choosey.

The skinny gal, in her early twenties, summer shorts and a tank top, disheveled hair and 7-11 sandals, gets in the back on the passenger side – the preferred side for my safety. “Runners”, I hear, prefer the driver’s side. “Always unbuckle your seat belt as you stop when you got one behind you”, my fellow cabbie and amateur wrestler friend tells me. “You can always get out faster and slam them to the ground when they run.” He lives for that shit. I don’t… and she ain’t a “runner.”

“Motel 6, on Plumb”, she calmly says, with no hint of happiness or personality. Drained, most likely, from her stay at the ER. Cool… at least this is a $10 fare and it gets me close to the Toaster Shack on Gentry Way. This is my last run, for sure. I’m burnt from the boredom.

I knew something was wrong when she didn’t answer my questions. “You doin’ alright?” – crickets – “Just coming off shift or did ya’ have a little trouble earlier? – crickets – I figured I would just shut up. Some people just need to ride in silence. It was now obvious that she had been a patient.

Evidently, it was a little too quiet for her. Her mind must have been in overdrive – no distractions to keep it busy other than the constant, robotic, nervous twirling of her blondish red, wavy hair.

“Stop the car! Pull over! Stop the car!!” Thinking she may be getting sick, I got us to the curb. She jumped out of the car, yelling to me “There is something wrong with your car! What’s going on with your car?” I’m a bit freaked out. She is clearly freaking out. This could be trouble. I check to make sure the security camera is on. It is. I feel better. A quick glance at my computer screen gives me her first name. That’s a useful piece of information to have when you are trying to connect with a stranger acting strangely.

I assured her, in my calm, “inside voice”, that everything was fine. “Come on, Melissa, I’ll get you home safe and sound. It’ll be okay.” I wondered if it would. I wondered what it must be like to call the Motel 6 home. I wondered how possible it was to be safe in an home like that. I have some personal experience with paranoia and hallucinations. I used to do some heady stuff back in the day, strictly for recreation, of course. This girl was into something far beyond my experience – and definitely not on a happy holiday.

Three minutes later, she cries out once more. “Stop the car! Stop it NOW! Pull OVER!” I could see this wasn’t going to be fun. She popped out of the door again, cautiously peering into the back of the cab. Startled, she Jumped away from the passenger door, insisting there were other people in here. She wanted to know who they were and why they were in my car. She was less demanding and angry than she was curious and unhappy. Yet, she was dead serious.

The hairs on every inch of my body were standing tall. Chills ran through my entire body. They are running through me again as I write this. If I believed in ghosts, spirits, energy or demons, I would have had a much harder time with this gal. This gal had issue but I had my wits. Science trumps superstition like paper covers rock. Fuck Sylvia Browne. Neil deGrasse Tyson is my man.

“These are not the weak minded, superstitious sheep you are looking for!”

None of her stuff was gonna’ rub off on me. I don’t co-sign other people’s bullshit. Still, the hair don’t lie. “chicken skin” don’t lie. You can call them goose bumps if ya’ want but “chicken skin” is a much more accurate description. I just wish I knew what the shivers actually meant. I know what they don’t mean because this is a Demon-Free Toaster.

I turned on the overhead light, showing her the seats were empty. Again, with my inside voice, I eased her back into the car. “We’re half way home. Stay with me, baby. I got you. It’ll be alright.”

I was surprised how well she responded to me. Almost child-like in demeanor, she responded well to my calm, assuring voice. Never acknowledging that she was having hallucinations and never apologizing for or explaining her behavior, we continued on in silence. She was too deep into her own head for anything else. I just wanted her home and out of my cab.

My hair was on end again. She had moved to the middle of the back seat and was leaning forward, just off my right shoulder. She was small, but with a sharp knife – from back there – she could do all sorts of damage in a very short time. Maybe she had no knife. Maybe she had just a ball point pen. Either way, ANY way, I was extremely uncomfortable. But what was I gonna’ do? Ask the crazy lady to sit back? Escalation was not something either of us needed right now. I just wanted to be done with this night.

Once, twice, three times? Oh fuck this shit!

“Stop the car! Pull Over!” An adamant “No” was fired back. Not so calm this time. I pointed to the big 6 sign up the road. We were almost there. “I’m taking you home. I’m not stopping this car. I said I’d take you to the Motel 6 and that is where we are going!” I didn’t yell but I did surprise myself with my tone and firmness. I think I got that from the years of practice I’ve had handling my drunk and dosed friends over the years. I’ve always been the “Mother Hen of the High.” I hear I am quite the Tour Guide as well. Who knew it would come in so handy all these years later?

Now she is home and it is time to settle up. The thing about picking up folks from the emergency room is, they always have money or a chit. Well, almost always. $10.50 on the meter and not a penny in sight. Of course, her roommate isn’t there. Of course she has no money, no card, no nothing. This… is simply par for the course.

She wants to know what happens if she can’t pay. I could have read her the riot act. Police involvement… theft of services etc… I could have asked for something of value from her purse to hold onto until she paid me. I could have done and said a lot of things. I gave her my card.

As she reached for my card, I tightened my grip. Reflexively, she looked up and into my eyes. I locked on. “You’ve obviously had a bit of a rough time today… Get some rest, sleep well and call me when you feel better. Just know that I have to eat this fare and if you don’t come through, I’m out $10.50 and gas.” I left out the part about being out the “Opportunity Cost.” The KISS principal crossed my mind – Keep It Simple Sweetheart – an applicable rule of thumb in this case. She seemed to have a sincere understanding of the situation. She had, for the moment, gotten it together. She thanked me and apologized. That was the first normal behavior I had seen during the fifteen minutes I’d known her.

I don’t expect a call or the money. It will be a nice surprise if it does happens. Stranger things have happened… and I expect they still will.

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  1. Krell says:

    Yep. Never ignore the “chicken skin”. It’s a trait developed over 1000’s of years and its what kept the ancestors alive. Scary stuff Brad. Good write though.

  2. We’re sure this has happened to you. You’re driving along and you reach into your glove box to grab your Sleepy LaBeef CD. As you’re fumbling to open the CD case with one hand, the CD pops out and falls on the floor, under your legs. What do you do? Too many people bend down while they’re driving and try to find Sleepy’s greatest hits. Don’t do it. Remember that at 65 mph every second your head spends down between your knees your car moves almost 100 feet without a driver! Besides, if your head is down there when you crash it could end up firmly implanted somewhere embarrassing. One might even argue that it already is in that dark place if you engage in this risky behavior.So if you drop something — a CD, your keys, your phone, a french fry — either let it sit there until you get to your destination or pull over before you fish it out.