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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Road to Hana

The Road to Hana

The title of this story may sound like it should be a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, but it was just a little outing during our Honeymoon in 1996. We were staying on the beautiful island of Maui and were trying to do and see as much as we could.

When in Hawaii you really should do as the locals say and, “Hang loose brudda!” That means that it really doesn't pay to try and do anything at all in a hurry, it's just not going to work that way. Life on the islands was best lived “Aloha style” which is slow and easy.

We had been hearing about the "Road to Hana" in all the places that we frequented on Maui, and had seen several T-shirts about the road trip. Everyone said it was a beautiful drive and that "You can't go back to the mainland without going to Hana."

I looked at a local island map and measured it out using the map legend mileage key; it was less than 60 miles. That wasn’t very far and it was all paved roads, so we should be able to make the trip around Maui, see Hana, and get back in time to go out to dinner in Lahaina. The trip should only take a couple of hours.

It was around 11:00 a.m. when we left the hotel and started off on our road trip. Traffic was heavy everywhere we went, especially through the center of activity around the airport and commercial district; lunch time rush I guessed. We crawled along in traffic until we passed the business areas and then things opened up and we felt relieved; we didn't come to Hawaii to sit in traffic all day!

As we entered the coastal highway (state highway 360) we saw our first sign for our destination “Hana 54 miles,” and the road was four-lane and nice. We followed the coast and made our turn southward going around the eastern side of Maui. Out in the ocean breakers of Maui's north shore we saw some crazy surfers.

I say crazy, because there were big rock outcroppings sticking up out of the water and a rip tide that would either drown you, or throw you into the rocks. We watched one young fellow riding in on one wave and when another broke across it, he kicked over to the second wave. By doing so he avoided a deadly collision with some very unforgiving rocks by a margin so close, that everyone on the highway stopped.

We were sure that he would be crab bait, but he never even slowed down. It's good to surf your own break, you know what's up and what to avoid. It reminded me of shooting (surfing through) the pier at Dania Beach in South Florida. If you didn't know it intimately, it was best to leave it alone.

I had just formed the idea in my mind that we were going to be in Hana in about an hour, when the next several road signs changed that thought completely. They came at us in such rapid succession that we could barely read them: ROAD NARROWS, SPEED LIMIT 35, ONE LANE BRIDGES NEXT 53 MILES, WATCH FOR SLOW MOVING TRAFFIC, WATCH FOR TRUCKS ENTERING HIGHWAY.

What had happened to our cool scenic highway? With a speed limit of 35 mph it was going to take a bit longer than I thought. Quickly, the road narrowed until it was only wide enough for two very friendly vehicles with no mirrors or door handles sticking out.

When the first sign stated, “ONE LANE BRIDGES AHEAD,” I had no idea that there were 54 one lane bridges in the next 53 miles. It became even more “exciting” as we saw that the road was (just barely) carved out of the side of the mountain.

State highway 360 followed the contours of the terrain with absolutely no thought of "level." That word was evidently not in the vocabulary of the engineer who constructed the coastal road. If you were into thrill rides it might be considered kind of cool the way they made it. It was a roller coaster ride of unbelievable length!

It was in a way fortuitous that Anna was a photographer on this road of endless curves. Frequently she would get "woozy" from the back and forth motion of the car on the curves, blazing along at speeds approaching 20 mph, (sometimes we would go that fast, but not very often.)

I would find a place to literally jam the car into the bushes and stop, so she could recover. When I did so, she pulled out her camera and she forgot all about being sick. That camera worked better than any drugs we could have used for motion sickness.

She doesn't have any trouble on airplanes and nothing happened when we went out on the water in a dive boat; it just seems to happen in automobiles on curvy roads. For whatever reason, we knew that it would happen and found ways to deal with it.

Somewhere about the half way point on "the Road to Hana," there was a Botanical Garden on the inland side of the road (which even had places to park.) It was the Keanae Arboretum where there were plant representatives from all the Pacific Rim Islands and other countries which had influence on the development of the Hawaii that we know today.

There were many different varieties of trees and plants, but the one that impressed me the most was the species of tree known as the "Painted Eucalyptus." These trees were tall (about 50-60 feet) and very straight in the trunk. There were no limbs until the top (or crown) similar in that respect to some of the pine tree species of south Florida.

The most interesting features of this tree was their absolutely smooth surface, and color marks like someone had gone wild in the forest with different colors of paint. Those marks were mostly vertical and the same colors were present on all the trees of this type. However, the marking pattern was individual to each tree.

After a brief stop we left the trees and continued our journey towards Hana. We discussed our options before pulling out onto the road and knew that the smart thing to do (time wise) would be to turn around and go back to the hotel. But, we were determined to reach our destination and refused to quit.

There were many more one lane bridges to go. At each one we were behind slow trucks and invariably encountered people blocking traffic standing in the middle of the road. They were tourists (just like us) and wanted to get a better look at each one of the thousands of little water falls that decorated the hillside. The problem was that the cascading rivulets were on every hillside, all the way down the fifty-four miles of road.

The tiny waterfalls were pretty, but they each looked almost exactly like the one before and the one after. I doubt that you could pick out one from another in the millions of photos taken of them. But hey, tourists are like that! That was also still in the time of film cameras and I can only imagine how much revenue those little trickles of water engendered for Kodak and other film developers. They were liquid gold!

Finally, the tiny community of Hana came into view. We had arrived, along with the many other "Hana Trekkers" that had been in a conga line all day. Anna decided that she was hungry, which was not unreasonable, given the amount of time since breakfast.

It was around 3:30 p.m. by then and as we meandered around the little village of Hana, we came to the realization that there really wasn't much of a choice for dining. There was a little convenience store with packaged munchies, a couple of food stands (that were closed,) and then there was the Hana Hilton. So we opted for the Hilton.

The Hana Hilton was truly a beautiful place, located on some very breathtaking real estate, both from the stand point of view, and cost. The clientele was very exclusive and were most often flown in by helicopter to their private landing pad.

Some of their guests did sail in on their yachts, dropped anchor in the private cove, and were then picked up by Hilton speedboats. This place was a secret hideout for the rich and famous, or infamous as the case may be.

We were informed at the desk by a fellow who acted like he needed a bath after speaking with me, that lunch was over and dinner would not start "seating" until 5:00 p.m. ... and me without my Tux! I was not impressed by his attitude.

As we were about to leave a younger, female “junior desk clerk” (according to her tag), spoke up, (a bit hesitantly it seemed, probably out of apprehension that her superiors would not approve) and said, "You can get snacks or maybe a sandwich in the lounge."

“Lounge” being typical hotel speak for the bar. That would fit the bill rather nicely actually, a sandwich was more what we were after anyway. She asked permission to show us to the lounge and got a back-handed wave from the senior desk clerk. I apologized to her for any trouble that being nice to us might bring her. She just smiled.

It took forever to get waited on, and we got lots of strange looks from the bartender and staff, who finally broke down and got us some iced teas. We were determined to get something to eat after waiting all that time. A man and his family of six came in and sat down without any staff escort. They took one look at the menu and got up and left again; too pricey for that many folks on one ticket I guessed.

It was a good thing that we were prepared for “ridiculous” as far as price went, because two turkey sandwiches on sliced wheat bread (like from the grocery store) and two iced teas, with NOTHING else, cost over thirty ($30.00) dollars before the tip. It was a rare privilege, that dining in the Hana Hilton Lounge in 1996 … one that I shall not repeat.

After our “fabulous” lunch, we had one more destination to see. That was a place called "The Seven Pools," which was a little further south along the road past Hana. It was reputed to be a favorite spot of the Hawaiian Royal family in their glory days.

We found the spot and it did indeed have seven (actually more) pools of water, which were rain and run-off filled on the upper ends, and tidal on the lower part. There was a bridge over the largest of the upper pools; actually it was highway 360, the same road we had been traveling on all afternoon.

This bridge was notorious for kids jumping off of it into the pool some 40 feet or so below. It looked like a great spot for it, providing the pool was deep enough, but I had no way of knowing that detail.

The only policeman that we had seen all day (on the entire trip) was parked on that bridge. He was hassling the kids and eyeballing the girls in their bikinis (I guess that's the same wherever you go.)

There was a sign that read “No jumping from bridge” but it didn’t seem to stop anyone. Frequently we would see a group of kids gather in front of the cop to block his view while someone jumped; impressive team work for a bunch of kids. It was a very steep hike back up the trail on either side of the bridge to jump again, but the kids kept doing it.

It had been raining all day off and on and there were some pretty impressive waterfalls along the road south of Hana. Unlike the ones north of town, these were high volume gushers. We were concerned with a couple of those falls because we could feel the road shaking beneath us while we were in the car. We read later that a section of the road we were on collapsed.

That road really was single lane (as in one car width) from a point about three miles south of Hana; to much farther than we could drive in that rental car. It turned into jeep trail within a mile after Seven Pools. A friend, who rented a jeep while on vacation four years after we went, drove that “jeep trail” section of the road around the island. He said that he would never do that again as it nearly destroyed the underside of the vehicle.

We had to start back. I was concerned with our gasoline situation and the thought of driving that crazy road in the dark was not creating the mood of lighthearted fun that I had anticipated on this road trip.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much the traffic had lightened up on our return trip. It was much easier to see when someone was approaching the bridges that you were trying to cross. It was very, very dark on that road.

There was an unexpected plus to it being dark; Anna wasn't bothered by the motion of the car at all... it must be a visual thing, like vertigo.

We made much better time going back to the Kaanapali Shores hotel and pulled in to the parking lot at 9:30 p.m. Our "couple of hours" road trip to Hana had taken us ten and a half hours. But, we still had time to visit our room and get to the hotel restaurant for some yummy cheesecake before they closed at 10:00 p.m.  

As for the trip to Hana, it was a “been there, done that” and you can bet your last nickel that we got the T-shirts, which read (and we understood why):

"I Survived the Road to Hana!"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourteen and crazy

Fourteen and crazy

When you think of Florida a couple of the things that come to mind are oranges and tourists. In 1967 I seemed to get the two of them tangled up in just about everything that I did.

I was fourteen and constantly on the go, in a place where there were hordes of people who didn't know you or didn't care who you were. You could get in and out of trouble so fast that you hardly ever knew your present status. Was I in trouble or not? Who did you say were you again?

Working the Tourists

Being teenagers we were always in need of spending money. Having very little in the way of marketable skills, it was only natural that a few of us ended up doing manual labor.

An easy job to get was working for one of the orange groves moving bags and crates of oranges, grapefruit and lemons. Sometimes we got to work in the sorting area, and sometimes they sent us out to pick oranges.

Having teenagers as pickers wasn't really a good idea on their part as we were too slow. The migrant workers who usually picked the oranges were very fast and they resented our being "in the way." Honestly, they could get more done without us.

There were a couple of the guys who were very bold and preferred to hustle tourists. They would go to a rival grove (you didn’t burn your job “bridges”) and sit out front, waiting for one of the pushy tourists to order them to "Fetch me a bag of them oranges boy, and don't get no rotten ones in it either!"

They would "Yes sir" them and go around to the sorting area and snag (steal) a bag of oranges off of one of the tables and take it out to the car for the tourist. When they collected the cash for it, they just put it in their pocket and waited for the next tourist.

Scoundrels for sure, but they would make on average fifty to one hundred dollars before any of the employees got wise. When that happened, and it always did, they would just go on to the next grove and pull the same gag over again. I couldn’t do it, the stealing and lying was too much for me to stomach. I preferred to work for what I got.

Another favorite money maker of our scam artists was to set up a table and cash box (that made them look legitimate) at one of the side gates to the groves. It had to be one that was near to a fairly well traveled road frequented by tourists going from attraction to attraction.

There were two variations to this scam; the least popular was the five dollar walking tour of the "World Famous Orange Groves." It worked, just not for too long. When you've seen one orange tree, you've seen it all.

The better version was the "All of the oranges you can pick for twenty-five dollars." We knew (and you probably do too) that you could buy a lot of oranges, already picked and bagged for that amount of money. We also knew that if those tourists thought that they were getting a better deal than somebody else, they would pay double the rate... they were nuts!

Sometimes we would ride through the groves after hours on horseback and pick gunny sacks full of oranges or my favorites, the Ponderosa lemons. Those beauties were as big as grapefruit and were less tart than regular lemons. They were also a lot more closely guarded.

One grove had night watchmen with dogs and those guys carried shotguns. I didn't know why, but that was always my choice of places to go on an after dark raid. Maybe it was the thrill of possibly getting caught or even shot at. That we could actually get shot didn't even enter our ignorant teenaged minds. We were incredibly lucky to have escaped unharmed from those forays.

The Party

Once there was a big outing planned to a very secluded pond, deep in the middle of a large grove of oranges. It was impossible to drive to without getting caught by the grove foreman because he kept padlocks and chains on the gates and checked them regularly.

Being local kids we knew a back way in from a spot where we could park the cars belonging to the two guys old enough to drive. It was about a half mile walk from there and you had to go through two fences, but it wasn't bad.

We went on a Sunday afternoon around 5:00 p.m. because that would have been when the grove tourist shops would be closed (or in the process of closing) and all the employees would have gone home. Theoretically there wouldn't be anybody around to catch us. There was a lot of luck and expectations in most of what we did.

The group that went on that trip consisted of four boys and four girls, aged from fourteen (me) to sixteen years old. Our intent, which was stated right up front, was to go skinny dipping in the pond there. Being the youngest one in the group I could hardly keep the grin off of my face as the others talked about it.

All eight of us agreed to take it all off and swim the length of the pond naked. Then if anyone wanted to put their bathing suit back on they wouldn't be called chicken or said to have backed out of a dare. We talked a good story and the hormones were doing most of the talking. The girls definitely did their share of stirring it up, saying that the guys would chicken out.

There was a case of beer in a cooler in the trunk of one of the cars, for afterwards when we thought that we might really get to "party" with these bold babes. We definitely had hopes and plans for this evening; the other car's trunk had sleeping bags in it. The girls knew all about the beer and the sleeping bags and were talking about it all too.

With high spirits and lots of laughter and giggling, we drove to the parking spot and stripped down to our bathing suits and sneakers. The oldest boy secured our clothes inside the trunk of his car, which was the one with the cooler in it. His plan was to have some cold beer ready to offer the girls when we got back and were getting dressed... planning, along with timing, being everything in his mind.

It didn't take long for us to follow the path through the groves and slip through the fences. We were being the most courteous gentlemen and holding the wire apart for the girls to go through, on our best behavior and all that. The girls were doing their best southern belle accents as they thanked us for each polite gesture.

I think that the guys were ten times more nervous as we got closer to the pond, than the girls were. I'm not sure if that was excitement about seeing the girls naked, or insecurity about them seeing us in that condition... probably some of both.

I was a multi-sport athlete in excellent condition, but I only weighed one hundred pounds. I felt like I was a skinny runt compared to the older guys. They were all taller and heavier than I was, but mentally I ran circles around them, so it all evened up.

We stopped at the edge of the trees and took a good and careful look around the pond, making sure that NO ONE was around. Someone had left a tractor and flatbed wagon used for hauling orange crates right next to the end of the pond closest to where we came out of the trees.

It was decided that the wagon would be a perfect spot to put our clothes. The trailer was only a couple of feet from the water and chest high with a lip around it, making a safe, clean, and “no bugs” place to put our bathing suits. You had to be especially careful of fire ants.

Once we had all gathered by the trailer and were standing there staring at each other trying to figure out how to proceed, it was suggested that we should all strip at once.
One of the guys said, "But the guys all have their shirts off already and the girls have two articles of clothing on. The guys would be naked first and the girls could trick us.

The oldest girl and the one who had the most developed body said, "OK girls, let's show these chickensh--s who has guts and who doesn't! Off with the tops!" As she said it, she did it. The other three followed her lead and while they were not as developed they were every bit as beautiful.

All of the guys stood there with our eyes bulging out of our heads and the leader of the girls said, "Are we going to do this, or is this all you wanted the whole time?" We all stammered and stuttered, "We're going to do everything we said" and puffed up like so many bandy roosters. The lead girl said, "On a count of three, everybody drop 'em, One, Two, Three!"

What do you think happened? We dropped those bathing suits and stood there staring at each other. The boys stared at the girls and tried not to look at the other boys. The girls weren’t as inhibited and looked at each other and the boys.

I'm afraid that the guys weren't much to look at in that scared and nervous state, if you know what I mean. The girls looked awesome… the guys looked cold.

We put our suits up on the trailer to keep the bugs out of them (and have them where we could grab them if we had to run for it) and all headed for the pond. There was a lot of nervous looking around, searching in every direction for the sight of trouble as we got into the water.

Damn it was freezing at first, but as the girl I was paired up with came up behind me and wrapped her arms around my neck and hung onto me it got a lot warmer. In fact as she got friendlier, I thought that the water was going to start boiling any minute.

One of the other girls who didn't really like the guy she ended up with, said, "Aren't we supposed to swim the length of the pond? Come on girls, let's show these ‘little weenies’ who can swim!" Ouch, that smarted.

I was enjoying what was transpiring with my girl just fine, without all the swimming. But if one girl said something, it was an all-for-one and one-for-all situation with them. So, we all took off swimming for the other end. I hadn't realized how long that pond was; it was easily three times as long as an Olympic Pool.

We were pretty exhausted by the time we got to the other end and the girls had indeed left us in their wake. But I must admit, the view was excellent from a following position!

When we all reached the far end and stopped where we could reach the bottom and not have to tread water, we gathered together in a close circle. That way we could see each other in the fading light and talk about what to do when we left the pond. The girls were very much in agreement with having a party, but there was discussion about where.

Some wanted to go to the beach to get away from the mosquito's that would be out soon. Others wanted to go to another remote spot where we knew that the cops (or anybody else for that matter) couldn't come up on us without our knowing about it. I voted for wherever there would be the least mosquitoes. But, since I wasn’t driving, my vote didn’t carry much weight.

While we were tossing the ideas around we heard an engine start up and looked around us quickly. Once the source of the sound was located our hearts sank lower than the bottom of that pond.

There was a migrant worker on the tractor and he was driving it (and the trailer hooked to it) out a gate towards the equipment barn. All of our clothes were on that trailer, along with the car keys!

The girls sank down in the water up to their noses and started to get teary-eyed and say, "What are we going to do now?" The guys were “of course” much more in control... offering various wise things to the group like, "Aw Sh-t", and "We are going to die!"

At that point one of the girls started to cry (there's always one) which started the chain reaction of tears among the girls; except for the girl who had latched on to me. She had a wild look in her eyes and I believed that she really liked this situation. It got her more excited to be in such "danger” and she clung to me even harder.

We thought about heading for the cars naked, we could possibly get into the car and hot wire it. But, we still couldn't get into the trunk to get our clothes. Plus, we would have to drive into town naked; the whole group of us completely bare butt naked! That idea started a new round of tears from the other girls as they envisioned the trouble they would get into with their parents.

That just left sending a clothes rescue mission after the tractor and trailer. I volunteered to go saying that I knew the grounds of that grove the best of any of us, all the while thinking to myself, “I want my clothes!”

The girl who was attached to me (literally at that point) immediately volunteered to go with me. I was sure that was because of the increased chance of getting caught; it was really turning this girl on.

Truthfully, I was conflicted between being excited about the girl with me being aroused and hanging all over me, and fearful that she would do something to get us caught for the extra “rush” of being busted.

We agreed that the rest of the group would wait either in the pond, or at the edge of the woods on the path to the cars, for us to get back. The other girls didn't share the enthusiasm of mine for possibly getting caught, they were whining about what their parents would do if this got out, etc. The guys were pretty much speechless with fear, thinking about what the girls’ fathers would do when they found out.

Lady Godiva and I took off along the wagon road and while I was trying to be cautious and not be seen, she was walking right down the middle of the path. It was almost dark by now and chances of being seen were not great, but she was fearless.

In a short amount of time we came to a closed gate and past that we could see the wagon and trailer parked next to the equipment shed. I couldn’t see the man who drove it there anywhere around the building.

I convinced my wild date to stay low and wait for me to come back while I went for the clothes. As quietly as I could I slipped inside the compound and went along the building in the dark shadow next to it.

Stumbling over unseen things I was almost to the trailer where I could see all of our stuff, right where we left it. And then I heard it... a low growl coming from somewhere in the shadows.

“Oh great” I thought, “A dog, and I'm naked.” Three guesses as to where my hands went instantly. Sure enough a big dog popped out of the shadows, but ran right past me.... straight to the crazy chick. She had silently followed me and was now petting the happy mutt like they were old buddies.

I quickly grabbed all of our stuff and made sure that I had both sets of keys. As fast as I could I put my bathing suit and shoes on. There was no way of knowing if the dog had alerted anyone else and they might appear at any moment.

The girl didn't want to put her clothes on until the others did, which was fine with me. I liked the way she looked just like she was. The dog followed us back down the trail and we made no effort to hide going back and so made much better time.

When we rejoined the others, the party atmosphere had disappeared. After everyone had gotten dressed and hiked back to the cars, the girls wanted to go home. The other guys were of the same opinion, but didn't want to admit it. Too much stress with their orange juice I guess.

I was still pretty excited about the "prospects" at that point and it kind of let the air out of my sails for the rest of them to want to quit. My girl was still hanging on me and kissed my ear or neck frequently, which drove me crazy.

When the decision was made final and everyone started getting into cars, the girl that I was with said that she didn't need a ride... she would just walk back up to the house.

I thought to myself, “This girl IS crazy!” Then she followed up with, "It's my uncle's house... he owns this grove." The world spun for a few seconds as my life flashed by and I thought that I was going to drop.

Right then and there I knew that it wasn’t her; I was the craziest one. If I had been caught naked with THIS girl, on THIS property... they would have to strain alligator sh-t to get enough of me to bury. Her family was the craziest bunch of violent red-necks in the county and all of her brothers and cousins had police records.

I changed my mind, I wanted to go home right away too; while I still had unbroken legs.


I did go out with the girl on one date to Pirate’s World after that ill fated swimming adventure, but her three brothers (one younger, two older) went along too. It was a lot less fun than you could imagine. I didn’t do that again.

About a year after the skinny dipping party I had occasion to visit that same grove and pond with my uncle. We went there to deliver a couple of special locking sixty gallon barrels that he had traded to the grove foreman for something.

While we were standing on the path (exactly where the wagon had been parked during our swim) an eight foot alligator climbed out of the pond and onto the bank. My uncle remarked that he must have walked a long way to get into the pond. The foreman said that he (the alligator) had lived in that pond for at least ten years and everyone there knew to stay away from him because he was, “cranky.” OK, the girl WAS crazier.

Monday, April 15, 2013

As simple as that

As simple as that

Driving a cab wasn't a job that I had dreamed about as a young boy, or even something that I thought of "moonlighting" at for extra cash as an adult. It was a job that seemed full of confrontations and the ping-pong game of “can’t you go any faster” and waiting for the next fare.

The sudden lack of funds due to my involvement in the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike necessitated my finding employment of some kind to pay the rent and put food on the table. It wasn't the time to be picky about what you were doing to earn money, as long as it wasn’t illegal.

I was still supporting the strike by picketing during the day from 08:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. so I was only available to work the swing or midnight shifts. Somehow I ended up working both.

When the strike happened, one of our suddenly unemployed controllers applied to a local cab company and got hired. The owner of the company was leery of what he was getting into because of what he had heard on the news. Federal government agents had worked hard at putting out negative information about us to the media and it had employers scared of us.

The controller, affectionately known as “Mad Dog,” (a Marine veteran, father, home owner, and decent guy) proved to be an intelligent and responsible driver. He always showed up fifteen minutes early to work and never forgot to do his log sheets at the end of his shift. The boss was so impressed that he asked if there were any more of "your kind" that were in need of a job and Mad Dog contacted me.

My response was immediate; we needed money. I quickly went down to the Albuquerque police station and got myself finger printed, photographed, and duly licensed to drive people around. The police officers were “unofficially” very supportive of our strike, but had to be careful what they said due to government pressure. The interaction with the police was a positive experience and I had not expected it to be.

Albuquerque, New Mexico was a lovely city in 1981 when I hired on with the Albuquerque Cab Company. The weather was good most of the time and the streets were well laid out, making travel relatively easy to anywhere in the city. You didn’t see any “gridlock” on the streets like in Los Angeles.

Due to my driving shift of 3:30 p.m. to 08:00 a.m. (scheduled double shifts) the question most frequently asked by my friends and family was, “When do you sleep?” “When I can” was the only answer I could give them. If I got off early from driving I would sleep for however long I could. Occasionally someone would cover my responsibility as picketing captain for a couple of hours and I would sleep then. It was hard, but I had to do it.

To make enough money for us (my family) to survive I had to drive the cab sixteen hour shifts seven days a week. My responsibility to my striking brothers and sisters was equally pressing. There was no room for personal weakness or silly things like being mortally tired. Fortunately, the military had conditioned me for extended periods of physical abuse and sleep deprivation.

At the cab company I was assigned ID number 28 for radio calls and given the keys to a checker cab that had more room in it than any car that I had ever seen before. The boss did a walk around inspection on the vehicle with me showing me what to check and write down when I signed for a vehicle each day. He really was a nice man and proved to be a good boss.

The man who owned the Albuquerque Cab company was a self-made man from India and expected everyone to work as hard as he did; at least that's what he wanted. He wasn't ignorant to the ways of the world though, and counted himself lucky when his drivers showed up for work and didn't steal from him. His rules were clear and those who broke them were fired. It was as simple as that.

Out of a crew of a dozen drivers, there were only three who had worked for him more than two years in a row (some had quit and come back.) Those three had been with him for ten or more years and were decidedly grumpy towards new drivers. Seniority was everything to them and having the choice of vehicles (which cab you drove) and schedules went by continuous length of employment.

The rest were either gypsies (independents who owned their cab, but wanted the protection of working for ABQ Cab) or “revolving door” drivers. A revolving door driver was one who quit one company to work for another every year or two. They were chronically unhappy and always came back complaining about the “other guys” they worked for.

Mad Dog and I were a constant source of amusement for the professional hack drivers who considered us to be “playing at” being a cabbie. I guess we were, as we had no intention of making the job our long term career. We always gave 110% at our job though, whatever it was, and the boss appreciated us for it.

One dispatcher, Diane, (there were three counting the owner’s wife) had been a driver herself. She was shot during a holdup fifteen years earlier, leaving her partially paralyzed and unable to do that job. She was the one that I worked with the most and liked the best.

The story of how she went from being America’s girl-next-door-cheerleader to the permanently disabled victim of a senseless crime needs to be told.

A short side story

Diane had been driving a cab to help pay for her school expenses at the University of New Mexico. Her main focus of study was Criminal Justice Communications; she wanted to become a police department 9-1-1 operator and help people.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the drug addict who robbed and shot her was a fired police officer from Arizona. He had been a young cop from a small town who wanted to move up to the “big time” and transferred to Phoenix when an opening came about.

The pressure on “the new guy” to perform like a veteran under fire and his own weakness of character, lead him to pills. He took pills to help him be more alert and pills to help him sleep. Those drugs quickly became not enough and he switched to harder stuff.

Soon he was stealing drugs from evidence and pressuring dealers to supply him. He was found out by other officers and terminated with charges pending. They didn’t want to trust their lives to a junkie and a thief.

Knowing that he was going to end up in jail, which would be a death sentence for a police officer, he ran. By the time he reached Albuquerque he was out of drugs and in need. He had to find someone to rob and then a dealer that would sell to him, or that he could overpower.

Spotting a pretty, young, and petite woman driving a taxi leaving a fairly deserted bus station he figured that he had an easy mark. He flagged her down around the corner from the terminal, where no one would see them. She didn’t have a fare waiting so she stopped for him.

Catching her completely off guard with his easy smile and good looks, he calmly walked up to the driver’s side window. Looking around for witnesses and then leaning in on the open window ledge he stuck his gun barrel in her eye socket. With the experience and knowledge of one who had done many traffic stops, he wrapped her hair around his hand so she couldn’t hit the gas and get away.

He demanded her car keys and for emphasis, shoved the gun barrel hard enough against her eye to cut her with the front sight. She turned off the car and handed him the keys. The emboldened man demanded her cash and she handed over what she had in her cigar box next to her on the seat.

It wasn’t as much as he had hoped for, which enraged him and he hit her across the face with the pistol cutting her cheek and breaking her nose. She screamed at him for hurting her and the man went berserk with rage. He shot her in the left side just below the ribs. As the bullet passed through her it hit her spine, causing bone fragments to cut into her spinal nerve.

A janitor taking the trash out heard the shot and called the police. Fortunately they had a car in the immediate area and responded quickly. Within a few minutes of being shot she was in a hospital being worked on.

The shooter realizing that cops were all over the area ran into the bus station, hiding in the bathroom. He was spotted going in with blood on his clothes by the same janitor who had called the cops. The janitor called it in and they were soon there to question him.

He didn’t have the gun (it was found years later on the roof of the bus station) and had gotten rid of his bloody shirt and washed up. He denied everything and being a former cop himself, he knew how to play the game. They had little but gut feelings to go on.

They had no evidence, no witness besides the unavailable one in ICU at the hospital, and no way to prove what they were sure was true. The only suspect they had was allowed to bail out (using the very money he had taken from the cab driver.)

The police officers cautioned him to stay in Albuquerque and had someone following him twenty-four hours a day. They had hoped that he would lead them to his weapon, or that the victim would soon be able to look at his photo and identify him.

When the bus station toilet plugged up and maintenance recovered a ripped apart blood stained shirt from it, they went forward with charges. The judge didn’t require more bail citing the continuous police tail on the man already as being sufficient.

The evil former policeman found himself a drug dealer to rob and overdosed on nearly pure heroin (and died) while out on bail awaiting the trial for shooting the cab driver. Because there was no longer a defendant the case was dropped, leaving Diane with no judgment or settlement. 

That caused all kinds of problems with the insurance claim. The insurance company tried their best to not pay anything at all. The owner of ABQ Cab got fed up with them and paid for her medical bills himself. He then sicced his lawyers on the insurance company for repayment, which he got, but it took years.

On with the story

My first day on the job I was sent out onto the street solo, with no training other than, “If you have a fare in the cab, run the meter. When you get where they want to go, charge them what it says on the meter." It was supposed to be as simple as that.

I had hoped that I knew the streets of Albuquerque as well as I thought I did when the boss was interviewing me. Doubts were creeping in and it began to feel a lot more complicated. The city grew by leaps and bounds in my mind, as I waited for my first fare.

The radio crackled and the dispatcher called, "Number 28 are you available?"  I almost snatched the microphone cable out of the radio in my haste to answer her. I simply said, "Affirmative." What else could I say; I was sitting there doing nothing, waiting.

She sent me to the airport to pick up a fare going to UNM. I said, "I'll be there in five" and she acknowledged. As I pulled out of where I had been parked I hoped that I hadn’t estimated my time wrong. I also worried about if I would know how to get to wherever on the university campus the fare wanted to go.

Such were the thoughts, doubts, and fears that worked through my mind as I drove to my first ever customer as a cab driver.

I was brand new to the business or I would have known better than to give an estimated time over the radio that was accurate. As I pulled up to the curb at the airport baggage claim area, a Yellow Cab was pulling away with my fare. The driver even smiled and waved at me.

Yellow Cab drivers monitored our radio frequency and would "jump" (steal) our calls if they thought that they could beat us there... which he did. I just sat there with a stupid look on my face, watching my first fare drive away. I did have some choice words for the parentage and behavior of my now, foe; but I kept them quietly inside of my cab.

But, that's life in the fast lane I figured, so I called in to dispatch and informed her of what had transpired. She said to just hang out there by baggage claim until they ran me off. We (cabs) weren't supposed to be in that area until called for, but I didn't know that yet, truly making ignorance blissful.

It was only a minute or so until a gentleman opened the passenger side door and asked if I was available. I happily said yes, and before I could jump out and help with the bags, they were inside and ready to go. That was more like it!

Of the two gentlemen who entered my cab one man looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. Not until the other guy called him "Candy" and then it hit me, my first fare was Candy Maldonado, the baseball player! The “Candyman” was about to become a Los Angeles Dodger and a big deal, but that night he was just another nice guy.

Naturally I was thrilled to see such a rising star but I didn't go nuts on him and ask for an autograph or anything.  I paid attention to my job and quickly and safely navigated through the city to the address they gave me. They must have liked what I did because they gave me a twenty dollar tip.

I was fired up from that great experience. The idea that I would be able to make some money from the tips, if not the minimum wage pay, was bouncing around my impoverished mind. There were visions of actually surviving financially until we went back to work (as controllers) bouncing around before me.

As the reality of driving all night set in and the usual tips proved to be a dollar, or the change that it took to round up to the next dollar, my euphoria wore off. I realized that it was going to be rare to get a tip like that first one.

At the end of that sixteen hour shift I had just over thirty dollars in tip money. Right then I was glad that there was a $3.00 an hour salary involved too or I could not have done it. It took me sixteen hours (salary) to earn what I was used to getting in just under five hours. The tip money helped make up the difference.

My second night I was on my own from the time I clocked in (no instructions or pep talk), but I felt more confident about handling whatever came up. I was determined not to let those suckers from Yellow Cab steal any more of my fares.

When I pulled out onto the street the dispatcher sent me out to the west on Central to standby. I didn’t have to wait long at all before I got a call to pick up two passengers at the bus station. Never having been to the Greyhound station I wasn’t sure how best to approach the passenger loading area and said so to my dispatcher, who quickly directed me around and into the terminal.

As I entered the area where cars were allowed (versus buses only) my fares were right there on the curb waiting; two teenage boys with backpacks, as described. Two white kids with brown hair and big grins on their faces who seemed nice enough. They were very chatty when they first got in the car, but got quiet as we neared their destination.

I took them to an apartment building in an older section of town which wasn’t all that far from the bus station. When I stopped the car and turned around to tell them how much it would be, they bolted out the doors and ran in opposite directions. I jumped out and yelled at them, but they were more experienced at this game than I was.

What a great way to start my shift; in the hole. The driver was responsible for paying the meter charge, whether he collects the money or not. I called it in and got a, "Tough Break 28," from the dispatcher. “Yeah, Right” I thought. My attitude was certainly dark and getting worse. I wanted to rip somebody’s head off about then.

My next assignment was to go to the airport “bullpen” or waiting area for cabs. It was a vacant gravel covered lot close to the airport entrance road with room enough for several cabs. That lot was constantly under a territorial battle between ABQ Cab and Yellow Cab for the prime spots closest to the narrow driveway (entry/exit point.)

The calls were sporadic as the flights came and went. The Yellow Cab drivers were playing “daisy-chain-drive-by” where several of their taxis would drive around the loop into the baggage claim area. They would delay there until chased off by airport security.

Another of their cabs would be in the entry drive creeping along as slowly as possible until the security guy left and then they would park at baggage claim. That made it highly likely that if someone needed a taxi, they would be the closest. Eventually security caught on and chased them all off.

If Diane was on duty she would watch the flight schedule for known producers (needing transportation) such as international inbounds from Mexico. Sometimes she would then put out a bogus call for the Hyatt saying that it was for “a man in a hurry.” We knew that ruse.

Every driver knew that a man in a hurry would tip well if you got them to wherever they were going in time. The Yellow Cab guys would all go screaming out of the airport trying to beat us there. Meanwhile, our cabs were lined up for the arriving flight and got all of the fares.

I had been taking my turns and had made about six dollars in tips when I was called to go to a restaurant on east Central Avenue to pick up a fare going to the hotel in Old Town. I left the airport and made good time, wondering the whole way why one of the cabs on the east side didn’t get this one.

As I drove along Central Avenue looking for the restaurant entrance, I passed driver #15 waiting on the side of the road with a very flat left front tire. That explained why I was called and I was glad that it wasn’t me stuck there making zero tips.

My fare looked like a Midwestern traveling salesman with a bad haircut and cheap plaid suit. I thought it funny that he was waiting at the opposite end of the restaurant building from where the entrance door was located. There was a strip club right next to the restaurant on that side, which is probably where he really was, but I didn’t care.

When I dropped him off at the hotel in Old Town the fare was ten dollars. He handed me two fives and two ones and told me to keep the change as he faded into the crowd of tourists. Briefly, I had a two dollar tip… until I realized that the fives between the ones was actually one bill folded over. The smiling creep had shorted me three dollars and I had thanked him for doing so.

Along about 9:00 p.m. the dispatcher called for me again with the usual “Number 28 are you available?” I held my sarcastic response and just answered “Affirmative.” It wasn’t the dispatcher’s fault that I was a rookie cabbie.

 I was dispatched to a residence for a trip to the hospital. “This can't be good” I thought as I drove “there are no doctor appointments at this time of night. Why didn't they call an ambulance?” The streets were clear of traffic and the route was easy so I was there in no time at all.

As I pulled up to the address a woman and three kids came out right away. Fearing the worst I was out of my cab and around to them in a flash, but I didn't see any injuries. I started looking around quickly for an irate husband or boyfriend, fearing that I had gotten into the middle of a domestic squabble and violence was coming my way, but that wasn't it.

We got everyone inside and I took off for the hospital, driving the speed limit and obeying all of the traffic lights and stop signs. I had yet to see any reason for urgency so I asked the woman if everything was all right and she said, "No stupid, or I wouldn't have called for a Fxxking cab!"

Just as soon as those words exited her mouth I hit the brakes and screeched the car to a stop. I was not interested in being abused when I was trying to help and told her so in no uncertain terms. I probably would have been fired had the boss heard what I said, but I was already angry from the earlier problems so it didn’t take a lot to set me off.

She backed off on the attitude instantly and said that the twelve year old boy had "accidentally" consumed some perfume and she was worried about poisoning. “OK, I can go with that” I thought, “It sounds pretty dumb even for a twelve year old boy, but not everyone is a genius.”

I radioed in that I had a possible poisoning and asked the dispatcher to alert the Emergency Room at the hospital that I was inbound with a twelve year old male who had consumed perfume. She said, "Ah ha, OK. I'll call them."

That kid had a wise guy look about him and kept grinning at me in the mirror. I knew that something wasn't right with that story. And then the truth came out... all over the back of the front seat, the rear floorboard, and the rear seat. He vomited just about everywhere in the rear section of that cab. The two younger kids were climbing up into the rear window to get away from the mess that their brother was making, while his mother just sat there in it; she had nowhere to go.

Before you get to feeling too sorry for this kid, let me clue you in on an observation that came to discerning nostrils immediately... that mess didn't smell like anything other than BEER! There is nothing like getting sick to bring the truth out. The boy confessed his “evil” deeds to his mother who had him by the hair, holding onto his head while he redecorated my cab.

He had stolen his dad's warm beer out of a locked wooden crate in the garage and he and a friend had sucked it all down as fast as they could. Getting too smart for their own good, they then wiped some perfume on their faces to cover the smell.

Not convinced that the perfume bath would work well enough, the friend suggested that they take a little drink of the perfume so that their breath wouldn't smell like the illicit brew. So they both did that, drinking a small bottle of scent between them. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

The woman asked me to turn around and take them back home at that point, but I asked her to wait a minute and contacted dispatch to ask if she had gotten through to the ER. The answer came back in the affirmative and she stated that they were standing by. I asked her to call them back and then stay on the line to relay for me.

When that was set up I informed the ER crew what had transpired and asked them for guidance. They said to bring him in and they would check him over, some perfumes have chemicals that will damage the stomach, especially when combined with alcohol. I looked at the mother and she nodded her agreement, so I advised my dispatcher and completed the trip.

When I unloaded that poor woman I couldn't help but feel sorry for her; she looked awful and smelled worse. It took both of us to get the younger kids out of the back window, they were afraid to get the "yucky stuff" on them. You really couldn’t blame them for that.

The meter read $16.35 and the woman gave me a twenty and said to keep the change. She had an embarrassed look on her face as she surveyed the mess and started to say more, but I just held up my hands and shook my head. The poor lady just nodded and turned to enter the hospital with her three children.

I said, "Good Luck!" which I meant for her, not the twelve year old knucklehead. She kept on walking but replied, "He's going to need it when his father gets home and finds out about his Antique Beer Collection." Maybe justice would get served after all.

“Too bad I can’t have the kid clean my cab” I thought as I drove away.

I spent the tip money she gave me, in the car wash cleaning the car as best I could. There were very few calls coming in that night and none for me. The dispatcher had me move to another location to wait every couple of hours and I drove the rest of the shift with my head hanging out of the window.

When the dispatcher called me to “bring it in” at 3:30 a.m. my thoughts truly were sympathetic, “I pity the day shift driver who draws this cab and has to drive it in the heat.”

There was no reason to worry, it wasn't a new thing to the garage guys and they had a cleaner that deodorized really well. They made it all as good as new again by starting time.

Maybe it was just as simple as that.