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.