It's a slow night, nothing is moving. The radio is quiet and the stands everywhere are full of idle cabs. Some drivers cruise the streets downtown hoping to catch a fare, others give up and call it an early night, others resign themselves to the situation. They park on a stand and wait. To relieve the boredom, they pull out a newspaper or book, talk on the phone, get out and chat with the other drivers, eat, sleep... anything.
What the hell is going on? Everybody is out but hardly anybody is taking a cab. Is the economy so bad no one can afford taxis anymore? Has everybody spontaneously decided to lose weight and get in shape by walking everywhere? Or is it a case of spring fever in which everyone has embraced the promise of summer by hoofing it around town?
Whatever the case, it's misery for cabbies. I've read through the paper twice, something I've never done, ever, not even when I worked at a newspaper. Perhaps sensing my frustration, the dispatcher takes pity on me. "Two-Zero-Five, Cab Two-Zero-Five." In a teasing voice he growls, "Would you like a little job, just a short local, or perhaps you would rather stay put and watch the pretty girls?" I ponder the question, not because I'm debating whether or not I want the job, but whether or not I want to give him the satisfaction of goading me with his show of munificence.
As I roll up to the address, there's a stocky, middle-aged woman standing on the sidewalk holding a couple of overstuffed shopping bags. She opens the door, pushes her stuff over, then heaves herself into the car.
"And how are we doing this evening?" says the woman in a voice that could fill an auditorium. It's a curious change in protocol, as I usually do the greeting.
Fine, I say.
Not really. In fact, it's been pretty slow.
"Well, maybe I'll change your luck for you," she says in cool, reassuring voice.
I'd appreciate that.
"Say, you don't sound like you're from Boston."
I grew up in Colorado.
"A cowboy, huh? Actually, you sound more like a TV newsman."
I've been told that before.
"You go back home much?"
No, not for years.
"That's too bad. You still have family there."
Just a sister. Both my parents are gone.
"I'm so sorry. You don't visit your sister?"
No. We don't really get along.
This woman has now ventured into territory I don't usually go with anybody, much less a stranger, but there's something about her manner, that and the atmosphere of a cab, that sense anonymity and isolation that makes a cab is a kind of sanctum, a place where truths are told and secrets revealed. And it cuts both ways. While I usually do the asking, I now find myself doing the talking. For the next few blocks, I tell the woman a bit about growing up, my family, about how my sister became estranged from my parents and how that, in turn, estranged me from her.
As she gathered her things, she told me, "You need to get in touch with your sister. You need to repair that relationship, even if it means betraying your parents. They're gone. You can't hurt their feelings, and she needs to have that validation. God bless you."
As I drove away, my head was swimming. Would I do as she told me? I didn't know. Still don't. But it certainly got me thinking. And, wouldn't you know it, my luck did change.
I booked more than $300 in fares. Not bad on any night.