He wore a pork pie hat, a vest and a goatee. He was pulling a large suitcase, so I instantly sized him up as someone likely headed to the airport, a plum fare. But my sense of fairness and cabbie protocol kicked in.
You should go to the head of the stand, I told him. Those guys, I explained, have been waiting the longest.
"Nope. You're my man," he insisted, lugging the suitcase into the trunk. "I'm a man of the streets and I've learned how to judge people. I can tell you're just the guy to help me out."
I did my duty. Besides, who was I to argue? A fare can pick out any cab they want. He climbed in.
Sure, where ya headed?
"South Station. You know, to those Chinese buses. But first, I got to make a little stop. But hey, I'm good for it." He pulls out a wad of cash, flashing me a couple hundred dollar bills.
That's okay, I said. I didn't peg you for a cheat.
"Good," he said. "You know, I'm famous, world-famous, really. A poet."
Really, I answered, I didn't know there was such a thing, a world-famous poet.
"Yeah, I'm the next Charles Bukowski. That's what they call me. The next Bukowski, or a Kerouac."
Rain started to pelt the windshield. Big, fat drops that quickly came down faster than the wipers could clear them away. Maybe this was my "celebrity moment," that moment every cabbie dreams of in which they get to have their own private, really cool conversation with someone famous.
Where are we going? I asked.
"Downtown. I gotta score some crack," Mr. World-Famous poet said.
Jeezuz. Why me?
Look, I'm not going to let you score crack while sitting in the back of my cab, I said like I'm talking to a five-year-old.
"Hey, man, it's cool. I just need you to wait while I score. Besides, I'll give you a really good tip. I tell you, I'm good for it."
I spent about a millisecond debating this (crack, good tips, what's the difference?). Okay, I said, I'll wait, but I don't want to know about it, and you leave the suitcases behind.
"Good enough," he answered.
Again, where we going? I asked.
"You know, The Combat Zone."
They tore the Combat Zone about twenty years ago, I explained to him. It's all hotels and fancy restaurants now. Again, where do you want to go?
"You know... downtown... where all the black people and hookers are," as if the two were synonymous. This guy was seriously beginning to annoy me.
"Hey!" he shouted in a sudden burst of paranoia. "Are you a cop?"
This guy was turning into real trouble. No, I'm not a cop, I told him. But I'm not just going to hang out waiting to see if you get yourself killed outside some housing project. I'll take you downtown, to Park Street, you can try your luck there.
"Cool. Cool. Hey, you mind if I light up a joint?"
On second thought, maybe I will just drop him off outside some housing project.
Generally, I told him, I don't care what you do. But given that smoking is illegal in cabs, and given that I'm ashmatic, I'm going to say no.
The rain started coming down harder than ever. I could barely see more than 30 feet in front of me. I wondered, exactly how dumb do you have to be in order to be a world-famous poet. So, I asked, Since you brought it up, who are you?
"No way, man," he said. "You never know when information will leak out and get printed all over the Internet. Let's just say that when I first became known they called me the 'Rust Poet.' "
Really, I asked, why the 'Rust Poet'?
"I dunno. They just did."
I had just turned a corner off Charles Street to Beacon Street when the entire car filled with flashing blue lights.
"FUCK MAN!" he screamed. "I knew it! You are a cop!"
I'm NOT a cop, I yelled. Just relax. We'll see what he wants.
As Mr. World-Famous Poet nervously shuffled things around, I rolled down the window. Rain began spitting inside the car.
"You in a hurry?" the cop said dryly.
No officer, what's the problem?
"You gotta yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk before turning, ya know."
But officer, there was no one in the crosswalk.
The cop walked away. Mr. World-Famous Poet, now slunken so far into the seat he's practically disappeared, raised his head. "Shit, man."
I clear the meter and pop the trunk. Look, this could take a while. Why don't you hop out here. You'll have no trouble finding another cab.
"Good idea," he handed over thirty bucks, a $10 tip. I watched as he crossed the street, scanning hungrily for another target. I was glad to see him go.
The cop returned after about five minutes, handing over a white piece of paper. "It's just a warning this time, but watch it. The streets are crawling with people this time of day."
Thank you, officer.
For once, I meant it.