Saturday, April 10, 2010

To the Moon

Think of the distance between Boston and Los Angeles (2,605 miles)--a hundred times over. Think of the distance around the Earth--(24,901 miles)--ten times over. Think of the distance to the moon (238, 857 miles)--with enough mileage to circle it three times over. A total of 258,671 miles, that's a lot of miles, especially when driven on Boston roads. With that many miles, this car should be in a junkyard. That or the Smithsonian Institution.

"You driving this pig?" Steve asks.

I nod.

He shakes his head. "Have the mechanic give you some spare fuses. It keeps locking up when you put it in park."

What? Why?

"How the hell do I know?" he says, handing me the keys.

The mechanic gives me a handful of fuses and tells me to remember to keep it out of park with the engine running.

I should have handed the keys back and just gone home.

"Put it in neutral, not park," I tell myself. "Neutral. Neutral. Neutral."

I make it through two fares, putting the car in neutral each time. No problem. My third fare is to 90 Tremont Street downtown, to one of those new boutique hotels near the Common. It's rush hour, and I'm fighting traffic all the way. But my fare is friendly and we're having a good conversation. Finally, we get to the hotel. I pull up to the corner of Tremont and Bosworth streets, outside the Beantown Pub. Without thinking, I automatically throw the car into park, collect the fare, say thanks, fill out my waybill, then try to put the car into gear.

Nothing doing. It's like the gear shift is embedded in concrete. I get under the dashboard, pull the fuse--blown. I get one of the spares and plug it in. Phfffttt! Blown. Another. Phfffttt! Another. Phffttt!

Six fuses, all blown.

By now traffic is backing up down Tremont Street. I'm stuck in a travel lane, reducing three lanes to two and forcing the traffic to squeeze over. Cars are honking. Even if I was able to push the cab aside, there's no place to push it to. Just sit and wait. I call the office and have them send a wrecker. I stand beside the cab, trying not to look too stupid. On one side of me people are rolling down their windows, yelling at me to move. Insults, epithets, threats are being hurled.

On my other side, pedestrians see that I'm a cabbie and are coming up ask me directions. Which way to the convention center? How far is South Station? You know where I can score some pot?

"Hey asshole! Get that fucking piece of shit out of the way!" That was one of the nicer comments thrown my way, from a cop no less. By law, I have thirty minutes to move the disabled vehicle. So he rolls on by with a sneer. A couple of other cabbies pull up and ask if there's anything they can do. I wish. A dignified older man in a glistening black Mercedes sedan creeps along, edging his way over to get by me. Once alongside me, he rolls down his window, says something to me I can't hear, then spits at the cab.

The traffic must be backed up at least a couple of blocks, for the long, angry wails of car horns start from a distance, then echo and reverberate around the high-rise buildings. As the traffic moves forward the horns become louder and more distinct. One old lady in a beat up Buick must be late for her hairdresser because she has been leaning on the horn pretty much non-stop for 10 minutes. Once she sees what the problem is, she doesn't let up, but all the pedestrians on the street are taking notice, turning around to see who this crazy person is. The old woman just keeps looking straight ahead, leaning against the horn.

Finally, I see the tow truck crawling up Tremont, the top of the truck and its emergency flashers looming above the rest of the vehicles. Whew. But then it turns down School Street. What the...?

I call the office and ask them if the tow company knows the correct address.

"Tremont and Bromfield streets, right?"

No, Tremont and Bosworth. Even so, why did he turn?

"I'll make sure they get it right," she tells me.

Ten minutes pass. Next I see the top of the truck pull out of Bromfield onto Tremont moving away from me. I run up the sidewalk to try and catch it, but the light changes and the truck turns up Park Street. Dammit.

I call again. The dispatcher tells me the tow company said the driver was a new guy, and but assured me he'd be right there.

By now, I'm almost getting used to people screaming at me. All I can do is smile and shrug.

Another five or six minutes pass, and I see the truck again crawling up Tremont. I wave my arms to make sure he sees me. This time he flashes his lights to show me, yes, he sees me. Once in position, the driver, a big, barrel-chested guy with a beard lumbers out. He apologizes up and down. That's okay, I assure him. Let's just get the heap hooked and get out of here.

The next day, the boss calls me. He too apologizes. Said the problem happened to be a broken brake switch or something, a $20 part. He laughs.

"Good as new," he says.

Sure, sure, I say. "Good for another 258,671 miles."