First week of December, 1997. I’m taking the train home from Chicago for Christmas vacation. I call a cab to take me to Union Station. The cabbie arrives and I at first think it’s an old woman. But he’s dressed as Santa Claus, with a bad wig. He loads my bags and we head into rush-hour traffic.
This guy Dobbs once wrote this about cabbies: “They’ve always got some tidbit of wisdom. They’ve also always got a second job or an unfulfilled dream.”
My cabbie is into American history. Civil War era. He quizzes me about the presidents who were born in Virginia. He knows all the right answers. I, on the other hand, have been awake for two days straight taking my first set of college finals and would rather die than answer questions. He tells me about an intersection we pass – that there used to be a general store there, years ago, and that the store owner’s wife was hit by a carriage and killed. They moved the store or something, and do I know how many children Thomas Jefferson fathered? (I didn’t. Still don’t.)
Then we’re getting on a freeway, and he asks me what airline I’ll be flying.
“Umm…I’m taking the train. To Virginia.” We’d discussed this. It was the source of the Virginia presidents quiz, in fact. If you’re familiar with Chicago at all, you know that O’Hare and Union Station are in totally different directions, but I hadn’t been in the city long enough to realize that we were going the wrong way.
We come to a dead stop on the on-ramp. The cabbie: “You told me you were flying United.”
If this had happened recently, I’d have hysterically pointed out that the cabbie was clearly an idiot in many ways, not the least of which involved his selective memory for relevant facts as opposed to tidbits of bullshit history.
But being the impressionable, young, polite, naive Southern girl in the big city that I am at the time, I begin to cry. The cabbie promises he’ll get me to my train on time, but still plays the whole thing off as if it were a last-minute change of plans on my part.
It’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. He maneuvers the cab BETWEEN TWO LANES of traffic and floors it. People honk. Curse. Flip us off. I’m amazed that both side-view mirrors are intact.
We peel into Union Station fifteen minutes before my train is scheduled to leave. I pay full fare. Being afraid he might kill me, I also tip the crazy bastard six dollars. He tells me that the next time I take a cab, I should tell the cabbie where I want to go right away.
Like thanks for the tip, dude, but I told you the day before when I reserved the cab where I’d be going, and we also discussed it when you were loading my bags, you commie Santa-dressing freak!
Needless to say, the rest of that trip home was pretty uneventful, but coming back to school that year is another adventure altogether.