If someone were to tell me that once I got out of high school, I would become a taxi driver, I would have laughed at them. Little did I know, I would partake of the job and, because of the experience, give highest respects to taxi drivers everywhere.
A week ago, I was walking along Broadway and 5th Avenue in New York, minding my own business, and I almost lost my life. No, I wasn't mugged. No, I didn't get clubbed on the head by the fake Rolex watch peddlers who were miffed because I wouldn't buy their wares. What did happen was I was almost run down by a taxi driver in broad daylight.
Now, in New York, taxis are very common. In fact, the ratio of taxis to cars is probably 5 to 1. No one with a full deck of cards would take their car onto the busy streets of New York and survive.
But in rural America, where cars outnumber taxis by a ratio of 1 to 2,000, just seeing a taxi would be a tourist attraction.
After I graduated in '72, my mother and step-father decided to change our one-horse town by setting up a taxi cab stand. Locals turned their noses up at our Mom-and-Pop stand, but Mom and Step-Pop decided it would be a big money maker, as there were plenty of folks who couldn't even afford transportation! We were the first taxicab business on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Mom asked me if I would help with the books when I got back from my stint in Ft. Lauderdale to become a model. She knew it was just one of my dreams and figured I'd come back home with my tail between my legs.
One month later, I was doing paperwork for R&K's Taxi Cab business. It paid 75 cents an hour, which, even for 1972, was pretty rotten wages. I couldn't stand to be behind the desk with nothing to do, and my Step-Pop and I were not getting along, either. I was all ready to quit when my Mom stepped in with an alternative.
"How would you like to drive the cab for a while?" she asked me.
I thought about this. People give tips, right?
I donned my R&K Taxi Cab derby and waited for the first call to come in.
It seemed like hours. Well, it was hours. Four hours later, there was a call. An elderly lady had to take her dog to the vet for an emergency. As we were lucky to get any calls, we took her on. I jumped behind the wheel and headed to 748 Shady Lane. I waited and waited. I blew the horn. I saw the door open, and an elderly lady motioned for me to come there. I got out of my car and slowly made my way through the dilapidated shacks to her front door.
"Are you the taxi driver?" she asked, with a look of disbelief.
"Yes, I am," I told her. "Are you ready?"
"Precious is over there," she said, motioning under the table.
Precious looked at me and growled.
"Her appointment is in a half hour," she said, "Try not to make any needless bumps, or she might get sick."
She handed me a $50 bill.
I looked at the bill, looked at Precious, who was slobbering all down her face, and looked back at the woman.
"You are going, too, aren't you?" I asked.
"Oh, no honey," she said, "I have to do my hair. Just leave her at the vet, and we'll go get her tomorrow."
I looked again at the bill. I looked over at Precious, who by then was turned on her back with her tongue hanging out and her eyes glassed-over.
"Does Precious bite?" I asked her.
"Only twice," she informed me, "but she's too sick to do any of that now."
I went over to Precious whose growls had turned into a whimper.
Okay, I figured, to the vet a half-hour away, and I would rake in $50. I can do this.
I carefully put Precious in my arms and carried her fifty-pound body to the car. After rubbing dog dribble off my sleeve, I slowly crawled into the front seat, keeping my eye on the dog the whole time.
As we were heading down the road, wouldn't you know but a possum ran out in front of us. I slammed on the brakes, which sent Precious to an unknown section of the back of the car. I got out to see if I had put the dog out of its misery, only to find Precious had vomited unknown objects that were very foreign to me all over the backseat of the car. Not only was there a smell that would make a maggot gag, but the rotten and repulsive mess was all over me, too.
I tried to pull Precious up on the seat, and that's when all hell broke lose. She snapped at me, tearing a gap in my arm so big that blood seemed to come out of everywhere. I let out a scream that could be heard across the Atlantic, and which made Precious not so precious anymore.
I jumped back, with blood pouring down my arm, and started screaming bloody murder. I had lost it by this time. No way was I getting back in that car, $50 or no $50. Someone heard my screams and called the police. Fifteen minutes later, there were three cop cars, an ambulance, and a neighborhood of hoodlums surrounding my car.
"Please," I begged. "Just get me out of here."
The cops called Mom and Step-Pop who came to get the car, the ambulance took me off to the local hospital, and I never knew the demise of Precious. Needless to say, I lost my $50, my love for dogs, and the next time a possum runs out in front of me, he's road kill.
© Dorothy Thompson 2002