I spent a couple of years as a cab driver while I was working my way through graduate school. It was in the South, so my job was probably a lot different from what you big city Yankees are used to. The job does come with similar benefits and dangers everywhere, I think. You will get a gun pulled on you. You will have to haul belligerent drunks from their favorite watering hole when they're not quite ready to go. And you will occasionally get a really good tip. You might even have a very memorable experience. Here's mine.


The dispatcher calls my number and says I should pick up a guy at the VA hospital. He's snickering, so I know something's up. "Where's he want to go?" I ask. Shorty (the dispatcher) says, "You'll find out when you get there."

I pull up at the VA and there's this guy in a wheelchair with his legs cut off up to his crotch. He tells me he wants to go to New Orleans. I say, "Man, you could fly to Nawlins 3 times for what you'll pay to go in a cab!" (It's about a 3 hour drive from where we are.) He says, "I want to take a cab." I get on the radio and ask Shorty what I should charge him. He says, "Flat rate: $300. But make sure you see some money first!"

I tell the guy the rate and ask him if he's got the money. He shows me his wallet. It's got 20 $100 bills neatly packed. I put him in the back seat and put his wheelchair in the trunk.

Well, the first place he wants to go is the liquor store. I go in and get him a quart of whisky. It's mid-afternoon. He doesn't speak; just sits in the back seat drinking the whisky straight out of the bottle. Within an hour, he's fried. After another half hour, each time I turn a curve on the highway, he's rolling around in the back seat like a bowling ball. I've got to drive with one hand and try to sit him back upright with the other. Half an hour later, he pukes all over my cab. I've got to stop and wash it out at a car wash. He wants some Krystal hamburgers from across the street. I go get him a couple. He pukes again. I wash the cab out again.

Back on the road, he finishes the bottle. He's snoring like crazy when we get to the city limits. I figure, what the hell? He's in Nawlins, technically, and I'm sick of him. So I pull in the first motel I see and check him in. He half wakes up and I haul him up to his room. He wants another drink. I go to the bar and get him a couple of drinks. When I give him these, I say, "OK, we're done now, right?"

He says, "Yeah. Just get whatever you think it's worth out of my wallet." I take 10 of the bills. I figure I've earned it.

I go spend the night in the French Quarter, but get up fairly early to come home. (This is the part that's hard to believe, but I've got no reason to lie to you folks.) I pull back into radio range and tell Shorty I'm home. He says, "Pick up one at Queen City and 21st for me, OK?" I say, "Man, I'm tired. I need to get home." He says, "Just do this for me, OK?" He's snickering again.

I get to the call and there the guy sits in the wheelchair. He has beaten me home. He doesn't even remember me, but he wants to go to the bank. He's broke.

I used that $700 tip to buy a Martin guitar which was the most important thing I had ever owned up to that point in my life. I wonder what the guy who brought him home used his tip for? If you're like me, you're thinking, "Hell, I should've taken another $500."

I guess the guy just wanted to go back to the VA and tell his buddies he'd been to Nawlins. I guess I could've gone out there and played him a tune or two on my new guitar. But, really, he wasn’t much of a listener.