Chicago is one of the few U.S. cities where cabs can be summoned by standing on the edge of the sidewalk and holding one's finger in the air. They pull up, you get in and are driven to your destination. A plain and simple act of vehicular commerce on which occasionally hangs a tale.
I strode out of the club. A cab set waiting at the curb making it unnecessary for me to make the effort of sticking my finger in the air. As I climbed into the back seat the driver turned around slightly and inquired, "Is the music too loud?" Recognizing the soulful yelps and funky rhythms I replied "James Brown can't be too loud." The driver smiled and I began my journey home through the dark city streets. I don't remember how, but as we chatted the name of the late singer songwriter Laura Nyro came up. I had been introduced to her work by my roommate during my San Francisco days and have over the years collected several of her albums, which I still own. One however, her first, I have never been able to find, despite hours spent in used record stores pawing through bin after bin of vinyl. I mentioned this to the driver. As we came to a stoplight he quickly sifted thorough a box of cassettes, this was a number of years ago, and popped one into the dashboard player. The quirky, unmistakable, sometimes smooth, sometimes staccato voice of Laura Nyro filled the cab. As we pulled up to the dilapidated 6 flat that I called home at the time I attempted to pay and exit the cab. He insisted that I stay and listen to his 2 favorite tracks before I left. We sat in the car enjoying the music together before I paid the fare and left the cab.
I sometimes wonder if he recalls that short ride we shared that evening as I do.
My mother had died and I had to travel to the Catskills to help my step father clear out the house and salvage what sentimental family mementos that I could. My mother was, to put it mildly, strong willed. The night she was cremated, as couple of days prior to my arrival, there was a violent thunder and lightening storm. My step father relayed to me how my sisters stood on the porch shooting photos as lightening strike after lightening strike lit up the sky. Schedules did not mesh and upon arriving I had to take a cab from the train station to my mother's home. The driver remarked on the storm, "Lived here my whole life and never seen anything like it" he told me. As my step father and I drove my sister to the airport in Albany we cane to a conclusion. My mother, strong willed even after passing, was, that night, taking her final bow.
In San Francisco, back in the early eighties, cabs, while not as plentiful as in Chicago, were still fairly easy to come by. Many, some nights it seemed as if all, were driven by the gay men that were ubiquitous there in those years. The money was good and drug testing was not yet in vogue. If your driver was chewing gum at a pace so rapid his jaws were a blur there was a good chance that he was speeding his brains out and you were in for a RIDE. I became accustomed to these adventurous sojourns however my mother, when she would visit, not so much. I remember her literally scream one night as we rounded a corner on two wheels before becoming slightly airborne as the cab descended the hill before us. Have you ever seen the car chase scene in the film Bullitt? On occasion a San Francisco cab ride was something like that.