Taxicab Stories

I am convinced there are only 2 kinds of cabbie. There’s the unfriendly, “I’m driving you, but I wish you’d die” type. Then there’s the chatty, mouth like a clatterbell type. Fortunately, the former seem to gravitate to the night shift, for long trips from airports, or after cocktails, when the last thing you want in conversation. This came into view for me one Miami week when I followed Tropical Storm Wilma to town. I was on business, but Wilma had come just for shits and giggles. The old girl really knew how to party.

The clatterbell types love the day shift. Rush hour is their adrenaline. Getting you there – NOW – is their top priority, and they’ll let any Somabicha” who gets in his way know. I like that guy. I like him in Austria in his suit and tie, and impeccable cab. I like him in London, in his “take a picture of me in this ma” tank of a cab, I like him in New York, where he drives through Manhattan like I do going to the grocery store, and I liked him in Miami.

Chatty Cabbie is the 4-wheeled CNN of the road. My morning cabbie pointed out the damagefrom Wilma, which came this way instead of that way like Andrew. He showed me building after damaged building, their boarded-over windows creating a pock-marked visage.

“This was just a Category 1. Imagine what a 3-4 would have done.” Imagine is right, that’s the only way I want to see one. I mentioned that I had dreamed about being in a hurricane the night before. I guess that was the result of too much time spent looking out the 20th floor window at downtown Miami. “You don’t want to be out during hurricane,” he assured me.

He told me the story of the old lady who went out on her balcony, only to be blown to her death. He relayed the sad tale of the man who ran from his house, fearing its imminent collapse, only to be impaled by a 2’x4′. Instant death.

The city is growing, dramatically. Downtown has the sights and sounds of construction everywhere. The city is a mix of the tropics, and Wall Street. My cabbie waved sadly at the progress, noting that in many places you can’t see the ocean anymore. He delighted in the one spot of civilization in progress’ march… a new skyscraper’s construction halted, while a crew of archeologists crawls through the dirt that was once hidden by a building way too old at 20 to be left standing. The demolition crew uncovered the remains of 9 cavalry and native americans who had been long lost. Construction was halted until all their secrets were uncovered. I could see them brush gingerly, unbothered that they were holding up progress.

I a few years, I suspect you won’t recognize Miami. Hotels built in the 80s are being torn down or renovated from the ground up. Downtown is a cacophony of middle aged office buildings, and ragged storefronts. You can just feel the Starbucks hoardes waiting to pounce.

My last cabbie was a black man, but not American. Upon hearing his distinctive accent, I asked where he was from. (I’ve learned not to chance accusing someone of being from the wrong country.) “Cuba!!” He said, exclamation marks bouncing off the cabs ceiling. I could tell right away he was the chatty type… and so am I when I’m in a good mood. He asked if I wanted air conditioning. “Hell no, this is my last chance to sweat until May,” I answered. He chuckled, swerved over two lanes, passed two slow cars, and swerved back just in time to make his left turn. I wanted to mention my flight didn’t leave for 6 hours. I didn’t think he’d care.

“Yessss! you need chacket, gloves, sweater, beeg coat, huh? I spent 1 year in New York. No for me. Too cold for me.” Too cold for me too, but no one asked. I mentioned I heard that Castro was sick. He agreed that Castro would need to be dead a week before he’d ever give up power.

My cabbie wants to go home. To his family. To his country. “I can hire a boat in the Dominican Republic, and get home easy. I live in the south.” I mentioned that I hope I live long enough to see a Free Cuba.

“Yes!!! I tell you what,” he beamed, “Miami would shut down for a whole hour! Then all the liquor stores will empty out.”A party to make Mardi Gras envious.

As we pulled in front of the airport, he smiled, “Yeass, that will be a good day. Then I’l go home, drive a cab, maybe drive a bus. Goo’bye my friend.” And for that moment, we were, friends sharing a dream. “If I hear on the news that Cuba is free, I’ll being thinking of you,” I told him, walking off. Maybe I’ll empty a liquor store myself… or at least raise a glass. I hope his Cuban cab is shiny enough to be seen from Miami, so they all know he’s back home.

Goodbye, my friend.