At my ad agency jobs in Chicago, we were reimbursed for taxi fare if we worked past 7 pm. I worked late pretty often, so I was frequently in the back of somebody’s cab.
Most of the rides were uneventful. However, as with riding in any vehicle on a residential street, or highway, there are moments that cause you to clench the Jesus handles (aka , the “Oh shit” handles) in your fist because there is a momentary lapse of focus by the cabbie, or another driver.
Sometimes it was just an unforeseen event, like a pothole that wasn’t on there the day before.
Then there are the rides when you seriously think your life is in jeopardy. Here, drivers jet in and out of traffic, cross multiple lanes to make an exit, come to abrupt, squealing stops at red lights, or come seriously close to crushing a pedestrian who is crossing the street.
The first time this happened, I thought it was an anomaly. Then it happened again.
Sometimes many months later, sometimes only a few days would pass.
At one point I realized that I was under no obligation to stand for such bullshit.
I remember the first time that I protested my driver’s habits. I had a morning appointment and I needed to get to the office quickly afterward for a meeting. Thus, I took a cab to work.
The ride was easy enough until the driver entered Lake Shore Drive (“LSD”) and immediately put the pedal to metal and then repeatedly got frighteningly close to rear bumpers, before darting into another lane…where he got frighteningly close to other drivers’ front bumpers.
In the rear-view mirror, I could see his face as it transitioned from a smirk into something that seemed just short of a sadistic leer.
I’d had enough.
I said, without raising my voice “You’re not impressing me. Your chances of getting paid are substantially better if I get to work without having to stop at the emergency room first.”
He replied, in a Russian accent, “What is your problem? Are you jealous to be in the presence of an expert?”
Huh? I have the problem?
We argued-briefly, but of course, I raised my voice. Though he eventually calmed a bit, reducing his speed and proceeding with some caution. He let me out and I paid.
I felt like I needed to admonish him a bit further, but refrained, because I suspected that he’d just respond by peeling out into traffic or endanger pedestrians crossing at the light.
From that point on, if a driver was taking unnecessary chances during a lane change, or going way too fast, I always brought it up.
More often than not, they adjusted their driving. I doubt if I had a lifetime impact on their habits. It was probably more a case that they felt their tip was going to be impacted if they didn’t shape up.
In some cases, they didn’t adjust, and I asked (demanded) to get out. Which meant I had to hail another cab, or walk. I preferred to be inconvenienced rather than enable the habits of a dangerous driver.
Though I had one particularly horrific cab ride, and I took the “Stop the car!” directive to an unprecedented level and I did my talking with my fists.
That was preceded by a bad day at work.
“Don’t Close This Door!”
My bad “day” really didn’t start until the evening. It was common for my staff to work late. On this day, most of them had been in the office for about 10 hours when we were “asked” (told) to stay even later to create materials for new-business pitch, of which we had no prior warning.
My initial reaction, was “I ain’t got time for this shit.” After some expected, and justifiable, grumbling by my staff we got to work.
Waaaay past midnight, we finally got everything done. I asked for two volunteers (Steve and Jim) to help carry the materials downstairs.
Normally, we would take our office elevator to the building’s administrative floor and cart the materials to the adjacent parking lot. I’m not sure why, but this night we were to take the materials to the building’s loading dock which we could only access through a freight elevator.
In theory, it wasn’t complicated, except that our office didn’t have a key to that elevator. Thus, we had to call for the building security team to help us. That complicated things.
I had never been inside the small hallway where the freight elevator was, but I knew well of the self-locking door and that we had no key to the door.
We called security on the intercom. It seemed like eons before anybody picked up and Steve said to me, “Man, I ain’t got time for this shit.”
Eventually a guard answered and we told him that we needed somebody to unlock the freight elevator. Steve repeatedly told the guard “We need a a key to the freight elevator. We’re on the 27th floor….”
Apparently, the guard only heard part of that request.
We brought our materials from our office into the small adjacent hallway. Steve, warned, “Don’t close this door! Because we’ll be locked in and I ain’t got time for that shit.”
The guard arrived and we learned he didn’t have a key to the elevator, then inexplicably, closed the door behind him.
He tried every key on his ring, before meekly saying, “I don’t have a key to this door, either. ” There was a chorus of “Fuck!”
The guard tried, in vain, to contact his colleagues with his walkie-talkie.
I had been in the office about 17 hours at that point, and was bone-tired. At the time, I felt too weary to think about being angry.
Over the next many, agonizing minutes, the guard tried to locate somebody with a key to the elevator “And to the door! Keys to the the damn door and the damn elevator!” Steve reminded him.
The small hallway, was not well ventilated (did I mention the door was locked shut?). With four men trapped inside, the temperature seemed to be approaching 98.6 F. I found the energy to be angry, but withheld my comments.
After what felt like an eternity, another man with a green blazer, showed up with a walkie-talkie and a key ring. Keys! He had the keys!
Finally liberated, we loaded our materials into a van that a junior account executive was to drive to the Chicago suburbs for the meeting (which, at this point, only in a few hours away).
“Stop The Car!”
I finally got outside the building at about 3:00 am. I was still pissed off after my “detention” in the tiny elevator bank, though it was incredibly soothing to be outside in the cool, breezy air.
I walked, zombie-like, to Michigan Avenue to hail a cab. There wasn’t a lot of cab traffic at that time of night (morning, actually). Though I was the only human that I could see. Thus, the competition for rides wasn’t fierce. I hailed a ride in just a few minutes.
In no time we were speeding away–on LSD–where I repeatedly nodded off and jerked awake.
The LSD exit at Irving Park Road is two lanes. The cab driver got in the left lane, and I noticed his turn swung way wide, violating the sacred traffic line. I don’t think the cabbie noticed how close he was to the car in the adjacent lane.
I held my breath for a few moments thinking there might be a collision. The cab missed contact by what seemed like a few centimeters. I saw the driver in the other car jerking his head back and forth while his lips moved rapidly, I couldn’t hear him, but I could sense his R-rated language.
At the next light, the other car pulled up really damn close to the cab and the other driver honked his horn. With his scowling face up close to the glass, he directed a middle-finger salute at the cabbie for the duration of the red light.
I thought “Now they’re even, get me home. ”
They took off from the light, like drag-racers. The cabbie matched the other driver’s speed and then tried to side-swipe the other car!
I was gobsmacked. I yelled “What the fuck are your doing?!?”
I got no answer.
Moments later, the other driver returned the favor, and closed in on the cabbie, again brandishing his middle finger. I braced for a collision. I was surprised that they avoided one.
“I ain’t got time for this shit!” I said, mostly to myself. I realized that I needed to get out of this situation and loudly told the driver to pull over. He didn’t respond.
I slapped the front seat with a fair amount of force, and screamed “Stop the car!” The driver, didn’t even consider withdrawing from the smash-up derby and seemed genuinely puzzled by my order.
“But, we’re almost there,” he said.
That was absolutely the wrong answer. This time, I cranked up my voice, “I ain’t got time for this shit!”
I lifted my right arm with intent to smack the seat again, and put everything I had into it, this time with a clenched right fist. It was a pretty satisfying THUNK! and it startled the driver.
Without much thought, I pounded the seat again, this time with my left fist. I surprised myself with how much force I’d generated with my weak hand.
For the first time in my life, I felt ambidextrous!
Instead of a bloody-loud directive, I dropped my volume several decibels, and offered this conditional statement, “If you don’t stop the car, the next one will be across your skull!”
He muttered something, I didn’t understand, but it felt like “I ain’t got time for this shit.”
“PULL OVER NOW!” I growled, in what would now probably seem like Batman’s voice.
He did pull over. His opponent had gone around the cab, and “parked” in the middle of street in an attempt to prevent the cab driver from leaving.
As I got out of the car, I said to the cabbie. “Don’t you dare ask me for money!” He didn’t.
I slammed the door shut.
As I angled toward the sidewalk, I saw the other man was leaning on the fender of his illegally parked car and he said “Your friend’s in some deep shit.”
Trying to restrain myself, I said “Don’t you ever call him my friend!” though I think it came across as a shout.
Then, I walked away, like I was in a movie scene where the protagonist walks from a large explosion but does not look back:
(George Clooney, in “Syrania”)
They immediately started yelling at each other, which I suspected. I didn’t expect that they would lower their voices as quickly as they did. I expected that there were going to be threats, a brawl, more threats, more brawling.
They seemed to settle things pretty quickly. Soon there was no further shouting. No squealing tires, crunching metal, shattering glass, or gunfire.
I walked home–about a mile and half. Not a long distance, but it was late and dark, and I was exhausted. The day–the new business pitch, “detention” in the elevator bay, the cabbie and other having a demolition derby – weighed heavily on me.
My pulse was elevated for several minutes. I was trembling, probably from equal parts fatigue, rage and hunger.
When I got to my apartment building, I climbed the stairs and collapsed on my living room couch and dozed off. I woke up a few moments later and got something to eat, then proceeded with a compressed-timeline bedtime routine.
As I brushed my teeth, I thought of how bizarre that the two men trying to ram each other didn’t come to blows in the middle of Irving Park Drive. They were clearly amped up enough to injure each other while they were in their cars. I don’t know what kept them them from escalating their fracas even further.
Did there interaction end with one of them saying “Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I thought you were someone else?”
Perhaps that, as the clock approached 4 am. they realized that they didn’t have time for that shit.
More that twenty years have passed since that night. A year later, I left Chicago for a much-smaller town, on the opposite side of Lake Michigan. I’ve been in comparatively few cabs. I’ve not had any additional instances of backseat road rage (or any other kind of road rage).
I’ve done some reflection about my actions that night. Normally, I’d back off of my impulses if I might put myself in danger. But hell, I was already in plenty of danger. My actions only put me in different danger.
I don’t remember, ever being as enraged as I was in the back of that cab way back when. Yes, there were some aggravating circumstances, an unexpectedly long work day, being trapped in small, hot, room and on the brink of exhaustion.
There was NO justification for the behavior of the cabbie, or the other driver, who never thought twice about my safety, or that of other drivers or pedestrians. Or the thousands of coyotes that roam Chicago at night, for that matter.
I hope that both drivers are making better choices.
I recommend that they both listen to this song, it is remarkably calming:
(Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah : “Lake Shore Drive”