(story excerpt from Blood, Sweat & Chump Change ––
Taxi Tales & Vignettes by the author)
I’m first up on the taxi stand at the Beverly Center, after waiting for close to an hour and a half. Two Aussie girls climb in the backseat. One is blond, the other a particularly thin brunette with pocked cheeks. They want to go to Melrose.
“The Bank of America on the corner,” they tell me.
Melrose is a long street, goes for miles. I need a cross street. They can’t think of it, but explain the bank is “by the shops on Melrose.” Not much help really, but feel we’ll be able to find it.
I get the meter going and pull off the stand. Turning left on La Cienega, I take them north. When we reach Melrose Avenue I make a right. I find out that the blond has lost her wallet at the B of A “by the bus stop,” and this is why they are having me take them there. They wonder what the fare will be. I quote them between five and six dollars.
“We have enough to pay you,” the blond assures me.
We’re headed east on Melrose, driving past antique shops, clothing boutiques; past the Improv. I figure it has to be the Bank of America at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax.
The blond points out the sign we can make out far off in the distance by now. I get them there and park at the curb.
The blond climbs out. I tell her not to worry, I am going to stop the meter while she searches for her lost wallet. She thanks me. I figure it’s the least I can do. I like Australians, always have. I should have moved to Australia years ago.
No one has treated me with more kindness and courtesy and genuine friendship than the Australians. Having said that, the blond does have the type of drop-dead figure hard to ignore: long legs, a perfectly shaped rear in a mini-skirt. Slim waisted; a golden tan. Five-foot-ten, easy. She has the body. And she’s pleasant in spite of it, personable, as most Aussies are. While she might not be perfectly gorgeous in the face to some, she is attractive in her own way and she has all the rest.
The other is equally pleasant, albeit frail enough and, as mentioned, thin enough to appear emaciated. The thin one is not much of a talker and sits quietly in the back as we watch her friend look for the lost wallet in the area of the trash basket at the bus stop, under the bus bench and around it, the shrubbery at the entrance to the bank. She is walking along the hedge fronting the building that takes her out to the sidewalk on Fairfax and is not having any luck. A panhandler or two eye her doing this.
She walks back toward the cab, the disappointment on her face easy to read. And yet she is able to maintain, has it under control. I wish there was a way to help. There is nothing to be done. She has lost all her money: several hundred dollars, and the credit cards.
She’s at the cab. Explains her situation to me. Although they do not have enough cash to pay me to take them to Santa Monica—eighteen dollar ride—they will probably be able to get it at the other end.
“Would that be all right?” the blond inquires.
“Get in,” I say. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take you back.”
I had taken my money for this part of the run. Decide I will not charge them anything additional. Yes, I’m in this unpredictable business to make a buck, but am also not beyond helping someone in need. I like these women. They’ve suffered a bit of lousy luck and could use some help.
Both are just about taken aback, particularly the blond, when I let it be known that I will not accept anything for the run to Santa Monica.
“You’re very kind,” she says, quite unbelieving.
“There were times when I needed help in the past and people helped me out,” I explain. “You’ve had enough trouble. It’s too bad your vacation was spoiled.”
Both are upbeat, considering. Holding up pretty well.
They ask about me, my background. I tell them. I don’t go into much detail, but do mention that I was raised in Chicago.
“You’ll have to cancel your credit cards,” I think to advise them. They are readily nodding. “Oh yes,” the blond says.
The two had met in Mexico. The brunette had been staying at a hotel on the beach and they had met and this friendship had resulted. They were all right by me. Easygoing, sane, pleasant; not standoffish or bitchy, like the average Tinseltown type.
We pull up to the address they had given me: a two-story house across the street from Santa Monica College.
“Are you sure you’d rather not be paid?” the blond asks.
“I don’t want any money from you,” is my response. “Glad to be of help.”
“You’re a kind person.”
“Thank you,” I say. “You’re very nice, the both of you. I enjoyed your company.”
“Would you like to come in for coffee?” the blond offers. I should take them up on it, I know I should. This is rare. LA bimbos run from you, want nothing to do with you, are so quick to cut you down—and here I am being asked up for coffee. Having taken me by total surprise, and being so unusual, I can only think to decline.
What is the matter with me? My shyness is destroying me. They are sweet, genuinely sweet and precious and want to know me as a friend, and I am saying no. God, there’s no help for me; there’s no help. Too many years living in this warped hellhole known as La La, too many years, close to a quarter of a century, has ruined me.
I say something feeble like:
“What I will take, though, is a good hug from you both.”
Shit, I’m hopeless. I need to be embraced more than anything. Are there other men out there like me? Give me a true embrace, be my best friend first—and then we’ll bang each other’s brains out. I’m not anti-sex, have nothing against it, if the other, underlying connection is there first. You had to have the goddamn connection—for without it you’ve got zip. Nothing.
Get off it, will you? All they’re offering is coffee.
Yes, I know—but it makes me nervous. I’m not used to this.
“But first,” I add, “let me write my phone number down. I want you to call me when you can. Let’s talk sometime.”
I turn, intending to give the piece of paper to the blond, only she’s seated directly in back of me and not easy to reach due to my headrest being in the way; I would have to twist further to my right, and in my state not wishing to risk hurting the other’s feelings and having easier access to her, hand the piece of paper to her instead. I think guilt and conscience caused the greater hinderance than the damned headrest. The way it happens sometimes. So be it. What difference is it going to make anyway? Not much came of these things, not much.
I get out. They’re already outside, waiting. I embrace the blonde first: wrap my arms about her waist and squeeze. My God, it eliminates a good deal of my troubles. I hold her, feel her reciprocate. I’m stuck in a rut and do not know how to save myself.
Go for the coffee; friendship might ensue––and then maybe even that elusive soul connection. I then do the other. Rail thin she is, bashful, more so than her pal. Truth is, we’re all on the reticent side.
“You made my day,” I say to them both, slide back in behind the wheel and watch them wave in the rearview mirror as I drive off.
I shake my head and I curse myself/curse myself and shake my head.
“Goddammit! What am I doing?”
Am I actually driving away? Am I actually passing up such an opportunity? How often does this sort of thing happen around here? How often? It’s rarer than snow, I can tell you that.
I drive, continue on east, toward Century City; a beaten down cabbie in his mid forties, beaten down, getting beaten down. . . .