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Friday, February 12, 2010

Banter

Posted By on 02.12.10 at 02:26 PM

puddle.jpg
Not everyone who sets foot in the cab is disturbed, distraught, or drunk. Nine out of ten are completely unremarkable, neither beautiful nor ugly, unreasonable or overly accommodating. They say where they want to go, are taken there, pay up, and are instantly forgotten. Most that make it into these stories have to leave an impression and, fairly or not, making an ass of oneself is more memorable than witty repartee. I occasionally hear grumbling about the negative tenor of my stories about cab driving. Perhaps it's my nihilist eastern European temperament, or maybe my deadpan humor is lost on some. In any case, occasionally there are good rides and it'd be unfair not to mention them, as rare and precious as they may be.

After the snow stops, the melting and graying begins. She stands on the curb, in the narrow break between two drifts, separated from the cab door by a dark moat of slush and grime. "Thirteen hundred North Astor at the corner of Goethe--or Gothie," she says after braving that chasm, resoaking those black boots with their jagged salt residue spanning heel to toe.

That she felt the need to pronounce Goethe in both the German and the Chicago way is an instant conversation starter. She's a teacher at Roberto Clemente (pronounced Clementee by some) so correct pronunciation is a point of pride. "No one knows where I live if I don't say it both ways," she says. Neither of us are is a native so naturally we touch on the odd local way with Paulina and Devon. Then to cap it off, we discover a point of commonality in having lived in Boston, which leads to an agreeable evisceration. This is one of those rare conversations that break the barrier between driver and passenger. Nothing earthshaking or portending of anything further, just banter to be savored for its own simple qualities.

"Thank you for rescuing me from that ridiculous street, just couldn't deal with those puddles anymore," she says. She smiles and heads into her high rise, the path mercifully free of pitfalls . . .

This one's in a hurry to drop her rent check into the mail-slot of the real estate office before continuing on elsewhere. "My boyfriend usually takes care of it, but I started getting calls about it and, guess what--he didn't. Gotta love THAT!" We swap deadbeat roommate stories, the former friends lost over piddling sums, such a common experience that we all store rants on the subject, to be rolled out for occasions such as this one. "I have to ask friends of friends to remind them, like, dude you owe me money!" She laughs, then jumps out to meet up with her prince . . .

The address is on Sawyer, but I sit on Spaulding, half a block west. Looking at the two-flat, then at the information on the screen, including the number "2W," I realize that with only one place on the second floor, it wouldn't be designated west or east. Finally it dawns on me where I'm supposed to be, and I haul ass to the right spot; they're just coming out as I pull up. We share a laugh over the mistake, apparently it happens all the time. On another day this might lead to tense silence for the duration of the trip, while today it's no matter at all . . .

None of this is of much consequence aside from the fact that the job so often exposes people in less than flattering light and sometimes a bit of small-talk can be a corrective. So much of it is like going on safari or to some far-flung planet. The manners and ways of the inhabitants a hopelessly indecipherable mystery. It's a relief to talk without worrying about dialect or proper diction, to be understood for a moment, no matter how slight the subject at hand might be.

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