Taxi Driver

It may have been sparked by an Isaac Asimov story I read as a child, but somewhere I got the idea to work every job. This seed was planted early, the idea developed slowly, and over the years it grew into a casual goal. In order to understand someone, I've heard, you're supposed to walk a mile in their shoes. To understand the entire human condition, I figured, one must walk a mile in a lot of shoes. It's either profound or really naïve, I don't know which, but it's kept me busy for a few decades working as busboy, dishwasher, cook, conversation English coach, janitor, chauffeur, security guard, waiter, house painter, administrative assistant, building supervisor, art teacher, mechanic, factory line worker, data entry clerk, insurance salesman, car salesman, recruiter, stay-at-home dad, cultural liaison, barista, letterpress printer, business owner, and call center operator. I’ve worked in a golf shack, a lumber yard, a pawn shop, a book store, and in an art gallery or two. I was even in the Navy for six long years -- doing everything from boilers to cryogenics. I feel like each job has taught me some unique skill and has given me some additional insight into what it is to be human.

Of course, I never expected to reach my goal of working "every job." I don't intend to keep working that long. I'm tired of working! I'm starting to look at retirement options. There is one thing I have always wanted to do, though: to drive a taxi.
I enjoy driving.
I enjoy talking to people.
It seemed like fun.

 Portland loves Radio Cab

Portland loves Radio Cab

Driving for a ride-share company seemed like a good first step, a good first taste. Many ride-hailing apps have appeared fairly recently, and initially I was going to drive for Uber. Right about that time, that whole thing with the election happened, and someone leaked that Uber supports the Alt-Right, and someone else leaked that Uber treats women like the Alt-Right treats women. Yeah, I didn't think I could make Uber work -- not in Portland -- so I chose to drive for Lyft. Lyft's pink logo somehow seemed more inclusive. The two companies do seem to attract different types of drivers and different types of riders.

If you don't know how it works, it's basically like this: someone has a ride-hailing app on their smartphone, they push the button requesting a ride and (hopefully) type in their destination. The internet matches their GPS to the nearest available driver. Bam, the driver comes and picks them up. It's literally a hundred times faster than calling a taxi. The taxi companies aren’t happy about it, of course. Some cities in the US and Europe have banned Uber altogether. The thing is: it has forced the taxi companies to adapt. They have to stay competitive to stay in business. I’ve noticed Radio Cab has an app now.

In my few months as a ride-share driver, I have met thousands of different people from all over the city. For a metro area of two point five million people, and with an estimated four thousand drivers cruising around, the odds of my picking up the same person twice are pretty slim. Even so, I tend to pick up the same people surprisingly often. The repeat riders seldom recognize me. Maybe it’s because most of the people I pick up are drunk. (I drive the late shift.) Anyway, Paul was one such repeat rider who didn't recognize me. Both times I met him outside a certain bar on Killingsworth at 3AM. Both times Paul was sloshed. He was tall, dark, and disheveled. The first time I picked up Paul, he lamented how Portland is too nice. He’d just come to town, and he'd spent the whole night looking for a mosh pit, and he hadn’t found one satisfactorily physical. “I just want someone to punch me in the face,” he told me. He sounded really sad about it, too. In Santa Rosa, where he had just come from, they understood that sometimes a person needs that. Sometimes you need that, and they'll totally punch you in the face. Paul said that he’d tried to mosh into some guy at this last bar, and the guy he slammed into had turned around and apologized! "Can you believe that?" He looked beseechingly through the rear view mirror. It's hard to tell body language when the person you are talking to is in the backseat. You get a little through peripheral vision and a little through the rear view mirror. “Sometime you just need to be punched in the face, you know?” I said I’d take his word for it.

The second time I picked up Paul, he was in a more chipper mood. He asked me what Lyft driving was like. I told him that I've always wanted to be a taxi driver, and this had kinda let me experience driving a taxi without actually being a taxi driver. He asked if I could stop by the 7/11 on the corner so he could grab some cigs. While he was inside, I observed the night life. One cool thing about driving at night is that I get to see the city laid out bare. During the day money shines upon the streets, and crowds mingle and gather to frequent the coffeeshops and the icecreamshops and the cuteboutiquesfulloflocallymadegoods. It's a totally different city at night. I don’t remember 7/11s in other towns, but the ones here in Portland come alive at night. The bright light of that big, plastic sign calls to the darkness. Like tattered moths, the homeless gather and the prostitution and drug industries set up shop. Every 7/11 parking becomes a hub for criminals, seedy folk, and those so desperate they have nowhere else to go. It's like a city-wide network. As I waited for Paul, I noted that the scene this night was fairly tame: there were two guys stripping a pickup by the dumpster, a flamboyant man in a shiny suit and matching bowler hat standing in the front door and screaming at a skinny, scantily clad lady, and a line of men with bags or boxes full of cans and bottles waiting quietly in line for the bottle return machine.

This scene was OK, I told Paul when he climbed in back. I told him that I’m actually afraid to go to the 7/11 in my neighborhood after dark. I also told him my dream of working the night shift at a convenience store. Since moving to Portland, however, I’d changed my mind about that one. I now have no desire to work the midnight shift at a convenience store. It’s scary at night.
Paul was surprised, and he laughed at me. “Portland’s not scary at all,” he said. I said I would take his word on it. As we we pulled out of the parking lot, I scanned the crowd to pick out what details were scary about the scene and eventually decided that maybe it wasn't so scary. That perception had been within me.
“Where I’m from," Paul continued, "the 7/11s have bullet-proof glass.”
This was something to consider. If I wanted to have a late-nite convenience store gig, location would make a big difference.
"Portland's not scary," he laughed again, and once again, I said I'd take his word for it. I dropped him off at Dignity Village and bid him good morning.

On the way back, I immediately took a wrong turn and wound up on Lombard, stopped at a light. At the corner stood another 7/11. At first I couldn't process what was different about this one. The first thing I noticed was that the lights were off, not just the sign, but inside the building, too. The place was totally dark. Then, I noticed the yellow tape draped around the trees, around the trashcan, around the bike racks, all the way over to the crosswalk and back around the hedges -- around the entire building. There were no crowds of ne'er-do-wells in this parking lot. On all sides of the building were a half dozen black police SUVs. Cops in bulletproof vests stood in perimeter, standing and waiting.

Things came full circle that night as the Universe provided me with the exact scenario Paul and I had discussed, only minutes later, and only blocks away. I like seeing those patterns and pointing them out. I feel like that's a conversation with the Divine.