Saturday, March 21, 2009
A Cabbie Tale
Where do I begin? There are so many stories that come to mind when I think of the years I spent as a cab dispatcher in a large mid-western city. For ten years, I worked with the most diverse group of people that you can imagine. From all walks of life, they were a mix of young and old, both men and women, multicultural and with varying degrees of education. Looking back, I realize how dealing with these people on a day to day basis, increased my ability to understand human nature. Or maybe I should say, I increased my ability to understand that I will never understand human nature?
When I am asked to tell one of those stories about back then, I always tell this story. It makes me laugh, even now when I think of it. The only problem is, unless you really, really "knew" Woody, the story might seem a bit callous. This is my first attempt at "documenting" the story, so perhaps I can elaborate enough on who Woody was, and why this particular story was and still is completely hysterical to those of us who knew him.
When I first started dispatching in 1985, Woody had already been with the company for a few years. He had a prosthetic leg, due to a motorcycle accident. I don't know how long ago the accident was, but he had been nicknamed Woody for as long as anyone could remember. He was in his mid 40's and he was newly divorced. His wife, I was told, had cheated on him with another cab owner. Woody had a reputation for being a trouble maker, malcontent and general (pardon the expression) jackass. He was a constant burr in my side, and harassed most of the other dispatchers. He accused us of cheating him out of good runs, and even when he did get a good run, he was always looking for a way to make you feel like you had done something wrong. He was an intimidator,impatient and condescending. This one particular evening Woody was driving cab. He liked working the west side of the city, it was were he lived, and where he was most familiar with the regular riders from that part of town. I don't remember where he picked up the fare, but he ended up taking them to the east side. The east side of the city was where the ships docked; and so sailors, merchant marines, refinery workers, and general riff raff populated the bars and clubs in that area. I was surprised when Woody actually made himself available for a call after he had dropped his passenger. He usually high-tailed it back to his side of town. Sure enough, it wasn't long before we got a call from the Ship N Shore Bar on Front Street. He grumbled, but he went. He hated bar calls; because it meant him getting out, going to the door and yelling "Cab" into a room full of loud music and noisy drunks. These type of calls were notoriously "No-Runs", either the caller had left by other means or wasn't watching for the cab. Woody, after waiting five minutes, called it a No Run and placed himself back in service. A minute later, the call came in from the Ship N Shore again. This time Woody didn't just grumble, he yelled over the radio. But he did go back to the door. I don't know what happened after that, I can just imagine what spewed from Woody's mouth when he got to the door. He had a nasty temper. When I got the call from the owner of the bar, that Woody was involved in a fight, I knew we had to get someone there quick. I gave the "Zone 30" over the radio which alerted all of the drivers that one of ours was in trouble. I then called the PD. I will never forget the report that the first cabbie on the scene gave me. "Get the Police! They've taken off his leg and they're beating him with it!"
Of course, the only thing that was hurt was his pride, which he recovered by the next day; and as much as we wished he would have learned his lesson from being such a bully, I don't think he ever did.
It took years before he and I got along. I don't know why, if it was him getting older, or wiser, but he did mellow out after a while. Sometimes he would come up to the dispatch office for a few minutes to hang out and drink coffee with me. It was then that I got to know how much of a prankster he was. He would wait for me to key the mike to dispatch a call, and then unceremoniously stomp down on his prosthetic leg creating the most gawd awful "hrrrrrrumpf " as the air escaped around the opening between his leg and the device. (In laymans terms, it sounded like a gigantic phart) Here I was, just about to start a dispatch, mike open and transmitting when all of a sudden..... "HRRRRUMPF" over the air! Needless to say, I almost threw him out the window.
Woody passed away several years ago, from a heart attack they said. I don't know if he was still driving cab for a living then, but I'd like to think that he was. He was certainly someone I will never forget. God Bless you Woody, you butthead.