Trolling for fares on Main Street, I noticed a boisterous clutch of friends walking past the Flynn Center. One of them, a husky guy closest to the curb, brushed against a bicycle hitched to a tree, carelessly knocking it to the ground. He broke stride for a moment to glance down at the bike, now vulnerably splayed on the pavement. Shrugging his shoulders at no one in particular, he continued on and caught up with the group.
This random act — of the opposite of kindness — enraged me wildly out of proportion to the nature of the offense. I think this was because the fix was so astoundingly easy: It would have taken the man exactly 10 seconds to pick up the bike and put it back in place. I visualized stopping the cab, getting out and throttling him.
The moon was full, so I knew I was in for a challenging night of cab driving. I experience this monthly, like clockwork, and care not a whit what the rationalist crowd might say about it. When the moon is full, people can get strange, and “people” includes me. End of story.
A woman hailed me on the corner and hit the front seat talking. “I need to swing by my sister’s place on Johnson Street. She owes me some money. Then I need a ride back downtown. Could you help me out, hon?”
This woman was a hustler: Beneath the upbeat exterior, desperate, manipulative energy came off her in waves. I don’t judge folks who walk through the world in this existential state. God knows what life has thrown at them. But I do need to be aware of who I’m dealing with. The nature of my job requires it.
“So do you know if your sister is home and has the money?” I asked pragmatically. “You want to call her on my cellphone?”
“No, she doesn’t have a phone. She’ll be there.”
“And I assume you need the money from her to pay for this ride?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry, hon — I’ll get the money.”
“All right, then,” I said, and steered toward the Old North End. I put the chance of getting paid for this fare at less than 50 percent. But, if the woman was indeed a hustler, she was a local hustler, and hence — in my particular philosophy of hacking — deserving of a ride. In any event, whether paid or unpaid, the whole round trip was going to take less than 15 minutes, a chunk of time I could afford to eat.
We arrived at her sister’s apartment, and — surprise! — the sister was home, but — no surprise — she didn’t have the money. Retaking her spot in the shotgun seat, my dubious customer explained cheerfully, “Don’t worry, hon. I have a check coming tomorrow. You can swing by my place, and I could pay you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “This one’s on the house.”
Shortly after this low-grade fiasco, I dropped a fare near the airport and checked out Higher Ground on the return to town. I knew there had been a show that night, which meant concertgoers might be in need of a ride home.
Sure enough, a young, scruffy guy jumped into the backseat. He requested a ride to Hickok Place, in the student section of town.
“Who was playing tonight?” I asked.
“Dead Sessions, dude. They’re, like, a Dead tribute band. They were awesome.”
“It sounds awesome,” I said. “If they can channel some of that Grateful Dead magic, that is something special. I saw the Dead years ago. Believe it or not, the opening act was B.B. King. What a night that was.”
When we arrived at Hickok, my fare said, “Just wait here. I got to grab some money from the apartment.”
“Could you leave your wallet? Just so I know you’re actually coming back.”
“Sorry, I don’t carry a wallet, man. Don’t worry — I’ll be back.”
“OK, then I guess I’ll just have to take it on faith.”
I had made the classic sentimental error: thinking that the Grateful Dead bond was going to account for something. As soon as he left the cab and trotted up the driveway, I knew that was the last I’d see of him. I gave it a perfunctory five minutes and took off. Full moon, I thought.
I didn’t get stiffed for a third time that night, but that’s not to say the remainder of the evening went swimmingly. Every other customer seemed distracted, dissatisfied or disjointed. What turned out to be my last fare was a cute and diminutive, black-haired girl who hailed me from in front of Mr. Mike’s Pizza.
As she attempted to enter the cab, a guy stood alongside, basically haranguing her. He really wanted her to come home with him, and he had a seemingly endless barrage of arguments in support of his position. Finally managing to shake him off, she got into the backseat and gave me her destination — one of the UVM sorority houses.
Unprompted, she said, “I don’t want to be somebody’s booty call. I just don’t want to be that anymore. The guy told me he had been waiting for me at Mr. Mike’s, like that meant I owed him something.”
I said, “Well, good for you taking care of yourself in that situation.”
“Did you ever watch the TV show ‘Smallville’?” she asked.
In the rear-view mirror, I stole a glance at this girl — all fresh-faced and coy — and grasped the point of her seemingly out-of-context question.
“Yeah,” I replied, “I used to once in a while. And, yes, you do look just like the actress who played Clark Kent’s teenage love interest on the show. I can really see that.”
She was exceedingly pleased, clearly having received just the desired response, and said, “Thanks so much. It’s good to know I’m pretty.”
We had stopped in front of her sorority. I pivoted to face her and said, “Honey, that’s great, but it’s really important for you to know that on the inside.”
She smiled the sweetest forlorn smile and paid me the fare. Given how the rest of the night had gone, and taking into account the provocateur moon still up there doing its thing, I considered this last ride of the night a graceful finale.