It was one of those winter nights when the weather can’t make up its mind what to do, so it opts for a little bit of everything — sleet, freezing rain, snow. Of course, holding “the weather” responsible for the weather is insane, on par with blaming local TV meteorologist Tom Messner. Still, somebody or something was purposely making my night miserable; of this I was convinced.
The road conditions were grueling as I motored east on Williston Road, transporting a couple to their home off Taft Corners, a few miles beyond the driving range. They were both well dressed, their destination one of the newer upscale housing developments that dot the Williston landscape. In the crapshoot that seems to be defining 21st-century life, it appeared they’d been rolling sevens. Financially, at least.
“Your sister and her husband, what a pair of losers.”
The man’s voice dripped with disdain as he talked to — or, more accurately, at — his wife.
“And those friends they brought along,” he continued. “Jeeesus. That was three hours of my life I’m never gonna get back. What a fucking waste of a night.”
“I kinda liked Helene,” the woman said, attempting to slip a thought in edgewise amid the harangue. “That was a cute story—”
“About her fucking kids?” her partner interrupted, grimacing in disbelief. “Oh, yeah — that was real cute. I wanted to shoot myself in the eye.”
Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Mean People Suck”? Well, if that’s a truism, then the male half of this twosome sucked. He was spending the entire ride badmouthing a laundry list of family members and supposed friends, all the while — no surprise here — subtly and not-so-subtly berating his wife. I’m someone with a high tolerance for human foibles; I suffer fools gladly. But people who are flat-out mean get to me. They do suck!
Arriving at their pad, the woman couldn’t exit the vehicle fast enough. I got that: Why spend another second sitting next to this angry guy? I told him the fare was $15. The man — who appeared slightly tipsy, though not drunk — began the hunt for his money. No problem with that, except he was clearly taking his sweet-ass time. Most people appreciate that time is money to a cabbie and make an effort to pay up with alacrity. This dude was taking all the time in the world, la-di-da, without a “sorry” or any acknowledgment to me whatsoever. Finally, he said, “I don’t have cash — here’s my credit card.”
“Sorry,” said I, “I don’t take plastic.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“What can I tell you? I’m just not set up to take cards. Do you have money in the house, or do we need to hit an ATM?”
He replied, “Hey, bud — no need to get lippy. I’ll get you a check.”
With that proclamation, he stepped out of the cab and, proceeding with an infuriating pokiness, sauntered into his house.
Shall we count the ways this guy was pissing me off? For starters, how about, “Sorry about this delay, man. Would you be kind enough to take a check?”
And that marked my point of no return, once I began replaying the actual dialogue in my head and putting new words in the offender’s mouth. That was an ominous indication of things to come.
Eight minutes passed, my eyes glued to the dashboard clock. That’s a long time for a cab to sit idle on a busy night. When he finally reemerged from his house, I was quietly seething. As he approached the cab, I lowered the passenger window. Without uttering a word, he tossed a check on the shotgun seat and retreated up the walkway.
I took the check and saw it was for $15 even. “Hey,” I yelled out the window, “thanks so much for the tip.”
Before we proceed further, let the record show: With this sarcastic crack, it was I who got the ball rolling. This person may have been rude, nasty, whatever, but the debacle about to ensue was all on me.
From his front steps, the man turned and said, “Hey, asshole — fuck you.”
I said, “Well fuck you, you motherfucker.”
Interestingly, at this point, neither of us was screaming. That’s how you know how bad it was.
“Get out of that cab, you cocksucker, and I’ll beat your ass.”
“Oh, go fuck yourself,” I retorted. I noticed a Blazer parked in the driveway. “You know what, asshole? I’m gonna fuck up your car when you get back in the house.”
What an inspired escalation, I thought to myself, my brain bubbling away like some overcooked chimichanga.
Before my very eyes, the guy’s facial complexion morphed the color of an eggplant. When a man’s head actually turns purple, that’s an unambiguous sign: All bets are off. Sure enough, he leapt off the steps and charged the cab, screaming, “You motherfucking…”
There might well have been a few parting pleasantries exchanged as I took off down the street. Ain’t life grand?
Never take the bait, I repeated to myself like a mantra on the slow haul back to town as I gradually regained my equilibrium, if not my equanimity. Never take the bait. Why can’t I seem to remember this simple truth? Anger begets anger; hate begets hate. This I know, but somehow…
Here’s an honest prognosis: Given my checkered track record, chances are I’ll be learning this lesson a few times more until one day, God willing, it truly sinks in.