Gene Gene, The Lunatic Cab-Driving Machine

My best friend Anne and I didn’t get cars until much later than most young people, which was a problem because we also wanted to have as much nightlife as possible.  This put us in many compromising positions over the years catching rides from other people (as you may have read about a few blog posts ago where we were nearly murdered in the woods), so we had to find other solutions for how we were going to get to the various bars and clubs that we needed to go to every weekend.  We were finally over 18, and we wanted to break free of only being able to hang out at places that were within walking distance.

We were both working full-time at shitty low-paying jobs ($7.00 and $6.00 an hour, respectively), but we had super low living expenses at the time, which meant we at least had a little spending money.  Not enough to buy a car, and we weren’t old enough to rent a car, so we had to figure out some other way to get around town to go out dancing.  We lived in a severely public transportation-challenged area in Florida.

The closest place to go hang out and dance to “alternative music”, which would also let us in as 18 year olds, was about a half hour drive away.  Every now and then we could convince a third party to drive us up there, but they more often than not would be of the variety that wanted to go home at midnight, and Anne and I wanted to stay until the sun came up.  We were budding party monsters, and we wanted to stay out all night every night.  You invest enough time gluing tiny crystals to your eyelids and you need to make sure you get as much dancefloor return on your investment as possible.

We decided we would start taking cabs to the club, which was far from ideal.  Not only did it cost $40 each way plus tip, but the cab service in our area was spotty, at best.  You might get all dressed up, call for a cab, and the dispatch place would literally say, “We don’t have any cabs available for the rest of the night.”  Sometimes they would show up three hours late.  Sometimes they just didn’t answer the phone at all.  When somebody actually did manage to show up, they would be the type of person described on America’s Most Wanted as “Last Seen in Florida”.

Also, pretty much everyone on America’s Most Wanted was described as “Last Seen in Florida”.  I don’t know why they didn’t just change the name of the show to that.

One particular Saturday night, we called the cab company and they said they had someone in the area who could pick us up right away.  We were thrilled, and we scrambled to finish getting ready.  The cab driver pulled up into the driveway a few minutes later and we hopped in.

His name was Gene, and he was an old school loudmouth-type from New York.  You know, the kind of guy who in the 70s, when his dad would hit him in the back of the head at the dinner table for talking back, he would yell back, “Would ya just watch the hair?! Ya know, I work on my hair a long time and you hit it.  He hits my hair.

But he wouldn’t even be quoting Saturday Night Fever.  If anything, Saturday Night Fever was probably quoting him.  Now I have to go watch Saturday Night Fever again.  For the 800th time.  Be right back.

Man, that movie is fucked up.  I hope they got some trauma counseling for Annette besides “head-shrinkin’ is for pussies”.  It never fails to turn me into emotional jelly when she sobs at Tony Manero, “All I ever did was like you!”

When we gave Gene the address of where we wanted to go, he said he was going to need the money up-front in order to drive us that far.  I guess he thought we were going to get to the club and make a break for it in our 60s throwback minidresses and white knee-high go-go boots and stiff him for the fare.  We would have been fairly conspicuous trying to pull that off regardless of our outfits, considering we would have collapsed fifty feet from the cab, because we both had the athletic endurance of a wet paper towel.

We didn’t have any real options, so we gave Gene the $40 fare up front, and then got on the road – where he proceeded to tell us his entire life story.  Something involving a union, a meatball, and/or Mussolini’s purported cousin who lived down the street from him.  Naturally, he let us know that he “knew a guy” who could “take out” anyone he wanted with “one single phone call”, because all of those guys know a guy who can take out anyone they want with a single phone call.

I’ve never understood why that’s a thing people brag about?  Also, I’m pretty sure if you brag about that sort of thing to strangers, then you don’t really “know a guy”.  I’m sure the “Know A Guy” Guy doesn’t generally like to murder strangers on behalf of cab drivers who tell people their life stories within thirty seconds of meeting them.  Loose lips sinking ships and what-have-you.

We got the impression Gene was a Grade A bullshit artist, but he was so intriguing as a 70s New Yorker stereotype, we were transfixed by his stories.  It was like having a cross between John Travolta and Travis Bickle drive you around town.

As Gene sped down the I-95 on-ramp, he became annoyed at a car he perceived wasn’t letting him in.  After he merged onto the main highway, he hit the gas and sped up to them, then jerked in front of them and slowed down, turned on the light inside the cab, turned his body towards us in the backseat, leaned over and stretched one arm waaay back, right between our faces, and stuck up his middle finger at the car behind us.  “Sorry about my reach there, girls – I had to make sure that fucker saw I was flippin’ his stupid ass off!  Some fucking people, I tell ya!”

Right after this triumphant flip-offery, Gene’s favorite song happened to come on the radio, which meant that Gene, now brimming with middle finger power, turned the volume up until the blown-out speakers crackled, slammed his foot down the gas pedal, took both hands off the wheel, and started playing furious air-drums, with a lit cigarette in one hand.

No, it wasn’t a Journey song.  If this were fiction, trust me, I would make it a Journey song.

It was the Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground”, and since Gene had all the windows down, his cigarette ashes were flying right back into the car as he air-drummed away.  We sped down the highway towards the club going a hundred miles an hour as burning snowflakes of cigarette ash whipped us in our glittery faces.  At the big drum finish at the end of the song, Gene got so wild with his air-drumming that the cherry from his cigarette flew into the backseat and landed on my lap and burned a hole in my dress.  I picked it up with my fingernails and threw it out the window as fast as I could.  Gene said, “Oh shit, did I get ya?  SAHH-REE!” as he lit a new cigarette.

Then a Sublime song came on and he said, “Fuck this shit!”, and turned it down. At the very least, you could say Gene certainly had his standards.

When we got to the club, Gene gave us his business card and said to call him when we needed a ride back home, I guess since he now knew we were: (a) good for the $40, (b) apparently didn’t scare too easily, and (c) hadn’t yelled at him for trying to set me on fire.

Did we throw Gene’s card away?  Hell no!  This is the part where I remind you that young Anne and Maggie were idiots.

We had an awesome night at the club and stayed until close.  We called Gene and he picked us up, as promised, and didn’t even make us prepay this time.  Apparently, we had “bonded” on the drive up, so now he trusted us.  He was a little more sedate this time, but still talked a mile a minute.  It was less of the variety where he told us he could have someone killed, and more of the variety where he told us about all the people in his life who had let him down.  It was the end of the night, so I imagine he must have been weary and tired at that point, and really, how many stories can you tell about how you kicked that motherfucker’s ass after he stole all your gold chains?  We were tired, too, so we stayed pretty quiet most of the ride.

As we turned down a street that connected the two main streets in town, Gene, as it would soon become apparent, caught his second wind.

The connecting street was lined with huge, old trees and beautiful homes with matching beautiful yards.  It was one of those really nice family neighborhoods with tree-swings and birdhouses that matched the main houses.  Just idyllic and gorgeous, like something out of Better Homes and Gardens.  It was also one of those neighborhoods that went to great lengths to keep people from using it as a cut-through, I assume because they had already had their fair share of cars racing down the street like a straight-away when their kids were just trying to ride bikes and roller-skate.  Every intersection, no matter how small or how close it was to the previous one, had a stop sign with speed bumps before each one, and the speed limit throughout the neighborhood was 20 miles per hour. Gene was not a fan of this as a concept.

Gene got the to first stop sign and speed bump combo, looked around and said, “Well, what the fuck is this shit?”

Gene then put two and two together pretty quickly and decided that this traffic control system was no mere traffic control system.  Not to Gene.  This traffic control system was the first shot in a class war.  A class war that Gene had, apparently, been fighting his entire life, and had built a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder to prove it.

He held down the horn, hit the gas and burned out the tires as he shot towards the next stop sign, intermittently laying on the horn the whole way.  He slammed the brakes and skidded a good twenty feet before he came to the next speed bump, stuck his head out the window, and yelled, “YOU LIKE THAT, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!  YOU WANNA KEEP ME OUT OF YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBORHOOD?!  OH, YOU DON’T WANT PEOPLE LIKE ME CUTTING THROUGH YOUR PRECIOUS FUCKING NEIGHBORHOOD, DO YA?!  OH NO, YOU’RE WAY TOO FUCKING HIGH CLASS TO LET SOME POOR FUCK LIKE ME ON YOUR STREET!  HOW YOU LIKE THIS, YOU RICH FUCKS!  HA HA HA HA HA!!!!  YOU LIKE ME NOW, YOU FUCKS?!!”

Anne’s and my hearts were racing as we gripped each other’s hands and held on for dear life.  We figured at the very least, when the cops came it would be obvious that we were just customers and had no part in this, seeing as neither of us had a tommy gun or a feedbag of cocaine on our laps.

(Then we let each other’s hands go, because we remembered we’re tough guys who don’t hold hands.  In 27 years of best friendship, I believe she and I may have hugged twice.)

There were six more stop signs in the neighborhood.  You can just go ahead and re-read a few paragraphs up to find out what happened at each one.  He even made up a little melody to go along with his obscenity-laden tirades that he punctuated with his horn honking, like this:  “THIS – IS – WHAT – YOU – RICH – MOTH – ER – FUCK – ERS – GET – FOR – BE – ING – SUCH – FUCKS!!  YOU – CAN – GO – AND – SUCK – MY – DICK – YOU – FUCK – ING – FUCKS!!”

When Gene dropped us off at home a few minutes later, still breathless from his tirade, he said, “Listen.  Girls!  Keep a few of my cards, and call me direct the next time you need a safe, clean ride.  I don’t like the idea of youse girls getting into a cab with some of these guys.  Some of these characters are real nutjobs.”

You would think this experience would mean that we would never be calling Gene ever again, but Gene actually became our regular cab driver until Anne finally bought a car later that year.

You would also think that Gene wouldn’t repeat the honking and screaming obscenities out the window thing every time he drove us through that neighborhood, but you’d be wrong on that one.  He did it every single time.

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