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Taxiing down Memory Lane, Again

Between the Buttons, Sept. 21, 1978


            A regular feature of cab driving in Madison was hauling drunks around; the night that I didn’t transport one or two of them was the exception rather than the rule. To have one approaching my cab always set my nerves on edge — you never knew what to expect — but on at least one occasion, my expectations were way off, and in an unexpected way.

            This particular case appeared to be one of the Non-Walking Wounded, hauled to my cab by Joe, the owner of a bar called Troia’s, and one of his bartenders. “Take care of her,” Joe said, pouring her into the back seat. Sure, I said to myself, I’m running a babysitting service, aren’t I?

            I looked at my passenger: late twenties, and very attractive, despite her jelly-like state. Getting an address out of her was a hit-and-miss proposition; it sounded like Monona Grove, a southeast suburb, so I pointed the big yellow Chevy east and leaned into it. I wanted to get this one over quickly — but if I’d known how long it would actually take me, I probably wound have stopped right then and there.

            We hadn’t gone far when I realized something was out of the ordinary. Drunks’ teeth usually don’t chatter, and hers were. She was also slumped over in the seat, moaning. For the lack of anything better to do, I jacked up the speed a notch.

            We got to Monona quickly enough, but that was the easy part. The address she had given me made no sense at all, and more questioning didn’t clear it up. I finally found the right street, but she was unable to identify her house. We eventually located it by counting houses from a corner.

            I had expected to have to help her out of the cab, knew that I would likely have to take her arm and walk her to the door. But when her knees buckled as her feet hit the ground, I ended up carrying her.

            Once inside, I got her into a chair; she fell out of it. I tried to find out what was wrong, and she assured me that she hadn’t been drinking, had simply collapsed at the bar. She brushed off questions about medical problems, telling me not to worry and that I could leave. I was still concerned — not the least because I hadn’t been paid yet.

            Finally, I got her doctor’s name and, despite her protests, called the hospital and got him on his mobile phone. After hearing the symptoms and the situation, he said, “Madison General Emergency Room, and hurry!” I did, sliding up the Beltline in record time; the doctor and an attendant met me at the ER entrance, the former slapping eight dollars in my hand and the latter carting off my fare nearly as fast as I had.

            I was a little shell-shocked. Although she had been in my car for nearly an hour, things seemed to have happened awfully fast. I walked out to my cab, nearly forgetting to get a token for the parking ramp exit gate, and hit the street again.

            I hadn’t gone two or three blocks when the dispatcher said I had been called back to the hospital. Now what, I thought — do I get to sign a death certificate, answer questions from the police, or what?

            The doctor met me in the lobby, smiled and said, “I forgot to tip you.” I felt ridiculous, took the money and turned to go, but he stopped me. “She’s going to be alright,” he said. I looked at him, looked at the two-dollar tip, said “Fine, I’m glad to hear it!” — and went out to hit the streets again.

            About a year later I picked up the same fare, at a different bar, and in an entirely different state. She seemed healthy, reasonably stable — and totally oblivious to who I was and what I had done.

            I didn’t have the heart to remind her. It was just another case — one of many in the cab business — where our worlds slide by each other, barely touching and hardly leaving a mark.


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