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Crabby Cabbie 

I was in a foul mood, but somehow I’d made it nearly all the way through the night without incident. That’s no small thing on a Saturday. On any given shift — and this is doubly true on weekend nights — a few aggressively obnoxious people can be expected to pass through your taxi. Years of experience have taught me how to finesse difficult folks, to respond in a manner that diffuses their ill intent.

But when I’m confronted with incitable behavior while in an ornery state of mind myself, I tend to lose — or accidentally forget — these time-honed skills.

The two couples I picked up at the tail end of the night sat girl-boy-girl in the back, with the remaining guy next to me. By their ages and dress, I guessed they were a few years post- college.

“East Terrace,” my seatmate indicated. “And then, these guys are going, well — Hey, Dooper,” he said, pivoting to face the rear. “You and Ellie going back to your place tonight, or do you want to sleep over at our condo?”

“Thanks for the offer, Jason,” the woman answered, “but we gotta get up early, so we better get home tonight.”

“Oh, crap!” Dooper wailed in the back. “That’s right — we got that god-awful golf game with your folks. Ellie, explain to me again how we got roped into that, will ya?”

“Don’t give me that,” Ellie replied. You could feel the tension in her voice. “You knew about it all week, and you knew about it when we went out tonight.”

“Hey, guys,” the other woman chimed in. “It’s supposed to be awesome weather tomorrow!”

This was an obvious attempt to “lighten things up,” but Ellie and Dooper were having none of it. It was clear that the topic of “her folks” was an oft-visited sore point.

“I can’t take it anymore,” Dooper retorted, completely ignoring the weather report. “The two of them are totally fixated on getting us married. Your dad is friggin’ relentless. I mean, he’s not even subtle about it.”

“Well, maybe he cares about me. Didja ever consider that? Maybe he’s got a friggin’ point!”

“Cabbie, what the hell is this fare gonna cost?” Dooper was finished — for the time being — fighting with his girlfriend and, from his tone, it sounded like he wanted to start up with me.

“Well,” I replied calmly, “are just two folks getting out here?” We had turned onto East Terrace.

“Yeah, and then we’re going out to Malletts Bay.”

“It’ll be six bucks over here, and 14 out to the Bay.”

“Stop here, man,” Jason prompted me. “This is our place.” I pulled over and shifted into park.

“You’re ripping us off,” Dooper continued from the back. He was leaning forward now, his head nearly perched over the front seat. “You’re raping us and you know it.”

“Sorry you feel that way, but that’s the fare, man. You wanna call another taxi, be my guest.”

“You’re an asshole, ‘man,’ so screw you.”

“Dooper, chill,” Jason interceded. “Why don’t you and Ellie just stay here tonight? I’ll get up early with you and drive you out to the Bay.”

“All right,” Dooper replied, taking out his wallet. “Here’s the six bucks.”

“If all four of you are getting out here, it’s eight bucks. It’s a dollar for each additional person.”

That was a mistake; given this guy’s volatility, I should have just taken the six. But, as I said, I wasn’t at the top of my game.

The other three people had slinked out and were sheepishly milling around on the sidewalk in front of the house. Dooper pulled out another two dollars and threw it in my face. He then stomped out and slammed the cab door so hard the window rattled. He easily could have shattered the glass, which is a $200 repair.

“Hey, buddy,” I called to Dooper through the open front passenger window. “C’mere for a sec. There’s something I’d like you to do for me.”

“Oh, really?” he replied, advancing toward the open window, each word oozing sarcasm. “Just what is that?”

“Could you go fuck yourself?”

Dooper’'s eyes doubled in size, and I believe I detected steam rising from his ears, though that could’ve been my imagination. As he grabbed for the door handle, I threw the vehicle into drive and gunned it. In the rear-view mirror I watched him gesticulating wildly, looking apoplectic.

It was an entirely unsatisfactory exchange for me. Sure, I succeeded in pushing Dooper over the edge, but so what? Time and time again, I’ve experienced how empty it feels to react to anger with anger, violence with violence.

I once heard a spiritual teacher refer to the period of our human existence as “earth school.” If that’s what it is, I think I must be on academic probation right now.

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About The Author

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac

Jernigan Pontiac is a Burlington cab driver whose biweekly "Hackie" column has been appearing in Seven Days since 2000. He has published two book-length collections, Hackie: Cab Driving and Life, and Hackie 2: Perfect Autumn.

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