It had been a bad morning driving the cab. I'd had a gun pulled on me and felt as if I was one wrong move from being shot at close range. The wild-eyed fucker was upset about a fare I'd had the day before. And my back was still killing me from what that crazy bitch required for a measly $2 tip.
I'd gotten the first call around 2 P.M. from Shorty, the diminutive dispatcher. He started with his usual, “21?” I answered and he said, “Pick one up at 'The Watering Hole' on St. Charles.” You always hated to get a fare call at a bar. It meant they were alcoholics who'd either had their car repo'ed or they'd lost their license. Either way, they were bound to be wasted and I'd pressure washed enough puke out of my cab to quit caring about the details.
She was this middle-aged chain-smoker in a wrinkled Goodwill dress and her first words were, “I gotta pick up something from the hock shop on 5th.” I reminded her that if I made a stop, I'd have to charge her for two trips. That meant restarting the meter for each trip with the initial $3 flat rate fee charged again before the time began adding up. She wanted to bitch about it but I explained it'd be the same with any cab so calling a different one wouldn't matter. She muttered, “Fuckit,” and we were off to Lenny's Pawn Shop. She went inside and came out a few minutes later with fatass Lenny carrying a big-ass television set. I told him to put it in the trunk. It barely fit. Then she got in, lit up another L&M and told me her address. It was a distressed old white house off a dirt road out on the north side of town. I knew the area because I was living in Northport at the time and had driven by this old neighborhood once or twice. Northport was a small suburb of Tuscaloosa, separated by the Black Warrior River.
Can you imagine now, if a local school had named their sports teams the Black Warriors and had a mascot whose image was that of a large half-black Indian, buck naked and wearing only a flowing chief's feathered headdress covering an obviously turgid shillelagh-sized object below his waistline. The implication being that after our sports team destroys your sports team on the field of battle, our mascot will rip apart your womenfolk in the stands by forcing his dusky manhood into the clinched vaginas of your players' mothers, sisters and aunts? This is the sort of thing that would have been not only possible but immensely popular back when America was a free country with vigor and a willingness to be outspoken and brave. When was the last time you heard anything like, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”?
So I pulled the cab into this lady's dirt driveway and she informed me that I was to get the TV out of the trunk and carry it into her living room. I had anticipated she'd have had a man around to handle this when we got to her house. I politely told her that was not part of my job description and that she'd need to find a neighbor or friend to handle that. “I ain't got no goddamn neighbors or friends. You can't drive off with my TV so you better get it out of that trunk.” It was 105° in the middle of August, so I broke a sweat the minute I leaned over to gain purchase on the huge object. I tried to lift with my legs but I could feel the snap in my back when I finally pulled it out. I managed to lug it into her house and that's when she paid the fare plus her $2 gratuity. I said, “You've got to be fuckin' kidding me! A $2 tip for me breaking my back on this oversized Zenith?” She took umbrage with my tone and I dropped it and sped off, leaving a Dukes of Hazzard-like wake of dust behind me.
I woke up the next morning in considerable pain, but I did what Americans do; I went to work. Around 11:00 A. M. Shorty said, “21?” I answered and he said, ”Some guy wants you to pick him up at 'The Watering Hole.' I said, “You mean he asked for me by name?” Shorty said, “No. He asked for 'the hippie.'" I was wearing my hair around the middle of my back at the time. Again, I knew nothing good could come from a bar call in the middle of the day, but I thought it might be a friend playing a joke, so I figured I'd play along. I pulled up and blew the horn. A skinny little tattooed dude staggered out and got in the front seat. Normally, folks would ask before riding in the front seat, and I'd say “OK” if they seemed benign. But this guy got in and closed the door even before I could suggest otherwise. He smelled of Ezra Brooks and unfiltered Camels. He gave me a familiar address. It was on the way to Northport.
About halfway there, he said, “You the one who took my woman and her TV home yesterday, ain't you?” I said, “Yeah.” He reached into his pants pocket and produced a small pistol, probably a .22. He told me he'd just gotten out of prison and didn't mind going back. Then he told me he was going to kill me for the way I talked to his woman the previous day. I remember feeling somewhat amused by the absurdity of it all at first. Then the seriousness of the situation set in and I started thinking about contingencies. Should I wreck the cab? Should I slam on the brakes and jump out? Nothing seemed workable and he still hadn't pulled the trigger, so I just kept on driving. All the way to her house. When we pulled in the driveway she came running out to meet us and started begging him not to do anything stupid. I guess it worked because the next thing I remember, he was out and I was hauling ass in reverse.
I didn't get paid for that fare but I made up for it the next day. It was raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock, but I did what Americans do; I got up and went to work. I had barely finished my first coffee when Shorty said, “21?” I answered and he said, “Get two for the airport at the Hilton.” Now the airport rides were the best because it was 20 miles outside of town and tips were usually better than average. So I picked up these two middle eastern gentlemen and I got out in the bullet-like rain and put their copious luggage in the trunk. They were very talkative with me. They were from Turkey and wanted stories about the South. I had plenty. When I got their luggage out of the trunk and took it under the awning at the airport, they paid the fare and added a $50 bill as a tip.
So what does a young man do with $50 when he's a junkie who almost got shot the day before and whose back still hurts from the day before that? Well, I can tell you. He calls his dealer and buys some medicine. The preferred medicine at the time was a blue Endo morphine tablet which, coincidentally, cost $50. I procured the tablet and got that familiar feeling of giddiness on the way back to Northport. Narcotics will cause constipation, but the giddiness prior to shooting up will cause you to need the bathroom facilities and soon. I did manage to make it home before any troublesome incident in the cab which would have required a pressure washer. So I was soon at my kitchen table with empty bowels and a clean needle. The procedure would be quite familiar to any junkie, but the basic steps are: Crush the pill in some slick paper (don't want to lose any powder in the perforations of, say, newspaper). Pour the contents into a bent tablespoon. Draw up some clean water into the needle. Shoot the water into the spoon. Stir it up to dissolve as much as possible, probably using the plastic needle cover. Put a lighter underneath the spoon until it just starts to bubble (don't want to boil off any product). Take a part of a cigarette filter and put it in the spoon (not a cotton ball; too likely to cause cotton fever). Firmly place the slanted edge of the needle point on the filter and draw up the product. Point the needle straight up and tap on the barrel to get the air bubbles to the top. Plunge the needle to remove the airspace without losing any product in the process. Find a vein. Insert the needle. Register the syringe (draw a bit of blood) to make sure you have made purchase. And this is when the blue Endo tabs became so magical. The mixture of the sky blue mixture with the blood was beautiful. I always heard Tequila Sunrise playing in my head as I plunged the product into my arm and felt that familiar rush up the back of my neck followed by the warm glow of full forgiveness of all my aches and pains as well as transgressions.
I heard the radio in the cab calling me outside my kitchen window. I sauntered to the cab and pushed the button. It was Shorty. “21?” “Yeah?” Can you pick one up at 4805 Robinson? She just wants to go to the grocery store.?” So I did what Americans do and have always done: I went back to work, high as a fucking mule.>