Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gringo learns Spanish the hard way

I don't speak Spanish, but I've picked up a little bit along the way. A Hyundai Tiburon drove by a cab stand and I said the car is okay, but why does it have a nonsensical name? A Mexican-American driver said it means "shark" in Spanish. I had absolutely no idea. I thought the good folks at Hyndai had tried to invent something! Does anyone know about the Buick LaCrosse in Montreal, or the Chevy Nova in South America?

I've been using tiburon on the radio lately. We have some yellow taxis, some blue, and some white. When business is slow drivers will identify themselves as "el bandito azule" for the blue ones, etc. One guy has the ID "el mejor", meaning "the best", on account of getting long rides. When I hear these IDs, I'll say (please forgive the spelling), "Jo soy el tiburon!"

On a related theme, I remember when a Mexican driver taught me to say, "How are you?" He said, and again please forgive the spelling, "Comme es ta, culo?"

I said that to a few drivers, but thankfully not to any Mexican customers, before somebody explained that it means, "How are you, asshole?" The joke was on the gringo.

McCain by 10 points?

Most of our drivers believe John McCain will be our next president. A few think it will be Obama, and one still thinks it might be GWB again, after a coup sets him up as dictator. From cabstand discussions, it seems our drivers believe experience will give McCain an edge.

We seem evenly split on left and right wing -- we have a number of people who are liberal, and a few conservatives. Some are independent, and there's an odd libertarian. Most want a smaller federal government, but with a strong military. Most believe energy independence is America's biggest need, which isn't too surprising considering fuel is not included in the cab lease.

Border blues

We have a few Mexican drivers who live in Tijuana. They're always complaining about the long line to cross the border into the USA. It takes 1-3 hours. I mentioned to one of them that for $300 or so, per year, he can get an express pass. It's supposed to be much quicker (I read about it in the paper). He said, "I don't want to give money to the U.S. government." An American couldn't have said it better!

Another driver had an idea: Why don't you just run across the desert like everybody else?

The Mexican guy laughed, taking the joke in stride.

Big Marcy

I apologize up front for the upcoming crude language about large ladies. While I harbor no ill will for the bigguns, I decided to write this in the way it was discussed. Remember that we are, after all, cabbies!

After midnight our informal cab stands form across the street from any number of bars. One such stand has generated a regular customer: Big Marcy. Her qualities include the following:

+ 300 lbs or more
+ dumb
+ lazy
+ mean
+ alcoholic
+ needs alcohol rehabs and Weight Watchers.

She likes to curse, especially at cab drivers and her skinny husband. She treats him like a slave, barking orders at him. Also, Big Marcy is a short ride and she doesn't tip. Despite all this, I'm sure she's a fine woman. I'm the Pope, by the way.

Because people can't smoke in bars in California, there's usually a crowd of smokers in front of bars. Like hawks we watch these crowds for a raised hand or the yell, "Taxi!" Some people just give The Look, as if that's sufficient. When we get a taker, the guy first in line will start his car, do a U-turn, and pull around to the bar. We also watch these crowds for pukers and other undesirables. Fortunately for us, Big Marcy is easy to spot.

Standing around with other drivers, somebody will yell, "Marcy!" and the first driver will get in his car, readying to leave the stand if she wants a cab. Sometimes drivers get belled to her, meaning she called HQ from her cell. If the driver refuses the bell, he loses the next hour's worth of bells, making refusal a bad option. He might get an angry call from the cab company owner, too, and that's not pleasant.

Last night Marcy came out of a bar and jiggled her way through the throng of smokers and came to rest at the curb. We became anxious. From our vantage point across the street, we saw her raise a chubby arm. We all looked away, pretending not to see.

The arm waved with vigor, and the jokes commenced:

    She's burning a lot of calories waving that arm around. We shouldn't spoil her workout by picking her up.

    These old taxis don't have suspensions that can handle a girl like that.

    I don't like it when my tailpipe drags on the ground.

    Do you think she'd fit in the trunk?

    They don't need a cab. The skinny little husband can give her a piggy-back ride.

    Too bad there's not a Jenny Craig around here. We could drive by on the way to her house as a subtle hint.

(I did warn you we're cabbies. I'd like you to believe I didn't join in.)

Then the worst thing that can happen, happened. Big Marcy reached into a purse the size of a carry-on and pulled out a cell phone. The first driver jumped in his taxi, started his car, and was gone for the night. The second driver leaned in his window and switched off his radio. So sorry, he joked, I didn't hear my radio.

The third driver was looking dejected. After dispatch tried in vain to reach the first two, the third was called. I was fourth in line and, needing him to accept the bell, made a mockery of telling him it was his duty to answer the radio and take the bell. Is he a person of strong moral fiber, or not? "The honorable thing to do," I explained, "is to help that poor woman." If my appeals failed, I'd have to offer him cash.

With a lot of cursing before keying the mic, he accepted the bell, then proceeded to light a fresh cigarette. We all laughed at the slow pace he was setting. Big Marcy, meanwhile, is watching us from across the street. Then the driver did something that has never been tried before. He moved his front seats all the way back, easily done by leaning in the open windows and pressing the buttons. "My seat motors are broken," he practiced. "Think she'll fit back there?"

One smart-guy pointed out that the skinny hubby will take the back seat, and Marcy will take the front. He hadn't thought of that, but he quickly recovered, moving the passenger side seat all the way forward, then tilting the back of the seat all the way back.

Before he left he said something about not being able to reach the pedals, but he did well, considering. He made his U-eey and pulled to the curb. We watched poor ole Marcy open one door and then another, then give up.

Dispatch came on the radio:

    Dispatch: What happened with Marcy? She's saying you refused to drive her.

    Driver: She doesn't fit in the car. The electric seats aren't working, so we couldn't make it work.

    Dispatch: 10-4.

He then went on to the next driver, who never answered.

Tonight the driver who had the "seat malfunction" received a call from the owner, who tried to catch him in the lie by telling him to bring the car to the mechanic immediately to get the car worked on. It was a blown fuse, the driver explained, and he had just replaced it.

That night the owner made an announcement on the radio: All drivers will pick up Marcy, with no exceptions.

We've gone through that with several other bad customers, like Reed and the deceased Marzetti. Now we'll have to put more work into it, just like with those others. We'll have to monitor Marcy's whereabouts during the course of her drunken evenings and evade by changing stands legitimately. I have trouble remembering, so maybe I'll use the small notebook I keep in the car for gambling pools.

If I miss the radio calls giving away her movements, I can always do what I do with the others: pay some other driver to take the bell. Somebody will usually take an idiot off my hands for $5 or $10.