Chapter 34 – Scrappin’ With Cabbies
Coincidentally, an Australian dude named Harry who we’d met partying by the river in Vang Vieng had been flying stand-by and managed to get on the same plane as us to Thailand. Having spent the last couple years in Bangkok making a living as a DJ, Harry offered to share a cab and to help us find our hostel. After claiming our baggage, our foursome piled into the first available taxi. From the backseat I passed a slip of paper containing our hostel’s address and phone number up to the driver.
“Do you know where this is?” I asked as he took it from my hand and gave it a quick read.
“Yes, yes,” the wheelman said with a brisk nod of the head, indicating his familiarity with the location.
After pulling out of the airport in the air conditioned vehicle and hitting the nicely paved expressway, I looked out upon all the modern skyscrapers which’d been lit up and juxtaposed against twilight’s last gleaming. From the perspective of a take-it-all-for-granted Western kid who’d never been to an impoverished country before spending a week between Cambodia and Laos, I felt a strange sense of comfort from once again being in the midst of these familiarities. On the other hand, what didn’t make me feel so warm and cozy at the time had been how the driver kept taking his eyes off the road and swerving between lanes as he grabbed at an evasive something-or-other on the floor, underneath his seat. A few moments later, he got his grubby mitts on what he’d been reaching for and let us know all about it.
“Hey, hey! Smoke,” he grumbled in a raspy two-pack-a-day voice while glancing back at us in the rearview mirror through bloodshot eyes. “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke!” he then added in a sing-song fashion and began chuckling.
“No, I don’t want a smoke,” I said, not even sure whether he’d been making an offer to us or just announcing what he was about to do.
“Smoke!” he laughed again then lit and dragged from his cig. “Smoke, smoke, smoke!” he repeated on the exhale through a big shit-eating grin.
I’ve honestly never seen anyone as ecstatic to be puffin’ a butt as this old Thai cab driver who I thought looked a lot like the grandpa from 3 Ninjas had. With lungs full of carcinogenic bliss, this fuckin’ dude’s carefree lane-lines-are-optional demeanor at the wheel reminded me of a kid splashing around in a bubble bath who could give less of a shit that half the water is spilling out of the tub and seeping down into the neighbor’s apartment below.
At some point about twenty-five minutes into the ride, traffic began to get a little shitty. As we inched forward, we’d soon see that the hold-up had been caused by a big crowded-ass political demonstration complete with guys yelling into megaphones and people waving around flags and picket signs written in Thai.
“Yo Harry,” Tim asked, “what’s that all about?”
“That,” he began, “is part of the civil unrest they’ve got going on here. There’s actually been quite a few of them lately. They’re all about the future of the country. The King is sick and it’s unclear who’s gonna take over when homeboy kicks the bucket.”
“Ah right,” I chimed in while gazing out the window. “I remember reading something about that before taking off. Looks fucked up.”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed, “it kinda is.”
Sensing that we’d been discussing the rally as we idled next to it, the driver also decided to throw in his two cents on the subject.
“Very bad,” he groaned. “Very bad.”
“Yeah, yeah,” we all agreed, unable to initiate a group discussion on the topic due to the language barrier. “Very bad, indeed.”
Soon enough, the traffic picked up and we were once again on our way. As we cruised along, I started to get the feeling that something else was “very bad” in the way the driver squinted out the window at signs he seemingly didn’t recognize and made a series of hesitant turns down random-ass backstreets while the meter steadily increased. For the time being I gave him the benefit of the doubt and figured that if something were indeed totally wrong, Harry would’ve let us know because, after all, he told us that he knew Bangkok.
Well, nearly an hour had passed and I’d found out the hard way that my judgments had been aligned with reality. The driver was totally lost but appeared to have no intention of admitting it and/or stopping for directions. As the smoky cab continued to weave aimlessly through the sprawling mess that is Bangkok, frustrations began to boil over.
“Dude,” Tim moaned, “where the fuck are we?”
“Yeah Harry,” Kathleen joined in, “are we almost there yet?”
“I actually have no idea where we are right now,” he imparted. “Sorry guys.”
“Hey driver, excuse me,” Kathleen asked as she tapped the guy on the shoulder. “Where is our hostel?”
“Huh?” he grumbled while peering back in the mirror.
“Are we close to the hostel?”
“Are. We. Close. To. The. Hos-tel. Right. Now?”
“Ah yes. Hotel very soon,” he reassured us, puffing on his fifth “smoke smoke” of the ride. “Very soon.”
A few minutes passed during which we got back on and stuck to a main road before turning down yet another random alley with no sign of any sort of hostels in sight.
“Why would you say you know where a place is when you really don’t?” Tim said as the meter piled ever higher. “I don’t fuckin’ trust this dude. He’s a total asshole.”
“Neither do I,” Kathleen spat, “not one bit.”
As the driver got us more and more lost, tensions continued to flare. Sometime during the wandering, the taxi pioneered by Victor Wong approached and stopped at a red light that seemed to last for-ev-ver. When the light had finally turned green, all the cars in front of us drove off but we didn’t move. While all posterior vehicles began honking at our immobility, we quickly discovered our already despised driver had passed out at the wheel. As a telltale stream of drool ran from the old man’s lips down to his chest, any chance of an amicable ending to the strenuous rift in cabbie/passenger relations had gone out the window.
“Hey! Wake up you stupid motherfucker!” Tim shook the guy’s seat and jolted him back to life. “Where the fuck is our hostel?”
“Here! Here! Here!” Wong said while immediately pulling over to the side of the road in front of some random-ass restaurant. “Hotel good! Good hotel! Here!”
After re-examining the address on the sheet then double-checking with the ones on the nearby buildings, it was plain to see they didn’t even come close to matching.
“Oh my God dude, we’re not even on the right fuckin’ street,” Tim yelled. “Sukhumvit Soi 1! You said you knew where it was! What the fuck?”
“Here. We need to be here. On this street,” I once again produced the address for him to look at. “Suk-hum-vit. Soi. One.”
“Sukhumvit…Soi…One…” he scratched his head as he read the paper, “…Sukhumvit…Soi…One…”
With a look of utter confusion, the driver used what English he knew to mumble a mouthful of barely audible non sequiturs before trailing off and speaking to himself in Thai. During this time, Harry opened the passenger door and climbed out onto the curb.
“Where are you goin’?”
“I’m out guys,” he said. “I’m sorry. I thought I could help. Here’s some money. It’s gonna be a big enough pain in the ass to find my own apartment from wherever the fuck we are right now.”
“Really dude? You’re leavin’ us with this guy?”
“Yeah. I’m outta here. Good luck and call me tomorrow if you wanna come to the club. I’ll be DJ-ing.”
“Shit. Alright man. We’ll see ya later, I guess.”
“Yeah,” he said on the brink of slamming the door, “see ya.”
As Harry began walking away with belongings in hand and frustration left in the dust, the driver must’ve feared he was about to get stiffed and quickly switched from confused to aggravated.
“Money! Pay money!” he shouted as he hopped out of the cab after Harry.
“They have my money,” Harry pointed towards the taxi. “They pay.”
Suddenly turning his aggression to the three of us in the back seat and spitting as he yelled the same demand in our faces, the driver put the O’Shaughnessy’s over the edge which is something that any self-respecting individual in their right mind would never wanna do. When an angry Tim and an angry Kathleen are both pissed off but not directing their vexation at each other and are instead teamed up against someone else, it’s really not a fair fight – like, not a fair fight at all. It can actually be quite scary, especially if you or someone you care about happens to be the sorry bastard in the crosshairs of their vehement reproach. Since this guy deserved every bit of what he’d been dealt, it’s a goddamn shame he didn’t understand a word of it.
As the brother and sister let loose a tag-team barrage of obscenity-laced recriminations that would cause even the most foul-mouthed longshoreman to blush, I felt the time was right to step out of the cab and temporarily relieve myself from the hostility to get some fresh air. With all my belongings still locked securely in the trunk which I had no access to, I had no intention of ditching on the bill whatsoever. Nevertheless, my stepping out for a breather had been construed by the driver as an attempt at screwing him over.
“You pay MONEY!” he charged up and shouted in my face. “PAY MONEY NOW!”
I’m not gonna lie, even though he did look a lot like Victor Wong and 3 Ninjas had been one of my favorite movies growing up, I swear I could’ve torn that guy’s head off and shit down his throat without feeling an iota of remorse. At the same time however, I figured that it’s probably not cool to cock back and jack an elderly dude forty years my senior in a country where I’m a guest even if he was totally in the “Wong.” So, I played it cool. After all, perhaps this incident had been karma coming back around to bite me in the ass for all the shit that my friends and I had put cab drivers through when we were younger, drunker man-children.
Back in my neighborhood of Chicago, cab ditching had practically become a sport for some of my peers, acquaintances and associates around ages 18 to 21. Ditching became so prevalent during this period of our lives because the majority of my friends still lived at home on the far northwest side but thought it was the shit to go get wasted at all the “cool” bars down in the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood on the near north side. Whether too lazy to take cost-efficient but time-consuming public transportation home from the bars, too ignorant and privileged to empathize with the cabbies’ struggle to earn a living and/or the fact that some of my buddies are just huge assholes who loved ripping off Ben Bailey wannabes, it seemed that paying for a return trip from LP was something absolutely out of the question.
Most often, this dastardly deed had been initiated when a group of drunken NW-side pricks would get in the cab and tell the driver to head in the general direction of our neighborhood. Then, about twenty-five minutes and a twenty-five to forty dollar tab later, said drunkards would give a bogus address a few blocks away from their respective homes and coordinate an exodus, delivering them from payment. When it came time to bail, everyone would get out and run in different directions. Even on occasions when the cab driver had attempted a chase and/or called the police for assistance, the northwest-siders had the upper hand and would cut through all the backyards with which they had a lifetime of familiarity. The escapes were easy, the thrills were cheap and the rides were free.
Although my history as recorded in these pages might suggest that I’m the type of degenerate asshole who’d get my rocks off by bailing on fares when wasted, I am in actuality totally against ditching cabs and had no intention of starting to ditch cabs there in Bangkok. In fact, I’m so against ditching cabs that I’ve even been on rides where everybody else ditched and I just ended up paying the bill by myself because I felt so bad for the poor son of a bitch at the wheel who can find no better way to earn a living than weathering late-night abuse dealt by alcoholic losers. Just because I’d never consciously ditch a cab however, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hammered enough to hallucinate that other people are in the vehicle with me when they’re really not and conveniently imagine that these friends have offered to pick up the bill.
Picture this, I was an eighteen-year-old kid home from college for Christmas break. As most other cab-ditching stories start, I’d been tying one on at all the “super sweet-ass, unbelievably cool” bars down in Lincoln Park. Once I’d been nice and over-served – maybe even “asked” to leave from wherever I’d been, I can’t be sure – I hopped in a taxi and told him to head for the northwest side. During this trip, I must’ve passed out because next thing I knew, we were parked in front of my house and my attention had been being summoned from the front of the cab by an Indian driver with calls of, “Sir, sir! You need to wake up, sir!”
Once I came to, through my kaleidoscope vision I could see the bill on the meter had been forty-something dollars. After opening my wallet to discover it’d been exactly forty-something dollars I didn’t have, I asked my buddy with whom I imagined I’d been sharing this taxi to help a brother out.
“Hey Hillsburgh, can you get this one?” I remember saying to my friend who wasn’t there as I climbed from the back seat, spilled out onto the front lawn and began crawling towards my house.
“Sir!” the cabbie came chasing after me as I traversed my property on all fours. “You have to pay your fare, sir!”
“Dude,” I grumbled while pointing towards where I thought my man’d sat in the back seat, “Hillsburgh said he’d get this one.”
“There is no Mr. Hillsburgh! Only You! Only you are in the cab!”
Calling his bluff, I stood up, staggered back to the taxi and peered into the door which I’d neglected to shut. I was shocked to see the cab’s interior vacant.
“Whoa dude,” my mind had been blown, “where’d Hillsburgh go?”
“Sir, there never was any Hillsburgh! Only you! Now you must pay for your ride!”
“Alright, alright. Take it easy. I gotcha,” I assured him as I pulled out my wallet, having already forgotten that it was empty.
When the driver saw I didn’t have any cash, he began accusing me of this and that while cussing me the fuck out and I returned the favor with a few choice words of my own. Although I ended up letting that dude have a pretty malicious verbal thrashing, I ultimately proved that I had no intention of ditching his cab by guiding him to the nearest bank where I hit up the ATM and settled the bill in full.
Not all cab drivers are created equal, however. Whereas one cabbie may be thick-skinned and will have no problem deflecting bullshit while dishing back heaping helpings of his own abuse just to get what he is owed, others can be quite sensitive and can’t take the heat.
On another occasion when I’d been three sheets to the wind and had unleashed a vile torrent of expletives at a cabbie in response to a missed turn, he was so fucking offended he ended up not wanting our money and basically gave us a free ride. The specifics of this episode are detailed in the following G-chat conversation I had with a friend named Dennis in February of 2013:
Me: Yo, we should hang out when I get back (sent from Dhaka, Bangladesh, where, ironically, quite a few Chicago cab drivers hail from).
Big Dennis: For sure man, I’m down. I think my bike is still at your house too. Haha
Me: Yeah, not to worry – it’s garage-kept.
Big Dennis: Nice. I remember leaving it there that night we went to Zachary’s on Milwaukee (4am loser bar) and got home at 6am. You called the cab driver a “fucking asshole” and he kicked us out – no charge, free ride.
Me: Hahahaha. Sounds about right. Didn’t he saying something like “fuck your dad?”
Big Dennis: No, he said, “Do you talk to your father like that?” and you said, “Yeah, I do, asshole!” Then he says, “Enough! Enough! Get the fuck out!” Hahaha
Me: Hahahah. Dude, I was so fucked up. But cheers to that guy for sticking to his principles and refusing to forfeit his dignity for a buck. Likewise, I’ll take a free ride every time if all it costs me is a cuss or two and a stain on my soul.
Big Dennis: Ha, for sure. I got home that night and couldn’t fall asleep I was laughing so hard.
Me: I shoulda fuckin’ pissed in the back of his cab.
Big Dennis: Haha. I did that once to an Asian cabbie that was being a total asshole.
Me: Haha where? How many people were in the cab with you?
Big Dennis: It was only me and Howzer – took a cab from Lincoln Park to the Isle (Irish bar in our ‘hood). I had $15 and Howzer was dry, so me and him were arguing back and forth cuz the ride was $28. I tell Howzer to use his credit card and he refuses so the guy locks the doors and won’t let us out. I’m screaming in his face, trying to open the fucking door yelling “Open up you gook, I gotta piss!” He says, “Pay now or I call cops.”
Big Dennis: So Howzer climbs through the glass partition and gets in front to argue, shows him his marine ID and says “I have a family to feed, can’t pay cab.” The guy pulls a Benny (black cab driver on Mars in the 1990 release of Total Recall who lies to Arnold about having a family) and shoots back, “I got six kids to feed.” I then grab him and say, “Open the door asshole!” He does a karate move, bends the shit out of my arm and informs me he’s calling the cops for assault. We talk him down and I text Howzer to distract him. So, I plank across the back seat and over the course of five minutes piss on the floor, painfully stopping and starting because I thought he could hear the stream. Then Howzer pops the door from the front, I throw my $15 at him and we run.
Me: Hahahhaha. That’s fuckin amazing. You laid down to piss?
Big Dennis: Haha, yeah. It was one of my more impressive feats. I had my shoes on one door armrest and my hands on the other supporting myself.
Big Dennis: Like this: [———T——-] Essentially like that with the “T” being my dick. Ahaha.
Me: Hahahah. I can’t stop laughing.
Big Dennis: Not only did we stiff him on the fare, but we left him with a back seat full of piss. I struggled to run away, I was laughing so hard. Imagine the next person that got in there.
Me: Hahhahah. You think he noticed it before some unfortunate passenger sat in it?
Big Dennis: Probably. The scent was very strong – one of those dark yellow dehydrated pisses from drinking beer all day.
Even though some cabbies may be overly-sensitive towards name-calling and will give out free rides because their principles have been infringed upon and some guys might raise their voice in anger and throw around empty threats of calls to the police, there are some cab drivers out there who don’t take no shit and won’t hesitate to fuck you up if there’s any perceived nonsense about to transpire. One fine example highlighting cabbie retaliation had been when two of my buddies were a little too messed up to smoothly ditch a cab after getting a ride back to the ‘hood from Lincoln Park about five years ago.
Now, these two guys that we’ll call Skeet and The E-Train for practical purposes had at the time been major cab-ditching enthusiasts who pretty much had the practice down to a science. While always employing the fake address technique, as soon as the cab came to a halt, each of them would simultaneously burst out the doors, bolt in different directions and disappear so quickly into random backyards that if the cabbie were to go after them, he would’ve had as much luck finding them as a guy with no arms has when going out for a pass and trying to catch a football. As brilliant as they were most of the time however, their track record was not flawless.
One time after racking up an exorbitant bill with the intention of ditching, Skeet had been drunker than fuck and was in no condition to execute a sudden, synchronized split-up as the cab came to a halt in front of the phony address they’d given. By the time that he finally figured out what was going on, The E-Train had already been out the door and on his way to freedom. Way too late and far too hammered to make a clean getaway, Skeet should’ve just cut his losses, accepted that he fucked this one up and paid the bill. Instead, he sloppily opened up the door and tried to make a run for it.
The moment Skeet began his ugly uncoordinated escape, the on-his-toes-like-a-midget-at-a-urinal cabbie stomped the gas and peeled the fuck out. As my bro horizontally hung out the rear door and clung to the handle while the cab gained more and more momentum, Skeet soon lost his grasp and went tumbling down the street like that bitch Gucci Mane booted out of his moving Hummer back in 2011.
During a separate taxi cab blunder not long after having gotten road rash, Skeet was once again returning to the neighborhood after getting bombed down in LP when shit got ugly.
“I took a cab home from Toasted Ox. For some reason I was by myself,” Skeet explained. “When we pulled up in front of my house, the guy tells me it’s gonna be forty dollars. I look in my wallet and there’s nothing in it. I spent it all at the bar. So I began trying to persuade the guy that I had, in fact, already paid when I clearly didn’t and obviously, he wasn’t havin’ it. And then he started givin’ me shit and yellin’ at me and my mom must’ve heard the altercation because…”
Skeet’s mother came running out the door with purse in hand ready to pay just in time to see her son shove the man against his own cab and force-feed him a knuckle sandwich. Luckily for Skeet, the Yellow Cab employee did not insist on police intervention. He was willing to excuse the assault for his fare in full…with, of course, the addition of a handsome tip coughed up by Skeet’s mom. Taking what he was due, the wheelman drove off into the night to retrieve and deliver several more batches of abusive drunken animals who may or may not have opted to use his face as a punching bag.
A bit before Skeet did it and way before Patrick Kane had popularized the trend of striking cab drivers while intoxicated, I had a little event of my own. As I stated earlier, I don’t ditch cabs and when drivers treat me as if I’m going to ditch their cab, I can get pretty riled up. Allow me to take you back to 2006 to show you what I mean…
After a long weeknight of drinking in downtown Milwaukee, we packed eight people into a standard four-door cab – not even a minivan – and took it back to campus to get some greasy late night crushables. The driver pulled in front of Marquette Gyros but would not let us out until he had the money in his hands. Since I had two contortedly situated passengers on my lap, I personally did not have the capacity to attain my wallet and from the looks of it, neither did anyone else in the back seat.
“Yo dude,” I called out to the cabbie, “can you unlock the doors back here? I can’t even reach my wallet.”
He refused to do so. Since the two people who’d sat in the front seat weren’t about to front the bill for the six people in the back, this immediately became an issue. Although I had all intention of paying this man, I was quickly tiring of the unwarranted incarceration. With my legs cramped as fuck, I grabbed onto the door handle and started pulling at it.
“Let me out of here!” I shouted.
So, I kept pulling on the handle hoping this action would somehow have an alternate outcome than it had just moments beforehand and, not in the way I’d planned, but in a way it definitely did.
As it turns out, the lever I’d intended on using to set me free ripped off in my hand and turned the situation into a much larger ordeal than it ever had to be. After hearing the loud crack in the back of his cab and realizing what’d just happened, the driver hopped out of the vehicle, ran over to the passenger side and started yelling in the face of my roommate Tommy who’d sat in the front seat but was then standing there on the curb. The rear doors remained locked but at this point everyone from the back had been crawling up and out the front passenger door one-by-one.
After I was able to wriggle my way out of his vehicle, I was super pissed off by the fact that that asshole had been pissed off at me for the broken handle when, essentially, it’d been a problem that he created for himself. Drunk with rage – and with liquor ;) – I stormed over, shoved Tommy out of the way and served the guy the most devastating open-handed bitch slap I’ve ever delivered to the face of another human being. His glasses went flying and shattered in the street as he doubled over and recoiled from the blow. Without even waiting for a response from the man, I just casually walked away without paying, strolled into the restaurant he drove me to then sat down and ordered a gyro sandwich like nothing had even happened. Not surprisingly, he and several policemen entered the diner shortly thereafter and interrupted my fourthmeal with legal repercussions.
Back in Bangkok, the old smoke-loving cabbie was doing his best to turn me back into the old me by shouting in my face for “MONEY!” as little droplets of spit and his stink-ass breath struck my face with a vengeance. As a more mature and lot less drunk version of myself, I refused to once again stoop so low.
“I’m not running away. Calm the fuck down,” I said before once again pulling out the slip of paper containing the address he two hours ago had said he knew. “Here guy, one more time. Sukhumvit Soi 1. Read it right here. Take us here. Take us to this place.”
“No! No! You pay MONEY!”
“God damn it dude,” I stepped back towards the cab and redirected my attention to Tim and Kathleen who remained in the back seat. “This guy’s fuckin’ retarded. There’s no talking to him. He’s a belligerent asshole. What can we do about this situation?”
“You got the phone number to this place, right?” Kathleen asked.
“Yeah, I got it written next to the address on this piece of paper.”
“Well, let’s get this fuckin’ guy’s cell phone and see if anyone at the hostel can help us out.”
I liked the idea a lot and persuasively played charades until Wong got the message and reluctantly handed over his cell piece. After snagging it out of his hand and dialing the number, I stuck the ringing phone into the backseat of the cab.
“Here, who wants to talk?”
Kathleen grabbed it.
“Yes, hi, do you speak English?…Great. Is this Soi 1 Guesthouse located on Sukhumvit Soi 1?…Excellent….Well, we’re supposed to be staying there tonight.…No, we already made reservations…Yeah, we’re on our way from the airport but our cab driver has been driving us all over the city and conveniently only speaks English when he wants us to pay him. Anyone there speak Thai that can direct this guy from where we’re at?…Awesome, thanks. Here, hang on, I’m about to put him on the phone.”
And that was it. The people from the hostel helped get the job done. I gotta say though, I really didn’t like paying that fuckin’ dickhead all we did for a two-hour-long wild-goose chase after he’d lied to us about knowing where the hostel was. In fact, I would’ve loved nothing more than to have watched him get repeatedly blasted in the face by Super Soakers full of diarrhea, but something tells me that that’s an altogether unrealistic outcome for this man. I needn’t worry though, the way that guy had a tendency to fall asleep at the wheel from whatever substances he’s “smoke, smoking” while driving, it probably won’t be long before Pink Floyd and he have something in common – that is, both their last big hits being “the wall.”