The Chicago Cabbie: Summer 2004
I spent most of the day alone, at the Art Institute, thoroughly enjoying the artwork, eating at the cafe they have there and calling Just’In while devouring my sandwich. I was finally and politely told to leave by one of the security guards. It was closing time. I stepped out of the building, thoroughly satisfied by the art-filled day and tried hailing a cab. No luck. It was about five o’clock. Rush hour for just about anywhere. Plenty of cabs to be seen, but all of them full or rushing off to an area more profitable.
So I walked a city block toward my hotel, all the while looking at traffic. A lady with a petition in her hand approached me while I studied the flow of cars. She asked me whether I was a register voter of Illinois. I’m sure she was feeling as frustrated as I was. I stood at a street corner while the traffic was stopped at a red light. Three lanes away, I saw a taxi that was lit. I looked around, took a deep breath, and ran into the stopped traffic. Sure enough, no one in the car. I jumped in and slammed the door with a sigh.
I should have waited. As the car leapt forward, I told the driver my cross street. He punched the meter, and we got acquainted. I was intentionally vague. Yes, I’m associated with New Mexico and Utah. I’m here on vacation with my family. Yeah, I was just at the Art Institute (but so were hundreds of other people, I’m sure). Oh, you’re Italian? How long have you been here in New York? Do you like being a taxi driver?
After this point, he explained to me that State Street is blocked off. We had to cross it to get to my hotel, so he had to go around.
He looked into the rearview mirror and studied me for a minute or two. Then he says, “You beautiful, beautiful-a girl.”
“Thank you,” I replied. I was blushing a bit.
“We go-a on date?”
“Oh, why not? You do not like me? I-a not friendly?”
I shook my head. At this point, I was wondering whether he blocked State Street on purpose.
“What is it?” He was at a red light, so he turned to look at me directly, putting his arm on the seat divider between us. I leaned back suddenly. His change in position got him a little too close for my taste; I was leaning forward to hear him better.
He glanced at the arm draped along the seat. “Is it the hair? Do you not like hair?”
His arm was rather black and covered in hair, but I honestly felt no revulsion toward that.
“No, it’s not that. Even if I did like you, I’m leaving tomorrow. And I’m here with my family!” It was true that I couldn’t quite pin down why I didn’t want to date this guy, but maybe it was because I’d just met him fifteen minutes earlier.
An awkward silence accrues. I had hoped for a scenic and informal tour through Chicago’s streets, but instead, I looked out the window so I didn’t have to look into the rearview mirror.
As soon as I recognized the neighborhood, he said, “Why you not date me? It because I don’t-a speak good-a English?”
Yes, that’s exactly it. I’m a writer, and you have to write it well, too. “No, I’m impressed with your English. You’ve learned it quickly. I like that you’re Italian.”
“Then you date me? You very beautiful.”
“No, I won’t date you.”
“I’m Italian. I can sing. Here, let me sing for you.” And sure enough, he started singing, very much like all the Italian men you’ve ever heard sing. I was afraid he would crash because of all that extraneous head movement of his.
I saw the entrance to the hotel. I took out my cash and even pick out the right tip. I started to hand it to him as he pulled up to the front doors.
“No, no,” he says, pushing my money away. He watched me put it away, then grabbed my arm as I gripped the seat to get out of the car. “Please. Please date me.”
He sounded so desperate. He had such sadness in his eyes.
I was in Chicago. I was hungry. I was now terrified. “No! No! Thank you, but no!” I jumped out of the car. I felt his stare following me in the door. As I stood and waited for the elevator, I was sure he was going to come in the front door after me. His cab was still sitting in the driveway. I went up to my hotel room and then realized that the last thing I wanted him to do was figure out what room I was staying in. So I grabbed a book and a notebook from my room and went back down the the lobby. Even though the cab was gone, I was still trembling. Just because I didn’t see a yellow car could just mean he meant to park somewhere and come searching for me. I had no idea how desperate the guy actually was.
I sat the lobby part that was set further back from the entrance, hidden by a fireplace. I opened my book, but my mind was racing far too fast to read anything. So I opened up my notebook and wrote it all down. Even when Dad called my phone and we headed down to a pizza shop down the street, I was still trembling, looking over my shoulder.
The family thought it was funny. Hysterical. I got a pin from the grandparents as a gift-souvenir; it was a yellow-and-black Chicago cabbie.