God is My Co-Pilot

Jan 27, 2017

Robert DeNiro in "Taxi Driver" (1976)
Credit Columbia Pictures

Telling stories became a part of my routine when I was teaching. Over time these stories developed into what you might call stock pieces … I had a few in my pocket for when transcendentalism and agreement in number just weren’t cuttin’ it that day……and in each telling they evolved….the plot arc is bending toward justice…..

I know the importance of detail, and in teaching writing I told high school students that they should consider being uncertain in a memory detail as a story-telling opportunity, an opportunity to remember things the way they ought to be.  

Naturally, being one who believes in the maxim of practicing what one preaches, I used my stories as an opportunity, an opportunity  for modeling the kind of behavior that would make my students better writers.

I lied to them.

Sometimes I knew I was lying. Sometimes I thought I might be. Sometimes I wasn’t and thought I was because what I had to say seemed so apt that I couldn’t quite accept that it is true. After a while who knows the difference, perception is reality. Taken altogether in these and other variations in shade and hue, I prepared avoidance behavior snack breaks. I was my students’ favorite author.

Their favorite genre was the cab story. I had several, that started out true, and… bent toward justice, let’s say.  

I really did drive a cab, by the way, for a while, 30 years ago in South Bend, to help support the family when I returned to school so I could teach. Seriously, I did that.

Earl, the king of the cab drivers, was sitting in his tricked out Yellow Cab with the wood bead seat cover cushion – and grass-skirt swivel-hip hula-girl dashboard ornament, ---and the GOD IS MY CO-PILOT …… that’s the extreme vanity license plate….one morning in front of the downtown Marriott, when this particular story began.

Earl was the king of the cab drivers because Earl had a list of morning regulars that started at 6:00 and lasted until 10:00 that made it so Earl, the king of the cab drivers, did not have to partake in the lifeblood of the rest of the South Bend metroplex cab driving crew, the dispatch radio. Earl, the king of the cab drivers, was a cab driver by appointment. No assistance required. In the days before cell phones. Independent, self-sufficient, and superior…. “There’s Earl….he doesn’t need a dispatcher until 10:15…”  

God was second in command of Cab 27.

Earl was king. God was merely the co-pilot.

On this particular grey morning in March, riding shotgun, God fell asleep. Earl’s cab 27 caught on fire. Right there in front of the Marriot at a quarter after 10 while Earl leaned back into the folded hands behind his head and into the admiring glow of cab driver envy…”There’s Earl….” right there in the light he shared with the ghost of Knute Rockne and some guy named Colfax…...Earl’s cab caught fire.

Imagine the hub-bub.

At first sniff, Earl suspected trouble with the purple Allied cab second in line behind him …. 

“Allied….”

But before he could climb down with his assistance he saw grey smoke coming out from under his own hood.

When he radio’ed dispatch,”27,”

“27,”

“I got trouble,”

and popped the hood,

flames leaped up.

Earl yelled at the baggage guy,

who ran inside for a fire extinguisher

while the Allied guy grabbed the two-way mic

to call the fire department and

Yellow Cab ‘52’ pulled into the bay.

When Vince radioe’d, “52, ”

“52,”

“Fire,”

every other driver knew what was happening.

One-at-a-time and number-first  procedure collapsed with comments that flooded the airwaves and turned a quiet morning into mayhem, 

“Smother it.”

“Get a blanket.”

“Turn on the heater”

“Close the vents.”

“Stand back.”

“Get a hose.”

“Grab the hula girl.”

"Get the glove box,”

while I listened quietly in my cab 45 across town.

Cab company business jerked with fire related interruptions for the next 20 minutes, but in the end, nobody was hurt; nothing but the Cab 27 was damaged and except for Earl, life on the cab driver road returned to normal soon enough.

I was between calls in Cab  45 when every driver in the fleet and I heard the dispatcher describe the blue Hamilton’s Tow Truck haul the “27” away.

There was a pause and extra long sort of silence from the two-way radio, drivers who wanted to pay their respects, but who didn’t know what to say.

“45,” I said into the two way microphone.

“45,” said the dispatcher,

“Did God get out okay?”

The kids liked that one.