"Hey, Mr. Cabbie," one of them spoke up, leaning unnecessarily over the front seat. "Couldja take us to the 200 townhouses at St. Mike's? Ya know how to get here?"
"I think so," I responded. "The first 30 or 40 thousand times I took somebody there, it was a little confusing, but I think I got it down now." I hate it when I get sarcastic, but sometimes it just flies out of me. I guess I was bushed, and in a crappy mood to boot. Luckily, these guys were so soused they couldn't distinguish sarcasm from orgasm.
"Right on," the guy replied. "And couldja change that radio station? How about 'IZN or the Buzz?"
"All right let's try 'IZN, 'cause I can't cope with the Buzz."
Just then it hit me. Don't ask me how I knew. I just did. Call it a "sixth sense" except I don't see dead people. I see deadbeats. And all of a sudden I knew these dudes were planning to bolt. Maybe it was their conspiratorial whispering in the back; maybe it was their demeanor or attitude. As I said, I just don't know.
Right at that moment, during the ride, I should have asked them casually, not wanting to show my hand to pay the fare in advance. But I didn't, because when push comes to shove, I still doubt my hunches, and I didn't want to insult them.
Thank heavens, fare jumping is the most heinous crime committed against us local cab drivers. In the big cities, cab drivers are subject to armed robbery, assault and worse. Here in Burlington, maybe once every couple of weeks, a fare runs from the cab without paying. It's infuriating nonetheless, and we harbor murderous feelings toward the perpetrators. Of course, we don't act on these intentions, because that would be wrong, not to mention felonious. But as it turned out in this case, I kind of did.
We arrived at the college, and I pulled into the wide handicapped space marking the entranceway to the sidewalk which webs throughout the 200 complex. One guy got out on the right, and began walking onto the path. The other exited on the left, and stepped over to my window. In a play, you know what's coming next, if you have the script. And that's just how I felt. It was eerie.
I lowered my window, and said, "That'll be eight bucks." He took out his wallet, and even went so far as to flip it open and fuss with the billfold. Then he incongruously slapped the top of my cab, and took off in the direction of his now running friend. It was not at all sudden due to his drunken state nor was I even slightly surprised. As I said, I knew the script.
In that moment, however, I went off script. I was supposed to plaintively watch them scatter into the housing complex, cursing them, first out loud, then under my breath for the next half-hour. Instead, I improvised.
I gunned the accelerator and shot onto the sidewalk, aiming straight at them. I have no explanation for this action, short of temporary insanity a defense the jury never buys. Truth be told, under the right or wrong circumstances, I've been known to veer towards reckless impulse. This was such a circumstance.
Because the sides of the path were high with plowed snow, they could only flee forward, and I maintained a steady pace exactly three feet behind their heels. It was like the running of the bulls at Pamplona, me being a bull and they a pair of unwitting runners.
The headlights now switched to high beams illuminated their backs as they clamored ahead. They kept glancing over their shoulders, eyes saucer-wide in disbelief. They slipped, tumbled, arose, and still I came. Through my windshield, they appeared thoroughly freaked out, the picture of panic. If this cabbie is crazy enough to drive on a sidewalk, he could just as well be sufficiently insane to run us down, was probably the thought running through their minds, and I loved it.
One of them finally hurtled himself over the snow bank to his left, and escaped. The other managed to scurry around to a series of doors on the ground level of one of the apartment blocks. I came to a stop facing him, the headlights trained on him like an escaping convict. For added effect, I began flashing the high beams on and off. He scrambled from door to door, feverishly searching for an unlocked one. The last door was the charm, and he disappeared into the townhouse.
At that point, I could have called St. Michael's Security and had him busted. But I didn't want to waste any more time. Besides, I don't think they condone sidewalk-driving, even under these circumstances.
More importantly, I no longer wanted the money, nor craved justice. I had already gotten eight dollars' worth of satisfaction.