The man approached my cab pressing on the white towel wrapped around his right hand. As he eased into the seat next to me, I noticed the crimson blotches. Bar-fight casualty sprang to mind.
"Going up to the emergency room?" I asked.
"I think I better," he replied unwrapping the towel for an inspection. Human blood freaks me out, but, of course, I couldn't help but look. Yup, it was gruesome.
"Jesus Christ," he said, "I think it's down to the bone." He exhaled a long sigh. "Oh, can you first take me up to my girlfriend's place? I forgot, I told her we'd meet there. That'll be 415 South Union."
"How's the other guy look?" I asked, trying to lighten the mood.
"The other guy is a halibut. I'm a chef."
We pulled in front of the girlfriend's apartment, but she hadn't yet arrived. As he deliberated his next move, I took a call for a pickup at the Vermont Pub & Brewery. "That cut looks pretty deep, man," I said. "Let me shoot you up to the hospital so they can sew it up."
"No, I'm going to wait here for Lucinda. She's not answering her cell, so I'm not sure when she'll show up."
"That's cool," I said. I reached up to the visor, pulled out a business card and passed it over to him. "I'm gonna grab another call that just came in. You just call me if you need me again."
On the corner outside the Pub & Brewery stood a woman who looked like she'd stepped out of the picture Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her tight slacks and sweater were both pink, but of different gradations on the color wheel - let's say "shocking" on the bottom and "cotton candy" on the top. With her hair all blonde and bouffant, I thought of the daring "sweater girls" from the prudish early-'50s era of that Marilyn Monroe movie. Now, of course, all the younger women sport tight tops, so I guess the sweater girl has been relegated to an anachronism, tucked away with slide rules and 45 rpm records.
She hit the shotgun seat, irritated and talkative. "Oh, God, just take me back to Shelburne. I swear, I'm gonna murder my girlfriend."
Pulling back into traffic, I could sense my customer's intense gaze; she was tapping her high heels, bobbing her head, and clearly dying to tell me more. Though I'm a voracious aficionado of the many permutations of banter - gossip, speculation, philosophizing and the like - I draw the line at complaining. Bellyaching, in a word, bores me.
But the woman, alas, was irresistible. "So tell me," I capitulated. "Why exactly do you want to murder your girlfriend?"
Her face lit up. "We've been friends since, like, middle school, all right? But every time we go out together, it's the same friggin' story. I paid for our cab into town, but when we split the check at the Brewery, she's, like, bitching afterwards that I had more drinks than her, so why does she have to pay for it. This happens, like, every time we go out. It's getting old. I mean, I love the girl, but c'mon."
I felt as if I'd done my duty. No need for a (faux) empathetic follow-up such as, "My goodness, that must be a drag," which might only elicit a further round of remonstration - the last thing I wanted to hear.
"Do you go downtown often?" I asked, changing the subject.
"Not like I used to before I had my daughter, that's for sure." Her mood had shifted out of bitching mode, and she suddenly seemed kind of delightful. (The cotton-candy sweater helped, to be honest.) "Sarah's 5 now, and if I get out three times a year it's a lot. She's a doll, though. Wouldn't trade her for the world."
We chatted about parenthood and life for the rest of the ride. As we turned into her driveway, she said, "You know, I wouldn't mind having more kids." She paused for a moment and a grin came upon her face. "Of course, you have to first have a husband, or at least a boyfriend."
"Yup, that does help," I said, and we both had a laugh.
Just as I pulled out of her driveway, I got the re-call from the chef. His girlfriend, Lucinda, had just arrived and he was now ready to face the medicine at the hospital. I suspected the man was a chicken and needed Lucinda to hold his hand. A boo-boo can be traumatic, even for big boys.
I weaved back to Shelburne Road and headed north, whizzing by the furniture stores, car dealerships, motels and restaurants. This is my job, I mused. I go up Shelburne Road and down Shelburne Road. Then repeat. The familiar stores are comforting to me, but what makes this job are the fares: the never repetitive, always lively parade of delicious people.