Longtime driver for San Diego Cab Ellen Rae has her own anagram for Friday and that is P.O.E.T.S. day. This was tossed off to her in parting from a British fare like a verbal tip (one hopes there was money involved as well) after she said to him, "Thank God it's Friday." "It's P.O.E.T.S. day, love. And a merry one to you." (I'm improvising on second-hand dialogue, making it merrier and adding "love").
"Oh, is it really?" Ellen inquired sincerely. "Is that an English thing?"
The old chap straightened his cravat, adjusted his monocle, tapped his straw-boater with his cane, and around a pinch of snuff, wheezed, "Neeyaw...not at all. Simply: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow's Saturday."
"You're from New York, Ellen?"
"From Laawwnngguh Island. I started driving in 1978, when I was a little kid," and she laughs at her arithmetic. "This is the only place I would do this. Back East you work indoors. And when I came out here I was a bank teller for Security Pacific, and it was so beautiful that I thought, I'm not going back in. I was always good at teaching people to drive; and I was looking at the classifieds and happened to see, "Yellow Cab needs drivers." I went down there and I immediately took to it; I was born to do this. My daughter calls me a mobile missionary. I help little old ladies get undressed in the doctor's office, and I help carry groceries up steps. I took a couple this morning to Scripps -- you know, where they have the cataract part? -- and helped them there.
"I find that I'm good with people. Being a first-born helps. Out of four. When my dad used to leave the house in the morning he would say, 'You are not to upset your mother.' So I learned not to do that and to take care of older people. When I was a kid you were allowed to drive at 16 on a junior license; and I was dating a guy who had a car near the high school, 'cause his job was near there. I used to cut school and take his car and go joy riding with my friends. I think I have gypsy blood in me.
"My dad always had a car, and we would travel cross-country for recreation. We would go up to Albany and down to Washington, DC. When I was a baby, they said I always had a very comfortable feeling in the car. And my dad didn't have car seats in back, so they took a top drawer out of a chest of drawers and put it back there to drive me around."
"Is there anything else you'd rather do or can imagine yourself doing?" I ask her.
"If I hadn't become a driver, I would have become a brain surgeon. Just kidding. It would have been something involving driving cars.
"When we go on vacation I'm always the one to drive. With my husband I drive, with my sister I drive. I don't like long distances. Like, I would never consider these long-distance truck routes that they do. Never. I don't even like to drive to Las Vegas. I'm not a gambler; I don't even buy lottery tickets, never have."
Rae talks of some of her regulars. One, for example, who lived "in the weeds." "Every month this guy, Jack, would call me when he got his disability check and we'd get a new portable radio because his old one would get stolen, or a new sleeping bag. The rats would eat his sleeping bag. He'd tell me he'd wake up and there would be this rat there. His life was just chaos, I felt. I said to him, 'Jack why don't you save your $700 a month, double up with someone else, and get yourself a little studio.' Well, he said, 'I don't want anyone telling me what to do.' He had been a lifeguard in San Diego. He had a family and a surf shop in Encinitas. One day he paid me to take him up to Encinitas to look for his son. I said, 'What's the address, what's the phone number?' He said, 'Just get me up there, we'll find him.' Well, we never did find him.
"Every month he'd pawn his good luck charm, his Swiss Army knife, until one day I said to him, 'Jack, why don't you leave it with me?' And I gave him the $10. When his girlfriend got arrested and she was in Las Colinas, we would stop downtown and put money in her account so she could have money for cigarettes or drugs or whatever she needed money for. He'd get a new pair of shoes every month, and that was his life. He would drink in the cab while I was driving around. On the first day of the month about two years ago, when I didn't hear from him, I knew where his friends hung out in Mission Beach, behind the Hyatt Islandia -- these do-gooders like to come and feed these lazy bums. I know some of them have mental problems but they usually bring it on themselves with the drugs and the alcohol. Jack would go over to his marijuana connection at the Jack-in-the-Box by the roller coaster over there, and I knew his friends and I asked around. He overdosed on pills and vodka and they found his body at his campsite on Sea World Drive."
As for Ellen Rae's age, she says, "I was born in '39. Mentally I'm 18; chronologically -- don't know. Politics? That's a sensitive subject. I used to be Republican, strictly. Now I'm starting to flip-flop about a lot of stuff. The guy I live with was 28 years in the Navy -- 'haze gray to the marrow of his bones,' as they say. You know, like the paint on the sides of naval ships. From living with him, I took on a lot of opinions about stronger defense and military, but I don't really agree now since this Bush thing. Now I'm convinced there are some very greedy, selfish people who are making out at the expense of youngsters. And I don't really feel like we should have to fill all these holes in these dikes in these countries. The Mid-East? We'll never resolve that. The mentality is so foreign to us. I also feel very strongly that more women should be in power, because women bring life into the world and men are more full of testosterone and death. I will support Hillary. Even though she may have done some Tricky Dick stuff with her husband, I feel that women are more likely to look for resolution. It's our nature. I don't look for conflict; I don't look for the fights.
"I once read, 'The goal in life is the absence of conflict,' and that's pretty much my mantra."
Ellen Rae works Mondays and Wednesdays. Sadly, she is off on Fridays.