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San Diego cabbie deals with arrogant businessmen, black sailors, poor illegals going to North County.

Around the town in seven years

I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel. - Image by Stephen Vance
I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel.

I was dragging my feet one day, walking in kind of a westerly direction toward the poorer part of town, where I felt more comfortable. I needed a new start, I needed a new beginning. I needed something to regain my self-respect. I needed an experience.

As I turned the corner, made a sharp right. I saw all these funny-looking cars painted orange and black. I thought to myself, “Wow. I can do that job. I’m the best damn driver you ever saw.” So I walked into this dimly painted building, half old, half new — an old house that had been converted into an office.

Inside I asked if they were hiring, which was a stupid question seeing that there were at least twenty cabs sitting in the back lot, quite visible to my eyes. The dispatcher said to wait one minute and take a seat, so I did. That gave me a minute to check things out and fill out the application he handed me. I had rather negative feelings about my chances of landing any job in the first place, due to my atrocious driving record. But I knew I could explain that all off — all those tickets were on motorcycles. I don’t drive cars that way.

After filling out the form, I talked to a heavyset man with a reassuring smile on his face. He looked as though he had been sitting in that chair forever. He looked as though he really didn’t have a lot to do. But somebody had to be the boss, I guess. We talked and he asked me why I wanted to become a cab driver, anyway? Why did I want to drive for this company, anyway? He asked was I aware of the danger? “This city loses more cab drivers in a year than the police lose cops. We offer long hours and, sometimes, low pay.”

I told him I was aware of all that. I sat there, expecting a lot of questions about my driving record. Where I was from and how much trouble I’d been into with the law. To my surprise, the man had only one question: “Will you ever steal from me?” I looked the man dead in the eyes and said, “I’ll never steal from you.” I may be a lot of things, but a thief I’m not.

Then he asked, “Do you know what high flagging is?” I said, “I’ve heard of it, and I’ve seen cab drivers do it. But I don’t intend to do it. The dollar amount wouldn't be worth the loss of my job.”

The man said, “Well, I’m going to take a chance on you, young man. But first you’ve got to get your hair cut — not a lot, just a little. We don’t want to freak out the entire community. Ha ha. We don’t want them to think that we gave this wild-eyed crazy person a license to speed and make illegal U-turns, to stop and park wherever he likes.”

I guess everybody has heard the term “piece of cake.” I thought on my first day it was going to be like that. Hell, I’ve been in this town for thirty years. I thought there wasn’t anything about San Diego that I didn’t know.

I pulled up on the cab stand at Eighth and National, called Little Times Square. It’s a square block of nothing but bars, liquor stores, and restaurants. It looked like a good place to start. It took me about fifteen minutes before I found out there was more to this job than just taking people from one place to another. The first thing I learned was that it’s easy to go where you are used to going — your favorite bar, your friend’s house, your usual shop or store.

But it’s a different story when you all of a sudden have to go where other people shop or eat or do their drinking. Most of them are shocked if you don’t know where the Cargo Bar is. Some of them are insulted and make comments like, “Where do you live, in a cave?” But mostly things worked out for the best. I found that most people like to give directions, like go straight or forward, turn right or left, or pointing at a street that you’re approaching. Sometimes they’ll yell, “Turn here!” After all, they have a boss yelling at them to do this and that. For only a few dollars they get to be the boss, and they feel good about themselves again. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, just go straight ahead and I’ll tell you where to turn.” Then all of a sudden they start yelling at you for missing the turnoff, forgetting to tell you where it was they wanted you to turn. My answer to that from Day One was, listen lady, if I could read minds I wouldn’t have to drive a cab for a living. Usually they laugh and say they’re sorry. I really didn’t mind that so much. Hell, I didn't know where the heck I was going anyway and it made them feel good.

Then you get the professional businessman, maybe from the airport or from one of the hotels. You load up his luggage. He doesn’t even attempt to help. He climbs into the back seat, dusting it off before he sits down. Then he looks at you very professionally, very sure of himself, and says, “Take me to 2635-1/2 Via Alicante, La Jolla.” You try to write down the numbers as he speaks because you’ll never remember them if you don’t. You miss them anyway, you ask, “Would you repeat that, please.”

Not that it makes a lot of difference. You’re already lost. You know it’s in the map book, the Thomas Brothers bible. Now all you have to do is find it. All of a sudden you realize — there must be forty pages of Via this and Via that. Hell, we’re so close to Mexico that half the street names are Spanish. The rest are named for trees and presidents. I sure don’t want to lose the twenty-dollar fare to some other cab in line behind me. I’m no dummy, I know where La Jolla is, so I head that way. This man has his shit together, or so it seems, and you sure don’t want him to know that you don’t have yours together. It seems to me that nobody is really happy with their lifestyle. They always secretly want to be something or someone else.

Well-dressed men and well-to-do women especially like to talk dirty and tell dirty stories while they're in a taxi. While listening to this guy’s story, the next mistake I make is to miss the off ramp to La Jolla. But on your first day, there’s always one thing to fall back on. “I’m sorry but today’s my first day and I’ve got a lot to learn. But my mistake won’t cost you anything. I'll just take a couple dollars off the meter. Don’t worry about it.” I'll be making mistakes all day today, but I’m not going to run anybody around — intentionally missing exits to jack up the fare.

Remember, it’s easy when you want to go to a friend's house. Hell, I just hop on the freeway, take the same old off ramp, and shit. I’m right there, that easy. When I go to my neighborhood bar, I know where that’s at. It’s a different story when you have to go where other people want to go, the way they want to go. Not too fast, not too slow. You know where your house is, for sure. But where’s his house? Where’s her house? That’s a different story.

You know, there are parts of this town I've never been in. Logan Heights, yeah, I know where that’s at. But I’ve never been there — not after dark, anyway. Downtown San Diego, sure, anybody can find that. But the streets are really weird. I think there are only two or three streets in the whole downtown area that are two-way. One goes one way, one goes the other. Even-numbered streets go south, odd streets go north, that’s the way I remember it. It’s hard to find your way around when you don’t know where you’re going.

Yeah, the first day I thought I would never make it through, but somehow I did. I sure knocked a lot of dollars off the meter for a lot of people. It was during the World Series and I was taking a fare to the airport for the first time. The count was two balls and two strikes. I think it was on Steve Garvey.

I was approaching the airport exit doing at least sixty-five miles per hour. The man was sure in a hurry. He was sure worried about missing that plane. Then all of a sudden, Steve hit one. The announcer said, “It’s going, it’s going, it’s gone!” At that moment I yelled, “All right! It’s gone!” and the man said, very calmly, “Yes, and so is my exit. You just passed it by.”

I said, “I’m sorry, mister. I’ll take a couple of dollars off the meter and take the next exit.” He said, “Do you know that you just cost me $5000 because I missed my flight?” I said, “Okay, then I’ll take four dollars off the meter if that will help.”

Some people treat you like dirt and other people treat you like you’re the most important thing in their life. During that time from point A to point B, some people think that just because they’ve hired the taxi they also own the driver, body and soul.

You take a lot of shit from people in the beginning. But most people are really nice. They like to talk. You learn something about them and you tell them something about yourself. Especially tourists. They’re really nice. People on vacation usually are. Then I’ve had people tell me to “Shut up, boy, I don’t like gabby cab drivers.” I appreciate honesty. I’d say, “Okay,

I'm just trying to be friendly.” Then I’d keep quiet till the end of the trip.

Boy, was I tired. Three hundred miles and thirty or forty different stories about thirty or forty different cabbie lives. I had one man who said, “I'm a multimillionaire. My company's manufactured every bumper jack for every car Detroit has put out since the Twenties.”

“I'm impressed” I told him. He added that he also had his own jet. He told me he had condos all over the country, and a collection of classic cars. He said he also had investments in gold and diamonds. I just said, “Well, I’m impressed.”

After that I had a guy who was counting his nickels and dimes to see if he had enough to make it home. He was too drunk to walk. You meet all kinds. I learned the first day, though, right off the bat, that people are all the same. The man with millions, I treated him the same as I treated the man that was counting his change. That’s how people are, they’re all the same.


I learned a lot about people that first week. How to deal with people. How to talk to people one-on-one. And how to separate the bullshit from the truth.

I found myself feeling and caring about people’s troubles and woes. Every now and then someone would ask my advice about something or another and I’d give it. Sometimes I’d give it voluntarily, just trying to help them through the daily chore of just living.

You sure can learn a lot driving a cab in San Diego. I sure did appreciate those tips that first week. Hell, you only got paid every two weeks, and the first week’s pay was held back in case you wrecked the cab. If you did, you could kiss good-bye your first week’s pay and probably your job. That sure kept my mind on driving. It sure kept me from clowning around, that's for sure.

It was great come payday — $265, I think it was. I sure felt good about it,

When I was working there always be a real smart ass or two. There s always one guy that will ask, “Are you a cab?” Not thinking. I'd answer, “Yeah, I'm a cab. "He would reply, “Hi, Cab, Fm George.”

Not my favorite jokes, I assure you, too. It wasn't a lot, but it sure beat walking west toward the poorer part of town looking for a job.

After a while, I got pretty good, or so I thought. I was making more than some of the guys that had been working there for years. I guess I was just hungrier. I had that lean and hungry look, you might say. I learned all the short cuts, back streets, and side roads. I could cut across town in half the time. And like now, back then, time was money.

I learned how to get on the good stands, and what stands were good. I learned what areas of town moved, and at what time they moved. I learned what times the planes came in, what bars had business and when. I learned what areas of town the other taxis didn’t work and why. I learned to stay out of the darker side of town, especially after dark. You can get killed or robbed out there. It’s too bad it has to be that way, there’s a lot of business in that area. I learned the tricks of the trade real fast that made me one of the best. Or at least I thought I was. You have to hustle to get ahead.

There is a bright side to every job; with this one it was all the young ladies. I used to pick up a lot of ladies — waitresses, go-go girls, and even some ladies of the night. I enjoyed their business so I’d give them a cut-rate. I’d take them home — sometimes they’d invite me in, sometimes they wouldn’t. Myself, I just enjoyed talking with them and listening to some of their crazy stories.

It sure is hard to concentrate, though, when you’re going sixty-five miles per hour down the freeway, taking a well-built topless dancer to work. Especially when she asks my opinion about a new outfit she has just bought. She flips open the robe she’s wearing and underneath isn’t much. The next thing I’d know. I’d be weaving from lane to lane. I’d say, “Hey, girl. Cut me some slack, will you. I’m having enough trouble keeping my mind on the road.”

Yeah, it sure is hard to concentrate at sixty-five miles per hour, or thirty-five, for that matter. I became quite well known in National City as a man that really knew how to hustle.

The company was well aware of this fact also.

When it came time to look for a man to fill a position as detail driver in the small town of Imperial Beach, my name came up. They needed somebody that could really run bells — find addresses real quick without burning up a lot of gas and miles. A detail driver is a driver who is assigned to a specific area. If I take a person to the bus station or the airport, I would have to go back to the assigned area. Usually there were one or two phone calls, or bells, waiting for you when you’re back in the area. It’s not good business to keep people waiting too long.

So they assigned me to this town of 23,000 people. All those people sure kept this taxi busy. Imperial Beach is just six miles north of the Mexican border. It wasn’t just busy, it was crazy. I sure had to fly. The dispatcher was on my back constantly. “Are you back in town yet. Unit Number 54?” There were soon jokes like “Car 54, where are you?” The dispatcher would say, “I’ve got several calls waiting, the oldest is fifteen minutes.” I’d reply, “Car 54 back in the beach.” He’d say, “Okay, pick up 1459 Elder Avenue and let me know where you’re going.” That let me know there were still some calls waiting.

Some days it went like that for twelve hours. Some days you’d sit for an hour, then all of a sudden four bells would come all at the same time. If I got too far behind, they’d ask if you needed any help. Of course you’d say no, you didn’t want another cab working your town.

The money was really good here, and the best thing about it was that you got to know the people of the town real well. Everyone knew you by your first name, or at least knew you were the town driver. I couldn’t go into a bar without someone saying, “Hi, Paul, what’re you doing? Got your cab outside?” There would always be somebody that would say, “I didn’t call no cab. Must be somebody else. I’m not drunk enough yet." It’s a little rough when everybody in town knows your business, but when people are your business, I guess that’s to be expected.

You know, bartenders think they’ve got it rough, and they do. But what do they do when they can’t handle a customer anymore? They call a cab for him or her. Cab drivers see more assholes than doctors.

It got to the point that if someone couldn’t walk, or at least get into my cab under their own power, I wouldn’t let them in. One time I got a call to one of the local bars, Roy’s Office. The bartender directed me to a comer table where a rather rotund woman sat. He grabbed a couple of guys from the bar and asked if they’d give us a hand getting this lady into the cab. This lady must have weighed at least 300 pounds, and she was plastered. It took me ten minutes just to get an address out of her. So we get to her house and I walked to the front door to see if anybody was home and could help me get her out of the cab and into the house. But luck being what it was, there was nobody around. After about a twenty-minute struggle, I finally got her onto the front lawn, where she lay belly up. Of course I couldn’t just leave her there, although getting raped was the least of her worries. I needed some help, that’s all there was to it.

I finally decided to call the police department and ask for their help in getting her into the house. By the time the officer arrived the booze had taken its toll. She’d gotten sick all over herself. Boy, what a mess. I could hear my dispatcher in the background yelling into his microphone, “Car 54, you through with that trip yet? What’s taking you so long? Car 54, where are you?”

The officer walked up, shaking his head, saying, “She sure is a big one. What a mess.” I turned to the cop and said, “Sorry to bother you, officer, but I didn't know what else to do. I could’t leave her here and I couldn’t move her.”

He asked, “Does she owe you any money?”

Of course she did but I wasn’t about to let him know, so I said, “Not a cent. Well, officer. I’ll be on my way. I’ve got other calls to take care of.”

The cop said, “Thanks, cabbie, you’re too kind,’’ as I threw him a smile and left. Unit 54, clear.

After I finished up the other calls I had waiting, I stopped and did some thinking. There must be a way to keep from getting myself into that situation, or one like it, again. I knew that I was the best damned cab driver in this area, and that I provided the best service to the bars as well as the residents. Time had come for me to take charge of the situation, time had come for me to train this town so I could serve them better.

So I went back to Roy’s Office. I walked into the bar — it was filled with smiling faces, all of them smiling at me. I walked right up to the bartender and said pointblank, “There’s going to be some changes around here if you want me to continue to service this bar. If you get someone too drunk, they’re not going to get into my taxi. If someone calls for a cab or has you call for a cab for them, I want you to ask for a dollar service charge for the cab driver, just in case they walk out of the bar before I get here. I will hold you responsible or you will lose service to this bar for the night.” The bartender just stood there for a few seconds, shocked by my arrogance, the smile gone from his face.

“Okay, okay,” he said as I turned my back and headed for the door. I never had any of that kind of trouble there again.

One night I pulled up in front of this house in I.B. There was a heavy-set woman, staring at me through the screen door. She held up one finger to say just a minute, and pointed to her luggage on the porch. I pushed the button under the dash and popped the trunk open. I got the trunk all loaded up and left the lid open just in case she had something else to put in there. I was standing on the front porch just waiting because I could see that she was on the telephone talking to someone and having a hard time.

I guess she could see that I was getting kind of restless waiting there, so she waved to me to come in. I walked into the living room. I could see that she was still on the phone in the kitchen. She motioned to me to indicate that she’d be just a minute.

She got off the phone, walked up to me and said, with a really bad harelip, “Ha ya do in?” I said, “Pardon me, ma’am?” She repeated, “Ha ya do in?” I said, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I can’t understand what you are saying.” Not wanting to offend her, I added that my hearing wasn’t very good. I could see she was getting quite upset with me, so I thought I’d be the one to break the ice. I asked her, “How are you doing today, ma’am? Fine, I hope ” “He ne she his ness,” she said.

I said, “Pardon me, ma’am. I didn’t catch that,” trying to be as polite as I can. It’s plain this woman has a real problem, or else I’m on Candid Camera.

So I asked her where she wanted to go, and once again I couldn’t understand what she was saying. The frustration finally got to her and she began to write it down on a piece of paper. I looked over her shoulder to see what she was writing down, and I guess she thought I might have been looking down her bra or something. Boy, the next second this right cross came from nowhere and hit me right square on the jaw.

The next thing I knew I was lying on her living room floor, shaking my head. Blood was running from the corner of my mouth, but most of all my pride was hurt.

I started to fire at her with every four-letter word I knew, then caught myself. I can’t be blowing it like this. She’s going to be calling up my dispatcher, maybe even the sheriff, saying I assaulted her or something. So I figured I’d be cool, just take my licking and head back to my cab. By the time I got back to the cab, I was mad as hell.

I had tried my damnedest to find out what was going on and where she wanted to go. It ain’t my fault. So I went to the trunk of the cab, grabbed the suitcases. It must have been a good twenty or thirty feet to her front porch. I didn’t bother walking them over there, I mean I just air-mailed them. “Boom, boom, boom,” one at a time they slammed into the front door.

I stepped over the luggage, walked through the door and told her not to bother ever calling another cab in this town, ever, because, “Lady, you’ll never get one, not at this address anyway.”

I called my dispatcher on the radio to let him know my side of the story before he heard hers. That is if he could understand what the hell she was saying anyway. I told him, “I ran into a little problem over here at the beach.” I told my story, ending with “then she got real mad, hit me in the mouth, and knocked me on my ass.” Alls you could hear in the background was a whole lot of laughter. The whole damned office was in stitches. After a long period of laughter the dispatcher regained his composure. Then he told all the drivers over the radio, all eighty of them, “Hey guys, check this out. You know old Car 54 out in the beach, well, he just had some harelip broad knock him on his ass. What do ya think of that!” The laughter continued. It sure took me a long time to live that one down.

Yeah, it’s really a small world out there sometimes. You have to be real careful what you say and who you say it to. I like to tell stories, and most people like to hear them.

Come to find out, this guy wasn’t just a listener to one of my stories, he was the story — or at least he filled in a lot of the parts I hadn’t known then. Yeah, sometimes you’ve got to watch what you say. I was talking to this guy one day, a cab driver who worked for a different company. Somehow the conversation got around to motorcycles, and then we got around to talking about motorcycle wrecks. I guess that’s part of talking motorcycles. I told him that I got drunk one night at a bar on National Avenue. I was flying down Eighth and National about eighty-five miles per hour, the National City P.D. hot on my tail. I turned to see where the cops were at, and they were doing their job — they were still on my tail, red lights flashing. When I turned my head back, all I could see was the trunk of a ’66 Oldsmobile staring right at me. Hell, I didn’t even have time to think, let alone swerve. There was nothing to do but say, “Oh shit!” I hit that car dead on, I hit it so hard that the motorcycle stuck in the trunk like it was shot from a bow. My bike stopped there but I sure didn’t. I flew down the street 125 feet and landed like I was diving into a pool of water. The police told me later that I got up and ran halfway back, yelling, “My bike! My bike!’’ and then I passed out. Then they threw me into the meat wagon.

I was telling this story to this guy and he was looking like he really had something to add . . . and boy did he. He laughed and said, “You sucker.’’ I asked him why he was calling me a sucker. He laughed again, and then said, “It was my Olds you ran into!” Then he said, “I thought that guy died or something." When he had pulled over to the side of the road, my motorcycle went right with him, lodged in his trunk.

We both had a good laugh and then he told me he made out like a raped ape on that deal — my insurance company paid him $600 for the damage to his car. “Hell,” he said, “the whole damned car wasn’t worth $200.” I told him that I hadn’t made out so well on the deal. I broke both wrists.


You have to be real careful when you talk about the ladies, especially when you’re talking to a man. You may be talking about his wife, a good way to get yourself into lots of trouble. A good cab driver tries not to get involved with personal problems between two people of the opposite sex. It’s a no-win situation, unless you know in advance who’s going to pay for the cab ride.

I got a call to a local bar. As I pulled into the parking lot, out came this couple, the man on foot, the woman dragged by her long blond hair. The man yelled, “Get in the cab, you bitch, you whore.” She climbed in, or was thrown in. I’m not really sure. I just knew one thing — I didn't like the way this guy was treating this good-looking lady. I told this guy so, too. He promised that there’d be no trouble in the cab, and added that it was none of my business anyway, that she was his wife.

He gave an address on Ninth Street. It was a short trip so I thought I’d do it to be rid of them. About halfway there, I could hear fist meeting face in the back seat. Pretty soon some blood splattered on the windshield. I yelled at him to knock it off, that he was killing her.

He said, “I caught her in back of the bar with a couple guys in a camper.” I said, “936 Ninth. We’re here now — get out.” He threw ten bucks on the front seat and dragged her, screaming, into the house.

Somehow I knew I hadn’t seen the last of those two. I was right. About fifteen minutes later, I got a call from the dispatcher, saying that the Imperial Beach police wanted to talk with me at 936 Ninth. He had dragged her into the house all right, and then she stabbed him with a kitchen knife. She said it was in self-defense and the police wanted to know what I had seen.

I told them what I knew and what I had heard. Three hours and I don’t know how many dollars not made later, I was back on the road again. It sure don’t pay to get involved in anything that ain’t none of your business. After a while I didn’t take any shit from anybody, I didn’t care who they were.

I picked up a gentleman who wanted to go to the airport, and on the way he started to tell me about his son. He said, “I’ve got a boy about your age. He’s a doctor in the Denver area, does real good too.”

I replied, “That’s great. I’m sure you’re very proud of him.”

He added, “Yes. And I've got another boy, maybe four years younger than you. I’ll tell you one thing, though, he won’t have to be a cab driver. He’s going to UCLA Medical School right now. He’s going to make something out of himself.” He went on, “I mean to say he won’t be pushing a hack. He’s going to be somebody. Not like you.”

Well, I put up with this bullshit for about ten minutes longer, until I got halfway between two off ramps, where there wasn’t a telephone for two or three miles in either direction. Then I whipped over to the side of the road. To his surprise I popped the trunk open and began to unload his suitcases alongside the highway. I opened the back door and he stared at me in amazement, wondering what was going on.

I grabbed him by his padded shoulders and told him politely to get the fuck out of my cab. He looked at his luggage, then he looked down the road in both directions — he knew he was in deep shit. He just sat there for a few seconds and then I repeated myself, “Get the fuck out of my cab.” He said, “I really didn’t want to get out right here.” I said, “Then mister, don’t be cutting down my profession. I’m not cutting you down because you’re not a doctor or a lawyer, don’t be cutting me down because I’m not.” He thought for a minute and then said, “You’re right. I’m sorry and I apologize.”

Being still pissed off, I said. “Fine. Just keep your mouth shut and you’ll get to where you want to go.” So I loaded back up his luggage and took him to the airport. When we got there he paid his fare and gave me a ten-dollar tip. The lesson was free. I guess the ten bucks covered the guilt.

Yeah, a cab driver is a sounding board for some people. It’s kind of like a cheap shrink — you lie on the couch and talk to your shrink and, hell, it may cost you fifty or seventy-five dollars an hour. Cab drivers provide the same service in some ways, but we don’t cost you that much.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me their troubles, as if I didn’t have enough of my own. But I listen to them, and sometimes even offer them a little advice. Sometimes they want to sit and talk some more, but you only make money when you’re rolling, so you move on down the road.

Some people get into your cab and boy, they need a shrink to talk to. Some people just need someone to talk to. For a while, I had an older woman that used to call me up once a night just to turn off her lights. She was a little crippled but she could get up and turn off her own lights. She was just lonely. The five minutes a night that I’d go in there and spend with her made her feel that somebody knew she was alive, that somebody cared. She was, and I did.

There was another elderly lady that would call me up every time she had something to be moved or lifted. I’d go in her house and maybe put her bottled water on the cooler, and she’d give me a couple of dollars for my time. Yeah, she was just lonely. I guess a lot of us are. But like I was saying, some people are just plain crazy.

I got a call to the Country Bumpkin one night, about midnight I guess it was. This guy yelled at me from the door, “Taxi, I’ll be right out. Just go ahead and throw your meter on.” I did, of course. My time’s money to me just like everybody else. He came running out of the bar. He took about three leaps and a skip, and he was at the door. He hopped into the front seat, looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you know who I am?”

I looked at this guy with his black hat, his black shirt and black pants, his black shoes and black socks and took a guess. “Blackie?”

“No,” he shouted, “I’m the devil himself!”

I said, “Well, I’m impressed, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Mister Devil. Why do you need a cab? If you’re the devil then you should be able to teleport yourself from one place to another.” He said, “Don’t get smart with me, boy, or I’ll shrink you down until you’re four inches tall.”

Well, I’m getting a real kick out of this guy and I figure I’ll play along for a while. I added, “I really wouldn’t recommend you doing that, not at this time, anyway. You may be a powerful dude, but I would sure hate to see what you look like after hitting the center divider at this rate of speed. When we come to a dead stop it ain’t going to matter what size either one of us are.” When you come to a dead stop at sixty miles per hour plus, you stop dead.

He kept quiet until we got off the freeway. I guess I made an impression. I asked him whereabouts in Chula Vista he wanted to go.

“Take me to the Silver Dollar." I said all right.

Then he started again. He was set on shrinking me down to four inches tall, then putting my head on a stick. Then he made one big mistake. He started talking about raising hell with my son, and his son, and so on and so on.

That’s when I quit taking it so lightly. I ain’t going to let anybody mess with my kid, and especially my future generations. I pulled alongside the road, getting madder by the minute. I said, “I don’t care if you’re the devil himself or not, mister, but don’t you even talk about messing with my kids in front of me. I’ll take you out right here.”

He started to open his mouth. Then all of a sudden he didn’t seem to feel so powerful anymore. In fact, he looked scared to death. He sure changed his tune real quick, and not too soon, either. I dropped him at the Silver Dollar. I never did see him again — I don’t know if he went back to hell or they locked him up somewhere. Whatever he did, it was the right move for sure.

Yeah, there sure are a lot of crazy people in this world. But who am I to talk? Quite a few people probably look at me and think — man, that dude’s crazy. Sometimes I wonder myself.

Downtown San Diego. Man, that’s one crazy part of town. Pimps, hustlers, junkies, and just plain down-and-outs. I’d pull up downtown, park on one of the cab stands, maybe at Horton Plaza. Maybe at Fourth and F or Fifth and G. In that part of town, you didn’t lay back with your feet hanging out the window, that’s for sure.

The first thing you’d do was get out of the cab and lock all four doors. Then you’d stand on the passenger side with your arms and legs crossed, leaning up against the cab. That’s how I felt comfortable, anyway. People would come up and ask if you’re for hire. At that time you’d check them out real good, see if there were any bulges in their jackets to indicate they were carrying a gun. You’d ask them, “Well, it all depends on what you want to do, and where you’re going.” If I didn’t like the way they looked, they didn’t get in. Too many cabs would leave from that area of town and not be heard from again. They would find the cab driver lying somewhere cut up or shot, and the cab nowhere to be found.

When I first started driving a cab, I wasn’t too prejudiced. I had my normal amount of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing, but I’d stop and talk with anybody about anything at any time. But I’ll tell you what — driving a cab can sure change that. The majority of cab drivers that are robbed in this town are robbed by blacks, after dark, in the Southeast side.

It’s kind of rough on blacks, and it’s too bad that a few have to ruin it for a whole race. It’s sort of like what Charlie Manson did to the hippies — it got real hard to hitch a ride. Yeah, if you’re flaggin’ my cab down on the Southeast side after dark, and you just happen to be black, you’d better be wearing a business suit. If you’re not. I’ll wave right back at you like you were a buddy, and just keep on going. I wasn't about to stop. I guess I must have offended a lot of people during that time. I didn’t feel too good about it, but I sure liked living. I had to cover my own ass.

The first time I was ever robbed I picked up a couple of sailors from the Naval Station. San Diego is a big navy town; about fifty-five percent of our business comes from the military. I took these two sailors out to East San Diego where they lived, about ten o’clock at night. Sailors are usually a safe fare. They may get a little drunk or too rowdy, but they usually don’t mean any harm. They’re just out to have a good time.

I pulled up in front of their house, turned off the cab, and collected my fare. The sailors said good night and walked into the house. As soon as they got into the house I started to fill out my trip sheet. The trip sheet tells the office where you went to, how long it took, and how much the fare was. The trip sheet is then checked against the meter.

Well, while I was doing my paperwork I don’t know where my head was at. I shouldn’t have been sitting there. Two young blacks jumped into the back seat of the cab. I looked around. They asked me where I was going. I knew I was in trouble right then. I said, “Well, I was kind of heading right back downtown. Where you guys headed?”

They said, “Well, we don’t really want to go anywhere.” Just then I heard the click-click of two switchblade knives. I felt a lump in my throat. Boy was I scared, I thought it was all over right then. These guys were shaking so bad they looked like a couple of junkies in need. I thought to myself — these guys might kill me even if I do give them all my money.

I had all kinds of flashes going through my head. I really didn’t know what to do and I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. I reached for the inside door latch, and in one quick motion jumped out of my cab.

I took off down the street at a gallop heading for the lights of a gas station where I thought I’d be safe. At that point I didn’t worry about the cab one bit, or the thirty dollars in my pocket either. I was running for my life.

The only problem is, hell, I'm over thirty years old. I’m not as fast as I used to be. Sitting in a cab all day makes a man get out of shape real quick. You may see a cab driver sitting in his cab on a cab stand somewhere — he may look like he’s fifty but he’s probably only thirty-five. Cab driving does that to a man.

Anyway, I got about halfway to that gas station with its lights and safety, not even looking back to see if they had followed. All of a sudden I was dragged down from behind. All I could see was blacktop rushing up to meet me. My jacket got all tangled up over my face. I couldn’t even see what was going on, couldn’t even swing to fight back.

One held a knife to my throat and said, “Give us all your money. And I mean all of it.” I just reached into my back pocket and pulled my wallet out. I didn’t even bother taking the money out. I couldn’t see anyway. I got lucky, I guess. I still had my life. They didn’t stick or stab me. Thank God they didn’t kill me, that would have really pissed me off.

I lay there in the middle of the street, all road-rashed and skinned up, out of breath, and quite confused. The street was dark and nobody was around. There were a few people looking out of their safe, warm living-room windows, but when I looked at them, they just shut the curtains. I guess they wanted no part of this action.

The two young blacks ran back to the cab, hopped in, and headed down the road. I thought at that time, I don’t care about the cab one bit, but I did remember that I had fifty dollars stashed in the trunk. Somehow that didn’t matter either. It was great to be alive.

So I walked down to the gas station, too tired to run and too beat to try. The first thing I did was call the San Diego P.D. and tell them my location and what had happened. Next I called the dispatcher and told him. He put the word out to 600 cabs via the radio. They wouldn’t get too far.

Six minutes passed before the police showed up. I tried to keep the facts clear in my head, I knew there would be a lot of questions. I told the officer what had happened and the name and number of my cab. He told me, “Climb on in, let’s go look for the cab. They don’t usually take them too far from the scene. They’re too identifiable.”

We were cruising the neighborhood for about fifteen minutes when word came over the police radio that the cab had been spotted less than a mile away. By the time we got to the house where the cab was parked, there was already a police unit there.

The taxi was parked on the right side of the street, front end pointing down a steep incline, bumper resting on the car in front of it. I stayed in the police car while the two officers checked out the cab, keys still in it. It looked as though I had parked it there myself. My license and maps were still in place, right where I left them on the dash.

The cops walked up to the residence the cab was parked in front of, and knocked on the door. After the second knock an older black woman came to the door. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but the officers kept pointing to the cab and asking questions. The woman called to someone in the house, as if to ask if they knew anything about the cab being there. As the young man, about twenty, talked to the police, I recognized him as one of the men that had robbed and assaulted me. I yelled to the officers, “That’s him! That’s one of the guys. For sure that’s him!”

The young black yelled back, “You’re crazy, man. I don’t know nothing about no cab.’’ The cop yelled to me, “You sure?” I yelled back, “You better believe I am! He’s the one, all right.” They searched the house and found the other black in the bathroom combing his hair.

There was no sign of my wallet or the papers in it. I thought to myself, boy, that’s really dumb to leave a cab parked right in front of your house. After a few words with the suspects, I guess giving them their rights, the officers loaded them into the back of a squad car. One of the officers walked over to the car I was sitting in and asked me to go downtown with him, to the Market Street station to finish up the paperwork.

On the way the cop asked me again if I was certain they were the same two that had robbed me. I said I was positive. “The reason I asked is,” the officer explained, “the clothes they are wearing don’t match the description you gave us in the beginning.” “Well, I know that,” I said, “they changed clothes.”

“Well,” he replied, “they said they were going to a party just down the street.”

I said, “I guess so. You can have a pretty good time on thirty dollars.” I know I could.

At the station we found out why the cab was left in front of the house. The rear end had been messed up and the reverse didn’t work. They may have tried to move it, but the damn thing just wouldn't move. That explained why it was parked like it was. They weren’t dumb, they were just unlucky.

I must have sat down at the police station for three hours being asked all kinds of questions, and filling out form after form. Hell, you would think I was the suspect instead of the victim. When I finally got through talking with a whole slew of investigators and they were through talking with me, I told them I had fifty dollars tucked away in the trunk of the cab and would it be all right to get it out, if it was still there. They said, “Yes, but let us do it. We don't want you to disturb any fingerprints that might be on the trunk.” For a change, something went right and the fifty was still there. I was sure glad to see that. It was all the money I had.

I didn’t ever learn whether they found any fingerprints or not. But I knew one thing was sure, that night’s work was a total loss. The company was out money, too — they had to fix the transmission and that ran to $250. A bad night for all, but I guess it could have been worse. I could have paid the ultimate price.

After that it seemed like every time I turned around I had to go back to the police station for one thing or another. To fill out some more forms, to look at some more pictures. They even tried to trick me once — they stopped me on the street in my cab and asked me if I could pick the two young blacks out of the ten pictures they handed me. The men in the pictures sure looked a lot like the men that had robbed me, but out of ten pictures, their pictures weren't there. The officer said, “You’re right, just making sure. We don’t want any foul-ups in the case. Thank you for your time.”

Being the only witness in the case, I became quite nervous working the downtown area. It’s easy to set up a cab driver. I quit picking up blacks altogether. It sure hurt my business, but I was set on covering my ass. About three weeks later we started into the court phase of this situation. That wasn’t any fun either.

Three or four court appearances, and what seemed like a thousand questions — everything from my eyesight to my integrity was in question. I didn’t show up the day they were sentenced. I didn’t have to be there, so I didn’t go. This whole experience was costing me an arm and a leg — a forty-mile trip back and forth to town, the gas it took, plus parking, and the hours I was missing from work. That made the thirty dollars I originally lost seem like chump change. Also, I was as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The D.A. did call me, though, to let me know what had happened at the sentencing. He said, “We got them. But the court went easy, they were fined twenty dollars apiece and put on one year’s probation.’’ They also had to make restitution to me and the cab company.

I said, “What? Big deal! After all the hell you people put me through in the name of justice! Well, I’ll tell you what, Mister District Attorney, I’m sorry I ever reported it. It won’t ever happen again, that I’ll guarantee you!” I did receive twenty dollars in witness fees and twenty dollars in restitution, but somehow it sure wasn't worth my time and trouble. “I’ll just start packing my .357. I’ll show you the real meaning of ‘to protect and serve.’ Take light of that and good-bye.”


You don’t have to have a lot of guts to drive a cab. What you do have to have is sawdust for brains. I’ve done some really stupid things myself. I’ve actually gotten myself hurt because I didn’t stop long enough to think about the situation before jumping into it with both feet.

I mean. I’ve had my share of trouble with white people, too. I picked up five sailors one time, down at the Mexican border. They wanted to go to the Naval Training Center in Point Loma. A good trip — it’s about twenty-three dollars. Usually the Navy’s good for it, they don’t jump fare on you too often.

Jumping fare on a cab driver, man, that’s low . . . that ain’t cool at all. That’s even against the law. For some reason it falls under the defrauding-the-innkeeper clause. That falls into my line of thinking. I’ve always felt that if you could afford to drink, you could afford to pay for your cab. Anyway, I took these young strong

Navy boys back to the Naval Station. After payday they sometimes get a little short of money, like any good sailor, so I asked them if they had enough money left to pay for the cab, or did they give it all to some seiiorita in T.J.? They just laughed and said, “Yeah, we’ve got enough left to pay for the cab,” and for me not to worry.

Well, after we got there, they had me stop between two barracks and all five climbed out. They started going through their pockets like they were looking for some money. All of a sudden all five of them took off like they were on fire, running down the alley between the barracks. Well, being real smart and pretty brave besides, I went running after them, yelling, “Come back here, you punks!”

My mistake was in catching up to them. Real smart, hah! They beat the hell out of me. Five-to-one, smart move, Paul. What’s your next trick? I thought for a second or two, and I remembered part of the conversation in the back seat. One guy said he was in Building 51, and the rest said, “That’s strange, so are we.”

Small world. So I dragged myself back to the cab and shot on over to Building 51. I walked inside and talked to the Master at Arms who was on duty. After about five minutes, lo and behold, in came the five guys that jumped fare on me. As they walked into the barracks the Master at Arms grabbed them one at a time. I tried to let them off the hook, all I wanted was for them to pay me the twenty-three dollars they owed me. To my surprise they even denied being in a cab or being off base. The Master at Arms had grabbed them because they were half drunk. I’ve noticed in the past, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, if you’re drunk or you’ve even been drinking, you’re screwed. So he put them on report and said there would be a captain’s mast in a couple of weeks, at that time I could tell my story. He asked me if I was okay, he thought I looked a little weathered. I said, “I’ll be all right. I’ve been stomped before.” He added, “You go chasing five guys down an alley and you’re going to be stomped again.” I said, “I know what you mean. It won’t happen again.”

Military justice is quite a bit swifter than civilian rule. They don’t mess around. Two weeks later I went to the captain’s mast — I got my twenty-three dollars, plus they all got fined and restricted to base. That time anyway, it sure didn’t pay to run out on a cab driver. I really didn't want to cause anybody any trouble, but you can’t let people get away with running out on you. If you let just one guy get away with it, he starts bragging to all his buddies about what he did. The next time he or his buddies need a taxi and they don’t have any money, they’ll try it. If it ain’t me, it will be somebody else.


Some days are heydays and, yeah, some days are dog days. Not too many people believe this story, but I swear it’s true.

One afternoon I got a call to a house in Imperial Beach. I pulled up in front and this German shepherd jumped a three-foot chain-link fence that surrounded the house. He came running up to the passenger side window, stuck his head in, and scared the hell out of me! He had an envelope in his mouth — I reached over real slowly and took the envelope from his mouth. On it was written, “Take this dog to 9009 Jefferson Avenue, Chula Vista.’’ I looked toward the front door of the house and saw a man disappear inside. Well, I figured the dog must be pretty friendly, and he even smelled better than some of my customers.

I reached over and opened the door and the dog hopped right in. I threw the meter and off we went. He didn’t say much the whole trip, but he was a damned good listener. I didn’t think too much about the cab fare, I just figured that I’d get paid by the people at the other end.

We pulled up in front of this house on Jefferson, me and the dog. He looked as though he enjoyed the trip, he got to stick his head out the window and he got to slobber all over my front seat.

I reached over and turned the meter to nine o’clock, where I could read it. It said six dollars.

I sat there for a few minutes. Even honked my horn a couple of times. Pretty soon I started to realize there wasn’t anybody home. The dog looked at me as if to say, “What’s the matter with you?” Then, with that big mouth full of teeth and his slobbery muzzle, he nudged the envelope. I got the message. I picked up the envelope, tore it open, and found a ten-dollar bill inside. So I reached over the dog and opened the passenger side door. “There you go boy, don’t take any wooden fire hydrants.”

I couldn't figure it out, the dog wouldn’t get out of the cab. He just sat there.

The more I tried to get him out of the cab, the more upset he got. Then he began to growl. He was getting madder by the minute. Then it hit me — I still owed him four dollars. I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket, took four dollars out, and stuck it in the envelope. Before I could even reach over and hand it to him he grabbed the envelope out of my hand. He had this sort of content look on his face as he jumped out of the cab. He ambled over to the chain-link fence that surrounded this yard, leaped over it and went straight to the dog house over in the corner. He disappeared inside for a second, then turned around and came back out and lay down on the lawn. I guess he put the money in his sock. Until this day I still don’t know, and don’t want to know.

But I know one thing. I know one of the coolest dudes to ever walk the face of this earth. The dude was so heavy he made Winston Churchill look like a lightweight. This man was my father. He taught me so many things. He taught me love. And he taught me honor.

He worshipped my mother. He worked as hard as he could to bring about the things that she wanted, and the things that he wanted for her. When the love was gone and she found need for someone else, everything he had done in his life up to that point seemed unnecessary. None of it mattered anymore.

He had owned three houses. He had property in two counties. It took him approximately two years after they split up to get rid of it all. Two years later me, my father, my brother, and two sisters were all living in a two-bedroom rented house. We didn’t suffer, mind you. It was just that his motivation was always love, and when that love was gone, so was his motivation.

I respect that man so much for what he did for us kids, his children. A weaker man would have buckled under the strain and said, “Hey, well, sorry kids, you’re going to have to take care of yourselves. I’ve got problems and I’ll catch you later on down the line. I’ll send you a few dollars every now and then to help you out.” But he didn’t. He let her go her way and seek what it was she was looking for; and he took on the awesome responsibility of raising four children, working and caring for a family that wasn’t really a family anymore. If ever a man lived and died at the same time of a broken heart, it was him.

He never lost his sense of humor, though. His zeal, his zest for life, his youth, his lust for good times and laughter and recognition for those who were young and healthy and vibrant. He wore the craziest clothes! He’d wear red pants and green shirts. Every St. Patrick’s Day he’d dye his hair the brightest green, drink green beer, and dance with anybody that’d dance with him.

When it came to other women, he enjoyed the chase more than the kill. He died slowly of a broken heart. That’s probably the worst way to go. Especially if you drag it out for ten or fifteen years.

His deep sorrow and hurt and loneliness finally got so demanding that he turned to drink. The Great American pastime. But after a while, drowning out his sorrows became not just a solution but his vocation. He was as full of love and wanted to be a part of everyone.

Pretty soon he became so obnoxious nobody could stand to be around him, especially those that loved him. It’s real hard to sit back and see somebody of greatness reduce themselves to that level.

I’d sit and think — boy, I should go over and see Dad. I love him so much and I know he’s so lonely and just a few minutes of my time with him would make him feel more like life was worth living. So I’d go on over there, drink a few beers or maybe have a shot or two. Listen to some good country music, or maybe even some rock ’n’ roll. But two-thirds of the time I’d go over there, he’d be so soused he wouldn’t even know who I was. I’d see him like that, and no matter how good it made him feel, it tore me apart. To watch somebody you love kill themselves, ever so slowly . . . The man only lived three blocks away. I got to the point where three or four weeks would go by and I wouldn’t even go see him. Or he’d come by and I’d have to ask him to leave.

Even today I think back and it’s hard to believe he’s gone. He was the most unforgettable character I’ve ever met. Yeah, after twenty years in the Navy he had the touch of a sailor. And the language of one. Bring on the dancing girls. Any port in a storm. He used to wake us kids up in the morning. He’d come into me and my brother’s room, bursting through the door like a cop with a warrant. He’d never come off with, “Well shiver me timbers,” or “Okay ye landlubbers.” One simple phrase he had in the morning to get us up, very down to earth. A little distasteful in some circles, but it sure got us up. He’d burst through that door and say, “Okay guys, get your hands off your cocks and grab your socks. Let’s move it.” He woke us up that way for years.

He’d be asking me all the time, “Well, Paul, when you going to fix me up with some of these young girls you’re always running around with?” I’d say, “Anytime you want. Dad. Anytime you want. You just let me know.” He’d say, “How about tomorrow?”

I would have something all lined up for him. He didn’t want any part of it. He was still in love. Still in love with my mother. Fifteen years later he was still in love with my mother. He taught me the meaning of love.

My mother was an Englishwoman, born and raised. He was an American sailor on tour during the war. While sipping some ale in an English pub, singing songs, his glass raised, he saw this dark-haired, green-eyed, very sensuous young woman dancing. Dancing on the bar. Knocking over people’s drinks. And he fell in love.

She was quite a lady, full of fire, full of piss and vinegar. Very beautiful, very strict. She was always so proud of us kids. We were so special to her. She expected so much of us, and she demanded respect. We didn’t talk to her the way kids talk to their mothers today. If you did, you picked yourself up off the floor. To cuss was to blow bubbles — she’d wash our mouths out with soap. It was, “Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am.” It was always “ma’am.” To just say yes or no would be disrespectful, and you might get a shoe across the mouth.

But she wasn’t cruel, she wasn’t mean. She just had standards. Somewhere along the line, the kids got older, my father’s trips to the western Pacific, to Europe, and the military lifestyle — a twenty-year Navy career — seemed to wear her standards down. Her zest for life, her feelings of entrapment, and her need for twenty-four-hour-a-day love collided with her staunch standards. It was twelve or thirteen years before she went out on my father for the first time.

I vaguely remember. She started running around with some friends, a crowd of women who had been hanging out together for a long time. What they call West-Pac widows. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. People just get lonely. I remember the guys coming by, slipping me five bucks to go to the movies. I told them it would cost them ten. But it wasn’t a bribe, I was just trying to get all I could. I turned right around to my dad and let him know what was happening.

He had been gone on a nine-month tour of duty. When he got home things weren’t the same. Mom would get all dressed up to go out and he'd ask her, “Where are you going?” She’d just say, “I’m going out with some friends of mine,” and she would go down to one of her girlfriend’s houses and they’d go bar hopping.

The first couple of times Dad just kind of shined it on. He figured she needed to get out, to get away from the frustrations of raising a family and a man who wasn’t there half the time.

I remember one time I guess it just got to the point where he couldn’t handle her going out anymore. It was about six in the evening and she’d just showered and had her hair all done at the beauty parlor and got on her favorite white dress and her jewelry and makeup. She looked like a million dollars. He asked her, “Well, where are you off to?” She said, “I'm going out for a while.” And he says, “I don’t want you to go out, honey.” She says, “I don’t give a damn what you want. I’m going out and have a good time and dance and have some fun.” They argued and the kids got upset and Dad got upset and Mom got mad in her kind of arrogant way of saying, “I’ll do as I damn well please.” Daddy walked into the living room where he kept his beer tapper and about a two-and-a-half-quart pitcher and filled it to the brim. Mom was sitting there in a chair all dressed up and looking like she got her way. Dad walked over to her chair, very calmly, and poured two and a half quarts of beer right over her head. All over her makeup and her new hairdo and all over her favorite dress. It was too much for her to handle, she couldn't do much at that point but cry. She got up and ran to the bedroom and cried and cried. Things got progressively worse after that. They had some real knock-down drag-out fights. I think Mom won most of them. She had some nails on her that would slice you right open. She’d yell at us kids, “Look what your dad did to me! He hit me!” and we’d go in there and see what Dad looked like and boy, he’d look like a tiger got ahold of him. His face would be all scratched up, his arms would be all scratched up. It was kind of hard to tell who won. Us kids sure didn't.

After a while. Mom found a man she was happy with, and she left. Dad just kind of gave up. He didn’t seem to care anymore about getting ahead in life and having things. Two years after that he had lost everything he worked his whole life for. He didn’t really lose it, he kind of gave it away. I guess he wanted to start all over again. So me and my dad and my brother and sisters hopped in the old ’56 Mercury, loaded up the trunk with things we really wanted, and headed for Missouri.

We headed for Dora, the small town in the Ozarks where my dad was raised. I guess it was the idea of another place and another time when things were better for him. A place where there were fond memories and I guess most of all peace. Me, I loved the idea myself. Hunting was my favorite pastime, and there in the heart of the Ozarks sounded really great to me. I had never even been out of California. Just the adventure of the trip sounded exciting to me. My two sisters, they weren’t too happy about leaving. They had to leave all their friends and boyfriends and the Friday night dances at the gymnasium and the nightly trips to A&W root beer and go back to a small town, population twenty-two. The more they thought about it the more they said, “Boring, boring. What’s there to do there?” Dad would say, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll love it. It’s beautiful there.” So we headed on.

It was spring and a beautiful time to cross these United States. The deserts were just starting to warm up, the mountains were still cool and frosty. We tried to save as much money as we could. We didn’t have a lot. Instead of staying in motels along the way, we’d pull out the sleeping bags and build a campfire in the fire rings along the highway and road stops, and sleep there.

When we got to Missouri we spent the first two weeks going around visiting everybody. Shit, I think we were related to half the damn county. Of course all these relatives hadn’t seen Dad in twenty years. Me and my brother Mike would sit around and play guitar and entertain all the relatives. Cousins, we had more cousins than you could shake a stick at. And uncles and aunts, seemed we couldn’t go anyplace without running into somebody related to us. Sure is a friendly part of the country back there, though. It was so very seldom that a car would come down the old Route 2 highway. You could wave at each other as they go by and say hey, hello. They don’t do that in California. Sure hate to have to hitchhike on that highway, you’d be there all day.

We finally settled into a little white house sitting on an acre of land. The house sat off a dirt road that sat off the blacktop highway Route 2. It was about three miles out of town, if you want to call it a town. I’ve had apartments as big as the town. It consisted of a little general store, with a post office the size of a broom closet. There were a couple of gas pumps out front of the store, and two signs. One said, “Entering Dora, Missouri” and the other said, “Leaving Dora, Missouri, Population 22.” I’ve had people ask me, “Dora, where’s that at?” I’d say, “Well, that’s just south of Punkin Center and east of Gentryville.” They’d look at me real funny and ask.

“Where’s that?” I’d add, “About 150 miles south of Springfield, Missouri.” They’d say, “I know where Springfield’s at.” Getting close now.

Yeah, Dora, Missouri was all Dad said it was. Woodlands with two rivers on both sides, the North Fork and the O’biyant. Sweetwater rivers for sure — you could look into thirty feet of water and see the bottom. In the summertime the weather was hot and the water was warm. We would climb into an inner tube and ride the rapids. I - loved it. There wasn’t much work around, but I found time to do a little when I wasn’t going to school.

Milking cows and pitching hay, fixing fences and chasing down strays was just about all there was to do. In the afternoon you could find me with my old squirrel gun in hand, looking for meat for the dinner table. I’d usually come home with something — a squirrel, rabbit, or maybe even some quail. I did that every day, we had to eat and the woods were full of food. Nothing was killed for fun. I guess that was the Indian in me I got from my father’s side of the family. We really did live off the land. We had a garden out back and grew all our own vegetables.

We didn’t have to do without. As I remember, the rent back there was real outrageous. We had a two-bedroom house that had electricity, but it didn’t have running water. We had to go out back about twenty feet where there was a clear-water well with the best-tasting water that I’ve ever tasted. Alls you had to do was drop the rope down about forty feet and pull it back up — it came out of the ground ice cold. There was an old pot-bellied stove sitting smack dab in the middle of the living room. With all these comforts we had to pay fifteen dollars a month. Back in California fifteen dollars wouldn’t even pay your water bill.

I was doing real good in school back there. It was my senior year. I had been just a so-so student in California, I guess because of all the distractions. Back there, there weren’t any. Nobody ditched school, everybody looked forward to going — that was the only time we got to see anybody. Dad knew I was doing a lot better in Dora.

I never got into any trouble there, and my grade average went from a C-to a B+ and he was quite pleased. After a while I learned my way around a farm and my uncle Clyde Grishom offered me a job working on his dairy farm. He had thirty-six head of cattle to be milked, twice a day, plus pigs and a couple of horses to be tended to.

He was getting up in age and couldn't get around too well anymore. Both of his sons had taken off for college the year before, and he needed the help.

Uncle Clyde asked me if I would like to come and live with him and his wife Reta, and help run the farm. Still today, I don’t know if he and my dad planned it all out or not, but after a week or so I started missing my dad and my brother and sisters.

One morning after the work was done, I hopped on the old John Deere tractor and took a trip over to see them. I pulled up in front of the old white house. I knew right away that something was wrong. The Merc wasn’t in the driveway and the curtains were off the windows. I walked into the house and all the furniture was gone. There were no pictures on the walls, and no sign of life. Nothing but the potbellied stove, standing all alone.

There was a note pinned on the wall with my name on it. It read, “Paul, we love you more than anything, but the girls are very unhappy here and so am I. Coming back to the place where I was raised and grew into manhood has always been a dream of mine. But the town is not the same as it was thirty years ago. The people are different, all my old friends have died or moved away. I know that running away from my shortcomings and my failures was not the answer. The trip back here has done nothing but shatter my childhood memories. Your brother, your sisters and I have decided to return to California where we belong. I'm sorry about leaving you here and taking off without telling you, but I felt it was for your own good. My wish is to have you finish out your high school year and graduate. After you do, and I know you will, please rejoin us in California. Please still love and remember me, but most of all please forgive me. Your Father, Paul.”

At first I was really hurt to think that they’d leave me like that, without even a good-bye. But if I knew they were leaving. I’d want to go along. Dad knew that, that's why he did what he did. I hopped back on that old John Deere and headed down the road toward the farm and my new home.

As soon as I walked in the door I ran into Clyde and told him what I found at the house and showed him the letter. I told him that Dad and the kids and everything was gone.

He just looked at me with half a smile and said, “Well, I guess I’ve got another son.” He added, ‘‘I’m sure your dad meant well. I’m sure he did it because he loved you, and who’s to say if he’s right or wrong. Let time be the judge.” I gave Clyde a big hug and told him, ‘‘Well, I guess I got me a new family.”

There was only three months of school left so I worked on the farm until graduation. Clyde had a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t be around much longer, and he was right. He tried his best to keep me on the farm, but his boys were due home from college soon and he didn’t really need me anymore. Two weeks after graduation I hit the road. All my friends had moved away. They went out into the world to make a life for themselves, and my time had also come. I sat around the farm for a couple of days just trying to get up enough nerve to tell Clyde that I was leaving.

I left one Sunday afternoon, on an overcast day, with fifteen dollars in my pocket and the will to survive. I had to go out into the world and find out what it was all about. I started walking down the old highway, heading west, my thumb out and thinking of California. I caught a ride and in about two hours I found myself in Springfield.

I took five dollars of the fifteen I had and got a room at the Y. Across the street was a little cafe, so I went inside to get something to eat. After my breakfast of ham and eggs I sat and thought about what I wanted to do with my life.

At that moment a sign across the street caught my attention — ‘‘Join the Navy and See the World.” That sure would make Dad proud of me, for his son to follow in his footsteps. I had a lot of growing up to do, and California sure was a long ways away, especially on the seven dollars I had left.

I walked across the street and talked to the recruiter. The next thing I knew I was taking an entrance exam. The next day I was on a Greyhound bus heading for St. Louis and the Group W bench. When we got there they really treated us like kings. They put us up in the Mark Twain Hotel, about the twenty-second floor, bought us dinner and gave us some cash to go out on the town with. I thought to myself, man, this is really great. I love this already.

The next day we all went through the education center, took our physicals and signed all the necessary papers to become a real sailor. No Group W benches, but they sure checked us out. The following day we were given airline tickets to boot camp. All the guys in front of me were getting tickets to Great Lakes, Illinois. I thought to myself, it’s sure going to get cold there next month. As the chief looked down at my papers, he said, ‘‘Springfield. Nice little town, Springfield.” I said, “I’m not really from Springfield, I was just passing through. San Diego’s really my home.” He stopped for a second and looked at me, “San Diego? Would you like to go there for your basic training instead of Great Lakes?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I yelled. “You’re kidding! Of course I would!” He said, “You’re in luck, young man. I just happen to have one ticket left for San Diego. If you want it, it’s yours.” I said, “I’ll take it!” That afternoon I was heading back home, to my friends, my family, my loved ones. I thought a lot about the mother I hadn't seen in over a year. I also wanted to let my father know that he had done the right thing, and that I understood the reason he had left me behind in Missouri.

We were flown out in an American Airlines Astrojet, first class. That’s what the Navy was to me — first class. I told all the guys on the plane how great San Diego was and how they were going to love it there. I was so excited.

When we got off the plane in San Diego the shit hit the fan. The first-class treatment was over — the Navy had a gun-metal-gray cattle car waiting for us. This burly chief in brown khakis yelled, “Okay you pukes, into the bus. You’re the property of the United States Navy now. Start looking like it!”

We all hopped onto the bus and headed for the Naval Training Center. One of the first things they did was to cut off almost all of my hair. I just about died the first time I looked in the mirror.

Then followed what seemed to be an endless line of shots and TB tests. I’ll never forget that day. Boot camp was rough, we even had a few guys cut their own wrists. It was the Navy’s way of weeding out the ones that could hack it from the ones that couldn’t. We went through constant inspections, schooling, and physical conditioning. After three weeks and five days of this, my company commander approached me with a note from base command.

I was to go to the commander’s office and talk to them about something personal. I thought I was in some kind of trouble, but I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. At the base commander’s office I was met by a Navy chaplain who introduced me to a man from the American Red Cross. He handed me a chit and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your mother’s sick in the hospital. You are being given time off to go and see her.’’

I thought to myself, she must be pretty bad off for the Navy to grant liberty during boot camp. I asked, “What’s the matter with her, do you know?” The chaplain said, “No, we don’t. Word just came from Balboa Hospital to get you down there, at your mother’s request. When would you like to go, right now?”

“Yes, sir.”

They gave me bus fare and told me how to get out there. I ran back to the barracks and dug out my dress blues that I’d never worn before. Some of the guys in the company had never even seen them before. I was the only guy in the company that even knew how to tie the neckerchief.

Recruits didn’t walk on base — they ran, what the Navy calls double time. So I double-timed it to the main gate, chit in hand. When I got off the bus at Balboa I was directed to Building 36, to the nurses’ station. There was a nurse there, an older woman, and she acted like she knew I was coming. I walked up to her and said, “Ma’am, can you help me? I’m looking for Joan Warden.”

She said, “Joan Warden, she’s in room five, third door on your right.” I thanked her and walked down to the room. Inside was this woman, she looked like she weighed about eighty pounds, she was all skin and bones, her hair a bleached-out gray, half dead. She lay there asleep, she looked like a woman of sixty-five.

I walked back down to the nurses’ station. The nurse I had spoken to was just standing there, watching me. I told her, “Nurse, I think you gave me the wrong room number. That’s not my mother. My mother’s thirty-eight years old, black curly hair, about 113 pounds, and quite good looking.’’ The nurse looked at me with a tear in her eye and said, “Mr. Warden, I’m truly sorry. That is your mother, she has cancer.” I said, “Oh God, no” I walked back down the hall and into the room, tears in my eyes, trying to hold them back the best I could. I walked up to her bed, weeping, and the sound of my crying woke her. She looked at me, her eyes full of tears and said, “Son, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

We talked and I told her about Missouri, and about the new life I was starting for myself in the Navy. She said that I looked just like my father when they first got married.

I asked her how she was doing and what the doctors had to say about her condition. She said, “Son, I’m dying of cancer. I wanted to see you. I don’t have long to live and I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am for leaving you.” We talked for about forty-five minutes, until visiting hours were over and a nurse came in and told me that it was time to go.

I gave my mother a big hug, and told her that I’d try to see her tomorrow if the Navy would let me off. She said, “Don’t worry, son. It will be all right. Things always work out for the best, that’s God’s way.”

I went back to the Naval Station, back to the company, in shock. The company commander met me at the door and said he wanted to talk with me for a few minutes. He wanted to talk kind of father to son. I guess he had to deal with this sort of thing before. He sat me down and told me, “There’s nothing you can do to help your mother but pray; but there’s a lot you can do to hurt yourself. Get ahold of the situation, keep yourself busy, and try not to think of how much you hurt right now. To your mother, death would be a blessing. She has seen her son, now she can leave us in peace. Be strong for the living, and the people that love you. Honor her by being the man that she wanted you to be.”

The next day I got called to the base commander’s office again. I thought it was time for me to go to see my mother again. When I got to the office, the chaplain was there. He held out his hand as if to shake mine. I held out my hand and he grabbed it with both of his. He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m very sorry, Recruit Warden. Your mother passed away early this morning. If there’s anything that we can do for you, please let us know.’’ I said, “Thank you, but I don’t think so. If you would, please say a prayer for her.”

San Diego being just north of the Mexican border gives the town a heavy Mexican influence. A lot of the streets have Spanish names. San Diego is itself a Spanish name. I’ve heard it said that by the year 1990, fifty-five percent of the people in California will have a Spanish surname. I mean, even today you can go to Santa Ana, up around the Los Angeles area, and see used-car lots that have signs out front — “We speek English.”

I never thought about it too much, but I guess it’s so. Some people say that they’re just reclaiming what was once theirs. We took it from them by force, and now they’re taking it back.

I don’t see what the big deal’s about anyway, the whole damn state’s going to fall into the Pacific in thirty or forty years anyway. Plan for the future, buy beachfront property in Arizona. Now’s the time to buy. I used to go down to Mexico every now and then, just to have a few drinks and watch the girls dance, and maybe dance myself.

Once in a while I’d go down to the shops and buy leather or a guitar. I saw all the poverty down there, and I began to understand why the people are leaving that country, by the thousands every night. I understood why they would take the chances that they do to get to El Norte, the north.

The migration is mostly economical, but some is political. There are only two classes in Mexico: the very rich and the very poor. Because of the poverty there, the rich have cheap labor and they get fatter, while the poorer people have to compete with the other poor for the few jobs and pesos available. Driving a cab in Imperial Beach, only six miles north of the border, you can see them every night walking up the beach. You see men and women and children of all ages. Sometimes they’re pretty muddy from their trip across the sloughs. A person can get pretty dirty when you have to crawl through sagebrush and bushes.

I’ve heard stories of Mexicans robbing fellow Mexicans trying to get to the promised land. Sometimes they lose more than their money, sometimes they lose their lives. Mexican-Americans who are born in this country have the freedom to come and go as they please. They can go into Mexico and have a good time, or visit relatives whenever they wish. When it’s time to come back home, on the U.S. side of the border they simply show their California driver’s license or whatever form of I.D. they may have. I always thought that Mexican people really stick together and wondered why white folk couldn’t.

We always seem to be on a dog-eat-dog level. Sure we give at the office, we have our charities, but we don’t let people in that we don’t know. When’s the last time you saw a man or woman with their car busted down on the freeway, and you stopped to help?

Mexicans stop to help their own. I’ve even had them stop to help me. When I first heard of the Mexicans’ plight and the Mexican-Americans’ part in helping, I was proud of their stick-togetherness. Brother helping brother. Viva la Raza, the way of the race. You wouldn’t believe some of the hardships these people face trying to get into the United States, where they can make an honest dollar four to six months out of the year. Then they turn around and go back down south, back into Mexico, and use this money they have earned to support their families and relatives.

It is the only chance these people have to upgrade their standards, to make something out of their lives. I often thought, why do these people risk their lives every year to re-enter this country for a below-minimum-wage job?

There is a lot of work for these people in north San Diego County, picking tomatoes and avocados and working the ranches. It’s work very few of us will ever do. There have been times in my life when I’ve been pretty broke, but nothing like that.

There are people down in Mexico, they call them polleros, who recruit those that wish to come north. These polleros promise them safe passage from Mexico to San Diego, or L.A., or to anywhere else in the country for that matter, for a price.

The polleros have a network of people that supply transportation — cars, buses, even airplane tickets. These people have halfway houses where a man or woman can take a shower, get a change of clothes, and look like any other Mexican-American on the streets.

There is only one motivating force behind this network of people, the almighty dollar. Each stage of the trip costs X amount of dollars.

Pollero means chicken dealer or breeder, and pollo, the chicken. Or in this case, the Mexican headed north. The first step for the pollero is to find a good coyote. The coyote is the man that runs the polios across the four- to six-mile stretch of no-man’s land that lies between the Mexican border and the first halfway house.

He is usually young, of Mexican citizenship, and fast on his feet. He knows every inch of the fiatlands as well as the canyons to the east. He has to know the routine of the border patrol, and how they operate. He has to know how to guide his pollos past the bandits and others who would take his people from him. When a coyote is caught by the border patrol, he is simply taken back into Mexico right along with the people he was bringing across. When night falls, they will all try it again, and again, until they make it.

Some coyotes that have been doing it for a number of years and are too well known by the border patrol will at times leave their people to fend for themselves in the dark valleys and canyons of South Bay. If caught too many times, the border patrol and Mexico will put the coyote on a plane for central Mexico, far away from the border area. Sometimes it takes them months to work their way back to the line. Sometimes they never come back.

An average price to one person, for the coyote to bring them across the border safely, is fifty dollars. In groups of five to twenty-five, this can be a good night’s work, even by our standards.

I have had coyotes tell me that their greatest fear is of the Mexican police. They are the ones that rob and kill the polios as well as the coyotes.

The name polio, chicken, is not meant to say they are scared, although most of them are scared to death. The word describes the way they walk — crouched down, knees bent, head low on the shoulders as though they were being shot at.

At dusk you can see the polios and their coyotes start to stage, get in their groups. As soon as it gets dark, this piece of flatland becomes a battle zone. Hundreds of people a night make their way north across the sloughs, which are designated a bird sanctuary. At night you can see and hear the border patrol hard at work trying to stem the flow of illegal aliens into this country. With hundreds of men, jeeps, helicopters, and men on horseback, and with full cooperation from the local police department, they only catch an estimated ten percent of the polios heading north in that first six miles. No one really knows how many sneak through under the cover of darkness, but the numbers must be staggering.

The border patrol says that they can do a better job if only they had more money, more manpower, more equipment. This sounds like a normal statement from a federal bureaucracy — more and more and more. The truth of the matter is, if they want to get through they’ll get through, and more will just delay the trip north for a few days until they try it again and make it. It’s not like those Mexicans are hurting anybody. They’re sure not taking my job, or yours either, unless you pick tomatoes for a living. Then you might be threatened. The truth is, they save us all money at the supermarket. Because of the low cost of labor, our produce prices are cheaper. Some even pay taxes but never get benefits like unemployment or welfare, or any money back from the feds.

Sometimes the pollos find themselves abandoned by their coyote. This network of well-planned steps was no more than empty promises. Alone in a strange and foreign land with no money and no friends. Lost, not knowing anybody, and trusting no one, they follow the ocean or the highways north. All they know is that they have friends in Los Angeles. A name and address written on a scrap of paper, if lucky, maybe a phone number. It is a bleak time for these people. They don’t know what lies ahead, but they do know what waits for them in Mexico, so they keep walking. Once the pollos’ resources are all gone, and the polleros have taken their money, they get pretty desperate.

Some ride the freights that leave around eleven every night. Some try to find work locally until they can get enough money together to arrange transportation north. One of the ways to get to where they are going with no money is to call, or flag down, a taxi.

Most of the drivers in the San Diego area will take any pollo on credit, as long as he or she isn’t going north of the checkpoint at San Clemente, where the immigration officials wait. They call up cabs just like anyone else would. They call from the comer phone, from bars, hotels and motels. I’ve even had them call out of nice places like the Hungry Hunter.

This causes a legal problem for the cab drivers, in a sense. Legally we can't pick them up because it is considered transporting illegal aliens. And legally we can’t turn anybody down or refuse them service because of race, creed, or color. This puts the cab driver between a rock and a hard place. I’ve never heard of any cab driver getting busted for refusing service to anyone, or even getting harassed or detained. But I sure have heard a lot of stories about cab drivers getting arrested for transporting illegal aliens. There is a little discretion involved — if stopped by the border patrol, it helps to have the polios sitting in the back seat.

It doesn’t help if they’re sitting on the floorboards. It does help if they’re clean, with no mud on their clothes and no weeds in their hair. If it isn’t obvious that you have picked up illegal aliens, a lot of the time the border patrol will ask you, “Where did you get them, and where are they going?” Sometimes they will ask, “Do they owe you any money?” But most of the time, their attitude on the fare is, “We’re not a collection agency. I guess you’re just out of luck.”

After a while you learn to spot the difference between illegal and legal clear across the street. I think it’s their attitude, how they feel about themselves. Actually, the facts are we don’t really give a damn. A fare's a fare. Most cab drivers prefer to haul the pollos around — they just flat pay better.

They are really happy to get to where they are going. Because of the special services you have to provide, such as staying clear of the border patrol and police, and even knowing where the ranches are located in North County and how to get there, it is well worth the asking price. Most of the time you are gambling that you’ll make it to the house or ranch. If you don’t make it, chances are you won’t get any money at all. It’s like shooting craps double or nothing. “Go for it” was always my favorite saying, and I did.

I’ve heard lots of stories and read in the newspapers about violence, thefts, and even crimes of sex by aliens. But in my seven years of cab driving, I never had any problem with the Mexican people.

What I have seen is a peace-loving people, very passive, very oppressed, and very scared. The only problem I’ve ever had was collecting the cab fare at the end of the trip. When going on credit there is usually a friend or relative at the destination who will pay the fare. But the border patrol has a bad habit of raiding the ranches in this area and sometimes that friend or relative has been picked up and deported. In that case you’re out of luck unless you can find someone like the ranch foreman to pay for his ride.

One time I picked up a young Mexican boy, probably in his teens, very dirty and very hungry. He wanted to go to Rancho La Costa, and we’re not talking about the resort, either. This place is a real working ranch.

He had come up from the interior of Mexico, from around Mexico City. It had taken him two months to get to this point, and he was exhausted. The Mexican police and the border bandits had taken all his money, but he had a brother at La Costa who had been working there for some time and he would pay me $150 if I could get him to the ranch. I felt sorry for the young man, and the price was right, for a forty-dollar cab fare.

It was about eight o’clock at night, the moon was just a milky patch behind the cloud cover. He jumped into the front seat of the cab and off we went. After working on the Mexican border for a while, one tends to pick up the language. It was easy for me, the bottom line was economics. If you couldn't speak the language, you didn’t get the fare, and if you didn’t know where they were going, you were out of luck anyway.

Feeling lucky and knowing that I could get the job done, me and the young Mexican boy headed north. The kid looked as if he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. I asked him if he was hungry, he said yes he was, so after getting clear of the South Bay area and feeling safe, we stopped.

I pulled up at a small Mexican grocery store around Fortieth and University. I knew it would be cool for the kid to go inside and get what he wanted to eat.

After about five minutes he came back out with a bag full of stuff. In the grocery sack was about five pounds of bologna, two loaves of bread, a jar of mustard and a six-pack of beer. He smiled as he handed me back pocket change from my ten dollar bill. I just smiled back and said I guessed he was hungry. About halfway between Clairemont and Del Mar, the beer, bologna, and the two loaves of bread were weighing heavy on our stomachs. Feeling quite relaxed, and by this time even having fun, it was time for some music. Mexican, of course. We were right in the middle of “I Love El Rancho Grande,” the song blaring out of both sides of the cab, when up ahead on the right side of the freeway was the border patrol, with a car full of Mexicans pulled over.

Before I could even think to turn the music down, or at least look cool, we went flying by. As we passed, boy, did he give us a real hard look. I could see in the rearview mirror that he was heading for the radio to call ahead to one of his partners. Well, at this point I was already out ten dollars for the beer and bologna, and I wasn’t about to lose the goose that lays the golden eggs.

After getting out of sight of the border patrol unit, I decided to get off at the next off ramp and take Pacific Coast Highway. I had been unloaded before in Del Mar. They took five guys out of my cab who were on their way to Encinitas.

I had heard rumors among the other drivers that if you had any Mexican in your cab of questionable citizenship, it would be wise to stay clear of Del Mar Heights Road and I-5. Rumor had it that the border patrol was sitting on the off ramp there, watching cars go by. A taxi is a poor bet for sure, but a cab from the border area that far north is a dead bust.

With the color returning to this young Mexican’s face, and a lump in my throat, we turned right onto Pacific Highway. I had crossed the lines of discretion, I was now breaking the law. Evasion is one of the charges that the border patrol can prosecute a cab driver on, and I knew it. It wasn't like it was the first time, but I was still real nervous. After all, by now I had damned near forty dollars on the meter alone. I told the kid they were going to have to call out the National Guard to stop us now. And at the speed we were traveling they didn’t have time.

Knowing that the call ahead went to the border patrol stationed at Del Mar Heights Road, I knew that when they finally figured out that the cab wasn’t coming by, they’d realize that I had gotten off and taken the Coast Highway. After passing Del Mar I decided to get back on the freeway and run like hell.

The coast was clear. The kid grabbed my hand from the wheel and gave it a good shake. “Gracias, amigo. Gracias.” He knew what I had done for him, but I had also done it for me. I ain’t no saint. Just to have the money there when we arrived, that would be thanks enough for me.

We got off of I-5 and took Highway 76 east to Vista. For the second time this trip I started to relax. We took the country roads through Vista, with its trees full of avocados and the foothills silhouetted against the dark-blue sky. The kid then directed me to turn down a dirt road that we had just passed and I knew that the end of this nightmare trip was soon to come to an end. Or so I thought.

We stopped at a rundown ranch house where a bunch of alambres, migrant farm workers, maybe twenty of them, were spread out on the floor! I stuck to the kid like we were Siamese twins. If I lost him in the dark, it would all have been for nothing. But the kid didn’t seem like he was trying to get away. In fact, he told his friends how I had helped him, and the next thing I knew, they were asking for my cab number in case they ever got into a bind and needed some help.

After a lot of hugging and hand shaking, the young Mexican asked if they had seen his brother, Jose. The foreman said, “Yes, he is fine. The border patrol has been raiding the ranch a couple of times a week, looking for pollos. All of the workers without papers have moved to the hills to keep from being sent back to Mexico. Your brother is just east of the big canyon, under a large manzanita bush. He lives there with Juan. They should be there now, sleeping.”

I was sure glad to hear that his brother was still in camp and that the border patrol had missed him.

We walked back to the cab and I asked him which direction his brother was in. He smiled at me with a sense of humor that bordered on injustice, spun around and pointed to this mountain that he called a hill. It looked like Everest to me. Forty-five degrees straight up, and about three miles to its summit. “That’s where he hides. Follow me, I know the way. Come on, hurry. I’ll pay you there.”

After climbing through brush, manzanita, and cactus for half an hour, I began to run out of breath. The two packs of cigarettes a day had finally caught up with me. I thought I would die.

I think most men would have given up at that point, but the kid kept cheering me on. “Up there. I’ll pay you up there.” That was enough to bring about a second wind. The things that some people will do for money, and who am I to talk. After arriving at at the top, he wasn’t even out of breath. I was exhausted, I felt like I had just run the Boston Marathon uphill.

I was panting so hard, and trying to get my breath, that I didn’t feel the money hit my hand. And I didn’t even bother to count it. The kid shook my hand one more time and thanked me. He added, he told me, an extra twenty-five dollars for the climb.

He disappeared into a huge manzanita bush and I turned to get my directions. I suddenly realized that I was lost.

It was so dark out there, I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Surrounded by canyons, the only light I could see was the starry Vista sky. I couldn’t even remember which way I came up, and the chance of being stuck up there all night didn’t appeal to me very much.

There was only one thing left for me to do — go back to the manzanita and try to flush the kid out and get directions, or at least pointed back toward my cab. I walked into the bush and felt my way around. The next thing I knew I had come out the other side, and no kid. I walked back into the bush. I knew they had to be in there somewhere.

About a minute had gone by when I heard a sound that scared the hell out of me. The sound of a rusty gate creaking open and a beam of light cut through the darkness. It was a trap door — I was almost stepping on it and didn’t even know it was there. I peered inside. There was a room the size of a small bedroom, all lit up by candlelight. A couple of chairs made out of wood, and a bed or two made out of what looked like cardboard.

I told the three Mexicans not to worry, that their secret was safe with me. “The only reason I bothered you again is, how can I find my way back to my cab? I’m lost.”

The kid climbed out and said, “I’ll show you where your taxi is. When you get over that ridge, you will see the lights of the ranch, follow those lights, you’ll be okay. Good luck, amigo.”

“Good-bye, my friend. See you next year maybe.”

After falling downhill and over bushes, I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel and thought how I earned every dime and every dollar I had made that night, and I headed south.

Passing Del Mar Heights Road on the way back is always the best part of the trip — pocket full of money, smile on your face. You just wave and say, “Good night, guys. Maybe tomorrow will be your day.” Honk honk.

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I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel. - Image by Stephen Vance
I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel.

I was dragging my feet one day, walking in kind of a westerly direction toward the poorer part of town, where I felt more comfortable. I needed a new start, I needed a new beginning. I needed something to regain my self-respect. I needed an experience.

As I turned the corner, made a sharp right. I saw all these funny-looking cars painted orange and black. I thought to myself, “Wow. I can do that job. I’m the best damn driver you ever saw.” So I walked into this dimly painted building, half old, half new — an old house that had been converted into an office.

Inside I asked if they were hiring, which was a stupid question seeing that there were at least twenty cabs sitting in the back lot, quite visible to my eyes. The dispatcher said to wait one minute and take a seat, so I did. That gave me a minute to check things out and fill out the application he handed me. I had rather negative feelings about my chances of landing any job in the first place, due to my atrocious driving record. But I knew I could explain that all off — all those tickets were on motorcycles. I don’t drive cars that way.

After filling out the form, I talked to a heavyset man with a reassuring smile on his face. He looked as though he had been sitting in that chair forever. He looked as though he really didn’t have a lot to do. But somebody had to be the boss, I guess. We talked and he asked me why I wanted to become a cab driver, anyway? Why did I want to drive for this company, anyway? He asked was I aware of the danger? “This city loses more cab drivers in a year than the police lose cops. We offer long hours and, sometimes, low pay.”

I told him I was aware of all that. I sat there, expecting a lot of questions about my driving record. Where I was from and how much trouble I’d been into with the law. To my surprise, the man had only one question: “Will you ever steal from me?” I looked the man dead in the eyes and said, “I’ll never steal from you.” I may be a lot of things, but a thief I’m not.

Then he asked, “Do you know what high flagging is?” I said, “I’ve heard of it, and I’ve seen cab drivers do it. But I don’t intend to do it. The dollar amount wouldn't be worth the loss of my job.”

The man said, “Well, I’m going to take a chance on you, young man. But first you’ve got to get your hair cut — not a lot, just a little. We don’t want to freak out the entire community. Ha ha. We don’t want them to think that we gave this wild-eyed crazy person a license to speed and make illegal U-turns, to stop and park wherever he likes.”

I guess everybody has heard the term “piece of cake.” I thought on my first day it was going to be like that. Hell, I’ve been in this town for thirty years. I thought there wasn’t anything about San Diego that I didn’t know.

I pulled up on the cab stand at Eighth and National, called Little Times Square. It’s a square block of nothing but bars, liquor stores, and restaurants. It looked like a good place to start. It took me about fifteen minutes before I found out there was more to this job than just taking people from one place to another. The first thing I learned was that it’s easy to go where you are used to going — your favorite bar, your friend’s house, your usual shop or store.

But it’s a different story when you all of a sudden have to go where other people shop or eat or do their drinking. Most of them are shocked if you don’t know where the Cargo Bar is. Some of them are insulted and make comments like, “Where do you live, in a cave?” But mostly things worked out for the best. I found that most people like to give directions, like go straight or forward, turn right or left, or pointing at a street that you’re approaching. Sometimes they’ll yell, “Turn here!” After all, they have a boss yelling at them to do this and that. For only a few dollars they get to be the boss, and they feel good about themselves again. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, just go straight ahead and I’ll tell you where to turn.” Then all of a sudden they start yelling at you for missing the turnoff, forgetting to tell you where it was they wanted you to turn. My answer to that from Day One was, listen lady, if I could read minds I wouldn’t have to drive a cab for a living. Usually they laugh and say they’re sorry. I really didn’t mind that so much. Hell, I didn't know where the heck I was going anyway and it made them feel good.

Then you get the professional businessman, maybe from the airport or from one of the hotels. You load up his luggage. He doesn’t even attempt to help. He climbs into the back seat, dusting it off before he sits down. Then he looks at you very professionally, very sure of himself, and says, “Take me to 2635-1/2 Via Alicante, La Jolla.” You try to write down the numbers as he speaks because you’ll never remember them if you don’t. You miss them anyway, you ask, “Would you repeat that, please.”

Not that it makes a lot of difference. You’re already lost. You know it’s in the map book, the Thomas Brothers bible. Now all you have to do is find it. All of a sudden you realize — there must be forty pages of Via this and Via that. Hell, we’re so close to Mexico that half the street names are Spanish. The rest are named for trees and presidents. I sure don’t want to lose the twenty-dollar fare to some other cab in line behind me. I’m no dummy, I know where La Jolla is, so I head that way. This man has his shit together, or so it seems, and you sure don’t want him to know that you don’t have yours together. It seems to me that nobody is really happy with their lifestyle. They always secretly want to be something or someone else.

Well-dressed men and well-to-do women especially like to talk dirty and tell dirty stories while they're in a taxi. While listening to this guy’s story, the next mistake I make is to miss the off ramp to La Jolla. But on your first day, there’s always one thing to fall back on. “I’m sorry but today’s my first day and I’ve got a lot to learn. But my mistake won’t cost you anything. I'll just take a couple dollars off the meter. Don’t worry about it.” I'll be making mistakes all day today, but I’m not going to run anybody around — intentionally missing exits to jack up the fare.

Remember, it’s easy when you want to go to a friend's house. Hell, I just hop on the freeway, take the same old off ramp, and shit. I’m right there, that easy. When I go to my neighborhood bar, I know where that’s at. It’s a different story when you have to go where other people want to go, the way they want to go. Not too fast, not too slow. You know where your house is, for sure. But where’s his house? Where’s her house? That’s a different story.

You know, there are parts of this town I've never been in. Logan Heights, yeah, I know where that’s at. But I’ve never been there — not after dark, anyway. Downtown San Diego, sure, anybody can find that. But the streets are really weird. I think there are only two or three streets in the whole downtown area that are two-way. One goes one way, one goes the other. Even-numbered streets go south, odd streets go north, that’s the way I remember it. It’s hard to find your way around when you don’t know where you’re going.

Yeah, the first day I thought I would never make it through, but somehow I did. I sure knocked a lot of dollars off the meter for a lot of people. It was during the World Series and I was taking a fare to the airport for the first time. The count was two balls and two strikes. I think it was on Steve Garvey.

I was approaching the airport exit doing at least sixty-five miles per hour. The man was sure in a hurry. He was sure worried about missing that plane. Then all of a sudden, Steve hit one. The announcer said, “It’s going, it’s going, it’s gone!” At that moment I yelled, “All right! It’s gone!” and the man said, very calmly, “Yes, and so is my exit. You just passed it by.”

I said, “I’m sorry, mister. I’ll take a couple of dollars off the meter and take the next exit.” He said, “Do you know that you just cost me $5000 because I missed my flight?” I said, “Okay, then I’ll take four dollars off the meter if that will help.”

Some people treat you like dirt and other people treat you like you’re the most important thing in their life. During that time from point A to point B, some people think that just because they’ve hired the taxi they also own the driver, body and soul.

You take a lot of shit from people in the beginning. But most people are really nice. They like to talk. You learn something about them and you tell them something about yourself. Especially tourists. They’re really nice. People on vacation usually are. Then I’ve had people tell me to “Shut up, boy, I don’t like gabby cab drivers.” I appreciate honesty. I’d say, “Okay,

I'm just trying to be friendly.” Then I’d keep quiet till the end of the trip.

Boy, was I tired. Three hundred miles and thirty or forty different stories about thirty or forty different cabbie lives. I had one man who said, “I'm a multimillionaire. My company's manufactured every bumper jack for every car Detroit has put out since the Twenties.”

“I'm impressed” I told him. He added that he also had his own jet. He told me he had condos all over the country, and a collection of classic cars. He said he also had investments in gold and diamonds. I just said, “Well, I’m impressed.”

After that I had a guy who was counting his nickels and dimes to see if he had enough to make it home. He was too drunk to walk. You meet all kinds. I learned the first day, though, right off the bat, that people are all the same. The man with millions, I treated him the same as I treated the man that was counting his change. That’s how people are, they’re all the same.


I learned a lot about people that first week. How to deal with people. How to talk to people one-on-one. And how to separate the bullshit from the truth.

I found myself feeling and caring about people’s troubles and woes. Every now and then someone would ask my advice about something or another and I’d give it. Sometimes I’d give it voluntarily, just trying to help them through the daily chore of just living.

You sure can learn a lot driving a cab in San Diego. I sure did appreciate those tips that first week. Hell, you only got paid every two weeks, and the first week’s pay was held back in case you wrecked the cab. If you did, you could kiss good-bye your first week’s pay and probably your job. That sure kept my mind on driving. It sure kept me from clowning around, that's for sure.

It was great come payday — $265, I think it was. I sure felt good about it,

When I was working there always be a real smart ass or two. There s always one guy that will ask, “Are you a cab?” Not thinking. I'd answer, “Yeah, I'm a cab. "He would reply, “Hi, Cab, Fm George.”

Not my favorite jokes, I assure you, too. It wasn't a lot, but it sure beat walking west toward the poorer part of town looking for a job.

After a while, I got pretty good, or so I thought. I was making more than some of the guys that had been working there for years. I guess I was just hungrier. I had that lean and hungry look, you might say. I learned all the short cuts, back streets, and side roads. I could cut across town in half the time. And like now, back then, time was money.

I learned how to get on the good stands, and what stands were good. I learned what areas of town moved, and at what time they moved. I learned what times the planes came in, what bars had business and when. I learned what areas of town the other taxis didn’t work and why. I learned to stay out of the darker side of town, especially after dark. You can get killed or robbed out there. It’s too bad it has to be that way, there’s a lot of business in that area. I learned the tricks of the trade real fast that made me one of the best. Or at least I thought I was. You have to hustle to get ahead.

There is a bright side to every job; with this one it was all the young ladies. I used to pick up a lot of ladies — waitresses, go-go girls, and even some ladies of the night. I enjoyed their business so I’d give them a cut-rate. I’d take them home — sometimes they’d invite me in, sometimes they wouldn’t. Myself, I just enjoyed talking with them and listening to some of their crazy stories.

It sure is hard to concentrate, though, when you’re going sixty-five miles per hour down the freeway, taking a well-built topless dancer to work. Especially when she asks my opinion about a new outfit she has just bought. She flips open the robe she’s wearing and underneath isn’t much. The next thing I’d know. I’d be weaving from lane to lane. I’d say, “Hey, girl. Cut me some slack, will you. I’m having enough trouble keeping my mind on the road.”

Yeah, it sure is hard to concentrate at sixty-five miles per hour, or thirty-five, for that matter. I became quite well known in National City as a man that really knew how to hustle.

The company was well aware of this fact also.

When it came time to look for a man to fill a position as detail driver in the small town of Imperial Beach, my name came up. They needed somebody that could really run bells — find addresses real quick without burning up a lot of gas and miles. A detail driver is a driver who is assigned to a specific area. If I take a person to the bus station or the airport, I would have to go back to the assigned area. Usually there were one or two phone calls, or bells, waiting for you when you’re back in the area. It’s not good business to keep people waiting too long.

So they assigned me to this town of 23,000 people. All those people sure kept this taxi busy. Imperial Beach is just six miles north of the Mexican border. It wasn’t just busy, it was crazy. I sure had to fly. The dispatcher was on my back constantly. “Are you back in town yet. Unit Number 54?” There were soon jokes like “Car 54, where are you?” The dispatcher would say, “I’ve got several calls waiting, the oldest is fifteen minutes.” I’d reply, “Car 54 back in the beach.” He’d say, “Okay, pick up 1459 Elder Avenue and let me know where you’re going.” That let me know there were still some calls waiting.

Some days it went like that for twelve hours. Some days you’d sit for an hour, then all of a sudden four bells would come all at the same time. If I got too far behind, they’d ask if you needed any help. Of course you’d say no, you didn’t want another cab working your town.

The money was really good here, and the best thing about it was that you got to know the people of the town real well. Everyone knew you by your first name, or at least knew you were the town driver. I couldn’t go into a bar without someone saying, “Hi, Paul, what’re you doing? Got your cab outside?” There would always be somebody that would say, “I didn’t call no cab. Must be somebody else. I’m not drunk enough yet." It’s a little rough when everybody in town knows your business, but when people are your business, I guess that’s to be expected.

You know, bartenders think they’ve got it rough, and they do. But what do they do when they can’t handle a customer anymore? They call a cab for him or her. Cab drivers see more assholes than doctors.

It got to the point that if someone couldn’t walk, or at least get into my cab under their own power, I wouldn’t let them in. One time I got a call to one of the local bars, Roy’s Office. The bartender directed me to a comer table where a rather rotund woman sat. He grabbed a couple of guys from the bar and asked if they’d give us a hand getting this lady into the cab. This lady must have weighed at least 300 pounds, and she was plastered. It took me ten minutes just to get an address out of her. So we get to her house and I walked to the front door to see if anybody was home and could help me get her out of the cab and into the house. But luck being what it was, there was nobody around. After about a twenty-minute struggle, I finally got her onto the front lawn, where she lay belly up. Of course I couldn’t just leave her there, although getting raped was the least of her worries. I needed some help, that’s all there was to it.

I finally decided to call the police department and ask for their help in getting her into the house. By the time the officer arrived the booze had taken its toll. She’d gotten sick all over herself. Boy, what a mess. I could hear my dispatcher in the background yelling into his microphone, “Car 54, you through with that trip yet? What’s taking you so long? Car 54, where are you?”

The officer walked up, shaking his head, saying, “She sure is a big one. What a mess.” I turned to the cop and said, “Sorry to bother you, officer, but I didn't know what else to do. I could’t leave her here and I couldn’t move her.”

He asked, “Does she owe you any money?”

Of course she did but I wasn’t about to let him know, so I said, “Not a cent. Well, officer. I’ll be on my way. I’ve got other calls to take care of.”

The cop said, “Thanks, cabbie, you’re too kind,’’ as I threw him a smile and left. Unit 54, clear.

After I finished up the other calls I had waiting, I stopped and did some thinking. There must be a way to keep from getting myself into that situation, or one like it, again. I knew that I was the best damned cab driver in this area, and that I provided the best service to the bars as well as the residents. Time had come for me to take charge of the situation, time had come for me to train this town so I could serve them better.

So I went back to Roy’s Office. I walked into the bar — it was filled with smiling faces, all of them smiling at me. I walked right up to the bartender and said pointblank, “There’s going to be some changes around here if you want me to continue to service this bar. If you get someone too drunk, they’re not going to get into my taxi. If someone calls for a cab or has you call for a cab for them, I want you to ask for a dollar service charge for the cab driver, just in case they walk out of the bar before I get here. I will hold you responsible or you will lose service to this bar for the night.” The bartender just stood there for a few seconds, shocked by my arrogance, the smile gone from his face.

“Okay, okay,” he said as I turned my back and headed for the door. I never had any of that kind of trouble there again.

One night I pulled up in front of this house in I.B. There was a heavy-set woman, staring at me through the screen door. She held up one finger to say just a minute, and pointed to her luggage on the porch. I pushed the button under the dash and popped the trunk open. I got the trunk all loaded up and left the lid open just in case she had something else to put in there. I was standing on the front porch just waiting because I could see that she was on the telephone talking to someone and having a hard time.

I guess she could see that I was getting kind of restless waiting there, so she waved to me to come in. I walked into the living room. I could see that she was still on the phone in the kitchen. She motioned to me to indicate that she’d be just a minute.

She got off the phone, walked up to me and said, with a really bad harelip, “Ha ya do in?” I said, “Pardon me, ma’am?” She repeated, “Ha ya do in?” I said, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I can’t understand what you are saying.” Not wanting to offend her, I added that my hearing wasn’t very good. I could see she was getting quite upset with me, so I thought I’d be the one to break the ice. I asked her, “How are you doing today, ma’am? Fine, I hope ” “He ne she his ness,” she said.

I said, “Pardon me, ma’am. I didn’t catch that,” trying to be as polite as I can. It’s plain this woman has a real problem, or else I’m on Candid Camera.

So I asked her where she wanted to go, and once again I couldn’t understand what she was saying. The frustration finally got to her and she began to write it down on a piece of paper. I looked over her shoulder to see what she was writing down, and I guess she thought I might have been looking down her bra or something. Boy, the next second this right cross came from nowhere and hit me right square on the jaw.

The next thing I knew I was lying on her living room floor, shaking my head. Blood was running from the corner of my mouth, but most of all my pride was hurt.

I started to fire at her with every four-letter word I knew, then caught myself. I can’t be blowing it like this. She’s going to be calling up my dispatcher, maybe even the sheriff, saying I assaulted her or something. So I figured I’d be cool, just take my licking and head back to my cab. By the time I got back to the cab, I was mad as hell.

I had tried my damnedest to find out what was going on and where she wanted to go. It ain’t my fault. So I went to the trunk of the cab, grabbed the suitcases. It must have been a good twenty or thirty feet to her front porch. I didn’t bother walking them over there, I mean I just air-mailed them. “Boom, boom, boom,” one at a time they slammed into the front door.

I stepped over the luggage, walked through the door and told her not to bother ever calling another cab in this town, ever, because, “Lady, you’ll never get one, not at this address anyway.”

I called my dispatcher on the radio to let him know my side of the story before he heard hers. That is if he could understand what the hell she was saying anyway. I told him, “I ran into a little problem over here at the beach.” I told my story, ending with “then she got real mad, hit me in the mouth, and knocked me on my ass.” Alls you could hear in the background was a whole lot of laughter. The whole damned office was in stitches. After a long period of laughter the dispatcher regained his composure. Then he told all the drivers over the radio, all eighty of them, “Hey guys, check this out. You know old Car 54 out in the beach, well, he just had some harelip broad knock him on his ass. What do ya think of that!” The laughter continued. It sure took me a long time to live that one down.

Yeah, it’s really a small world out there sometimes. You have to be real careful what you say and who you say it to. I like to tell stories, and most people like to hear them.

Come to find out, this guy wasn’t just a listener to one of my stories, he was the story — or at least he filled in a lot of the parts I hadn’t known then. Yeah, sometimes you’ve got to watch what you say. I was talking to this guy one day, a cab driver who worked for a different company. Somehow the conversation got around to motorcycles, and then we got around to talking about motorcycle wrecks. I guess that’s part of talking motorcycles. I told him that I got drunk one night at a bar on National Avenue. I was flying down Eighth and National about eighty-five miles per hour, the National City P.D. hot on my tail. I turned to see where the cops were at, and they were doing their job — they were still on my tail, red lights flashing. When I turned my head back, all I could see was the trunk of a ’66 Oldsmobile staring right at me. Hell, I didn’t even have time to think, let alone swerve. There was nothing to do but say, “Oh shit!” I hit that car dead on, I hit it so hard that the motorcycle stuck in the trunk like it was shot from a bow. My bike stopped there but I sure didn’t. I flew down the street 125 feet and landed like I was diving into a pool of water. The police told me later that I got up and ran halfway back, yelling, “My bike! My bike!’’ and then I passed out. Then they threw me into the meat wagon.

I was telling this story to this guy and he was looking like he really had something to add . . . and boy did he. He laughed and said, “You sucker.’’ I asked him why he was calling me a sucker. He laughed again, and then said, “It was my Olds you ran into!” Then he said, “I thought that guy died or something." When he had pulled over to the side of the road, my motorcycle went right with him, lodged in his trunk.

We both had a good laugh and then he told me he made out like a raped ape on that deal — my insurance company paid him $600 for the damage to his car. “Hell,” he said, “the whole damned car wasn’t worth $200.” I told him that I hadn’t made out so well on the deal. I broke both wrists.


You have to be real careful when you talk about the ladies, especially when you’re talking to a man. You may be talking about his wife, a good way to get yourself into lots of trouble. A good cab driver tries not to get involved with personal problems between two people of the opposite sex. It’s a no-win situation, unless you know in advance who’s going to pay for the cab ride.

I got a call to a local bar. As I pulled into the parking lot, out came this couple, the man on foot, the woman dragged by her long blond hair. The man yelled, “Get in the cab, you bitch, you whore.” She climbed in, or was thrown in. I’m not really sure. I just knew one thing — I didn't like the way this guy was treating this good-looking lady. I told this guy so, too. He promised that there’d be no trouble in the cab, and added that it was none of my business anyway, that she was his wife.

He gave an address on Ninth Street. It was a short trip so I thought I’d do it to be rid of them. About halfway there, I could hear fist meeting face in the back seat. Pretty soon some blood splattered on the windshield. I yelled at him to knock it off, that he was killing her.

He said, “I caught her in back of the bar with a couple guys in a camper.” I said, “936 Ninth. We’re here now — get out.” He threw ten bucks on the front seat and dragged her, screaming, into the house.

Somehow I knew I hadn’t seen the last of those two. I was right. About fifteen minutes later, I got a call from the dispatcher, saying that the Imperial Beach police wanted to talk with me at 936 Ninth. He had dragged her into the house all right, and then she stabbed him with a kitchen knife. She said it was in self-defense and the police wanted to know what I had seen.

I told them what I knew and what I had heard. Three hours and I don’t know how many dollars not made later, I was back on the road again. It sure don’t pay to get involved in anything that ain’t none of your business. After a while I didn’t take any shit from anybody, I didn’t care who they were.

I picked up a gentleman who wanted to go to the airport, and on the way he started to tell me about his son. He said, “I’ve got a boy about your age. He’s a doctor in the Denver area, does real good too.”

I replied, “That’s great. I’m sure you’re very proud of him.”

He added, “Yes. And I've got another boy, maybe four years younger than you. I’ll tell you one thing, though, he won’t have to be a cab driver. He’s going to UCLA Medical School right now. He’s going to make something out of himself.” He went on, “I mean to say he won’t be pushing a hack. He’s going to be somebody. Not like you.”

Well, I put up with this bullshit for about ten minutes longer, until I got halfway between two off ramps, where there wasn’t a telephone for two or three miles in either direction. Then I whipped over to the side of the road. To his surprise I popped the trunk open and began to unload his suitcases alongside the highway. I opened the back door and he stared at me in amazement, wondering what was going on.

I grabbed him by his padded shoulders and told him politely to get the fuck out of my cab. He looked at his luggage, then he looked down the road in both directions — he knew he was in deep shit. He just sat there for a few seconds and then I repeated myself, “Get the fuck out of my cab.” He said, “I really didn’t want to get out right here.” I said, “Then mister, don’t be cutting down my profession. I’m not cutting you down because you’re not a doctor or a lawyer, don’t be cutting me down because I’m not.” He thought for a minute and then said, “You’re right. I’m sorry and I apologize.”

Being still pissed off, I said. “Fine. Just keep your mouth shut and you’ll get to where you want to go.” So I loaded back up his luggage and took him to the airport. When we got there he paid his fare and gave me a ten-dollar tip. The lesson was free. I guess the ten bucks covered the guilt.

Yeah, a cab driver is a sounding board for some people. It’s kind of like a cheap shrink — you lie on the couch and talk to your shrink and, hell, it may cost you fifty or seventy-five dollars an hour. Cab drivers provide the same service in some ways, but we don’t cost you that much.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me their troubles, as if I didn’t have enough of my own. But I listen to them, and sometimes even offer them a little advice. Sometimes they want to sit and talk some more, but you only make money when you’re rolling, so you move on down the road.

Some people get into your cab and boy, they need a shrink to talk to. Some people just need someone to talk to. For a while, I had an older woman that used to call me up once a night just to turn off her lights. She was a little crippled but she could get up and turn off her own lights. She was just lonely. The five minutes a night that I’d go in there and spend with her made her feel that somebody knew she was alive, that somebody cared. She was, and I did.

There was another elderly lady that would call me up every time she had something to be moved or lifted. I’d go in her house and maybe put her bottled water on the cooler, and she’d give me a couple of dollars for my time. Yeah, she was just lonely. I guess a lot of us are. But like I was saying, some people are just plain crazy.

I got a call to the Country Bumpkin one night, about midnight I guess it was. This guy yelled at me from the door, “Taxi, I’ll be right out. Just go ahead and throw your meter on.” I did, of course. My time’s money to me just like everybody else. He came running out of the bar. He took about three leaps and a skip, and he was at the door. He hopped into the front seat, looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you know who I am?”

I looked at this guy with his black hat, his black shirt and black pants, his black shoes and black socks and took a guess. “Blackie?”

“No,” he shouted, “I’m the devil himself!”

I said, “Well, I’m impressed, but there’s one thing I don’t understand. Mister Devil. Why do you need a cab? If you’re the devil then you should be able to teleport yourself from one place to another.” He said, “Don’t get smart with me, boy, or I’ll shrink you down until you’re four inches tall.”

Well, I’m getting a real kick out of this guy and I figure I’ll play along for a while. I added, “I really wouldn’t recommend you doing that, not at this time, anyway. You may be a powerful dude, but I would sure hate to see what you look like after hitting the center divider at this rate of speed. When we come to a dead stop it ain’t going to matter what size either one of us are.” When you come to a dead stop at sixty miles per hour plus, you stop dead.

He kept quiet until we got off the freeway. I guess I made an impression. I asked him whereabouts in Chula Vista he wanted to go.

“Take me to the Silver Dollar." I said all right.

Then he started again. He was set on shrinking me down to four inches tall, then putting my head on a stick. Then he made one big mistake. He started talking about raising hell with my son, and his son, and so on and so on.

That’s when I quit taking it so lightly. I ain’t going to let anybody mess with my kid, and especially my future generations. I pulled alongside the road, getting madder by the minute. I said, “I don’t care if you’re the devil himself or not, mister, but don’t you even talk about messing with my kids in front of me. I’ll take you out right here.”

He started to open his mouth. Then all of a sudden he didn’t seem to feel so powerful anymore. In fact, he looked scared to death. He sure changed his tune real quick, and not too soon, either. I dropped him at the Silver Dollar. I never did see him again — I don’t know if he went back to hell or they locked him up somewhere. Whatever he did, it was the right move for sure.

Yeah, there sure are a lot of crazy people in this world. But who am I to talk? Quite a few people probably look at me and think — man, that dude’s crazy. Sometimes I wonder myself.

Downtown San Diego. Man, that’s one crazy part of town. Pimps, hustlers, junkies, and just plain down-and-outs. I’d pull up downtown, park on one of the cab stands, maybe at Horton Plaza. Maybe at Fourth and F or Fifth and G. In that part of town, you didn’t lay back with your feet hanging out the window, that’s for sure.

The first thing you’d do was get out of the cab and lock all four doors. Then you’d stand on the passenger side with your arms and legs crossed, leaning up against the cab. That’s how I felt comfortable, anyway. People would come up and ask if you’re for hire. At that time you’d check them out real good, see if there were any bulges in their jackets to indicate they were carrying a gun. You’d ask them, “Well, it all depends on what you want to do, and where you’re going.” If I didn’t like the way they looked, they didn’t get in. Too many cabs would leave from that area of town and not be heard from again. They would find the cab driver lying somewhere cut up or shot, and the cab nowhere to be found.

When I first started driving a cab, I wasn’t too prejudiced. I had my normal amount of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing, but I’d stop and talk with anybody about anything at any time. But I’ll tell you what — driving a cab can sure change that. The majority of cab drivers that are robbed in this town are robbed by blacks, after dark, in the Southeast side.

It’s kind of rough on blacks, and it’s too bad that a few have to ruin it for a whole race. It’s sort of like what Charlie Manson did to the hippies — it got real hard to hitch a ride. Yeah, if you’re flaggin’ my cab down on the Southeast side after dark, and you just happen to be black, you’d better be wearing a business suit. If you’re not. I’ll wave right back at you like you were a buddy, and just keep on going. I wasn't about to stop. I guess I must have offended a lot of people during that time. I didn’t feel too good about it, but I sure liked living. I had to cover my own ass.

The first time I was ever robbed I picked up a couple of sailors from the Naval Station. San Diego is a big navy town; about fifty-five percent of our business comes from the military. I took these two sailors out to East San Diego where they lived, about ten o’clock at night. Sailors are usually a safe fare. They may get a little drunk or too rowdy, but they usually don’t mean any harm. They’re just out to have a good time.

I pulled up in front of their house, turned off the cab, and collected my fare. The sailors said good night and walked into the house. As soon as they got into the house I started to fill out my trip sheet. The trip sheet tells the office where you went to, how long it took, and how much the fare was. The trip sheet is then checked against the meter.

Well, while I was doing my paperwork I don’t know where my head was at. I shouldn’t have been sitting there. Two young blacks jumped into the back seat of the cab. I looked around. They asked me where I was going. I knew I was in trouble right then. I said, “Well, I was kind of heading right back downtown. Where you guys headed?”

They said, “Well, we don’t really want to go anywhere.” Just then I heard the click-click of two switchblade knives. I felt a lump in my throat. Boy was I scared, I thought it was all over right then. These guys were shaking so bad they looked like a couple of junkies in need. I thought to myself — these guys might kill me even if I do give them all my money.

I had all kinds of flashes going through my head. I really didn’t know what to do and I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. I reached for the inside door latch, and in one quick motion jumped out of my cab.

I took off down the street at a gallop heading for the lights of a gas station where I thought I’d be safe. At that point I didn’t worry about the cab one bit, or the thirty dollars in my pocket either. I was running for my life.

The only problem is, hell, I'm over thirty years old. I’m not as fast as I used to be. Sitting in a cab all day makes a man get out of shape real quick. You may see a cab driver sitting in his cab on a cab stand somewhere — he may look like he’s fifty but he’s probably only thirty-five. Cab driving does that to a man.

Anyway, I got about halfway to that gas station with its lights and safety, not even looking back to see if they had followed. All of a sudden I was dragged down from behind. All I could see was blacktop rushing up to meet me. My jacket got all tangled up over my face. I couldn’t even see what was going on, couldn’t even swing to fight back.

One held a knife to my throat and said, “Give us all your money. And I mean all of it.” I just reached into my back pocket and pulled my wallet out. I didn’t even bother taking the money out. I couldn’t see anyway. I got lucky, I guess. I still had my life. They didn’t stick or stab me. Thank God they didn’t kill me, that would have really pissed me off.

I lay there in the middle of the street, all road-rashed and skinned up, out of breath, and quite confused. The street was dark and nobody was around. There were a few people looking out of their safe, warm living-room windows, but when I looked at them, they just shut the curtains. I guess they wanted no part of this action.

The two young blacks ran back to the cab, hopped in, and headed down the road. I thought at that time, I don’t care about the cab one bit, but I did remember that I had fifty dollars stashed in the trunk. Somehow that didn’t matter either. It was great to be alive.

So I walked down to the gas station, too tired to run and too beat to try. The first thing I did was call the San Diego P.D. and tell them my location and what had happened. Next I called the dispatcher and told him. He put the word out to 600 cabs via the radio. They wouldn’t get too far.

Six minutes passed before the police showed up. I tried to keep the facts clear in my head, I knew there would be a lot of questions. I told the officer what had happened and the name and number of my cab. He told me, “Climb on in, let’s go look for the cab. They don’t usually take them too far from the scene. They’re too identifiable.”

We were cruising the neighborhood for about fifteen minutes when word came over the police radio that the cab had been spotted less than a mile away. By the time we got to the house where the cab was parked, there was already a police unit there.

The taxi was parked on the right side of the street, front end pointing down a steep incline, bumper resting on the car in front of it. I stayed in the police car while the two officers checked out the cab, keys still in it. It looked as though I had parked it there myself. My license and maps were still in place, right where I left them on the dash.

The cops walked up to the residence the cab was parked in front of, and knocked on the door. After the second knock an older black woman came to the door. I couldn’t hear what was being said, but the officers kept pointing to the cab and asking questions. The woman called to someone in the house, as if to ask if they knew anything about the cab being there. As the young man, about twenty, talked to the police, I recognized him as one of the men that had robbed and assaulted me. I yelled to the officers, “That’s him! That’s one of the guys. For sure that’s him!”

The young black yelled back, “You’re crazy, man. I don’t know nothing about no cab.’’ The cop yelled to me, “You sure?” I yelled back, “You better believe I am! He’s the one, all right.” They searched the house and found the other black in the bathroom combing his hair.

There was no sign of my wallet or the papers in it. I thought to myself, boy, that’s really dumb to leave a cab parked right in front of your house. After a few words with the suspects, I guess giving them their rights, the officers loaded them into the back of a squad car. One of the officers walked over to the car I was sitting in and asked me to go downtown with him, to the Market Street station to finish up the paperwork.

On the way the cop asked me again if I was certain they were the same two that had robbed me. I said I was positive. “The reason I asked is,” the officer explained, “the clothes they are wearing don’t match the description you gave us in the beginning.” “Well, I know that,” I said, “they changed clothes.”

“Well,” he replied, “they said they were going to a party just down the street.”

I said, “I guess so. You can have a pretty good time on thirty dollars.” I know I could.

At the station we found out why the cab was left in front of the house. The rear end had been messed up and the reverse didn’t work. They may have tried to move it, but the damn thing just wouldn't move. That explained why it was parked like it was. They weren’t dumb, they were just unlucky.

I must have sat down at the police station for three hours being asked all kinds of questions, and filling out form after form. Hell, you would think I was the suspect instead of the victim. When I finally got through talking with a whole slew of investigators and they were through talking with me, I told them I had fifty dollars tucked away in the trunk of the cab and would it be all right to get it out, if it was still there. They said, “Yes, but let us do it. We don't want you to disturb any fingerprints that might be on the trunk.” For a change, something went right and the fifty was still there. I was sure glad to see that. It was all the money I had.

I didn’t ever learn whether they found any fingerprints or not. But I knew one thing was sure, that night’s work was a total loss. The company was out money, too — they had to fix the transmission and that ran to $250. A bad night for all, but I guess it could have been worse. I could have paid the ultimate price.

After that it seemed like every time I turned around I had to go back to the police station for one thing or another. To fill out some more forms, to look at some more pictures. They even tried to trick me once — they stopped me on the street in my cab and asked me if I could pick the two young blacks out of the ten pictures they handed me. The men in the pictures sure looked a lot like the men that had robbed me, but out of ten pictures, their pictures weren't there. The officer said, “You’re right, just making sure. We don’t want any foul-ups in the case. Thank you for your time.”

Being the only witness in the case, I became quite nervous working the downtown area. It’s easy to set up a cab driver. I quit picking up blacks altogether. It sure hurt my business, but I was set on covering my ass. About three weeks later we started into the court phase of this situation. That wasn’t any fun either.

Three or four court appearances, and what seemed like a thousand questions — everything from my eyesight to my integrity was in question. I didn’t show up the day they were sentenced. I didn’t have to be there, so I didn’t go. This whole experience was costing me an arm and a leg — a forty-mile trip back and forth to town, the gas it took, plus parking, and the hours I was missing from work. That made the thirty dollars I originally lost seem like chump change. Also, I was as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The D.A. did call me, though, to let me know what had happened at the sentencing. He said, “We got them. But the court went easy, they were fined twenty dollars apiece and put on one year’s probation.’’ They also had to make restitution to me and the cab company.

I said, “What? Big deal! After all the hell you people put me through in the name of justice! Well, I’ll tell you what, Mister District Attorney, I’m sorry I ever reported it. It won’t ever happen again, that I’ll guarantee you!” I did receive twenty dollars in witness fees and twenty dollars in restitution, but somehow it sure wasn't worth my time and trouble. “I’ll just start packing my .357. I’ll show you the real meaning of ‘to protect and serve.’ Take light of that and good-bye.”


You don’t have to have a lot of guts to drive a cab. What you do have to have is sawdust for brains. I’ve done some really stupid things myself. I’ve actually gotten myself hurt because I didn’t stop long enough to think about the situation before jumping into it with both feet.

I mean. I’ve had my share of trouble with white people, too. I picked up five sailors one time, down at the Mexican border. They wanted to go to the Naval Training Center in Point Loma. A good trip — it’s about twenty-three dollars. Usually the Navy’s good for it, they don’t jump fare on you too often.

Jumping fare on a cab driver, man, that’s low . . . that ain’t cool at all. That’s even against the law. For some reason it falls under the defrauding-the-innkeeper clause. That falls into my line of thinking. I’ve always felt that if you could afford to drink, you could afford to pay for your cab. Anyway, I took these young strong

Navy boys back to the Naval Station. After payday they sometimes get a little short of money, like any good sailor, so I asked them if they had enough money left to pay for the cab, or did they give it all to some seiiorita in T.J.? They just laughed and said, “Yeah, we’ve got enough left to pay for the cab,” and for me not to worry.

Well, after we got there, they had me stop between two barracks and all five climbed out. They started going through their pockets like they were looking for some money. All of a sudden all five of them took off like they were on fire, running down the alley between the barracks. Well, being real smart and pretty brave besides, I went running after them, yelling, “Come back here, you punks!”

My mistake was in catching up to them. Real smart, hah! They beat the hell out of me. Five-to-one, smart move, Paul. What’s your next trick? I thought for a second or two, and I remembered part of the conversation in the back seat. One guy said he was in Building 51, and the rest said, “That’s strange, so are we.”

Small world. So I dragged myself back to the cab and shot on over to Building 51. I walked inside and talked to the Master at Arms who was on duty. After about five minutes, lo and behold, in came the five guys that jumped fare on me. As they walked into the barracks the Master at Arms grabbed them one at a time. I tried to let them off the hook, all I wanted was for them to pay me the twenty-three dollars they owed me. To my surprise they even denied being in a cab or being off base. The Master at Arms had grabbed them because they were half drunk. I’ve noticed in the past, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, if you’re drunk or you’ve even been drinking, you’re screwed. So he put them on report and said there would be a captain’s mast in a couple of weeks, at that time I could tell my story. He asked me if I was okay, he thought I looked a little weathered. I said, “I’ll be all right. I’ve been stomped before.” He added, “You go chasing five guys down an alley and you’re going to be stomped again.” I said, “I know what you mean. It won’t happen again.”

Military justice is quite a bit swifter than civilian rule. They don’t mess around. Two weeks later I went to the captain’s mast — I got my twenty-three dollars, plus they all got fined and restricted to base. That time anyway, it sure didn’t pay to run out on a cab driver. I really didn't want to cause anybody any trouble, but you can’t let people get away with running out on you. If you let just one guy get away with it, he starts bragging to all his buddies about what he did. The next time he or his buddies need a taxi and they don’t have any money, they’ll try it. If it ain’t me, it will be somebody else.


Some days are heydays and, yeah, some days are dog days. Not too many people believe this story, but I swear it’s true.

One afternoon I got a call to a house in Imperial Beach. I pulled up in front and this German shepherd jumped a three-foot chain-link fence that surrounded the house. He came running up to the passenger side window, stuck his head in, and scared the hell out of me! He had an envelope in his mouth — I reached over real slowly and took the envelope from his mouth. On it was written, “Take this dog to 9009 Jefferson Avenue, Chula Vista.’’ I looked toward the front door of the house and saw a man disappear inside. Well, I figured the dog must be pretty friendly, and he even smelled better than some of my customers.

I reached over and opened the door and the dog hopped right in. I threw the meter and off we went. He didn’t say much the whole trip, but he was a damned good listener. I didn’t think too much about the cab fare, I just figured that I’d get paid by the people at the other end.

We pulled up in front of this house on Jefferson, me and the dog. He looked as though he enjoyed the trip, he got to stick his head out the window and he got to slobber all over my front seat.

I reached over and turned the meter to nine o’clock, where I could read it. It said six dollars.

I sat there for a few minutes. Even honked my horn a couple of times. Pretty soon I started to realize there wasn’t anybody home. The dog looked at me as if to say, “What’s the matter with you?” Then, with that big mouth full of teeth and his slobbery muzzle, he nudged the envelope. I got the message. I picked up the envelope, tore it open, and found a ten-dollar bill inside. So I reached over the dog and opened the passenger side door. “There you go boy, don’t take any wooden fire hydrants.”

I couldn't figure it out, the dog wouldn’t get out of the cab. He just sat there.

The more I tried to get him out of the cab, the more upset he got. Then he began to growl. He was getting madder by the minute. Then it hit me — I still owed him four dollars. I pulled my wallet out of my back pocket, took four dollars out, and stuck it in the envelope. Before I could even reach over and hand it to him he grabbed the envelope out of my hand. He had this sort of content look on his face as he jumped out of the cab. He ambled over to the chain-link fence that surrounded this yard, leaped over it and went straight to the dog house over in the corner. He disappeared inside for a second, then turned around and came back out and lay down on the lawn. I guess he put the money in his sock. Until this day I still don’t know, and don’t want to know.

But I know one thing. I know one of the coolest dudes to ever walk the face of this earth. The dude was so heavy he made Winston Churchill look like a lightweight. This man was my father. He taught me so many things. He taught me love. And he taught me honor.

He worshipped my mother. He worked as hard as he could to bring about the things that she wanted, and the things that he wanted for her. When the love was gone and she found need for someone else, everything he had done in his life up to that point seemed unnecessary. None of it mattered anymore.

He had owned three houses. He had property in two counties. It took him approximately two years after they split up to get rid of it all. Two years later me, my father, my brother, and two sisters were all living in a two-bedroom rented house. We didn’t suffer, mind you. It was just that his motivation was always love, and when that love was gone, so was his motivation.

I respect that man so much for what he did for us kids, his children. A weaker man would have buckled under the strain and said, “Hey, well, sorry kids, you’re going to have to take care of yourselves. I’ve got problems and I’ll catch you later on down the line. I’ll send you a few dollars every now and then to help you out.” But he didn’t. He let her go her way and seek what it was she was looking for; and he took on the awesome responsibility of raising four children, working and caring for a family that wasn’t really a family anymore. If ever a man lived and died at the same time of a broken heart, it was him.

He never lost his sense of humor, though. His zeal, his zest for life, his youth, his lust for good times and laughter and recognition for those who were young and healthy and vibrant. He wore the craziest clothes! He’d wear red pants and green shirts. Every St. Patrick’s Day he’d dye his hair the brightest green, drink green beer, and dance with anybody that’d dance with him.

When it came to other women, he enjoyed the chase more than the kill. He died slowly of a broken heart. That’s probably the worst way to go. Especially if you drag it out for ten or fifteen years.

His deep sorrow and hurt and loneliness finally got so demanding that he turned to drink. The Great American pastime. But after a while, drowning out his sorrows became not just a solution but his vocation. He was as full of love and wanted to be a part of everyone.

Pretty soon he became so obnoxious nobody could stand to be around him, especially those that loved him. It’s real hard to sit back and see somebody of greatness reduce themselves to that level.

I’d sit and think — boy, I should go over and see Dad. I love him so much and I know he’s so lonely and just a few minutes of my time with him would make him feel more like life was worth living. So I’d go on over there, drink a few beers or maybe have a shot or two. Listen to some good country music, or maybe even some rock ’n’ roll. But two-thirds of the time I’d go over there, he’d be so soused he wouldn’t even know who I was. I’d see him like that, and no matter how good it made him feel, it tore me apart. To watch somebody you love kill themselves, ever so slowly . . . The man only lived three blocks away. I got to the point where three or four weeks would go by and I wouldn’t even go see him. Or he’d come by and I’d have to ask him to leave.

Even today I think back and it’s hard to believe he’s gone. He was the most unforgettable character I’ve ever met. Yeah, after twenty years in the Navy he had the touch of a sailor. And the language of one. Bring on the dancing girls. Any port in a storm. He used to wake us kids up in the morning. He’d come into me and my brother’s room, bursting through the door like a cop with a warrant. He’d never come off with, “Well shiver me timbers,” or “Okay ye landlubbers.” One simple phrase he had in the morning to get us up, very down to earth. A little distasteful in some circles, but it sure got us up. He’d burst through that door and say, “Okay guys, get your hands off your cocks and grab your socks. Let’s move it.” He woke us up that way for years.

He’d be asking me all the time, “Well, Paul, when you going to fix me up with some of these young girls you’re always running around with?” I’d say, “Anytime you want. Dad. Anytime you want. You just let me know.” He’d say, “How about tomorrow?”

I would have something all lined up for him. He didn’t want any part of it. He was still in love. Still in love with my mother. Fifteen years later he was still in love with my mother. He taught me the meaning of love.

My mother was an Englishwoman, born and raised. He was an American sailor on tour during the war. While sipping some ale in an English pub, singing songs, his glass raised, he saw this dark-haired, green-eyed, very sensuous young woman dancing. Dancing on the bar. Knocking over people’s drinks. And he fell in love.

She was quite a lady, full of fire, full of piss and vinegar. Very beautiful, very strict. She was always so proud of us kids. We were so special to her. She expected so much of us, and she demanded respect. We didn’t talk to her the way kids talk to their mothers today. If you did, you picked yourself up off the floor. To cuss was to blow bubbles — she’d wash our mouths out with soap. It was, “Yes, ma’am. No, ma’am.” It was always “ma’am.” To just say yes or no would be disrespectful, and you might get a shoe across the mouth.

But she wasn’t cruel, she wasn’t mean. She just had standards. Somewhere along the line, the kids got older, my father’s trips to the western Pacific, to Europe, and the military lifestyle — a twenty-year Navy career — seemed to wear her standards down. Her zest for life, her feelings of entrapment, and her need for twenty-four-hour-a-day love collided with her staunch standards. It was twelve or thirteen years before she went out on my father for the first time.

I vaguely remember. She started running around with some friends, a crowd of women who had been hanging out together for a long time. What they call West-Pac widows. When the cat’s away, the mice will play. People just get lonely. I remember the guys coming by, slipping me five bucks to go to the movies. I told them it would cost them ten. But it wasn’t a bribe, I was just trying to get all I could. I turned right around to my dad and let him know what was happening.

He had been gone on a nine-month tour of duty. When he got home things weren’t the same. Mom would get all dressed up to go out and he'd ask her, “Where are you going?” She’d just say, “I’m going out with some friends of mine,” and she would go down to one of her girlfriend’s houses and they’d go bar hopping.

The first couple of times Dad just kind of shined it on. He figured she needed to get out, to get away from the frustrations of raising a family and a man who wasn’t there half the time.

I remember one time I guess it just got to the point where he couldn’t handle her going out anymore. It was about six in the evening and she’d just showered and had her hair all done at the beauty parlor and got on her favorite white dress and her jewelry and makeup. She looked like a million dollars. He asked her, “Well, where are you off to?” She said, “I'm going out for a while.” And he says, “I don’t want you to go out, honey.” She says, “I don’t give a damn what you want. I’m going out and have a good time and dance and have some fun.” They argued and the kids got upset and Dad got upset and Mom got mad in her kind of arrogant way of saying, “I’ll do as I damn well please.” Daddy walked into the living room where he kept his beer tapper and about a two-and-a-half-quart pitcher and filled it to the brim. Mom was sitting there in a chair all dressed up and looking like she got her way. Dad walked over to her chair, very calmly, and poured two and a half quarts of beer right over her head. All over her makeup and her new hairdo and all over her favorite dress. It was too much for her to handle, she couldn't do much at that point but cry. She got up and ran to the bedroom and cried and cried. Things got progressively worse after that. They had some real knock-down drag-out fights. I think Mom won most of them. She had some nails on her that would slice you right open. She’d yell at us kids, “Look what your dad did to me! He hit me!” and we’d go in there and see what Dad looked like and boy, he’d look like a tiger got ahold of him. His face would be all scratched up, his arms would be all scratched up. It was kind of hard to tell who won. Us kids sure didn't.

After a while. Mom found a man she was happy with, and she left. Dad just kind of gave up. He didn’t seem to care anymore about getting ahead in life and having things. Two years after that he had lost everything he worked his whole life for. He didn’t really lose it, he kind of gave it away. I guess he wanted to start all over again. So me and my dad and my brother and sisters hopped in the old ’56 Mercury, loaded up the trunk with things we really wanted, and headed for Missouri.

We headed for Dora, the small town in the Ozarks where my dad was raised. I guess it was the idea of another place and another time when things were better for him. A place where there were fond memories and I guess most of all peace. Me, I loved the idea myself. Hunting was my favorite pastime, and there in the heart of the Ozarks sounded really great to me. I had never even been out of California. Just the adventure of the trip sounded exciting to me. My two sisters, they weren’t too happy about leaving. They had to leave all their friends and boyfriends and the Friday night dances at the gymnasium and the nightly trips to A&W root beer and go back to a small town, population twenty-two. The more they thought about it the more they said, “Boring, boring. What’s there to do there?” Dad would say, “Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ll love it. It’s beautiful there.” So we headed on.

It was spring and a beautiful time to cross these United States. The deserts were just starting to warm up, the mountains were still cool and frosty. We tried to save as much money as we could. We didn’t have a lot. Instead of staying in motels along the way, we’d pull out the sleeping bags and build a campfire in the fire rings along the highway and road stops, and sleep there.

When we got to Missouri we spent the first two weeks going around visiting everybody. Shit, I think we were related to half the damn county. Of course all these relatives hadn’t seen Dad in twenty years. Me and my brother Mike would sit around and play guitar and entertain all the relatives. Cousins, we had more cousins than you could shake a stick at. And uncles and aunts, seemed we couldn’t go anyplace without running into somebody related to us. Sure is a friendly part of the country back there, though. It was so very seldom that a car would come down the old Route 2 highway. You could wave at each other as they go by and say hey, hello. They don’t do that in California. Sure hate to have to hitchhike on that highway, you’d be there all day.

We finally settled into a little white house sitting on an acre of land. The house sat off a dirt road that sat off the blacktop highway Route 2. It was about three miles out of town, if you want to call it a town. I’ve had apartments as big as the town. It consisted of a little general store, with a post office the size of a broom closet. There were a couple of gas pumps out front of the store, and two signs. One said, “Entering Dora, Missouri” and the other said, “Leaving Dora, Missouri, Population 22.” I’ve had people ask me, “Dora, where’s that at?” I’d say, “Well, that’s just south of Punkin Center and east of Gentryville.” They’d look at me real funny and ask.

“Where’s that?” I’d add, “About 150 miles south of Springfield, Missouri.” They’d say, “I know where Springfield’s at.” Getting close now.

Yeah, Dora, Missouri was all Dad said it was. Woodlands with two rivers on both sides, the North Fork and the O’biyant. Sweetwater rivers for sure — you could look into thirty feet of water and see the bottom. In the summertime the weather was hot and the water was warm. We would climb into an inner tube and ride the rapids. I - loved it. There wasn’t much work around, but I found time to do a little when I wasn’t going to school.

Milking cows and pitching hay, fixing fences and chasing down strays was just about all there was to do. In the afternoon you could find me with my old squirrel gun in hand, looking for meat for the dinner table. I’d usually come home with something — a squirrel, rabbit, or maybe even some quail. I did that every day, we had to eat and the woods were full of food. Nothing was killed for fun. I guess that was the Indian in me I got from my father’s side of the family. We really did live off the land. We had a garden out back and grew all our own vegetables.

We didn’t have to do without. As I remember, the rent back there was real outrageous. We had a two-bedroom house that had electricity, but it didn’t have running water. We had to go out back about twenty feet where there was a clear-water well with the best-tasting water that I’ve ever tasted. Alls you had to do was drop the rope down about forty feet and pull it back up — it came out of the ground ice cold. There was an old pot-bellied stove sitting smack dab in the middle of the living room. With all these comforts we had to pay fifteen dollars a month. Back in California fifteen dollars wouldn’t even pay your water bill.

I was doing real good in school back there. It was my senior year. I had been just a so-so student in California, I guess because of all the distractions. Back there, there weren’t any. Nobody ditched school, everybody looked forward to going — that was the only time we got to see anybody. Dad knew I was doing a lot better in Dora.

I never got into any trouble there, and my grade average went from a C-to a B+ and he was quite pleased. After a while I learned my way around a farm and my uncle Clyde Grishom offered me a job working on his dairy farm. He had thirty-six head of cattle to be milked, twice a day, plus pigs and a couple of horses to be tended to.

He was getting up in age and couldn't get around too well anymore. Both of his sons had taken off for college the year before, and he needed the help.

Uncle Clyde asked me if I would like to come and live with him and his wife Reta, and help run the farm. Still today, I don’t know if he and my dad planned it all out or not, but after a week or so I started missing my dad and my brother and sisters.

One morning after the work was done, I hopped on the old John Deere tractor and took a trip over to see them. I pulled up in front of the old white house. I knew right away that something was wrong. The Merc wasn’t in the driveway and the curtains were off the windows. I walked into the house and all the furniture was gone. There were no pictures on the walls, and no sign of life. Nothing but the potbellied stove, standing all alone.

There was a note pinned on the wall with my name on it. It read, “Paul, we love you more than anything, but the girls are very unhappy here and so am I. Coming back to the place where I was raised and grew into manhood has always been a dream of mine. But the town is not the same as it was thirty years ago. The people are different, all my old friends have died or moved away. I know that running away from my shortcomings and my failures was not the answer. The trip back here has done nothing but shatter my childhood memories. Your brother, your sisters and I have decided to return to California where we belong. I'm sorry about leaving you here and taking off without telling you, but I felt it was for your own good. My wish is to have you finish out your high school year and graduate. After you do, and I know you will, please rejoin us in California. Please still love and remember me, but most of all please forgive me. Your Father, Paul.”

At first I was really hurt to think that they’d leave me like that, without even a good-bye. But if I knew they were leaving. I’d want to go along. Dad knew that, that's why he did what he did. I hopped back on that old John Deere and headed down the road toward the farm and my new home.

As soon as I walked in the door I ran into Clyde and told him what I found at the house and showed him the letter. I told him that Dad and the kids and everything was gone.

He just looked at me with half a smile and said, “Well, I guess I’ve got another son.” He added, ‘‘I’m sure your dad meant well. I’m sure he did it because he loved you, and who’s to say if he’s right or wrong. Let time be the judge.” I gave Clyde a big hug and told him, ‘‘Well, I guess I got me a new family.”

There was only three months of school left so I worked on the farm until graduation. Clyde had a pretty good idea that I wouldn’t be around much longer, and he was right. He tried his best to keep me on the farm, but his boys were due home from college soon and he didn’t really need me anymore. Two weeks after graduation I hit the road. All my friends had moved away. They went out into the world to make a life for themselves, and my time had also come. I sat around the farm for a couple of days just trying to get up enough nerve to tell Clyde that I was leaving.

I left one Sunday afternoon, on an overcast day, with fifteen dollars in my pocket and the will to survive. I had to go out into the world and find out what it was all about. I started walking down the old highway, heading west, my thumb out and thinking of California. I caught a ride and in about two hours I found myself in Springfield.

I took five dollars of the fifteen I had and got a room at the Y. Across the street was a little cafe, so I went inside to get something to eat. After my breakfast of ham and eggs I sat and thought about what I wanted to do with my life.

At that moment a sign across the street caught my attention — ‘‘Join the Navy and See the World.” That sure would make Dad proud of me, for his son to follow in his footsteps. I had a lot of growing up to do, and California sure was a long ways away, especially on the seven dollars I had left.

I walked across the street and talked to the recruiter. The next thing I knew I was taking an entrance exam. The next day I was on a Greyhound bus heading for St. Louis and the Group W bench. When we got there they really treated us like kings. They put us up in the Mark Twain Hotel, about the twenty-second floor, bought us dinner and gave us some cash to go out on the town with. I thought to myself, man, this is really great. I love this already.

The next day we all went through the education center, took our physicals and signed all the necessary papers to become a real sailor. No Group W benches, but they sure checked us out. The following day we were given airline tickets to boot camp. All the guys in front of me were getting tickets to Great Lakes, Illinois. I thought to myself, it’s sure going to get cold there next month. As the chief looked down at my papers, he said, ‘‘Springfield. Nice little town, Springfield.” I said, “I’m not really from Springfield, I was just passing through. San Diego’s really my home.” He stopped for a second and looked at me, “San Diego? Would you like to go there for your basic training instead of Great Lakes?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I yelled. “You’re kidding! Of course I would!” He said, “You’re in luck, young man. I just happen to have one ticket left for San Diego. If you want it, it’s yours.” I said, “I’ll take it!” That afternoon I was heading back home, to my friends, my family, my loved ones. I thought a lot about the mother I hadn't seen in over a year. I also wanted to let my father know that he had done the right thing, and that I understood the reason he had left me behind in Missouri.

We were flown out in an American Airlines Astrojet, first class. That’s what the Navy was to me — first class. I told all the guys on the plane how great San Diego was and how they were going to love it there. I was so excited.

When we got off the plane in San Diego the shit hit the fan. The first-class treatment was over — the Navy had a gun-metal-gray cattle car waiting for us. This burly chief in brown khakis yelled, “Okay you pukes, into the bus. You’re the property of the United States Navy now. Start looking like it!”

We all hopped onto the bus and headed for the Naval Training Center. One of the first things they did was to cut off almost all of my hair. I just about died the first time I looked in the mirror.

Then followed what seemed to be an endless line of shots and TB tests. I’ll never forget that day. Boot camp was rough, we even had a few guys cut their own wrists. It was the Navy’s way of weeding out the ones that could hack it from the ones that couldn’t. We went through constant inspections, schooling, and physical conditioning. After three weeks and five days of this, my company commander approached me with a note from base command.

I was to go to the commander’s office and talk to them about something personal. I thought I was in some kind of trouble, but I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. At the base commander’s office I was met by a Navy chaplain who introduced me to a man from the American Red Cross. He handed me a chit and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your mother’s sick in the hospital. You are being given time off to go and see her.’’

I thought to myself, she must be pretty bad off for the Navy to grant liberty during boot camp. I asked, “What’s the matter with her, do you know?” The chaplain said, “No, we don’t. Word just came from Balboa Hospital to get you down there, at your mother’s request. When would you like to go, right now?”

“Yes, sir.”

They gave me bus fare and told me how to get out there. I ran back to the barracks and dug out my dress blues that I’d never worn before. Some of the guys in the company had never even seen them before. I was the only guy in the company that even knew how to tie the neckerchief.

Recruits didn’t walk on base — they ran, what the Navy calls double time. So I double-timed it to the main gate, chit in hand. When I got off the bus at Balboa I was directed to Building 36, to the nurses’ station. There was a nurse there, an older woman, and she acted like she knew I was coming. I walked up to her and said, “Ma’am, can you help me? I’m looking for Joan Warden.”

She said, “Joan Warden, she’s in room five, third door on your right.” I thanked her and walked down to the room. Inside was this woman, she looked like she weighed about eighty pounds, she was all skin and bones, her hair a bleached-out gray, half dead. She lay there asleep, she looked like a woman of sixty-five.

I walked back down to the nurses’ station. The nurse I had spoken to was just standing there, watching me. I told her, “Nurse, I think you gave me the wrong room number. That’s not my mother. My mother’s thirty-eight years old, black curly hair, about 113 pounds, and quite good looking.’’ The nurse looked at me with a tear in her eye and said, “Mr. Warden, I’m truly sorry. That is your mother, she has cancer.” I said, “Oh God, no” I walked back down the hall and into the room, tears in my eyes, trying to hold them back the best I could. I walked up to her bed, weeping, and the sound of my crying woke her. She looked at me, her eyes full of tears and said, “Son, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

We talked and I told her about Missouri, and about the new life I was starting for myself in the Navy. She said that I looked just like my father when they first got married.

I asked her how she was doing and what the doctors had to say about her condition. She said, “Son, I’m dying of cancer. I wanted to see you. I don’t have long to live and I wanted to tell you how very sorry I am for leaving you.” We talked for about forty-five minutes, until visiting hours were over and a nurse came in and told me that it was time to go.

I gave my mother a big hug, and told her that I’d try to see her tomorrow if the Navy would let me off. She said, “Don’t worry, son. It will be all right. Things always work out for the best, that’s God’s way.”

I went back to the Naval Station, back to the company, in shock. The company commander met me at the door and said he wanted to talk with me for a few minutes. He wanted to talk kind of father to son. I guess he had to deal with this sort of thing before. He sat me down and told me, “There’s nothing you can do to help your mother but pray; but there’s a lot you can do to hurt yourself. Get ahold of the situation, keep yourself busy, and try not to think of how much you hurt right now. To your mother, death would be a blessing. She has seen her son, now she can leave us in peace. Be strong for the living, and the people that love you. Honor her by being the man that she wanted you to be.”

The next day I got called to the base commander’s office again. I thought it was time for me to go to see my mother again. When I got to the office, the chaplain was there. He held out his hand as if to shake mine. I held out my hand and he grabbed it with both of his. He looked me in the eye and said, “I’m very sorry, Recruit Warden. Your mother passed away early this morning. If there’s anything that we can do for you, please let us know.’’ I said, “Thank you, but I don’t think so. If you would, please say a prayer for her.”

San Diego being just north of the Mexican border gives the town a heavy Mexican influence. A lot of the streets have Spanish names. San Diego is itself a Spanish name. I’ve heard it said that by the year 1990, fifty-five percent of the people in California will have a Spanish surname. I mean, even today you can go to Santa Ana, up around the Los Angeles area, and see used-car lots that have signs out front — “We speek English.”

I never thought about it too much, but I guess it’s so. Some people say that they’re just reclaiming what was once theirs. We took it from them by force, and now they’re taking it back.

I don’t see what the big deal’s about anyway, the whole damn state’s going to fall into the Pacific in thirty or forty years anyway. Plan for the future, buy beachfront property in Arizona. Now’s the time to buy. I used to go down to Mexico every now and then, just to have a few drinks and watch the girls dance, and maybe dance myself.

Once in a while I’d go down to the shops and buy leather or a guitar. I saw all the poverty down there, and I began to understand why the people are leaving that country, by the thousands every night. I understood why they would take the chances that they do to get to El Norte, the north.

The migration is mostly economical, but some is political. There are only two classes in Mexico: the very rich and the very poor. Because of the poverty there, the rich have cheap labor and they get fatter, while the poorer people have to compete with the other poor for the few jobs and pesos available. Driving a cab in Imperial Beach, only six miles north of the border, you can see them every night walking up the beach. You see men and women and children of all ages. Sometimes they’re pretty muddy from their trip across the sloughs. A person can get pretty dirty when you have to crawl through sagebrush and bushes.

I’ve heard stories of Mexicans robbing fellow Mexicans trying to get to the promised land. Sometimes they lose more than their money, sometimes they lose their lives. Mexican-Americans who are born in this country have the freedom to come and go as they please. They can go into Mexico and have a good time, or visit relatives whenever they wish. When it’s time to come back home, on the U.S. side of the border they simply show their California driver’s license or whatever form of I.D. they may have. I always thought that Mexican people really stick together and wondered why white folk couldn’t.

We always seem to be on a dog-eat-dog level. Sure we give at the office, we have our charities, but we don’t let people in that we don’t know. When’s the last time you saw a man or woman with their car busted down on the freeway, and you stopped to help?

Mexicans stop to help their own. I’ve even had them stop to help me. When I first heard of the Mexicans’ plight and the Mexican-Americans’ part in helping, I was proud of their stick-togetherness. Brother helping brother. Viva la Raza, the way of the race. You wouldn’t believe some of the hardships these people face trying to get into the United States, where they can make an honest dollar four to six months out of the year. Then they turn around and go back down south, back into Mexico, and use this money they have earned to support their families and relatives.

It is the only chance these people have to upgrade their standards, to make something out of their lives. I often thought, why do these people risk their lives every year to re-enter this country for a below-minimum-wage job?

There is a lot of work for these people in north San Diego County, picking tomatoes and avocados and working the ranches. It’s work very few of us will ever do. There have been times in my life when I’ve been pretty broke, but nothing like that.

There are people down in Mexico, they call them polleros, who recruit those that wish to come north. These polleros promise them safe passage from Mexico to San Diego, or L.A., or to anywhere else in the country for that matter, for a price.

The polleros have a network of people that supply transportation — cars, buses, even airplane tickets. These people have halfway houses where a man or woman can take a shower, get a change of clothes, and look like any other Mexican-American on the streets.

There is only one motivating force behind this network of people, the almighty dollar. Each stage of the trip costs X amount of dollars.

Pollero means chicken dealer or breeder, and pollo, the chicken. Or in this case, the Mexican headed north. The first step for the pollero is to find a good coyote. The coyote is the man that runs the polios across the four- to six-mile stretch of no-man’s land that lies between the Mexican border and the first halfway house.

He is usually young, of Mexican citizenship, and fast on his feet. He knows every inch of the fiatlands as well as the canyons to the east. He has to know the routine of the border patrol, and how they operate. He has to know how to guide his pollos past the bandits and others who would take his people from him. When a coyote is caught by the border patrol, he is simply taken back into Mexico right along with the people he was bringing across. When night falls, they will all try it again, and again, until they make it.

Some coyotes that have been doing it for a number of years and are too well known by the border patrol will at times leave their people to fend for themselves in the dark valleys and canyons of South Bay. If caught too many times, the border patrol and Mexico will put the coyote on a plane for central Mexico, far away from the border area. Sometimes it takes them months to work their way back to the line. Sometimes they never come back.

An average price to one person, for the coyote to bring them across the border safely, is fifty dollars. In groups of five to twenty-five, this can be a good night’s work, even by our standards.

I have had coyotes tell me that their greatest fear is of the Mexican police. They are the ones that rob and kill the polios as well as the coyotes.

The name polio, chicken, is not meant to say they are scared, although most of them are scared to death. The word describes the way they walk — crouched down, knees bent, head low on the shoulders as though they were being shot at.

At dusk you can see the polios and their coyotes start to stage, get in their groups. As soon as it gets dark, this piece of flatland becomes a battle zone. Hundreds of people a night make their way north across the sloughs, which are designated a bird sanctuary. At night you can see and hear the border patrol hard at work trying to stem the flow of illegal aliens into this country. With hundreds of men, jeeps, helicopters, and men on horseback, and with full cooperation from the local police department, they only catch an estimated ten percent of the polios heading north in that first six miles. No one really knows how many sneak through under the cover of darkness, but the numbers must be staggering.

The border patrol says that they can do a better job if only they had more money, more manpower, more equipment. This sounds like a normal statement from a federal bureaucracy — more and more and more. The truth of the matter is, if they want to get through they’ll get through, and more will just delay the trip north for a few days until they try it again and make it. It’s not like those Mexicans are hurting anybody. They’re sure not taking my job, or yours either, unless you pick tomatoes for a living. Then you might be threatened. The truth is, they save us all money at the supermarket. Because of the low cost of labor, our produce prices are cheaper. Some even pay taxes but never get benefits like unemployment or welfare, or any money back from the feds.

Sometimes the pollos find themselves abandoned by their coyote. This network of well-planned steps was no more than empty promises. Alone in a strange and foreign land with no money and no friends. Lost, not knowing anybody, and trusting no one, they follow the ocean or the highways north. All they know is that they have friends in Los Angeles. A name and address written on a scrap of paper, if lucky, maybe a phone number. It is a bleak time for these people. They don’t know what lies ahead, but they do know what waits for them in Mexico, so they keep walking. Once the pollos’ resources are all gone, and the polleros have taken their money, they get pretty desperate.

Some ride the freights that leave around eleven every night. Some try to find work locally until they can get enough money together to arrange transportation north. One of the ways to get to where they are going with no money is to call, or flag down, a taxi.

Most of the drivers in the San Diego area will take any pollo on credit, as long as he or she isn’t going north of the checkpoint at San Clemente, where the immigration officials wait. They call up cabs just like anyone else would. They call from the comer phone, from bars, hotels and motels. I’ve even had them call out of nice places like the Hungry Hunter.

This causes a legal problem for the cab drivers, in a sense. Legally we can't pick them up because it is considered transporting illegal aliens. And legally we can’t turn anybody down or refuse them service because of race, creed, or color. This puts the cab driver between a rock and a hard place. I’ve never heard of any cab driver getting busted for refusing service to anyone, or even getting harassed or detained. But I sure have heard a lot of stories about cab drivers getting arrested for transporting illegal aliens. There is a little discretion involved — if stopped by the border patrol, it helps to have the polios sitting in the back seat.

It doesn’t help if they’re sitting on the floorboards. It does help if they’re clean, with no mud on their clothes and no weeds in their hair. If it isn’t obvious that you have picked up illegal aliens, a lot of the time the border patrol will ask you, “Where did you get them, and where are they going?” Sometimes they will ask, “Do they owe you any money?” But most of the time, their attitude on the fare is, “We’re not a collection agency. I guess you’re just out of luck.”

After a while you learn to spot the difference between illegal and legal clear across the street. I think it’s their attitude, how they feel about themselves. Actually, the facts are we don’t really give a damn. A fare's a fare. Most cab drivers prefer to haul the pollos around — they just flat pay better.

They are really happy to get to where they are going. Because of the special services you have to provide, such as staying clear of the border patrol and police, and even knowing where the ranches are located in North County and how to get there, it is well worth the asking price. Most of the time you are gambling that you’ll make it to the house or ranch. If you don’t make it, chances are you won’t get any money at all. It’s like shooting craps double or nothing. “Go for it” was always my favorite saying, and I did.

I’ve heard lots of stories and read in the newspapers about violence, thefts, and even crimes of sex by aliens. But in my seven years of cab driving, I never had any problem with the Mexican people.

What I have seen is a peace-loving people, very passive, very oppressed, and very scared. The only problem I’ve ever had was collecting the cab fare at the end of the trip. When going on credit there is usually a friend or relative at the destination who will pay the fare. But the border patrol has a bad habit of raiding the ranches in this area and sometimes that friend or relative has been picked up and deported. In that case you’re out of luck unless you can find someone like the ranch foreman to pay for his ride.

One time I picked up a young Mexican boy, probably in his teens, very dirty and very hungry. He wanted to go to Rancho La Costa, and we’re not talking about the resort, either. This place is a real working ranch.

He had come up from the interior of Mexico, from around Mexico City. It had taken him two months to get to this point, and he was exhausted. The Mexican police and the border bandits had taken all his money, but he had a brother at La Costa who had been working there for some time and he would pay me $150 if I could get him to the ranch. I felt sorry for the young man, and the price was right, for a forty-dollar cab fare.

It was about eight o’clock at night, the moon was just a milky patch behind the cloud cover. He jumped into the front seat of the cab and off we went. After working on the Mexican border for a while, one tends to pick up the language. It was easy for me, the bottom line was economics. If you couldn't speak the language, you didn’t get the fare, and if you didn’t know where they were going, you were out of luck anyway.

Feeling lucky and knowing that I could get the job done, me and the young Mexican boy headed north. The kid looked as if he hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. I asked him if he was hungry, he said yes he was, so after getting clear of the South Bay area and feeling safe, we stopped.

I pulled up at a small Mexican grocery store around Fortieth and University. I knew it would be cool for the kid to go inside and get what he wanted to eat.

After about five minutes he came back out with a bag full of stuff. In the grocery sack was about five pounds of bologna, two loaves of bread, a jar of mustard and a six-pack of beer. He smiled as he handed me back pocket change from my ten dollar bill. I just smiled back and said I guessed he was hungry. About halfway between Clairemont and Del Mar, the beer, bologna, and the two loaves of bread were weighing heavy on our stomachs. Feeling quite relaxed, and by this time even having fun, it was time for some music. Mexican, of course. We were right in the middle of “I Love El Rancho Grande,” the song blaring out of both sides of the cab, when up ahead on the right side of the freeway was the border patrol, with a car full of Mexicans pulled over.

Before I could even think to turn the music down, or at least look cool, we went flying by. As we passed, boy, did he give us a real hard look. I could see in the rearview mirror that he was heading for the radio to call ahead to one of his partners. Well, at this point I was already out ten dollars for the beer and bologna, and I wasn’t about to lose the goose that lays the golden eggs.

After getting out of sight of the border patrol unit, I decided to get off at the next off ramp and take Pacific Coast Highway. I had been unloaded before in Del Mar. They took five guys out of my cab who were on their way to Encinitas.

I had heard rumors among the other drivers that if you had any Mexican in your cab of questionable citizenship, it would be wise to stay clear of Del Mar Heights Road and I-5. Rumor had it that the border patrol was sitting on the off ramp there, watching cars go by. A taxi is a poor bet for sure, but a cab from the border area that far north is a dead bust.

With the color returning to this young Mexican’s face, and a lump in my throat, we turned right onto Pacific Highway. I had crossed the lines of discretion, I was now breaking the law. Evasion is one of the charges that the border patrol can prosecute a cab driver on, and I knew it. It wasn't like it was the first time, but I was still real nervous. After all, by now I had damned near forty dollars on the meter alone. I told the kid they were going to have to call out the National Guard to stop us now. And at the speed we were traveling they didn’t have time.

Knowing that the call ahead went to the border patrol stationed at Del Mar Heights Road, I knew that when they finally figured out that the cab wasn’t coming by, they’d realize that I had gotten off and taken the Coast Highway. After passing Del Mar I decided to get back on the freeway and run like hell.

The coast was clear. The kid grabbed my hand from the wheel and gave it a good shake. “Gracias, amigo. Gracias.” He knew what I had done for him, but I had also done it for me. I ain’t no saint. Just to have the money there when we arrived, that would be thanks enough for me.

We got off of I-5 and took Highway 76 east to Vista. For the second time this trip I started to relax. We took the country roads through Vista, with its trees full of avocados and the foothills silhouetted against the dark-blue sky. The kid then directed me to turn down a dirt road that we had just passed and I knew that the end of this nightmare trip was soon to come to an end. Or so I thought.

We stopped at a rundown ranch house where a bunch of alambres, migrant farm workers, maybe twenty of them, were spread out on the floor! I stuck to the kid like we were Siamese twins. If I lost him in the dark, it would all have been for nothing. But the kid didn’t seem like he was trying to get away. In fact, he told his friends how I had helped him, and the next thing I knew, they were asking for my cab number in case they ever got into a bind and needed some help.

After a lot of hugging and hand shaking, the young Mexican asked if they had seen his brother, Jose. The foreman said, “Yes, he is fine. The border patrol has been raiding the ranch a couple of times a week, looking for pollos. All of the workers without papers have moved to the hills to keep from being sent back to Mexico. Your brother is just east of the big canyon, under a large manzanita bush. He lives there with Juan. They should be there now, sleeping.”

I was sure glad to hear that his brother was still in camp and that the border patrol had missed him.

We walked back to the cab and I asked him which direction his brother was in. He smiled at me with a sense of humor that bordered on injustice, spun around and pointed to this mountain that he called a hill. It looked like Everest to me. Forty-five degrees straight up, and about three miles to its summit. “That’s where he hides. Follow me, I know the way. Come on, hurry. I’ll pay you there.”

After climbing through brush, manzanita, and cactus for half an hour, I began to run out of breath. The two packs of cigarettes a day had finally caught up with me. I thought I would die.

I think most men would have given up at that point, but the kid kept cheering me on. “Up there. I’ll pay you up there.” That was enough to bring about a second wind. The things that some people will do for money, and who am I to talk. After arriving at at the top, he wasn’t even out of breath. I was exhausted, I felt like I had just run the Boston Marathon uphill.

I was panting so hard, and trying to get my breath, that I didn’t feel the money hit my hand. And I didn’t even bother to count it. The kid shook my hand one more time and thanked me. He added, he told me, an extra twenty-five dollars for the climb.

He disappeared into a huge manzanita bush and I turned to get my directions. I suddenly realized that I was lost.

It was so dark out there, I could barely see my hand in front of my face. Surrounded by canyons, the only light I could see was the starry Vista sky. I couldn’t even remember which way I came up, and the chance of being stuck up there all night didn’t appeal to me very much.

There was only one thing left for me to do — go back to the manzanita and try to flush the kid out and get directions, or at least pointed back toward my cab. I walked into the bush and felt my way around. The next thing I knew I had come out the other side, and no kid. I walked back into the bush. I knew they had to be in there somewhere.

About a minute had gone by when I heard a sound that scared the hell out of me. The sound of a rusty gate creaking open and a beam of light cut through the darkness. It was a trap door — I was almost stepping on it and didn’t even know it was there. I peered inside. There was a room the size of a small bedroom, all lit up by candlelight. A couple of chairs made out of wood, and a bed or two made out of what looked like cardboard.

I told the three Mexicans not to worry, that their secret was safe with me. “The only reason I bothered you again is, how can I find my way back to my cab? I’m lost.”

The kid climbed out and said, “I’ll show you where your taxi is. When you get over that ridge, you will see the lights of the ranch, follow those lights, you’ll be okay. Good luck, amigo.”

“Good-bye, my friend. See you next year maybe.”

After falling downhill and over bushes, I finally came upon my taxi. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing on four wheels I had ever seen! I climbed inside and kissed the wheel and thought how I earned every dime and every dollar I had made that night, and I headed south.

Passing Del Mar Heights Road on the way back is always the best part of the trip — pocket full of money, smile on your face. You just wave and say, “Good night, guys. Maybe tomorrow will be your day.” Honk honk.

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