From The Other Side of Midnight: Taxicab Stories, published by Creative Publishers in 2012. Mike Heffernan is the author of Rig: An Oral History of the Ocean Ranger Disaster. He lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
I learned pretty quickly that part of driving the night shift was hustling to make a dollar off the meter. I often had prostitutes in the car. Sometimes I’d drive them over to Confederation Building, and they’d take buddy with them and go lie down in the field for fifty bucks. They weren’t up there with those fancy girls, the call girls, or whatever it is you call them. They were at the bottom of the ladder—they were desperate. There was a whole load of them around Bulger’s Lane. The Portuguese and Japanese fishermen would come off the boats and they would give you fifty bucks for lining them up with a prostitute. Every driver knew where they were to, them and the bootleggers. If those same fishermen wanted a bottle of rum after eleven o’clock, you would bring them up to Shea Heights. If they wanted a woman and a bottle of rum, you’d take them up to Shea Heights and then back to Bulger’s Lane. Then he’s got his bottle of rum and his woman.
Back in the ’80s, all the old guys who were sixty and seventy grew up during the Depression. In the 1930s, if you’re twenty-something years old, what’s your biggest priority in a depression?
Putting food on the table.
You’re fucking right, buddy. You got to eat. If you got a family, they got to eat. What do you do? You worked. Do you get an education? No, sir. That’s the last thing on your mind. You’re in Grade 2? Get out and go to work! And there are guys who will tell you that. For the guys who grew up in the Depression, all they were interested in was eating.
So back in the ’80s, these old guys were driving around town. They knew the streets, not by their name, but by location. You see what I’m getting at? They knew where New Cove Road was. They knew where it started, and they knew where it ended. But they couldn’t read the sign.
It might’ve been May 24th. It was a holiday weekend. I remember it was a cold night, but there was no snow, or anything. The dispatcher sends this old guy up to Cherry Hill Road. It was just up from New Cove Road there. I think it was maybe number sixteen, or something.
The dispatcher gives out a few more jobs over the set. About a half an hour goes by. He said, “I got that lady on the phone. Are you up on Cherry Hill Road?”
“Oh, yes,” the driver said.
“Well, I got her on the phone, and she can’t see you.”
This driver got little or no education—he can’t read. “Well, I’m here.”
“Are you out in front of sixteen?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I’m out in front of sixteen.”
“That lady can’t see you. You got to be on the wrong street.”
“No,” he said, “I’m not.”
“Go to the end of the street, and spell the street name.”
A minute later: “Go ahead, Bobby. I’m here.”
“Spell out what’s on the sign.”
I never had a clue how to taxi. The only thing the broker told me was that I couldn’t wear jeans. He didn’t give me a map book, he didn’t give me anything like that. I was sent out on a Saturday morning. He told me who the dispatcher was. He told me that when I push the button on the radio to say car whatever and tell him where I was to. He drew all the stands out on a piece of paper. He sat in the car and held onto my finger like you would a child and pushed the buttons on the meter, he let it go, and he said, “Now you do it.” Then he basically patted me on the arse and off I went.