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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Taxi Nights

by Roger W. Gardner

Caravaggio and Big Leon

It’s about two in the morning. We’re on the Schuylkill Expressway, coming down from the jungles, heading for South Philly. The speed limit’s 50; we’re doing 75, sometimes 80. The young black couple in the backseat of my Checker Yellow Cab is being tossed side to side by the sudden turns and erratic stops; the girl’s screaming, “Oh, Jesus! He’s gonna kill us!” The big canary yellow Caddie convertible pulls up close behind us again and rams hard into my rear bumper. I floor it but we’re no match for the Caddie‘s big V-8. He roars past us on the left, swings over in front of me, and suddenly hits the brakes. The girl screams again. I swerve out of his way just in time and cut across traffic to the right hand lane. My speedometer reads 84.

This has been going on for five or ten minutes now, ever since we left the jungles, ever since I made that fateful decision to make an exception to unspoken rule number one and picked up this well-dressed young black couple at 15th and Montgomery. So what was unspoken rule number one? Get the hell out of Dodge! You don’t pick up fares in the jungles, not at two in the morning, not at 15th and Montgomery. Like those three black guys, standing on the corner, waving for you to stop, yelling “Hey motherf--k!” But you don’t stop, no matter what the cost -- and there very well might be a cost -- you don’t stop, you never stop, you gun it and you get the hell out of Dodge.

We’re in South Philly now and he’s still on my tail, still trying to kill us all. His name, I find out, is Leon, Big Leon. And the girl in my backseat is his girl and he’s mad and he’s going to kill her and the black man with her and me too if I don’t get some help pretty quick. But the streets are black and empty. No cops. Never when you need them. We’re at 15th and Diamond and the light just turned red. I come to a stop and Big Leon pulls up behind me, just nudging my bumper. To my left I spot the black and white cruiser. I pull out into the center of the intersection and stop, blocking their way. I hit the horn and wait.

Slowly, cautiously, the cruiser pulls up beside me and two white cops get out. Incredulously, I watch as Big Leon pulls up behind us and gets out of his Caddie. He comes over and hands the older officer a card. I can’t see what it says, but the cop seems impressed. The younger officer is getting nervous; he tells Big Leon to back off. Big Leon tells him to fuck off. The young cop starts to reach for his belt. Big Leon says, “You take that thing out, I’ll make you eat it.” More nervous than ever now, the young cop lets his hand go slack.

I’m talking to the older policeman now, trying to explain the situation, the Schuylkill Expressway and everything. I notice the couple in the backseat have disappeared. The older cop whispers something to his partner and hands the card back to Big Leon. “You two call it a night, now,” he says to Big Leon and me. “Get on outta here now, both of ya.” The cops get back into their squad car and pull away. And so there we are, Big Bad Leon and me. All alone. “Protect and serve”. Thanks a lot! Leon bends over and looks me in the face and says, “I’ve got your number, white boy. And I’m gonna get ya.” Victorious, Big Leon strolls back to the big yellow Caddie and drives away.

A typical night driving a Yellow Cab in Philadelphia in the Sixties? No, not really. But a good example of why you don’t break unspoken rule number one. I’d been doing this for two-and-a-half years. This was how I put myself through art school. Caravaggio in the daytime, and the Big Leons at night. 4 pm till 2 am, or sometimes 3 or 4 am, five nights a week.

I suppose there could be a group of people more liberal than young art students, but offhand I can’t think of any. Just being an art student was making some kind of a statement, wasn’t it? We imagined that we held ourselves to a higher standard than did our parents. We truly believed that all people were created equal, we truly believed that there could be no lower form of human behavior than those inherent expressions of racism and bigotry that were rampant throughout our benighted materialistic American society. And we, by our own personal actions, were determined to rectify this situation. For us, being black was not only acceptable, Black was Beautiful. To be black was to be blessed with a special aura of righteousness, the quiet dignity of the oppressed. To be truly enlightened one must have at least one black friend -- extra points for having a black lover, one must go to black bars and listen to black music. In short, one must fervently embrace The Other.

I drove for the Yellow Cab Company of Philadelphia. I joined the local Teamsters Union, and worked out of the 69th Street garage. If you saw Robert De Niro’s “Taxidriver” you know exactly what the garage looked like. Yellow Cab was just in the process of phasing out their famous Checker Cabs and switching over to the lighter, more fuel-efficient Plymouths. A new driver had to attend Yellow Cab School for a couple of weeks, learn safe driving techniques, memorize the Yellow Cab Codes, and memorize the major thoroughfares of Philadelphia, and the quickest routes from one section of the city to the other, etc. At that time, Yellow Cab held a virtual monopoly in the City of Brotherly Love. Unbeknownst to the general public, the city swarmed with undercover supervisors cruising about surreptitiously in unmarked black cars looking for code violations. A driver who left his cab unattended for too long a period of time, or who entered an intersection without first tapping his brake lights could be written up. Three write-ups and you could be taken off the street for two or three nights. There were a great many of these codes that were enforced in this manner. But perhaps the most important violation of all was refusing to pick up a fare. There was never an excuse for ignoring a possible customer. Never. No matter where you might be, no matter what time of the night. No matter how suspicious the prospective passenger might appear. And, most especially, driven by the all-too-real fear of possible litigation, you were admonished that you could never refuse a fare if the prospective fare was black. These policies of course brought us directly into conflict with unspoken rule number one.

“Them niggers is crazy!”

Everything we new drivers learned we learned from the oldtimers -- that is, if they ever condescended to talk to you. The oldtimers never rushed or hurried themselves. They came in and left the garage quietly and without fanfare; and they made three times as much money as the newer drivers. They knew where to go and where not to go and the best ways to get there or to get out of there. They knew where to be when the bars let out, or when there was a convention in town. And they knew all about the jungles, and all of the secret escape routes to get out of there without being caught by a supervisor. Some of them kept loaded pistols in cigar boxes next to them on the front seat, and some of the handles were notched. They weren't all racists or bigots, and not all of them were white. They just hated the niggers.

It was a dark rainy night and I was getting the hell out of Dodge, escaping from the jungles of North Philadelphia. We all had our special escape routes, following railroad tracks, behind abandoned warehouses, few if any stoplights, no prospective fares and, most importantly, no supervisors. I had pulled up to a lonesome red light in a bleak factory district. Another Yellow Cab pulled up beside me. The driver was black. We rolled down our windows so we could talk. I laughed, "You getting out of here too?" "You shittin' me?" he answered. "Them niggers is crazy!"

So that's the way it was. We all agreed. It wasn't the blacks, it was the niggers. How long did it take for me to change? How long did it take me to understand unspoken rule number one? How many times was my life put in jeopardy? How many times did I have to call for the cops and hope that they'd come? How many nights did it take? Who are the blacks and who are the niggers? Am I prejudiced? Am I a racist? Or do I just hate the niggers?

Years later, I would find myself in arguments with my new girlfriend, the liberal daughter of the Headmaster of an exclusive Prep School in New England. With very few exceptions, the only blacks this lovely girl had ever actually met in her privileged life were her fellow students, students whose parents could afford to send them to this expensive private school. How could I ever explain to her the difference between blacks and niggers when I could never use the N-word?

Recently, I read an article that purported to be an investigation into the causes of the enormous increase in the murder rate in Philadelphia -- actually, two articles written explicitly to address this single major problem. However, throughout the entire two articles, not one mention was made of what had actually happened to this once-lovely city. Not one single reference to the fact that this wildly escalating crime rate just happened to correspond to the most catastrophic societal upheaval in that city’s four-hundred year history. Not only did the articles not even mention these irrefutable truths, but somehow the author ingeniously avoided mentioning that any racial changes had taken place there at all. If someone didn’t know the actual facts of the city in question they would be left to surmise that the city had just suddenly started becoming more criminal for no apparent reason. This, my friends, is what currently passes for Political Correctness. But is it really Political Correctness or is it just another form of cowardice?

Here’s what happened: Inner City Philadelphia turned black and the crime rate soared.

Sorry, but that’s what happened.

And this black murder rate in this black Inner City is a black problem, not a white problem. These Inner City black Gangstas are not selling crack because their great-great-grandmothers were slaves. And that disingenuous author who so adroitly skirted the most obvious by never once mentioning race, by referring to “these people and their drug problems” is only making things worse.

The murder of young black males by other young black males in the black Inner Cities is a black problem and can only be solved by blacks, blacks who are willing to be honest with themselves. Blacks who are getting sick and tired of that criminal-worshipping, female-degrading, drive-by shooting, Gangsta Rap drug world of self-destruction. Blacks who are willing to listen to those honest and tough love messages of respected black people like Bill Cosby, and even from those unapologetic liberals, like Juan Williams. Blacks who are willing to accept responsibility for their own lives and want to quit blaming everything on the whites, who finally have the courage to disassociate themselves from those so-called Black Leaders, like Al Sharpton and that extortionist Jesse Jackson, who are nothing more than enablers, living off the suffering of others. Offering their followers that same old false comfort of self-pity and victimization by perpetuating the myth of White subjugation.

By pretending that this is still a white problem, that only white people are smart enough to fix it, those delusional liberals are only making matters worse. It’s trying to cure the alcoholic’s problem by telling him he has good reason to drink. And it just ain’t gonna work.
Here are some incontrovertible facts:
As of 2005, crime statistics show that offending rates for blacks were more than 7 times higher than the rates for whites.
In 1998, nearly one out of three black men between the ages of 20-29 were in prison or jail, on probation or parole on any given day. Approximately 70% of prisoners in the United States are non-whites.

Well, it's almost over now. I've spent the better part of a lifetime trying to figure it all out and I've come up short. Even now, can I satisfactorily explain the differences between blacks and niggers? Even now, can I satisfactorily answer the question of whether I am just trying to be truthful, or whether I truly am a racist or a bigot? Does it even matter any more? - rg

Note: A portion of this article was lifted from a previous original Radarsite piece "This Careful Generation"