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Pierre the Cab Driver

Pierre the Cab Driver

Tony Walner

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I was eighteen—drunk, high, and heartbroken—when Pierre the cab driver kidnapped me. It started out as good cab-passenger conversation, talking about Ghana and God, telling him I am majoring in psychology, never bringing up my Judaism. He was married, had three daughters, each one of their yearbook photos neatly clipped onto the sun visor, all three a neat package of braided buns and sweater vests. He brought his family to New York in 2005 and drove cabs. New York was too big for him. He moved to Chicago and drove cabs. It was too cold. He moved to Atlanta and drove cabs. He hated it, but his wife was sick of moving, and the weather reminded him of Ghana, so he stayed.

I was at Maggie’s before getting kidnapped. It’s the bar that caters to underage kids with fake IDs that say you’re at least twenty-one and include a photo of someone with a face. It’s where eighteen-year-old girls pretend to be twenty-two and dance on tables like they’re six. Guys act drunker than they are, saying things like, “Jamie B’s fucking hot” or “I’m so not going to remember this tomorrow.”

Fifteen dollars, said Pierre the cab driver, from Maggie’s back to Emory, about a mile and a half drive. It was late and this was Atlanta, where the nighttime cab service made its own rules. Adam Brass sat next to me. He slumped, really, head against the door, mouth wide open, a trail of vomit running down the window like rain.

Adam was puking three quarters a Four Loco, a shot of Peach Smirnoff, a snickers bar, tequila, and most of his Steak ’n Shake—Fresco Melt, peanut butter milkshake, under-salted fries.

Pierre the cab driver didn’t like that Adam threw up on his window.

“I don’t like that your friend threw up on my window,” he said. “That will cost fifty more dollars."

“Fifteen?” I said.

“Yes, fifty.”

I already wasn’t in the best mood. Audrey Goldberg broke up with me. She was also dating Patrick Cohen at the time, and when Patrick got too drunk and passed out, we would get together. I didn’t mind. I was eighteen—boobs and tight pants were important. But I did mind that right after she ended things, she spotted Patrick sunken in a folding chair and jammed her tongue down his throat, finding time to sip from the vodka cranberry I bought her in between bouts of eating his face. 

I told Pierre the cab driver I didn’t have fifty dollars. He took me to an ATM. I told Pierre the cab driver I didn’t have a credit card and he called me a liar, probably assuming I was your typical Jappy-private-school-going-Emory-student who skis at Vail during winter break.

There was no way Adam was paying fifty dollars. He’d already spent fifty dollars and still hadn’t had a good night. He never does. And it’s not because people aren’t nice to him or he failed a calc test or his grandpa died: it’s because Adam is a moron. He’s allergic to tequila. Breaks out in this nasty-ass rash that coats his neck in small red bubbles. But he loves tequila. Loves. Within ten seconds of getting to the bar, he’ll down five shots of it, and within the next thirty he’s stumbling around, rocking a neck-beard of idiocy, trying to get with girls who want to get the fuck away from what might be herpes. Then he gets depressed and asks me if we can just go to Steak ’n Shake. I don’t mind because I love Adam Brass. Love.

Adam’s head slipped farther down the taxicab window. I reached into his pocket and found a bag of weed and his wallet. I thought about offering Pierre the cab driver the bag, eager to tell people the story of how I gave a cabbie weed in order to pay for a ride and puke-cleanup. I took out fifteen dollars from Adam’s wallet and told Pierre the cab driver this was all I had. He ripped the cash out of my hand and wanted us out.

“I want you out,” he said.

We weren’t getting out because it was late and this was Atlanta, and Adam could have been dead for all I knew.

Pierre the cab driver wouldn’t drive us back to campus unless I paid another fifty dollars. If I was Pierre the cab driver, I would be nicer to people who asked about his life. I would be nicer to people who looked like death in the backseat. Pierre the cab driver was not a nice cab driver, I decided.

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“You’re not a nice cab driver,” I said.

“You are not a nice customer. You know who settles these things? The police.”

I wanted to call his bluff. I thumbed the numbers on my iPhone, leaving crisp fingerprints on the glass.

I’ve called the police before only once in my life. It was in third grade, complaining of a gunshot to the brain and a stomachache. They did not find it amusing. Nor did my mother, but my dad thought it was hilarious, breaking into a fit of laughter until my mom hit him, telling my dad this was not a joking matter, which led my dad to look at my mom and say, “We don’t hit in this family.”

I told the policewoman that Pierre the cab driver wouldn’t drive me back to campus.

“Who is Pierre the cab driver?” she said.

“The person driving the cab.”

She asked if this was actually an emergency.

I still don’t know why I said it. It could have been because Adam told me earlier in the semester that I wasn’t interesting enough. It could have been because I hated Pierre the cab driver. It could have been that I was drunk and high off my ass. The reasons don’t matter.

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“I don’t think you understand,” I said. “My cab driver is kidnapping me.”

She sprang into good cop mode.

“What’s your location?”

I asked Pierre the cab driver where we were. He didn’t say.

“I don’t know. I keep asking, but he won’t tell me.”

The policewoman said she found my location through my cell phone, so I’m not sure why she even had to ask, but she said units are on the way, to stay calm, and that I have nothing to worry about.

Then I looked to my right at my drunk-as-fuck roommate. I looked in my hand at the bag of marijuana. I looked down at myself—a cross-faded eighteen year-old dumbass who lied that he was getting kidnapped by Pierre the cab driver. I jabbed at End Call. At least I could tell a blacked-out-Adam this story and he would find me more interesting. Audrey and I could laugh about it and she would tell me that Patrick Cohen is an alcoholic douche bag and she’s so sorry for ending things.

Audrey Goldberg does not know I exist anymore. She and I are no longer Facebook friends. She ended our online friendship. Rebecca Williams was my first kiss, Carey Brown was the first girl that kissed me back, Taylor Cartwright cheated on me at prom, but I don’t ever think about them. Only Audrey. Whenever I get friend requests, I hope one of them is from her. They never are. They’re from the stupid twelve-year-old girls I used to be counselors for, the ones I deny because looking at their bikini profile pictures makes me feel like a creepy fuck. I don’t want to be their friends anyway—they’re just stupid twelve-year-old girls.

Pierre the cab driver didn’t pay much attention to my conversation with the policewoman. I got out of the cab, put my credit card into the ATM, and fast cashed fifty dollars. The money wasn’t an issue. His guesses were all probably right. I’d gone to private school for fourteen years. I’ve skied every run at Vail. Twice.

I gave Pierre the cab driver the money, and he drove Adam and I back to Emory. I looked out the back window, ready for the chaotic hum of sirens and flashing lights, wondering when Adam would wake up, wondering if I was the one who kidnapped this man from Ghana for the past hour.

The police never came. Nor did they come racing with gauze, Tums, and ginger ale in the third grade. But this time I didn’t talk to them in my high-pitched nine-year old voice that my grandmother teased was the same as Lina Lamont’s, whoever that is. I talked more seriously this time—serious enough for them to come. I almost wish they had.

On the ride back, Pierre the cab driver and I didn’t speak. I still had questions for him: why’d he move to Chicago if he didn’t like big cities? Why’d he move to Chicago if he didn’t like the cold? Did he ever drive by my house there, near Wrightwood Park? Did he try Lou Malnati’s pizza? Did he try Pequods pizza? Which did he prefer? Did he ever eat at that restaurant by Walter Payton High School where the cabs are always parked? What goes on in there? I doubt he would have answered anyway.

Adam’s puke made its way down the door and onto the carpet where our feet sat. I gagged. Pierre the cab driver’s eyes shot to his rearview mirror and we stared at each other for a second. I understood his look. If I puked, he would have slammed the brakes, climbed through the hole in the glass where I handed over sixty-five dollars and thrown me out by my nonexistent chest hairs. I swallowed hard so he understood that I understood. His eyes rolled back to the road, and we sped through circular pockets of streetlight.

Adam and I are no longer friends. We don’t know why. We texted once last summer making false promises to go to Lollapalooza. I wrote happy birthday on his Facebook wall. This year we pass by each other walking to class sometimes and give a nod of existence. I see him at Maggie’s Saturday nights, neck-pox and all, looking for someone to go to Steak ’n Shake with. If he asked me I would go with him, but I’m not sure what we would talk about. Probably conversations about girls and weed that we’ve already had.

Pierre the cab driver pulled in front of Evans Dorm to the familiar passing of guys in button downs and jeans, walking with girls in short black dresses. I nudged Adam and he lifted glazed eyes. Grabbing my wrist, he fumbled his way out of the cab. Pierre the cab driver stared ahead while I muttered “thanks” when I meant to say “sorry.” Adam and I headed to our dorm, squeezing through the other drunks finding their way back home.

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And home is what we called Evans back then—the transformation from “dorm” to “home” only taking a few weeks into the first semester. A few weeks of figuring out how to steal from the cafeteria. A few weeks of feeling okay about not being as close with your high school friends. A few weeks of doing your own laundry. A few weeks of milkshakes and Fresco Melts with Adam Brass.

Tony Walner is from Chicago—the city, not the suburbs. He goes to school at Emory University in Atlanta—the suburbs. He just finished the first season of HBO's Girls, and thought it was awesome. His work has appeared in Nashville Review, Prick of the Spindle, decomP magazinE, Monkeybicycle, and the Eunoia Review.

All rights reserved to Tony Walner.

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