I used to tell people that on my last day I’d crash the cab into a wall and walk away. That didn’t happen. The date—June 23, 2012—had been settled on a couple months back, so a dramatic exit could have been rehearsed and executed. But instead the day turned out to be a sort of summing-up of my nine years of cab driving in Chicago.
It’s been ten years as of this week. Driving a cab changed my life in many ways but I don’t ever want to go back to it. Fortunately or unfortunately, not unlike the Soviet Union, cabdriving doesn’t exist anymore, so I can’t do it even I wanted to.
I see taxis downtown now and then but it’s rarer and rarer. Could probably play Punch Buggy with them and make a competitive game of it. They’re going extinct and deserve to. It’s an industry from a different era. Like kerosene lamps or public payphones. I don’t want them except in period piece art.
I ride everywhere on my bike now. Even the suburbs sometimes. I only drive to visit family or friends in other cities or when I have to hang an art show or buy something big. It’s not a part of my daily reality. I perceive cars as obstacles and threats now. In the ecosystem of the road I’ve became a smaller, more vulnerable species. I’m not surprised by this but back when I was a cabdriver it was a position hard to imagine.
Because I don’t use a smartphone, I very rarely use rideshare. The times I have, the lingering impression is a combination of embarassment and pity. Rideshare drivers are the barely-competent meatbag components of the evolving automated transport system. They’re the weak link in the chain. They don’t know how to operate their vehicles or navigate the terrain. It’s not their fault, the system is designed to render them useless. Their cyber ghost replacements can’t come soon enough.
I ride regularly past the last Yellow Cab garage I rented from. It’s now a Lyft driver center. There are cheerful graffiti murals on the outer walls and nary a broken wreck to be seen. Very few vehicles are parked in the lot and I’ve never seen a soul enter or exit the building. It’s like a stage set. But for what?
The cars—every make and model, old or new—regularly block the bike path as they pick up and drop off passengers. They’re mutating. They have neon signs and video billboard toplights now. They’re becoming taxis even as their nominal operators will never be taxi drivers.
Eleven years ago, when my first book came out, my friend John optioned it hoping to make a movie. That hasn’t happened and might never happen. If it does, it will be a period piece. Will audiences even understand what they’re looking at? My friend Mallory, who’s in her early thirties, doesn’t know how to hail a cab. Returning from a trip out of town and unable to find an Uber at O’Hare, she didn’t even know where to find a taxi. They’re a relic of another time.