Taxi by Freddy S. Zalta
All music inspires internal visuals and dreams. When you listen to a Harry Chapin song, the music, the voice and of course the lyrics paint a picture that few storytellers can. Characters that face the challenges of loneliness, the scars of time and the broken hearts pierced by dreams, hopes and beliefs that have vanished. But within that voice, within the song, there is always a sense that things will work out. Life will turn out to be ok. Most dreams do not come true and most of the time the reality that we do live are the dreams that make up a life.
When one is 12 years old – they dream of being a baseball player or an astronaut. When one is 60 years old they look back and realize that the best part of their lives all revolved around the people they loved. Those are dreams that can never be imagined or planned – they just happen. Life just happens. That is what Mr. Chapin is telling us in all of his songs – life happens and in the end you look around you and all you had once imagined or dreamed of can be found in the world you live in; in much brighter colors and shapes then you could have ever thought possible.
I chose “Taxi” because I first learned to love the song when it was raining hard one night in Brooklyn and I needed something to cling to. The transistor radio under my pillow was tuned to 102.7 which at the time was WNEW-FM, the song came on and I was hooked.
by Harry Chapin
It was raining hard in ‘Frisco, I needed one more fare to make my night.A lady up ahead waved to flag me down, She got in at the light. Oh, where you going to, my lady blue, It’s a shame you ruined your gown in the rain. She just looked out the window, and said “Sixteen Parkside Lane”.
Something about her was familiar I could swear I’d seen her face before, But she said, “I’m sure you’re mistaken” And she didn’t say anything more. It took a while, but she looked in the mirror,
And she glanced at the license for my name. A smile seemed to come to her slowly,
It was a sad smile, just the same. And she said, “How are you Harry?” I said, “How are you Sue? Through the too many miles and the too little smiles I still remember you.”
It was somewhere in a fairy tale, I used to take her home in my car. We learned about love in the back of the Dodge, The lesson hadn’t gone too far. You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly. She took off to find the footlights, And I took off to find the sky.
Oh, I’ve got something inside me, To drive a princess blind. There’s a wild man, wizard, He’s hiding in me, illuminating my mind. Oh, I’ve got something inside me, Not what my life’s about,
Cause I’ve been letting my outside tide me, Over ’till my time, runs out. Baby’s so high that she’s skying, yes she’s flying, afraid to fall. I’ll tell you why baby’s crying, Cause she’s dying, aren’t we all. There was not much more for us to talk about, Whatever we had once was gone. So I turned my cab into the driveway, Past the gate and the fine trimmed lawns. And she said we must get together, But I knew it’d never be arranged. And she handed me twenty dollars, For a two fifty fare, she said “Harry, keep the change.”
Well another man might have been angry, And another man might have been hurt, But another man never would have let her go… I stashed the bill in my shirt. And she walked away in ilence,
It’s strange, how you never know, But we’d both gotten what we’d asked for, Such a long, long time ago.
You see, she was gonna be an actress And I was gonna learn to fly. She took off to find the footlights, And I took off for the sky. And here, she’s acting happy, inside her handsome home.
And me, I’m flying in my taxi, Taking tips, and getting stoned, I go flying so high, when I’m stoned. (Chapin)
I was born and raised in a small town outside of San Francisco. I was a shy kid who had a penchant for spending too much time on my own. I had a couple of friends – but it was my choice to sit in my room and read. I read everything; newspapers, books and comic books. I loved the Giants and Candlestick Park – going for long walks and listening to music on my transistor radio.
My name is Harry and I was born the youngest child of William and Phyllis Cross. I have a brother Brian, who is the oldest and Barbara Ann who is two years older than me.
My parents fought often. My father because he would come sauntering in to the house with the smell of whiskey on his breath and smoke on his clothes. That combined with the smell of the fishery where he worked created an aroma of hell in whatever room he decided to sit in. My mother would tell him to shower – he would curse her under his breath and she would curse him right back. He was Irish, she Italian. He hit her once; needless to say this Italian broad did not take kindly to it and she literally kicked the shit out of him. He never approached her with his hands in anger again.
My mother worked as a receptionist for a Doctor and my father worked as a manager of a fishery by the wharf.
Money was tight and he began to drive a taxi at night to earn some extra cash. When the money didn’t come in quick enough he decided to buy a cheap pint of whiskey and to park the cab in the middle of the Bay Bridge. He threw the keys into the water and walked home, leaving the car parked in the middle lane and his responsibility somewhere in the bottom of the pacific.
I was twelve years old when Old Bill left home. He walked into my room and said; “Never settle for the ground beneath your feet, it’s too limited, shoot for the sky and the limitless possibilities of undiscovered worlds.” He didn’t even say goodbye, just packed a small bag and walked out the door.
He never did come back home, although he wrote several letters that I was able to read before my mother intercepted them. He wrote that he was living in Chicago working for a company called Sears. He never apologized; he never wrote one word of regret. The last letter I received from him he told me he was getting married again and that he would not be having any more correspondence with us. I burned that letter and never told anyone about it.
Whenever I walked on the streets outside my home – I couldn’t help myself from looking up at my “undiscovered worlds.” I think that’s one of the reasons I decided I wanted to learn to fly.
My grandparents moved in on my thirteenth birthday – looking back I can tell you that their arrival was the best gift I ever received.
My grandfather was an artist, a painter by trade. He painted anything he could – his specialty was an empty canvas but his income was based on painting apartments within several apartment building complexes. He would come home from work exhausted – always with a smile. He would tell me stories about his youth and growing up in a farm outside of Sacramento. How his father would always have the winning pumpkin or tomato in a “Biggest” contest.
We became very close and when I left for college – he sat me down and gave me the talk.
“Harry I need to speak with you and give you some words of wisdom.”
“Ok grandpa; but if it’s about the birds and the bees…”
“Quiet – this is serious. Have you ever been tired?”
“Yes of course.”
“Good tired or bad tired?”
“Hmm…do you mean tired for a good reason or a bad reason?” I asked.
“Listen to me for a minute, let me explain. Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad-tired. Ironically enough, bad-tired can be a day in which you won, but you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas and dreams, and when it’s all over, there’s very little you in there, and when you hit the hay at night, you toss and turn, you don’t settle easy.
Good tired, ironically enough, can be a day in which you lost, but you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days. And when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just, and you can say, “Take me away.”
Harry, all my life I wanted to be a painter. So I painted. God, I would have loved to have been more successful. But I painted and painted. And I am good tired, and they can take me away.”*
* From The Gold Medal Collection “My Grandfather”
High School was the best of times and the worst of times. Ninth and Tenth grades were wasted by my teenage depression and pimples. Eleventh and Twelfth grade was the time when I came into my own. I acted in a school production of “Bye Bye Birdie” playing the role of Conrad Birdie while the role of Kim MacAfee was played by Sue Browning. We became very close during rehearsals and before we knew it, there we were backstage making out in between scenes. Sue and I would spend all of our time together kissing and rounding second base. When I got my driver’s license we would sneak away in my brothers Dodge and spend hours kissing and talking about rounding third and sliding into home. In between heavy breathing we would talk about our dreams for after high school. She was going to act on Broadway and I was going to fly airplanes. Nothing was going to stop our ascent. We parted as friends a week after graduation – she went out to find the footlights and I took off to find the sky.
After High School I went to a community college for two months before I dropped out and took a job in a tavern just outside of town. I was hired to assist the Bill the bartender but ended up being the bartender when Bill bought the Tavern and turned it into a bar for bands to come and play their music. I ended up learning to play a guitar and wrote some folk songs I would sign on nights when the place was empty or when we had closed for the night.
I started to drink too much myself and found I could drink a lot and hide just how drunk I actually was. Eventually it got really bad and Bill asked that I stop working there so he wouldn’t have to fire me. I agreed and went back to my mom’s house to live until I got back on my feet.
One day we received a letter stating that if no one picked up my father’s car from the pound we would lose possession of it and it would become the property of the city. I went to pick up the car, settled on a $150.00 fee by stating that my father had abandoned us and that all we could pay was that amount. With the divorce papers and other documentation with us – it worked and I began my life as a cab driver.
The years passed quickly, and before I realized it I was 31 years old. I had nothing to show for it but a rundown apartment and some stains on my clothing.
For the past ten years I had been driving; how do you quantify all those years with all those fares? How do you measure all those miles in minutes and then into dollars? The meter in the cab was based on distance not time spent.
“Harry you have to grow up – be a man.” That’s Gloria speaking to me after I lit up a roach that I left from the night before.
“What does that mean, grow up?” I ask as I inhale and destroy another memory of regret.
“It means you should clean yourself up, get a real job and then take responsibility for making a difference in this world.”
“There is nothing I can do to make a difference in this world – who am I, the President? All I am is a poet and a cab driver. I make good money doing that and I enjoy it.” I replied in defense of my reluctance to change.
“I am leaving Harry, moving back to New York. I can’t stand living with someone who just goes through the motions of living without ever making any decisions other than where to buy the weed or who to sleep with on which night. I am leaving because you are a letdown, because you’d rather sit and talk rather than act.”
With that she took her two bags walked towards the open door, turned, gave me a sympathetic smile and walked through the door closing it behind her. I made no motion to stop her – as I had done in the past; I just sat there and watched her walk out of my life.
Four years passed, no love to discuss – just some empty caloric love making and a lot of miles on my cab. Sitting in the front I made my pickups and drop offs, counted the cash and did it all again the next day.
It was raining hard in Frisco and I needed one more fare to make my night.
Not many people out on the street when the rain is falling, so I decided to head towards Union Square where there’s always someone with their hands up looking for a cab.
Tonight I stopped driving for a half-hour – took some drags and began to fly. I closed my eyes and fell asleep in a parking spot – woke up from the sound of the rain hitting my windshield. Stopped to pick up some coffee and went looking for the last fare of the night.
She was standing outside a fancy restaurant, arm stretched out and no umbrella. I pulled up slowly and she got in.
“Where you going to, my lady blue? It’s a shame you ruined your gown in the rain.” She looked out the window and said, “16 Parkside Lane.”
Something about her was familiar; I could swear I’d seen her face before. The shape of her face against the window, something. Even her voice – something that reminded me of something I had forgotten.
I asked and she said, “I am sure you’re mistaken.” She said it with a crooked smile that showed a million emotions with different definitions of being lost in a world full of rain and cold breezes. I knew who she was – I could never forget her smile or the sound of her voice. I felt a bit ashamed to be sitting here driving this cab while she sat in the back dressed wearing a party gown and looking even more beautiful than I remembered.
I had big dreams once and she was the one who shared them with me. Learning about love during our long nights parked looking over the bay in my brothers Dodge and then sitting and talking for hours as the sun would rise and we’d sneak on back to our homes. She was going to be an actress – her dream was to be on Broadway and to have a playwright write a play with a role special for her. She would shine on the stage – the spotlights hitting her eyes, her arms around a bouquet of roses and the audience standing and throwing “Bravos” in her direction.
Me? Like I said, I was going to learn to fly…
Suddenly I noticed her glance at the license for my name and then a smile came to her slowly – that same sad smile, just the same.
“How are you Harry?”
“How are you Sue? Through the too many miles and the too little smiles, I still remember you.”
We spoke for a couple of minutes as the rain came down harder and we seemed to hit every red light and then she tapped my shoulder.
“Pull over here Harry – let’s go get a drink.” We pulled over and stopped at a place called, “Big Johns.”
We sat at a booth and she told me all about how she was living her dream. She knew a lot of actors, politicians and leaders of industry. She was acting, just on a hiatus while she enjoyed herself and had fun hobnobbing with the socially elite. She was laughing out loud but seemed to be acting. I just smiled.
“How are you doing, Harry? What happened with the flying?” She asked.
“Well I changed my mind – I decided to throw it all away so I can drive a cab in San Fran – hey you never know who you are going to pick up.” We both laughed and she made a toast.
“Oh Harry. We had some great times …”
“Yes we did, didn’t we? It’s been a long time…It’s not the same once the water rolls under and over the bridge – time changes us Sue – but you, you look amazing.” She smiled and took my hand.
Her eyes began to well up. She looked away and I placed my other hand on hers and we both let out a chuckle.
“Dreams don’t always come true as we once imagined them, Sue; sometimes the dream turns out to be reality we wished we’d never known.”
“No, Harry, I am happy – my dreams are coming true. I am living in a beautiful building, I have a lot of friends, famous friends – friends who take me places and buy me things. What can be wrong with that?” She didn’t seem convinced but I didn’t argue with her.
She told me she moved to Los Angeles and stayed with her aunt for a while until she received a call from a casting agency in New York. She immediately flew to New York and before long she was working some off-off Broadway theater. Soon there were bit parts in films and television shows – “a lot of her best work” ended up on the cutting room floor, she said. When I asked, she told me I wouldn’t know the films or the shows, I didn’t press her.
Silence intruded on our conversation and then she looked at me with her moist eyes and smiled. “What happened with us Harry? We had some wild conversations about our dreams, you remember? I was going to be the next Katherine Hepburn and you were going to fly high in the skies, an ace fighter pilot”
“Sometimes life happens.” I took a swig from my scotch and looked away, aware that the moisture was now in my eyes. What is it about speaking with old friends that brings to mind too many memories we thought we had stashed away forever? What is it about some people that even if you do not speak or see each other for years – you end up continuing the conversation you last had?
“So what happened in New York?” I asked her.
“Well, nothing, that’s the problem. I got involved with the wrong crowd, a bunch of losers who I admired in my naiveté. Performers, you know actors, dancers and singers all so talented on stage – but off stage their flaws reveal them as all too human. There were some really poor reviews on my ‘performances’ which caused the requests to stop coming in. I decided to move back to Los Angeles and stayed with my Aunt until she died a couple of years ago. My cousins, her kids, didn’t want me staying there while she was alive and they sure as hell didn’t want me once she passed.”
She took a deep inhale of her cigarette and slowly blew the smoke in a quick straight line.
“I came home. But home wasn’t home anymore, you know what I mean? I went back to the old folk’s house and my room was now a small office with books, a desk, a chair and several typewriters. I slept on the couch in the living room. I started getting these panic attacks and moved out of there when I was offered a maître’s job at this really expensive restaurant. I made some friends there and began to make enough money to get my own place. I am acting Harry, acting every day and I get paid really well for it.”
“Are you happy, Sue?” She smiled, a sad smile, looked at me and said.
“Oh Harry…I have my moments and sometimes I can act so well I even fool myself into thinking so.”
I ordered another round for us, she lit another cigarette.
“What about you Harry? Tell me more about your life. Did you ever get married? Any kids?” She asked.
“I never did get married nor did I have any kids. These past years have flown. I have been running, flying I guess, from one fare to another. Taking it one day at a time is all well and good but before you know it the days have piled up, Sue. The one thing I love to do, I sing at a tavern once in a while– I love to write songs, poems – whatever. Words serve me well when I write them down and can also cause me hell when I speak them.” I laughed; she just looked into my eyes.
“Do you still go on your long wandering walks?” She asked.
“Ya know, I don’t. I have become kind of complacent with myself – not wanting to face the task at hand.”
“What’s that, the task?” She asked.
“Good question. I guess the task is actually being present; being in the moment. I don’t know how to allow myself to do that. But its ok – a huff and a puff here and there and I am flying with both feet on the ground.” I let out a short chuckle.
“Sue, your acting and I am flying, I guess both of our dreams came true.” I said to her and then as our eyes met we quickly looked away.
“Think it’s time I get back home, I need to jump on a plane tomorrow – I am going to Palm Springs tomorrow with a friend of mine. It’s sort of a business – vacation trip.” She said looking out the front window.
We walked outside, the rain had stopped – there was now a crisp cool in the air. I took off my jacket and draped it around her. She smiled and put her arms around me.
“When I get back, let’s get together again, Harry.” She said it sincerely, she must have truly believed it but something inside of me knew it wouldn’t happen.
“Yeah Sue, I’d like that a lot.” I opened the door to the cab, she asked to sit in the front with me, but there was too much junk thrown around so she got in the back.
“Come here Harry – sit with me just like the old days. Remember those nights in the back of the Dodge?” I opened the door and sat beside her and she put her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.
I stayed awake. I felt kind of protective of her. Suddenly I felt as if a weight had been lifted. I am not sure what it was, but like a bolt of lightning had hit me I felt, alive.
I moved away slowly and then began to drive her back home. She woke up and she whispered my name.
“Thanks Harry, let’s get together again.” The fare said $2.50, she gave me a hug across from the back seat and handed me a twenty dollar bill. I went to give her the change but she said, “Its OK Harry.”
“Harry, keep the change.”
Part of me was angry, part of me was hurt but then I looked at her and realized she needed to do this more then I needed the cash. I stashed the bill in my shirt.
She walked away in silence; it’s strange how you never know. Those dreams we used to dream – they came true. But like everything else in this world, they came true on their own terms.
We were together once but then we needed to say goodbye. You see, she was going to be an actress and I was going to learn to fly. She went off to find the footlights and I took off for the sky. Here she’s acting happy inside her handsome home. Me? I’m flying in my taxi, taking tips and getting stoned. When she left I said to myself, “I go flying so high…when I’m stoned.” Then I broke down and cried. I cried for the love, the dreams and the time – lost, gone and never coming back. I cried for Sue and I cried for myself. Then I flipped the “No service” light and headed back home.
I went back home when my Grandfather was in his bed dying. He had hours, maybe a day or two left in his life. I went to see him in his room and it broke my heart to see him lying there.
“Hey Grandpa, its Harry.” I said.
“Hey my poet! How are the words coming?” He said clear as day.
“You know, they come and go. What’s this I hear that you are checking out?”
“We all have our time kid. Don’t be sad, I’ve lived my life a good life. The love from your Grandma, my children, grandchildren…my painting.” He stopped and asked for some water.
“Harry you are wasting your time here.” He said kind of sternly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Harry, there are different kinds of living. There is the living where you live the life you choose to live, you fight for the things you believe in and you make this world better for at least one person each day. But you have to start with yourself.” Another sip of water.
“Kid – I am ready to die now, I am not trying to be morbid, just trying to let you understand that I have lived my life. I have made a difference in this world. I would have wanted to have been able to spend more time painting my art rather than peoples living-rooms, but I have no regrets. You know there are the two tireds I have told you about. I am tired because I lived – not because I am dying. I am ‘Good tired,’ If you were dying would you be able to feel that way? To feel the good tired?” He asked me this question not waiting for an answer. I looked away and just stared into space.
“Don’t worry kid, you have a lot of time to live – I just want you to live. To live out loud, to give out loud and to make this world spin. When in doubt, do something.”
“Grandpa –I will try.”
“That’s it son, as long as you start thinking, the understanding will follow and you’ll figure it out. You have been given a lot – don’t ever forget to give back.”
I closed the door behind me and walked down the lane towards my cab. The sun was shining so I decided to walk. I thought about my father, I thought about Sue and I thought about the twenty dollar bill in my shirt.
A plane was flying overhead and a song was playing in a passing car. I had no idea what I was going to do, no idea what that “something” was. I pulled out a joint from the night before, looked at it and then crushed it with my fist.
I wanted to feel. I was tired of being numb. I wasn’t sure what to do, what my next move should be or where I was even walking to. Then I thought about the old man lying there saying goodbye to me with a smile on his face.
When in doubt, do something.
Don’t whisper, shout.
Don’t just stand there, dance.
Don’t just breathe, live.
By Freddy S. Zalta
Copyright © 2012 Ftrain Productions All rights reserved.