Friday, June 15, 2007

Occasional Scary Customers

I've been driving a cab for maybe a year and a half, altogether, now. In that year I've met a lot of people and seen quite a few interesting things; I've only gotten nervous three times that I remember. Tonight was the fourth.

In St. Louis there is a suburb called Kirkwood. Most of Kirkwood is very nice, high property values, and there is no crime to really speak of. But, strangely enough, there is a small area in the middle of this suburb, Meecham Park, that is sometimes said to be as dangerous as the worst parts of the inner city. I'm not sure that's true, it seems unlikely, but tonight makes the second time I've been sent to pick up passengers from that area and ended up more than a little scared.

I guess it was a little after 2AM when I arrived at his location. The neighborhood was dark and I couldn't see him very well. He was a clean looking young black guy with long dreads, he had a baby face and nothing about his appearance (that I noticed in the dark) was scary, so I didn't think anything of letting him in my cab.

He told me he was going to Berkeley, a pretty nasty suburban ghetto area, but I figured it was ok. It's a long trip from Kirkwood to Berkeley so I asked him to show me that he had the money... and that was bad sign number one.

This young guy, he looked like a teenager, pulled out a roll of cash bigger than my fist; most of it was large bills. Hmm... that's never a good sign. But at that point I feel like I have no easy out; he's already in my cab and I can hardly refuse him with an "I'm sorry but you have too much money for me to drive you sir" (Actually I could refuse him for that or any reason, but I felt it might piss him off).

So we're driving and he asks me if I'm scared to be picking someone up in Meecham Park so late at night. I ask him why and he says, "well, you know... that cop got shot here last year, and somebody stabbed that pizza woman to death... they never found the guy, either.." so, asking that question and listing reasons to be scared is potentially a bad sign, but being a female cabbie I get that question every day... it only seems bad when combined with his next question.

"Have you been busy tonight?" he asks me. THAT is a really bad sign... especially after reminding me that the pizza girl stabber was never caught. I tell him I just started for the morning and start trying to hold a more friendly and relaxed conversation with him (he was fairly silent and stiff; also a bad sign since it might indicate nervousness and bad intentions).

I've found, and been told, that often the best defense is to be friendly. The fact of the matter is that if you seem confident and treat a person with respect and friendliness, they are not going to want to hurt you. Sure, if they're desperate, they might still rob you, but probably they will leave you unharmed. So I ask him if he's still in school, if he had to work late, blah blah blah. He tells me he's only had a few hours sleep in the last few days and I tell him I couldn't do it, I'm pregnant and I have to sleep at least 9 or 10 hours a day. He says his baby's Mamma was like that too.

So I ask him about his child, how old, her age and stuff like that and tell him I'm having a girl, too, and that I'm really excited etc... and he's starting to be more friendly with me... something which makes me much more relaxed.

Anyway, we finally get close to his destination when two guys come running across the street in front of us, one jumps in a car and the other one pulls out a gun and is yelling at the other and banging on the door. This is like 15 feet in front of us (and apparently Berkeley is even worse than I've been told... I never went there at night before). He tells me to go on past, not to worry, and then he pays me and gets out of my cab a block up the street.

As he's getting out I see him in the light for the first time. He's wearing gang (Bloods) colors, a rag hanging from his pocket, and has a gun under his shirt (outlined through the T as he's getting out).

I have a policy; if I get nervous I go home. Yeah, I was nervous after that. If it would have been light where I picked him up, and I would have seen his gang clothing, I would have driven right past him. Maybe he was harmless, maybe he's just a guy who wanted a ride home, but the fact is that driving gang members, who are likely drug dealers (considering that huge wad of cash), is the most dangerous thing you can do at any time of the day. If they live a criminal lifestyle already, they are much more likely to commit a crime against you... it's as simple as that.

So I was thinking, as I drove home and considered what might have happened and how I might avoid such a thing in the future, that I'm glad I won't be driving a cab for too much longer. I just have to do this for the rest of the summer, just until school starts back up, and then I'll probably never be in such a scary situation again.

Luckily, I am not a nervous person. Tomorrow I will be back to my normal self but I think there will be one difference. I think, from now on, I'll avoid the Ghetto of Kirkwood at 2AM and especially if the passenger is going to another ghetto. If nothing else, I need to keep Lily out of that sort of danger.

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