Story by: One Armed Bandit.
Driving has been one of my favorite things to do. I started driving at the age of 11 working with my pawpaw on his property, helping him ship the hogs and even helping with lumber he had to deliver to the local paper mill. So driving to me was the ultimate example of freedom.
So driving a cab became a natural for me. They called me the “One Armed Bandit” due to me wearing my signature driving gloves and making the slot machine move every time I make a good fare. It was my little brand to locals I presume. Driving all night and meeting new people while getting paid for it became a no-brainer. Thing is, I had no idea what over night driving would do to me after you spend upwards of 12 hours sitting in the driver’s seat. My shift was an immediate 4PM to 4AM, for five nights a week including weekends. The money was good, and I met lots of people, fast women and drunk couples willing to spend like sugar. Problem was, it wasn’t the dazzling nightlife of Las Vegas, the Sunset Strip, or the “city that never sleeps” New York, it was a small city in the middle of Massachusetts. It even had enough passengers to go around where I easily brought home over $100 a night.
But there was this one particular night I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. This particular night that literally changed my life, and still to this day sends chills up and down my spine.
I had a call around 1:30 AM to pick up a passenger at the local ER and take them to the next town over we’ll call for the sake of privacy, Northburg. Going to the next town usually pays really good so I didn’t mind taking it.
Now I’ll be honest with you, and if you’ve ever been a cab driver you might feel me on this one; sometimes you want to make a little extra on the side by picking up a curbside hoping they’re heading back to town so you can make that “under the table”. I’ve done these a lot.
This night however was storming, hard. Rain coming down like a mutha, even a little lightening here and there. I just dropped my ER passenger off, heading back into town when I saw a figure walking erratically in the middle of the street. Thank goodness I saw them in time because the way they were walking I could’ve hit them! As I got closer, I noticed it was a young woman walking rapidly….in the middle of a stormy night, in the middle of nowhere, with no raincoat, but what looked like just a sweater, and jeans. As I slowed down to merge off the road, she looked as if she was freezing, shivering.
“What the hell is this girl doing out here this time of night – alone?!” I asked myself out loud, as if waiting for answers from invisible passengers in the back. I quickly stopped the cab, rolled down the window and asked her softly yet with an aggressive voice of a concern as valid as being her father upset that she snuck out at night under my nose, but grateful to find her.
“I’m walking home sir” she said with a nervous, shaking voice.
Now, me, being a guy, at almost 2 in the morning, I could imagine she felt uncomfortable with my presence, but having a cab would surely give her ease that I’m on the clock and have no intention of doing anything funny. Just being very concerned I asked “where do you live?”
“I live off of Mechanic Street on 55th”
I asked “well, it’s raining cats and dogs out here, you want a ride?
“I…I..I don’t have any money on me, I’m almost there though, thank you” she replied nervously.
“The ride’s on me. I really can’t in good conscience leave you out here like this. Get in and I’ll take you home. The cab is dry and warm so come on” I said reassuring.
I don’t know how I convinced a cold shivering young woman with only a sweater and jeans on in an ice cold stormy night to come in my warm cab, but I was successful.
Now, what I remembered that night was knowing her name was Laura, and she looked like she could be around her early twenties. We talked about everything from careers to spiritual shit. I actually enjoyed her company. She decided to sit in the back. Even though I didn’t suppose to let her, it was company’s policy to have all passengers sit in the front with me after dark for our safety and protection due to past events with other cab drivers getting robbed from behind at gunpoint, thank God I didn’t experience that. But for some reason, I felt comfortable with her and felt that her energy wasn’t threatening.
As we approached her driveway, she all of a sudden asked me in a very concerned and nervous tone “can you just drop me off right here?”.
We haven’t even reached the driveway itself, just at the edge of the road.
“But it’s dark, and your driveway is like a football field long. I can drive up to your door and have my headlights on so you can see where you’re going”.
She replied “no I’ll be fine, just leave me here”
Now she was testing my morals and principles here; I NEVER leave anyone outside their homes until I they walk inside assuring me that they’re safe and can get in. Being from Mississippi, it must be a Southern thing in me. Besides, this is a woman almost…in the dark, in the middle of what looked like nowhere. That did not look or sit well with me. But she insisted. As a matter of fact, she was opening my door to get out. Maybe she thought I would charge her after all.
“W..wel..you sure?“ I said in a deep concerning tone, hoping she would let me pull up a few more feet at least.
“No, please. This is where I want to get off”. She said.
“Okay. Okay” I said, thinking this girl is nuts. But what I found even more weird was her…in the dark…motioning for me to leave. Now.
So I did. I slowly drove away, looking in my rear view to see her standing there, on the road, staring at me as I slowly drove off as the cab’s red tail lights slowly withered away from her, allowing the darkness to swallow her back in as its own.
Maybe she was returning to her old man’s house after a fight and he would assume some other dude dropped her off so she had me to do that to avoid another fight, despite my cab logo all over the damn car. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to be out this time of night, snuck out, and so happen her “date” went sour, walked away, headed back home and got caught in the storm. So many scenarios racing through my head as I drove on. If I wasn’t in my cab on the clock, I would’ve turned around to see if she was there…out of my wild curiosity.
“Car 11, One Armed Bandit, where are you?” the radio dispatcher’s voice careens through the speakers of the CB, shaking me out of my “where did she go? Who was she?” trance.
Oh shit, I had to think of something to say quick! I was in another town that I was supposed to have left almost a half hour ago, and I realized taking that girl home took almost an hour!!! Where the fuck did the time go? I swear it felt like only 10 minutes!!!
“Car 11! Where are you?” she ask angrily.
“Oh I apologize, Tina (to protect her real name), I had to use the bathroom in an emergency and forgot to say I was stepping out. Go ahead”. My pulse racing at 100 beats per second, hoping she would buy it.
“Alright, just remember to say you’re stepping out next time. You’re lucky I didn’t call you since. I got a call for you to pick up someone at the ER East going to Pettrell. Cash up front, company policy”
“Ten four” I said. This was a good call, at least $20 in my pocket from the fare plus a possible tip for a Saturday morning. As I’m driving like a police car on a Code 3 to the hospital, I just couldn’t get my mind off that girl. Something strange was about her, the way she had me to leave like that. Like she was up to something. Was she in a cult? Was she involved with something deeper she didn’t want me to see? Oh the curiosity was burning me alive.