The Meter's Running

Welcome to The Meter's Running. I am M.S. Holland. During the course of my life, I was born, became a child, went to a high school, attended college somewhere, forgot much of the early part of the 1980s, went into restaurant management, and became a cab driver about fifteen months ago. This is my world, and the other one around me, the way I see it: Over the meter, through the windshield, past the 7-11, and down the street. You may email me at Hope to hear from you soon.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2002
The Clinic

One morning, I got a call to pick up a gal at one of the apartment complexes in town. The dispatcher told me the caller had been evasive over the phone, so I should use caution. If things didn't look right, I should leave.

"Crack run, probably," I thought. I'd size it up when I got there. Upon my arrival, I saw the girl was already standing outside of her apartment door, even though it was a bit nippy. I'm aware that things don't always fit a stereotype, but this one didn't look like a crack run candidate.

College shirt, nice leather jacket, dressed pretty well, clean. While she was walking towards the car, I went through a quick mental rundown regarding why she may have been evasive. Maybe she just didn't want anyone in the apartment overhearing where she was going. Maybe she was cheating on a boyfriend or something. I get some of that. I shrugged. "Her business," I thought.

When she got in the car, she seemed a bit nervous. Very polite, too. Almost too polite. "Good morning, sir," she said.

Sir? I had a ball cap on backwards, shades hanging on the end of my nose, and I hadn't shaved in a week. I wasn't sure I deserved "sir," but the good manners were nice for a change. I was fifteen years older than this girl at least, so I figured I could live with "sir."

The girl told me she had to go to a medical clinic.

This medical clinic was in business mainly to perform abortions and related services, I knew.

There was the nervous look. There was the evasiveness.

My best bet here was to keep my yap shut. Whether she wanted to be alone with her thoughts or idly chat for a diversion was her call. I'd let her lead. She just turned her head and stared out the window. I headed towards the clinic.

I felt sorry for the girl. Even though no birth control is a sure bet, the whole matter had a pretty good chance of being avoided, certainly. I knew the girl realized this. I sensed she had reminded herself of the fact several hundred times in the last few days.

No judgment, though. I'm a man. No man will ever have to make a decision about having an abortion. Even if a man wants a woman to carry his baby, it's still a decision that ultimately rests with the woman. It annoys me when men babble about the evils of abortion. It's terribly easy to put something down when you'll never have to deal with it.

I'd be a hypocrite, anyway. Back in another lifetime, I found out that I had gotten this girl pregnant. After the requisite "Are you sure it's mine?" question over the phone, I agreed to meet her at a coffee shop to discuss the matter.

"That wasn't nice to ask me if the baby was yours," she said.

"Yeah, but it's fair," I replied. "I don't know you that well. We're not even dating. You seem ok and all, but we were drunk. It happens. How was I to know who you had been with?"

The girl looked passively at me and waved her hand through the air. "Okok," she said. "The important thing is what are we going to do about this now?"

Damn right it was. I was twenty-four years old, living day to day. She was a couple of years younger and in the same position. On top of that, even though I didn't have much to show for any efforts, I was having a blast in life. I had friends all over, went out a lot, and even got laid here and there. Up until the moment in the coffee shop, I was having about the best year of my life.

I knew I wouldn't marry her. I couldn't marry her. In the first place, I barely knew her. I certainly didn't love her in any event. There wasn't even a deep fondness or anything like that. Any marriage would be doomed from the opening bell, and any kid would suffer down the road. Still, if this girl decided to have the kid, there wouldn't be a damn thing I could do about it. Everyone's life would change forever. I'd have to give up the good times I was having. Go get a second job. Take responsibility. I might be able to have feelings about the matter inside, but this was going to be her call. It had to be. I know the decision I was secretly hoping for. It's funny what happens to morals when the stakes are high.

"I really can't do anything until you make a decision," I said.

"You mean about an abortion."


She looked at me briefly, then down at the table."How do you feel about that?" she asked.

"Doesn't matter. That's going to have to be up to you." When I said this, I knew it was a cop-out of sorts, but it was also true. Nobody was going to have to do any surgical work on me.

"But you're the father," she said, her voice rising.

"Yes I am. Still, I'm not going to have to carry a child for nine months. I'm not going to have to go in and have an abortion, either. Maybe it's not fair, but it is what it is. Either one of those is something you'll have to do. This is up to you." I lit what was probably my tenth cigarette in thirty minutes.

"I'm not sure I'm ready to raise a child," the girl said.

I felt my face flush. I didn't know if that statement was some kind of ploy or not, so I blurted "Well, I'm not gonna marry you either way."

"I wouldn't marry you anyway, asshole."

I suppose I had that coming, eh? "Look," I said, "I only meant that we couldn't solve one problem by creating another."

"Whatever," the girl said, almost snarling now. "You'll be in the damn clear. I can't have a kid and you know it. I'll have the abortion."

Most of me wanted to breathe a huge sigh of relief. There was a small part, though, that wanted to run outside, get sick, and cry.

"I'll pay for half and go with you," I said.

"Oh, you'll pay for half, but you're not going with me anywhere. I never want to see you again." With that, she stood up and left.

Not hanging around her was probably not a bad idea. Still, I was starting to resent the fact that she seemed to be laying all of the blame at my feet. At my crotch, anyway. I wasn't the only person in the room when this happened. I didn't force anything. She didn't tell me to stop. She was every bit as responsible as I was. Telling myself this over and over made me feel a tiny bit better about things, at least.

The only problem was that we would have to see each other, because we worked at the same restaurant. It turned out not to be a problem, because she quit the morning after we talked. That put me on the defensive again, because this chick just had to tell everyone we knew what had happened. I got all sorts of "Why did she have to quit, why not you?" I didn't tell anyone to quit anything. I was glad she was gone, though. Things at work would blow over faster that way.

The girl sent a friend to my place to collect my half of the money. She called me to tell me she got it. Other than that, I would see her a couple of times, just chance meetings around town. Eventually, she got married and moved away. I was happy she was happy. I was even happier for myself, because I'd never have to face her again.

Now, this girl in my backseat that I was taking to the clinic. Who would she have to face?

I reasoned that would be between her, whomever she prayed to (if she prayed), and her own sense of morality. For now, though, the only thing she had to worry about was herself. There might be a lifetime for the rest of it. I hoped for her the wisdom to make sure her decision was right. For her. Like I ultimately didn't matter to some girl years and years ago, nobody else ultimately mattered to this girl now. Just herself.

I pulled into the clinic.

"That'll be twelve bucks, miss," I said.

The girl waited a moment, still staring out the window. She turned to me after a few seconds that seemed like an hour. She got out some money and looked down at it. I glanced around, glad that we were in the kind of area where there wouldn't be all sorts of self righteous knobs marching about, with mouths foaming, protesting the evils of abortion. The girl certainly wouldn't have needed that, and I would have been tempted to drive the car through the lot of 'em, which wouldn't have helped any of us.

She handed me the money. This was one of those situations where I almost feel bad for taking someone's money. Almost. I had to live just like this girl did. If I gave freebies to everyone I felt sorry for, I'd end up living in the cab. I pocketed the cash.

"I guess this is it," she said.

"If you want it to be," I replied. "I can leave you here, take you back home, whatever you want."

"I'm on my own here, aren't I?" she asked.

We both knew the answer. I just gave her a slight nod.

"Do what you gotta do," she said, to herself I think, and got out of the cab. She stood outside for a moment, still holding on to the door. She leaned back into the car and asked me a question. "Am I doing the right thing?"

"Do you think you are?" I hate answering questions with questions, but I was stuck.

"Yes," she said, firmly.

"Then you are doing the right thing, yeah," I said. The gal gave me as close to a smile as she could manage, and walked to the clinic.

Maybe for the first time since she had faced the decision, she believed in her decision. Me, I had believed in her decision, whatever it was to be, since I first laid eyes on her. Either way, it would have been the right one.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Driving Miss Helen

About once a week or so, I get a call to pick up some old gal that lives in one of the trailer parks in the area. Sometimes it's to go shopping or such, but more often, it's to go to a neighborhood bar. Feisty old broad, this one is. People call her "Miss Helen." She doesn't call herself that, she just says "I'm Helen." Age sometimes gives the title, though. Especially with women. I mean, you never hear someone talking about Mr. Chuck.

A respect has to come, too, though. I've only known Miss Helen a brief time, but she seems to have it coming. She's led a long life, she's done all sorts of cool things, and she doesn't take any shit to this day. "Miss Helen" is fine by me.

She's great, Miss Helen is. She's been overseas in the service, has done all sorts of community work, knows the complete history of the Detroit Tigers, she's salty, down to earth, and funny as hell. Miss Helen does have a couple of issues, though.

First of all, she's blind as a bat. Can't see. Would walk into walls if left alone. Some of the veteran drivers told me she could see shades of light and could tell if it was night or day or like that. I'm thinking no. From my experience, Miss Helen can't see a damn thing, period. I've seen her face when lighting conditions have changed, and her eyes don't move. That's the party line, though, so ok. Maybe she doesn't want to be "totally blind."

She can't get around real well, either, but she plugs along the best that she can with her cane. Not one of those official blind canes, but some old wood thing that came from the Coolidge administration era. She told me once that she could get around quicker with a walker, but "I feel like I'm in a goddamn cage with one of those things. Someone's arm and this cane does me fine."

The last issue is the one that most people would have the hardest time with.

Miss Helen has cancer.

She's dying.

The bartender at the place Miss Helen went to told me this. People always talk in hushed tones when that stuff comes up. Which isn't to say that I think there should be a guy in the back rolling off rim shots in a conversation of this type, but whispering about it doesn't change much, either.

I went into the bar one early evening to pick up Miss Helen. She was in the can, which I knew would take a few, so I was leaning against the bar, popping the odd stale pretzel and staring at the tv.

"C'mere, cab guy," Judy the bartender said in a loud whisper.

"What?" I asked, paying more attention to the tube.

"C'mere!" she said again, a bit more loudly.

Good Lord. Ok, fine. I walk over there. "What's up?" I asked.

Judy glanced about the room. Checking for spies or something, I imagine. Her voice was soft. "Do you know about Miss Helen?"

I thought this was going to be something typical a bartender might tell me, like Miss Helen was wasted, and I'd have to take extra care getting her into her trailer when I took her home. No problem. Miss Helen might not even weigh a buck. I'd carry her into her house if I had to. I looked around for the spies like Judy had. "No, I don't," I said. "She isn't selling secrets to the Chinese, is she?"

"No, asshole, that was last year. I'm being serious." Cab drivers don't have exclusive rights to sarcasm, I guess. I could feel the eyes rolling in my head.

"What's the big damn secret?" I asked.

Then Judy told me. It was a surprise, but certainly not a shock. Miss Helen is old, ya know? Eighty something if she's a day. She can't see. She can barely move. Judy then told me about the cancer, and that, of course, is terrible. That's more pain than Miss Helen, or anyone, deserves. It wasn't like she was dead yet, though. I couldn't grasp the need for hushed funeral home tones. I asked Judy about that.

"I just don't want people to know ," she said.

"Really? You don't even know my damn name and you just told me," I replied.

Judy didn't have anything snappy for that, so she just started to wash some glasses. "It's respectful," she finally muttered.

Is it?

When I'm getting ready to clock out, the last thing I want is people around me whispering about the damn situation. Talk about it if you want, or don't, but don't whisper. That's worse. The people that are dying know about it, I'd suspect. The sad eyes and whispering chats can't be all that therapeutic.

At least it's out in the open, I guess. On the way to her place after that happened, Miss Helen brought it up. "Hey, did that goddamn Judy tell you about my cancer?" she asked.

Naturally, I had a good answer already loaded. "Uhhhhhhhhh," I said.

"Look, damn it, cough it up," Miss Helen said. "That damn Judy whispers louder than most people shout. So did she tell you I was dying of cancer or not?"

"Ok, Miss Helen, yeah. Yeah, she did," I answered.

"She did what?" Miss Helen was getting a bit agitated. I thought at first she was angry at Judy. I was wrong. "Say it,damn it!" Miss Helen cried out. "Tell me what she said!"

"Christ! Ok! She said you were dying, ok? She said you were dying....." My voice trailed off.

Miss Helen patted my shoulder. "I had to make sure you had the balls to say it out loud. I guess I can deal with you. I won't yell at you anymore, dear. I just think that if I can say it out loud, so can anyone else. I'm the one dying, damn it."

The woman, at that moment, became just about my favorite passenger.

I liked that Miss Helen demanded that this all proceed on her terms. She smoked, she drank a little bit, she ate whatever she damn pleased. She had quit chemotherapy and whatever else by this time. She wanted to do as she wanted, screw whatever anyone else had to say about it, and damn the torpedoes.

I'd hear other drivers, or people that knew her, or whomever, say she shouldn't do these things. "Oh, she shouldn't drink. She shouldn't smoke. She shouldn't whatever." Really?

Kiss my ass.

Miss Helen's days would be numbered if she was in the very best health a woman of over eighty could possibly be in. As it is, now she has terminal cancer. So, she has a beer or a couple of whiskey sours, so what? She woofs down some Luckys, so what? Seriously, now, so freakin' what? If she cut out the liquor, and the smokes, maybe she could buy a month. Maybe, I'm no doctor. Miss Helen told me at one point "Doctor says I'm going to die pretty soon no matter what I do, so I'm going to go get a drink."

Damn right, Miss Helen. Have a couple laughs. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Lord knows you've earned it, lady. Tell ya what.....I may not get around to it soon enough, I don't know, but if I can't get to you in this lifetime, I'll meet you at the next stop, and I'll buy you a drink. Here's to you, Miss Helen. Give 'em hell.

Postscript: I wrote this piece this past November, shortly before Thanksgiving. I didn't see Miss Helen again. I didn't think much of it at first, with the holidays and everything. I figure she had gone off to see a relative or something. Right after New Year's, I found out that Miss Helen had passed away the week before Christmas. I would have liked to have gone to the funeral. She had one remaining blood relative, as it turned out, a grandson from out of state, who had a brief service near here for her friends, and then buried her near where she grew up in northern Michigan. I was right, I never got the chance to buy her that drink here. But there will be other chances. Somewhere....sometime. I still owe you one, Miss Helen. God Bless.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002
The Golf Outing

It's not just hookers or single mothers going to the laundromat I get in my cab. I get all sorts. Sometimes, if the Gods aren't having a crappy day, I get the out of towners that have some money. They usually tip, and that's a good thing. What's bad is when they want me to have some sort of mental image of the state of their financial affairs.

So, I get these two women going from the Marriott to an art exhibit. The conversation that follows took place. I saw enough of their faces in the rear-view mirror to realize that this wasn't a joke.....

Woman A: Well, I like the Hamptons, but only when it's not The Hamptons.

Woman B: Oh, that is so true.

A: I mean, what's the point of standing in line to get in a club if we already did it last year?

B: Sure, exactly.

A: I'm like...Helllloooo! What are you people doing in line? You look like fools!

B: They're looking for celebrities, of course.

A: Oh, of course. But what they don't realize is that the celebrities keep moving around.

B: Are you going again next season?

A: I'm sure we will go for at least a brief stay. So many dear friends, you know.
(At this point, I want to jump out of the cab and see how high the retch-o-meter is getting)

B: Well, yes, you must keep up with the friends, plus you need to keep the network going for your charity functions.
(Charity? Mayhaps there is a ray of hope here)

A: Oh, absolutely! You know, speaking of charity, we're having our golf function at Pebble Beach again next year.

B: That will be splendid!

A: I just hope what happened last year doesn't happen this year.

B: Oh my! What happened?

A: Well, everything was going ok, you know, the five hundred dollar entry fee, the one hundred dollar raffle tickets. We were taking quite a bit of money in for ______________. Not that anyone cared that much, but the top prize for the raffle itself was two plane tickets to anywhere in the world, with hotel accomodations, of course. Round trip, obviously. You know, we all travel so much, anyway, but it's a nice prize, I guess.
(Nice prize? You guess? Look, bitch, if it means so little to y'all, next time, give away a freakin' turkey and send me the tickets)

B: Sure. But what happened?

A: You know Tom, the Customer Service VP?

B: Yes, I met him at the conference last year.

A: Oh, that's right. Anyway, during the golf function, he cheated!
(Egads! Say it ain't so!)

B: Cheated how?

A: He was moving his balls.
(On my father's grave, I swear she said this verbatim. I almost spewed coffee all over the dashboard)

B: How?

A: Kick 'em, throw 'em, whatever. We knew Tom wasn't that good. You know, you had to report your score to the volunteer at the end of each hole. It seemed like his balls were always the best ones.
(I swear on John Lennon's grave she said this, too. I might lose a tip if I showed a reaction, but this was getting tough)

B: I hear Tom wasn't a good golfer.

A: Like I said, he isn't! Donny can beat him any time! Donny told eveyone to start watching Tom.
(Tip or no tip, the time was here)

Me: So everyone was watching Tom's balls, huh?

A: Yes.
(A gave me a look here that I should keep my mouth shut and drive. Or die, perhaps)

B: Well, what happened then?

A: Tom's lead kept getting bigger and bigger. Donny and Hank and some of the others, you know, really good golfers, they knew something was up. They asked him a couple of times, and he'd deny it, but finally, Donny said "Look, we saw you cheat, and we know you lied about your strokes because we counted them." Tom admitted it then.

B: Why would he do that?
(Because he wanted to win, and he sucked?)

A: The prize for the winner was a pair of tickets to the Super Bowl.
(I would have cheated, too. A lot)
B: But it was for charity!

A: Exactly! This is a charity event, and you cheated, Tom! Helllloooo!

B: Tom could afford tickets from a broker if he wanted them that badly.

A: Oh, you didn't hear?

B: Hear what?

A: I guess Tom got slaughtered on a couple of investments. He might have to sell his house or whatever.

B: What a shame.

A: Oh, the hell with Tom. He probably would have sold his tickets if he had won them, anyway. I hate it when people get desperate about money.

Me: We're here.

That was about the end of it. Lordy, I wanted to get sick all over the place. Ok, this Tom guy cheated. Let's deal with it or shoot him or whatever, and let's all move on. He apparently is less than brilliant about investment decisions. Lovely. Show the man a little sympathy or yell once and be done with it, but after that, just shut up already.

These people do a lot of work for charity from what I heard. Hey, that's great. I'm sure the charity appreciates it. I'm also sure that A and her cohorts made damn sure they got photos of handing over one of those huge prop checks to the people from the charity, so they could have pictures for the media and the company's wanker newsletter.

Just as I was pulling away, the two women on the sidewalk and myself were going to come up to a puddle, on opposite sides, at about the same time. Oops! The car slid! Oops! I ran right into the puddle!

I heard A yell as I drove off, "Look at my damn skirt!" You know, I hate it when people get desperate about their skirts.