There's a new taxi service out this way, and that's a good thing. It's really hard to get a cab out here.
A couple of summers ago, I was waiting for the bus at 51st and Ashland around 5:45 a.m., trying to get to Midway for a flight to California to see my sister. The 51st Street bus is pretty slow and irregular. Though the Ashland bus is pretty quick and consistent during rush hour, it was so early in the morning I had no idea what to expect.
While I was waiting, a guy in a van pulled up and rolled down his passenger side window. I was staring at him hard, thinking, "Who is this guy? Do I know him? Is he a neighbor? Is he somebody's dad?"
"Do you want a ride?" he asked.
"Yeah. I'm going to Midway,"I said, thinking he must be somebody's dad, right? I just didn't recognize him. So I didn't have a good feeling bout it. But I waited.
"I'll give you a ride," he said, but I stayed put, waiting for the punch line. And sure enough, it came. "For a blowjob."
"No thanks," I said, and he rolled away. About one minute later, an actual yellow taxi came in sight, heading south on Ashland. I ran into the middle of the street, waving my arms and hollering, "hey, hey, taxi, hey!"
The guy stopped. I remember him at Bob, the Communist cab driver. He lived over on Winchester south of 51st. He was about to get off shift and had a bag of McGriddles on ths shotgun seat to take home to his daughters. He told me he grew up in West Town and had the choice back in the 60s of buying here or buying there. He bought here. His aunt bought in West Town. "Now she's a millionaire," he said. I got his number and used it a few times. But then I lost it and that was the end of reliable cab service.
Until now. Before Christmas, I was walking along Ashland and spotted a flyer on a pole for Safe Way Livery. 24 hour service. They'll haul stuff for you. Rates below metered cabs. The office is so close to my house you could practically spit from there to here, so the drivers ought to be able to figure out where to go. No more cabbies at Midway whining about short fares for me, I thought. I just get off the plane, call Safe Way, and go.
That's not quite how it's worked out in practice. Most of their drivers are local, so they know the way to my house. But most of them don't know their way around Midway Airport. The two times I've been picked up there so far, we all figured it out, but it took so long I might as well have taken CTA for the time. Door-to-door service with luggage still almost made up for it, but it was a close call. Dropoffs at Midway have been much more successful. My favorite guy so far is number 8 (I hope I remember that right). He's probably about my age, has teenage kids and started doing this to make some money in between other business stuff--maybe selling real estate? I forget. He has a decent car, played ball in college and expects his children to go there, too, so an interesting person to talk to without being too far out of my usual experience.
My most recent ride was quite a contrast. First of all, speaking of ride, his could have used some pimping. I got in the back seat and sank so low I thought we might hit the ground. This was after a good hour of navigating unsuccessfully via the dispatcher to get him to the Kiss N Ride dropoff/pickup point in front of the Midway Orange line stop. He got as far as the parking lot but couldn't figure out the rest of it. So I went over to the parking lot and found him. With another passenger. Of course I assumed she was his girlfriend or something, but he explained pretty quickly on that she was a regular rider who had agreed to put off her trip and come out to Midway so I could get picked up faster. Obviously I was very grateful and told her so.
The funniest small-world part came about three-quarters of the way home, as we were driving up Damen toward 51st. He mentioned he had gone to Triumphant Charter School back when it was at 49th and Seeley. Years ago it moved south and is now run by Betty Shabazz International Charter School, but this guy was there in the day when I knew the principal and some of the teachers. Sure enough, he had one of the teachers I knew. "She was one of about three teachers I actually liked in elementary school," he said. He's 25 now and trying to decide what to do--maybe computers. It's not clear to me whether he finished high school, so I'm thinking not. But I'll have to tell our mutual acquaintance that I saw him. She'll remember him, I bet.
If you're interested in Chicago charter history, CPS still has a Tribune story about the end of Triumphant and how it was taken over by Shabazz. The story documents both Triumphant's academic gains with some of the city's hardest-to-reach students and its financial mismanagement problems, which caused the shutdown.
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