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When darkness falls

Taxi Driver

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Herb and I had a spare minute to talk between calls.

"This guy came out with his sister, and wanted me to take her home."

"What time was it?" I asked. Herb's another cab-driving veteran (whose name has been changed here). And a heckuva guy.

"It was pretty late, like 1:30 in the morning. Last call," Herb said.

Meaning he was down on Tejon Street on a Friday or Saturday night, rounding up inebriates before bar closings at 2. Drivers must make these stops on Tejon, pepper spray close at hand. We often think among ourselves, if the bars down there would stay open another couple of hours, their young clientele wouldn't be in such a rush to overindulge. Maybe they'd even drink less.

"And I tell the young man, 'Come with me, make sure your sister's fine, and I'll bring you back for free.' Because I have sisters myself. And he says, 'No, no, no. I'm tryin' to get with this girl,' and so on."

"You mean back in the bar?"

"Yeah. So I take this young lady home, and she is voluptuous to say the least." On that Herb took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

"And scantily clad, to say even less!" he went on. "So now she's passed out in my cab, and I get to the house and she's completely helpless.

"And I'm thinking, 'It's a good thing she's with a good guy, 'cause I could've taken pictures of her, I could've fondled her, I could've done almost anything to her. She was a piece of ass, I gotta tell ya."

This was Herb being Herb. Brief and descriptive, but honest in his own way.

"So I'm pokin' her with my pen 'cause I don't want to touch her, in case it came up in court, you know, and she wakes up and just lays back down in the seat and she says, 'Aw, I'll just sleep right here.' And I said, 'Well, it's almost 30 cents a minute.'

"So she gets the door open, promptly throws up. Now she's layin' in the street in her own puke, 2 in the morning, and I'm wondering, 'What in the hell am I gonna do?!'

"And being a flagger, Terry, there was no computer record of her."

By this, Herb means the girl was never booked in by name for a trip. Like others from Tejon Street at that hour, she was just a spontaneous rider who got into an available cab before anyone else could. This was another stroke of luck for her. Bar customers on Friday and Saturday nights must often wait up to two hours for a trip home; cabs get maxed out with riders to all quarters of the city and as far as Pueblo or Woodland Park.

Except for her brother, "There was absolutely no proof she was in my cab." Herb almost trembled at the thought.

That's because it's at this point in the story when two young men pulled up in a pickup truck, offering to "take care" of the woman. Herb sent them away and went to the house next door. A couple answered.

"Of course they're very suspicious at 2 o'clock in the morning, and I got her name, and I say, 'Do you know Vicki?' and they say, 'Yeah, we know Vicki.'"

The neighborly couple escorted her into the house, and paid Herb. "And so it had a good ending," he said.

Indeed it did, with Herb having bravely fended off probable harm-doers in a pickup truck, and gotten Vicki to safety. Like Sleeping Beauty, she probably doesn't remember a thing.

"She could've just disappeared," he said.

We thought about that for a minute. There's no guarantee a downtown security camera will catch a would-be captor. And the noise, bad lighting, drunkenness, shouting and clamor could easily invalidate or discredit any prosecuting eyewitness account. "Worse things could've happened to her," Herb resumed. "She was lucky she was with me. Real lucky.

"I tell ya," Herb mused, still thinking of Vicki's vulnerability. "She was spillin' out of everywhere. And, ohhhh, she was something. But I would never do it. I'm tellin' ya." Then, I supposed, the Catholic part of Herb spoke out.

"Devil on my shoulder," he said.

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