Memoirs of a Lady Cab Driver
By Katy Wright
Prelude: Whether Permitting
I never planned on driving a cab.
I was a school bus driver, and proud of it. But I needed to make some summertime money until school started back up in September.
Both my brothers were cab drivers, and they both talked me into trying it. It had no real time commitment. As an independent contractor the cab company didn’t care who came and went. They just rented expensive yellow cars on the daily.
Trying out a new career would only cost me the price of getting a taxicab driver permit and a map book or two. What did I have to lose?
I had just finished my last run of the year as a school bus driver. My uniform shirt had served as an autograph collection device. One of the junior high school kids drew a fouled anchor on my sleeve, and wrote under it, “See you next year, you old sea hag!” and other nicer sentiments were all over various parts of my shirt. Nothing risqué, nothing written on any suggestive body parts. But it did look… silly.
I went to pick up my taxicab permit at the Santa Ana Police Department. If I recall correctly, I submitted my paperwork already, and returned later with my passport style photos and to get my fingerprints taken. It was Friday the 12th of June in 1981.
So there I sat in the lobby of the SAPD. I was asked to take a seat, and told that an officer would be with me shortly. Then an officer did show up. He approached me in the lobby, asking me my name. Confirming my middle name, my date of birth, and my driver’s license number, he then put down his clipboard. He said to me, “I have to tell you that you have an outstanding…”
I knew he was going to compliment me on my perfect driving record. While I was honest enough with myself to know that I would probably never win the “Driver of the Month” award at Orange Unified School District, I knew I was probably an outstanding example of a safe driver. By cab company standards, anyway.
“…warrant for your arrest. Please walk this way.” He led the way to the guts of the building.
My reverie was shattered. I followed him, thunderstruck. There must have been some mistake that would sort itself out soon.
“If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder.”
The officer looked puzzled.
“Old joke. Sorry. Not the right time for a joke.”
“What’s the joke?”
“Guy goes into a drugstore and asks the pharmacist where to find the talcum powder. The pharmacist says, ‘Sure, walk this way.’ The guy answers ‘If I could walk that way, I wouldn’t need the talcum powder.”
The cop politely chuckled. I bet he knew the joke, but was trying to put me at ease, or determine my demeanor. I don’t know.
The officer asked me if I remembered signing a ticket while driving a non-registered vehicle. Damn. The light dawned immediately.
I was pulled over while driving my dad’s pick up truck. He had procrastinated about getting it registered into his name. He had received it in exchange for sheet metal work he had done. It was an old work truck. I had signed the ticket and gave my dad all the paperwork. He said he would take care of it. I had even asked him about my ticket just a few months prior to being arrested.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m taking care of it all.” I believed him. I forgot all about it. It then led to a warrant for failing to appear.
The officer had me place my belongings into a locker, and then he led me down the hall to a holding cell to await the next step, which was to be processed into the Orange County Jail. The holding cell itself was dreary. I seem to recall it was a dull yellow color. The bench in the cell had a large brown stain. I wouldn’t sit. I just stood near the bars, not touching anything. Holding my arms in front of me, by each elbow, hugging myself. Before much time passed, I suppose, another officer collected me to take me to jail. It just felt like forever.
“Sorry you had to wait, it’s shift change.” He handcuffed me with what seemed like a ziptie. Then he collected my things from the locker, and put me and my stuff in the patrol car. When we reached the sally port, he announced us in on the two way box at the gate.
“One cooperative female.”
It hit my imagination how, under different circumstances, having a handsome young cop call me a cooperative female would have definitely been foreplay.
There was what looked like a loading dock, with an open air bank of public phones. I was able to make a phone call. I called home but nobody answered. They allowed me to make another call. I asked my neighbor, Pat, to make sure somebody picked up my son Patrick from the day care center. And of course, pretty please, contact my brother Mike so that somebody can figure out how to get me out of jail.
I was then led into the building, and underwent processing. My belongings were stowed away. My identity was confirmed, pending additional processing that would happen when it was convenient for the system.
I was led, autographed work shirt and all, into a large holding tank with about 10 women. And a big stainless steel toilet on one side of the room. Wide open to the elements, as it were. One lady had to use it while we were all waiting for the next step, and everyone tried not to look. Dignity is often either acknowledged or disregarded depending on the group of people you’re with, ever notice that?
There were brief conversations around the room. Not exactly introductions, more like, “What are you in for?” One lady, dressed kind of like Peg Bundy (but not as brassy) embezzled from an employer. One lady was in for writing hot checks. I think one was in for burglary, I was never sure. There was one biker mama whose crime was never mentioned. And there were about a half a dozen prostitutes. The biker chick was after them like a Eugene O’Neill character, badgering them about giving up their hard earned money to pimps. They raged back, defending their bastard bosses to the bitter end.
Someone kept staring at my shirt.
The district did not issue an actual uniform. There wasn’t an actual dress code. But a lot of us voluntarily bought nice looking long sleeve button down shirts and sewed on the official Orange Unified School District Transportation patch. The circular patch was mostly orange, gave the name of the district in a circle around the outside perimeter, and had either a wheel or a bus logo. I don’t recall the graphics. But it was really neat looking, on a par with the kind of patch motorcycle cops wear, the kind with a wheel on it.
While staring at my shirt, and reading the “sea hag” quote below the district patch, the burglar asked me what my crime was.
“Failure to appear.”
She stared me in the face as if to question my intelligence.
“I got a ticket for driving my dad’s unregistered pickup truck, then I forgot about the ticket because –“
Just at that moment, an officer came to the bars and told me that I would be going upstairs for fingerprints. I was glad. I felt like they were all about to move away from me on the Group W Bench anyway.
Details blurred once I left the holding cell. The sheriff’s deputy was helpful, telling me what to expect next. It seemed like everybody knew I didn’t belong there. Not everyone who gets incarcerated is entrusted with the lives and souls of up to 79 kindergartners at a time in Southern California traffic… as my shirt proclaimed like a billboard. Hold the fat jokes, okay? If not white privilege, maybe it was school bus driver privilege? Maybe it was not unusual. But I appreciated the courtesy.
“In an hour or two, we will be processing everybody from the holding tank into the regular population. You will be given jumpsuits and dinner. But in the interim, you will just be shuffling here and there. And waiting.”
We went into an elevator and then a maze of corridors as she told me what was happening next.
“This next step is your mug shots. Then we will take your fingerprints. Ah. Here we are. Walk this way.”
I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat the talcum powder joke.
I was positioned. I was given the obligatory black sign with the little plastic letters that went into the felt grooves. My name, never thought I’d see it like this. My bad. I was positioned and repositioned as the shots were taken.
“Well, Katy! I never thought I’d see you in here.” Chuckling arose from a voice that I couldn’t place.
Then Kristi Howison stepped from behind the camera.
We had taken a speech class together at Santa Ana College a few years back. Her talks were about her efforts to join the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (no trade secrets were revealed, just generic clues on how to get a decent government job). She also gave a self-protection lecture aimed at women.
“Oh my God, Kristi! I never expected you to see me here either! What are the odds?”
I went on to explain my embarrassment at having done something so stupid. She told me not to worry, it probably wouldn’t ruin my life. Then we laughed about my shirt. Some of the autographs on it were Hallmark quality cute. Then of course there was the old sea hag jab, which I assured her was good natured.
“Your brother is downstairs, trying to get you released. He was already admonished for yelling at the desk clerk. He was getting close to being arrested, himself. Kept going on about you not belonging in here.”
“Whew. I was wondering if he got my message.”
We exchanged more pleasantries while she took my prints. I’ve had prints taken for the bus job, so I knew the drill. Still got my fingers all blackened. We wished each other all the best.
‘You’ll notice I’m not wearing high heels, I am teachable.” We chuckled, that was my biggest takeaway from her shtick about street safety for unaware women. Heels are not safe in a crisis, too hard to run away.
Back to the holding cell. More awkward stares at my shirt. More ragging on the hookers from the Harley-attired chick. She was a true feminist. She wasn’t judgmental about their profession, just giving away a percentage of their take to their manipulative managers.
I was called away, my release was arranged. We collected my purse and stuff, then I was led through a door to a lobby where my brother Mike and our family friend Steve “The Greek” Chronopoulos were waiting for me. They were both amused by my shirt, by the looks on their faces. But we didn’t talk about that.
On the ride home, much information was covered. Steve drove, bless him, because neither of us was operating on all cylinders. Mike was still red in the face from his emotions. He said that when he told our brother Noel, he had a fit about it.
“‘You’ve got to get her out of there! She doesn’t belong there! She won’t know how to act!’,” Mike quoted Noel as saying. Noel would have come along, but he had a long drive home after a long day, if memory serves.
“And by the way, what was all that about picking Patrick up at day care? Don’t you remember he stayed home with Nita because he had a cold and you kept him home?”
All I could do was shrug. I thought they’d all rag on me, but any anger and frustration was saved for Stan. If he would have not blown me off about the paperwork on the truck, I would have seen that I screwed the pooch on the overdue traffic ticket.
I suddenly realized how catastrophic it would have been had I been involved in any kind of fender bender with a school bus full of kidlets. Because even when an accident is not your fault, you still have to provide all relevant info. In an idiots way of thinking, you could say I got lucky.
“I guess this means we won’t be taking my training day tomorrow, huh Stavros?” I asked Steve. He was scheduled to take me out for my first-and-only day of training the next day. Newbies got one day of riding along with a veteran driver, and to get that one day, they had to show their Santa Ana taxicab operator’s permit. I still didn’t have it yet. Something interrupted me … oh yeah. I remember. I got arrested.
The legal ramifications were minimal. I had to pay a hundred dollar fine to the courts. I had to show that I had registered my dad’s truck. The judge told me not to worry. He said that most people get arrested at least once in their lives. He predicted that I would learn from this one mistake and never let it happen again. The school district made me fill out reports, but it didn’t jeopardize my “real” day job of bus driving next year.
Monday I got the taxicab permit. Tuesday, Steve The Greek took me out and gave me the best cab driver training that the company allowed.
But that’s another story.
Katy Wright is a retired Jill of trades, and avoids recidivism after rehabilitating herself. She can be found on Facebook as Katy Wright Arts and Letters.