Confessions of a lady cab driver

Twin Cities-based cabbie Chey Eisenman talks death and taxis and everything in between

Confessions of a lady cab driver
E. Katie Holm. Special thanks to Doug Luchsinger of A Taxi for loaning the 1978 Checker Marathon.

A woman slipped into the backseat of my cab, sobbing. Since I am, as a general rule, uncomfortable around tears, I wanted her to stop.

"The rule in my taxi is that if you're going to cry, you must share the story behind the tears," I told her, expecting the typical "my boyfriend/girlfriend dumped me" or "I lost my job."

Instead: "My daughter drowned a few days ago. And tonight I came home to find my husband on top of our neighbor."

Chey Eisenman began driving a cab when she lost her two jobs, but not her bills
E. Katie Holm
Chey Eisenman began driving a cab when she lost her two jobs, but not her bills
E. Katie Holm

The cab fell silent, as if all the air had been sucked out. As she spoke, the tears stopped and her speech became flat and void of emotion.

The pressure pushed me to say something, anything, to break the silence. But what do you say to something like that? Tears began to creep into the corners of my eyes.

As I dropped her off at a motel, I thought about the story she shared: a woman baring her soul about (I hope) the worst thing that will happen to her. What would compel someone to share something so raw and intimate with a complete stranger?

But I already knew. Cab drivers are the nomadic priests of the streets, hauling people from every walk of life, listening to their confessions. We offer no absolution, no penance, only a listening ear.

We see the best and worst of humanity.

Lady cab drivers not particularly wanted

My adventures as a cabbie began when I was laid off from my nine-to-five at a tech firm in the North Loop. Shortly thereafter, I lost my night gig serving at Chino Latino, an Uptown restaurant.

Though I had lost my jobs, I hadn't been able to lose my bills. Ask anyone who has experienced a job loss how quickly the bank account drains when the faucet turns off.

So I sat down and began listing temporary money-making options while I interviewed with other tech companies. As a joke, I put cabbie on the list.

I'd once set up a girlfriend with a guy I met at Chino Latino in an effort to distract her from a creep she was seeing. He'd been secretly driving cab after a job loss, and offered to show me the ropes, including ways I could scam customers for a few extra dollars. Whenever people recognized him, he would claim they were wrong. He was embarrassed by his new vocation.

I told myself that if I was going to drive a cab, I'd do it honestly, in the open. After all, when most people think of a cabbie, they don't consider a sassy, mostly white woman elbowing her way into the forefront of this image. I would stick out like an albino buck in the forest — with no commercial driving experience.

I eventually found an owner-operator willing to rent to me after fighting to get my calls returned. They were desperate for drivers, but didn't want to rent to a woman, though I never fully understood why. Drivers tend to wash out quickly, and some of his drivers had been the victims of serious violence. He was being protective in his own fatherly, Egyptian way.

He rented me the worst cab in the history of cabs: a retrofitted police cruiser, filthy and barely mobile. I couldn't afford to be choosy.

The rise & fall of Neck Tattoo

It was a slow Sunday night when I grabbed a call at a cluster of apartments in Inver Grove Heights that's known for trouble among cabbies and cops. Ideal? Nope. But getting evicted from my apartment wouldn't be optimal either.

He was young and scrawny, with a charming neck tattoo. He slithered into the backseat with a case of Coors Light (very suburban 651 area code) and told me he was going to a seedy bar in an equally seedy neighborhood on St. Paul's East Side.

(What kind of customer brings a case of beer to a bar, you might ask? Someone who's not really going to a bar.)

I have come to realize that shady knows no social, economic, or ethnic commonality. Shadiness is like pornography: You know it when you see it. And I saw it.

When we reached our destination, Neck Tattoo jumped out and started to run, carrying his case of Coors Light. I was livid. I spun around in the middle of the street, jumped the curb, and drove across a vacant lot between two houses.

Cabbie warning: Do not mess with our income during the slow months of summer.

I envisioned flinging open my door, knocking him to the ground with a satisfying thud. But I thought better of it. (Body work is expensive, and I wasn't sure if running down a customer is exactly legal.)

Instead, I chose the slightly less awesome but surprisingly satisfying Jump Out of My Cab and Shove Him into a Retaining Wall option. His shoulder crushed into the wall and he tumbled to the ground. I like to think that he peed himself a little, but he was off and running again before I had the chance to confirm. I had a decision to make: continue my pursuit and leave my cab unattended, or accept the $25 loss. Giving up wasn't easy, but I didn't want to see "Vigilante Cabbie Goes Too Far" in the next morning's paper.

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