By Andre Baganz
Copyright 2015 Hutberg Verlag
I speeded through the neighborhood and finally into the destination street. There I slowed down and tried to make out the house numbers, but it was too dark to read them. The customers were supposed to be waiting in front of number 20. I looked hard but didn’t see anybody waiting on the sidewalk. After a couple hundred meters, I reached a turning bay. I didn’t see a soul there either. This couldn’t be! I stopped the car, grabbed my iPhone to use it as a flashlight, jumped out and ran to one of the houses to read the number. It was sixty-something. Fuck! I had driven by number 20! But I hadn’t seen anybody waiting there in fact this whole fucking upper-class neighborhood was deserted. Had they been picked up by another cab in the meantime? I couldn’t blame them…
When I rushed back to the car, my cell went off. I looked at the screen. It was Helmut. “What’s going on? He just called again and asked where you are.”
“You cannot imagine how much traffic there is in town,” I said. “But I’m here now.”
Helmut sighed with relief. “Thank God!”…
The whole story started an hour earlier with a call from Helmut. He asked me to take over a fare for him. Giving me the details, he pointed out that under no circumstances was I to be late, because this Dr. Frantz and his wife, who wanted to be taken to the opera, were two of his oldest customers. I assured him: “I’ll be there on time. You can count on me as usual.”
Right after the call, I set the alarm on my cell. Since there was still enough time for one fare, I continued driving downtown. My plan was to take a detour to the destination address, hoping that someone would flag me down. And somebody did. It was just a short ride into town–exactly what I had hoped for. However, the closer to the city center I got, the heavier the traffic became. At some point I realized there were many more cars on the streets than usual. Thinking about it, I remembered that the railroad workers had announced a warning strike for that day. For this reason, most people had obviously decided to go to work by car.
Right after I dropped my passenger off, the alarm reminded me of the job I had to do. Covering the seven kilometers from downtown to the address Helmut had given me would take me just a couple of minutes—that is under normal circumstances. On that day, however, nothing seemed to be normal. There were traffic jams all over the place and I was right in the middle of it. Seeing the vehicles going at a crawl, I started to feel uncomfortable. I went through my options and thought about taking an alternative route, but then again there was the risk of snarl-ups on the bypasses. I couldn’t decide what to do. After missing the last opportunity to make a turn, I realized that this had been a big mistake, because the traffic came to a complete standstill. I couldn’t stop looking at the clock. There were fifteen minutes left, and I hadn’t covered half the distance yet. Damn! Squeezing this short ride in had been a huge mistake.
Helmut, who had been a hackie when I was still a child, carried out his job with pride and professional ethics. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he was one of the last genuine cab drivers. Although retired, he continued serving some of his old customers. When his appointments overlapped, he would asked me if I could fill in. Most of the time I could. As a thank you, he would hook me up with lucrative fares. It was a win-win. My boss once told me that Helmut had a high opinion of me because of my reliability. Ergo, he would be terribly disappointed if I messed this one up.
At a quarter to seven, the time I should have picked my customer up, I wasn’t even near his place. A minute later, Helmut called to ask what was going on: “Dr. Frantz called. He wants to know where his cab is.”
“Tell him three or four more minutes. I’m almost there.”
“All right, but please hurry up! He sounded pretty uptight.”
I had lied to placate Helmut, hoping for a miracle to happen. From where I was, I could see the left turn where I had to branch off alright, but under the circumstances the few hundred meters I had to cover to get there seemed like miles. There were emergency lights behind the junction, obviously an accident. So that was the reason for the holdup! I cursed the persons who had caused it.
Twenty-two minutes later, I drove off the main street and another two minutes later into the destination street. The clock showed 7:09 PM.
I had just hung up when I saw a figure in the beam of the headlights. A woman was waving at me. I stopped and pushed the passenger door open for her. She slammed it shut again, opened the back door instead and got in. She was out of breath and couldn’t speak immediately. When she could, she said angrily: “Why did you drive past us? We live in number 20!”
“That’s what I’ve been told. But I didn’t see anybody.–Have you been waiting up there?” I asked in disbelief.
“Sure! For more than 20 minutes. And you just drove past us.”
“Sorry, I–” “Get a move on!” she cut me off. “My husband’s waiting!”
I tried to figure out how I possibly could have overlooked them.–Probably because I had focused on reading the house numbers…Anyway, Dr. Frantz was waiting 100 meters up the street. This time, I saw him. He looked about sixty–a gray-haired, wiry type. Someone who was a nightmare for his employees. That I could tell immediately.
I had hardly stopped when he pulled open the door. Ignoring my greeting, he got into the car shouting like a maniac: “Do you have a screw loose?! Where the hell have you been?! When I called Mr. Thielen at a quarter to seven, he told me three more minutes. Are you too stupid to find our street?! We ordered the cab for 6.45 PM. You screwed up our whole evening! They won’t let us in anymore. I paid 120 euros for a ticket. You’re going to reimburse me for my expenses!”
“I’m really sorry sir, but I got into a traffic jam.”
“Don’t feed me that line! You people have an excuse for everything!…It’s unbelievable!” The old man was beside himself with anger.
I stepped on the gas and barreled out of the dead-end.
“The last one told us his navigation device was broken. He had been looking for our street for half an hour,” I heard the wife say.
“Finding your street wasn’t the problem,” I defended myself. “In a minute, you’ll see for yourself what the traffic’s like today.”
“These are nothing but excuses!” the doctor took over. “You are stupid, just stupid! All cab drivers are stupid!…In the past, there were standards. But today, every idiot can get a taxi license.”
I looked over at him seeing myself as if I was watching a movie: “Shut the fuck up asshole, or I’ll throw you out of my cab! Then you can see how you’ll get to your fucking opera!”
“How dare you?! Are you out of your mind speaking to me like this?!”
”I hit the brakes hard, unbuckled my seat belt, got out, walked around the car and tore open the doors: “Get the fuck out of my cab and be quick about it!”
Dr. Frantz stared at me in disbelief. He hesitated but then did what he had been told. His wife followed his lead.
I slammed the doors and walked around the cab to get in again. The doctor was swearing like a trooper: He had never experienced such impertinence before, and this would have consequences for me, blah blah blah.
“Guess how many fucks I give!”
The two figures got smaller in the rear view mirror. “Who the hell does this old prick think he is? I’m not one of his fucking nurses” (I didn’t know what kind of doctor he was but decided he was a medical doctor) I hadn’t been spoken to like this since my schooldays.
After a while my rage got replaced by an uncomfortable feeling. I knew what I had done was not okay. Nevertheless, I continued to justify my act to myself. I stopped at a cabstand. A few minutes later, my cell went off. It was Helmut. “Dr. Frantz just called me. Did you really throw him out of the car?”
I tried to explain, but Helmut cut me off: “No matter what he says. You cannot throw a passenger out and especially not someone like Dr. Frantz. You have any idea who he is? I guess he’ll cause you a lot of trouble, and I have probably lost one of my best customers. I’m sorry, but I had to give him your name and cab number. I guess you’re in for it now. Of course, he wants the money for the opera tickets back, and I think I don’t need to tell you that you won’t be getting anymore fares from me.” He hung up without saying goodbye.
I realized that I had screwed up big-time.
Next afternoon my boss called: “What’s this Dr. Frantz business about?”
I explained it to him but could tell from the tone of his voice how much he disapproved of my behavior: “Well, I can only hope the best for you.”
I felt miserable and would have liked to undo the whole thing. Why on earth hadn’t I kept my mouth shut! In the worst case, I would have had to pay for the damned tickets.
A week later I got a letter from the city of Cologne, Department of Transportation. My worst fears came true: Dr. Frantz had filed a complaint against me. I was to comment on the issue within two weeks.
I wrote down how everything happened and posted the letter. Only a week later, I got the response. It said I was unfit for the transportation of people, and I was asked to hand in my passenger transportation license. I had the right to appeal this decision within two weeks. Besides, I was to refund Dr. Frantz 260 euros. The amount comprised the money for the opera tickets plus the fare for his cab ride home.
Well done! I lost my job because of my fucking lack of self-control!
Within seconds, this scenario was running through my head. I was about to explode but suddenly reason prevailed and I calmed down. I realized that the doctor was actually right–at least from his point of view, because booking a cab for a certain time should be something you can rely on.–But his tone and the insults!
Being convinced that everything would have gone down just the way I had visualized, I swallowed my anger and addressed the doctor in a calm voice: “I can understand that you’re upset. But I’m sure we’ll make it.”
“Are you kidding?!” he yelled. “That’s impossible. We cannot be there by 7:30!”
“The good news is I know which streets to avoid…I guess you don’t mind me driving a little faster.”
We had 18 minutes to get to the opera. Considering the traffic situation, I myself didn’t believe we would make it. Nevertheless, I gave it my best shot using every bypass. Showing off my local knowledge calmed the doctor down. At least it seemed that way, because he stopped swearing. Since he hadn’t put his seat belt on, the warning chime went off and grew louder. After a while, it became so annoying that I had to say something.
“Oops! I forgot with all the excitement,” he said for the first time in a normal tone and put the seatbelt on.
I had hoped for good luck and my wish was granted. The traffic going downtown wasn’t as bad as the traffic going out of town. At the first important intersection, I made it at the tail end of the yellow light, and on the main street I was lucky when the right lane, which is normally reserved for parking, was free for the most part. Totally disregarding the urban speed limit, I passed other cars, changed lanes deftly and managed to get through every traffic light in the nick of time. But the hardest part was yet to come: It was the last intersection where we had to cross the streetcar rails. As expected, there was a long line of cars in the left turning lane. Since I was kind of driving for my life, I risked everything and passed the waiting vehicles, pleading with a higher power to make one of these drivers start slowly thus giving me the chance to get into the gap. And it worked! In an unbelievably cheeky manner, I cut in and made it through the traffic light. This action was definitely my masterpiece and saved us 10 to 15 minutes.
“Wow!” the doctor exclaimed.
There was only one more traffic light, and this one was green. I drove onto the plaza in front of the opera house and stopped at the main entrance. Time: 7:31.
I got out of the car, walked around it and opened the doors for my passengers. Mrs. Frantz seemed a little shaky. “I’m really sorry for the delay,” I apologized once more.
Dr. Frantz handed me a twenty-euro bill: “I don’t need any change back.” Looking at his watch, he smiled: “That’s unbelievable.” Then he gave me a pat on the back and raised his thumb. “Thank you so much. You did a great job!”
Around midnight, I received another call from Helmut: “Hi there! What have you done to Dr. Frantz? He called me and praised you to the skies. He’s going to Bonn tomorrow and is asking if you can take him there.”