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The Column

All’s Fare in Love and Daytona
1/26/03

Nothing could adequately prepare you for a ride with Bobby the Cabbie. The only things that could even help are headphones, a partition, and a hearty breakfast of cocaine and Ritalin. I’m not sure what happens when you mix cocaine and Ritalin, but if you can survive that, you can survive anything.

I know what you’re thinking: cocaine and Ritalin are not usually breakfast foods. A more pressing thought, however, is that you have no idea who Bobby the Cabbie is. And even more pressing than that is just how much cooler it would be if “Bobby” rhymed better with “Cabbie.”

I was in Daytona Beach this week on the first stop of my “I Don’t Want a Real Job” book tour. As is my tradition, or will become my tradition when I do it more than once, I contacted the local humor columnist to chat about the business of columnisting. He kindly invited me to stop by the Daytona News-Journal, which I did with the help of a cab company.

I am a lifelong New Yorker, and thus bad cab drivers are nothing new to me. While attempting to go to 113th street and Broadway, I once had a cabbie that tried to take me to 113 Broadway and then 13th street and Broadway. Another time, my cabbie abandoned the cab to chase a kid who threw a snowball at his car. (Yes, the meter was still running). And I even had one driver that kicked me out of his cab for asking how much he thought the fare might come to. But being a New Yorker, I’ve rarely had a cabbie that spoke much English, let alone one with a name that came this close to rhyming with “cabbie.”

When Bobby picked me up, I instinctively headed for the back door.

“Get in the front,” he barked. “That [bleeped for family newspapers] door hasn’t worked in years.” Bobby was being forthright. A good quality in a cabbie.

“Where are you from?” he asked. An inquisitive nature. Another plus for the Bobster.

“I love New York,” he said. “It’s much prettier than Daytona.” Honesty. Nice.

“Here in Daytona, there are too many homeless people,” he continued. “And blacks.” Woah. That’s where he lost me.

“There’s trash all over the streets here,” he said, before turning to look at the back of my head while I tried to face away from him. “You know I mean the people, right?”

This man was increasingly scaring me. Bobby went on to tell me about all the drugs and prostitution and gambling and bubonic plague for which Daytona is apparently famous. I was surprised, since the brochures only mentioned NASCAR and spring break.

We soon passed a man who was fairly average looking, except for a bit of chin scruff. And Bobby said that that was the kind of homeless freeloader he was talking about. I finally stopped nodding my head in terrified don’t-hurt-me acquiescence and asked the question that you are by now all thinking. What time of day is best to mix cocaine and Ritalin? Aloud, however, I asked Bobby why he lived in Daytona if he hated it so much.

“Well,” he said through puffs of his third cigarette, “I was on my way to Vegas back in ‘68, and something came up. You know how it is.”

I didn’t, but I wasn’t about to ask. We finally arrived at the News-Journal, and Bobby asked if I wanted him to wait for me. I told him I might be a while. He offered his number for when I was ready. I told him I’d call the cab company. He said that they never give him to people who ask for him. I wondered if anyone has ever actually asked for him.

“Here’s my cell number,” he said, just before extending his clawlike hand to shake mine. “By the way, I’m Bobby.” I shook the claw, which had probably only been used for steering, chain smoking, and shaking the hands of terrified passengers who have no intention of ever calling his cell phone.

On the way home, my new cab driver didn’t speak at all, except to ask, “destination?” through a thick accent and to mutter, “what part green light don’t understand?” Though the ride back was less fearsome than the ride there, it was also much more boring. And while I didn’t wish for a bitter, coughing, racist cab driver, I did wish she’d be a bit more animated.

Or at least be named Abby.

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