Jennifer Meyer
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Cab Girl

Ann Arbor, Michigan
June 1975

The job was listed under “Help Wanted – Men,” but I didn’t see any reason why a girl couldn’t drive a cab. I’d had my driver’s license more than three years now. I could parallel park in two moves.

Driving a cab would be so cool. I’d slink through the city, cruising for passengers. Snooze on cab stands when business was slow. Write stories about interesting encounters. Cab driving could be the perfect summer job. It sure beat the assembly line at the Porta Potty factory, where the unemployment office sent me after I lost my waitressing job.

cab license“I’m sure you’d need a special permit,” my dad said. I could tell he thought it was a terrible idea.

“I’ll get one then,” I said. “It can’t be that hard.”

When I called the number listed, a woman answered. “Just come on down to the cab yard at shift change, around 5:00, and ask for Kip.” She gave me an address I didn’t recognize, but I wasn’t about to ask for directions.

That afternoon I plowed through my dresser for the perfect interview outfit. My student wardrobe was pretty much limited to denim and cotton, but I tried several combinations.

“Does it really matter what you wear for cab driving?” My sister, Beth, lay propped against my bed’s headboard, twirling my stuffed lemur by its tail.

“For getting the job it does,” I explained. Beth had just graduated from high school, all she’d done was babysit. I, on the other hand, had already accumulated quite a history of short-term menial jobs. And I was a theatre major, so I knew the importance of dressing for a part. I settled on my newer 501s (no knee holes) and a plain gray tee shirt. I laced up my black Converse high-tops, tugged on my favorite cap, and studied myself in the dresser mirror. The tweed, snap-brim cap was perfect. The hat alone could get me this job. “There. What do you think?”

Beth shrugged. “You just look like you.”

That was the beauty of it! If I got this job, I could just be me, every day. No hair net. No pink apron. No name tag and sensible shoes. I could wear the same worn-soft flannel shirt and paint-spattered overalls over and over and no one would care.

I looked up the cab company’s address in the phone book map and jotted down directions. We’d moved here the summer before, and I still got lost sometimes. But I’d get a proper Ann Arbor map and memorize all the streets.

cab plateI showed up at the cab yard right at 5:00. A chain-linked lot in an industrial area with a small shed of an office and a three-bay garage. I parked my old VW bug next to a row of battered red-and-blue sedans, all with “Veteran’s Cab Co.” painted on the doors.

I approached the garage and asked the mechanic for Kip. Just then the office screen door banged and out strode a man in bellbottoms and a Doors t-shirt. He was laughing with someone inside.
“That’s him,” the mechanic said.

I took off my cap long enough to give my short mop a ruffle, then attempted a confident stride across the yard. “Hi, are you Kip? I’m here about the cab-driving job. I’m Jennifer.” I held out my hand. He cocked his head to one side, looked me up and down, and laughed.

“Are you serious?” He gave my hand a wary pump.

“Yes. I want to be a cab driver.” I looked him square in the eye and made sure my shoulders were back. I’d learned all about body language in my Movement for Actors class last term.

cab buttonKip nodded and stroked his moustache. “You a student?”

“Yeah. At Michigan. I’ll be a senior in the fall.”

He squinted at me. “How old are you?”

“Nineteen.” I tried to stand up taller.

Kip shook his head. “Gotta say you look about twelve.”

I was small. Five foot two. A hundred and eight pounds. But more than anything, it was probably my tomboyishness that made me look younger. When other girls my age started shaving their legs and putting on make-up, I dug in the heels of my high-tops. If growing up meant getting prissy, I was determined to pull a Peter Pan.

“I’ve got a perfect driving record,” I said. “I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Well, just a couple years, but I know my way around, and I’m really good at maps. I’ve got a great sense of direction. Whenever my dad gets us lost, I’m always the one to figure out the way back. And I learn fast.” I really wanted this job. In fact, it was the only job I’d ever actually

Kip narrowed his eyes as he scrutinized me one more time, then he tipped back his head and gave a belly laugh. “The old-timers will freak out! ” He seemed to get a kick out of this idea, but I wasn’t sure if that meant I had a job.

“But you’re the boss?” I asked.

“Of my fleet. I’ve got six cabs. It used to be all war vets, mostly World War II. There’s still a few left, and they like to think they run the show.”

“There’s never been a girl cab driver before?”

“Phff. No. But it’s about time. What the hell.”

I tried not to grin prematurely. “So I’ve got the job?”

cab meter“Here’s the deal. You pay eight dollars a day for the cab, then thirteen cents a mile. Whatever you bring in on top of that is yours. Keep your mileage down and a good day can net 20 or 30 bucks. I’ve only got night shifts available. You show up here at 6:00 and work as late as you want, as long as you’ve got the cab back for the daytimers. Some start as early as 5:00.” He jerked a thumb at my 1963 Bug. “That thing yours?”

“Yeah.” I’d just bought it a month ago for $200. It was faded black with a red engine cover and  canvas sunroof.

“Is it dependable?”

“Pretty much.” In truth, I held my breath every time I turned the key, but I’d gotten really good at popping the clutch. I just had to make sure I parked nose downhill. Maybe now that I had a job, I could get the windshield wipers fixed.

“When do I start?” I tried not to sound too Pollyanna, but I was bursting inside.

“Go down to City Hall and put in an application for a commercial license. As soon as it comes in the mail, come see me, and be ready to work that night.”

As I drove out of the cab yard, I gave the bug a pat on the dash for starting right up. I was going to be a cab driver. The first girl cab driver in Ann Arbor. Maybe in all of Michigan. I did a little in-seat jig, and at home in the driveway, I threw my cap high in the air a la Mary Tyler Moore.
That night was one of the rare occasions that our entire family sat down for dinner together. There are six of us. Me and Beth. David’s thirteen. And my older brother Chris had rejoined the family last year after two years of working with the United Farmworkers Union.

I set the table while Dad sliced his homemade sausage pizza. Beth mixed a salad. Leaf lettuce, no iceberg, because we were still boycotting grapes and lettuce.

I waited till everyone was seated, then took a deep breath. “So. I got the job,” I said. “I’m a cab driver.”

“Right on,” said Chris.

“Cool. Will you give me and Eddie rides to the mall in your cab?” David asked.

I waited for Mom to start in about the dangers of cab driving. How there would be drunks and derelicts. How I could get robbed at knifepoint, and it was crazy to take the night shift. I had my counterpoints ready. It would only be for a little while, then I’d work into a day shift. And if somebody looked creepy, I’d just keep on driving and wouldn’t let them in.

But Mom was oddly quiet. She wasn’t eating, and her eyes were on her plate. I looked to Dad.
“Good. That’s good. You’ll need a job,” he said. Then he crumpled his napkin and cleared his throat. “Your mother and I have something important to say.”

I looked at Mom, but her eyes shifted to across the room.

“I’m sure you all know that your mother and I have been having difficulties. In our marriage.”

Yes, we knew. Even though our family was expert at keeping up appearances, we’d all witnessed the tension between Mom and Dad this year. The furtive arguments that fizzled when one of us walked into the room. Dad’s over-buoyant chatter and Mom’s frequent eye-dabbing. Silent car rides, and sideways jabs.

When Mom had flown to St. Louis to settle her aunt’s estate in April, she’d decided to stay and rent an apartment for a couple of months. To “take some time to herself” and work on a play she’d started about women’s rights.

For two months I’d woken David up for school and driven Mom’s shift with the carpool. Beth took over laundry. We posted a chart on the fridge and rotated cleaning and cooking chores, but Dad’s appearances at the table were less and less frequent. Mom’s absence at Beth’s graduation was searing.

But then she’d come home. She seemed refreshed and happy. She smiled again and looked at all of us with fresh appreciation. Nobody ever said a word about why Mom had gone, but we figured the worst was over. Everything was going to be okay.

“We’ve made a decision,” Dad said.

Nobody breathed. Mom chewed on her lip and blinked back tears.

“We’re getting divorced.”

One little gasp from Beth was all that broke the silence.


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