I’ve been thinking about the time I spent in Chicago a lot lately. I lived there for almost 4 years.
It’s a beautiful place. Right along Lake Michigan. Very metropolitan. A lot of history there. I loved the cold winters, but didn’t think very highly of the sweltering heat in the summer.
When I left Seattle, I’d found a guy on Craigslist who lived in Port Townsend who wanted to have his Lexus Station Wagon driven to his new home in Albany, New York. He gave me the keys and a gas card. I had a about three months to get his car to him without destroying it.
I got home and parked the car for a few weeks as I was planning a really long road trip. I’d been saving money for a while and just left all of the sudden in March of 2003.
I’d headed South on I-5 really early in the morning. Within minutes I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the tall buildings sink into the horizon.
Tacoma came and went.
Stopped in Olympia and ate a shitty omelette at King Solomon’s Reef.
Portland came and went. I stopped in Eugene to fill up. Some hippy girl asked me if I could give her a ride East to Lincoln City.
She slept the whole way there. I forget her name, but she was on the tail end of a hitching adventure from Denver, where her boyfriend had gone to prison for murder. She was going back to where she was from and made it there with literally NO money.
She was barely about twenty years old. A little bit chubby, olive complected with light brown hair.
When we got to her Mother’s place, both she and her mother offered to let me stay the night at their place. It was implied that the young woman I’d just dropped off was going to return the favor by letting me “sleep with her in her bed.”
I declined, not because I didn’t want to. But because I really wasn’t there to take advantage of her. After it was apparent that I would be leaving, the mother tried to put a $50 bill in my hand. I didn’t close my hand on it and it dropped down to the passenger side floor. The mother insisted that I spend it on something nice and walked away. I started south on 101, stopping here and there. Taking my time to enjoy the scenery.
I made it down to Florence just before dusk. I drove to the beach, went to a store and bought a pack of hot dogs and some condiments and bread and drinks. I looked at the partially crumpled up note on the floor for a moment before setting camp.
The next morning, daylight arrived really early. I’d discovered that I’d gone to bed really early and therefore woke up when daylight hit.
Full of energy, I drove straight to San Francisco and got there just as the city was waking up. I went to a crumpet shop for breakfast. The ocean was so peaceful and joggers and walkers were running by.
I felt at peace for once in my life. The cool morning air felt good on my skin. The breeze going through my hair. I remember seeing the big cross on top of the hill. You know, the one that in that Clint Eastwood movie. Right there and then, I had to decide whether to stay or go and whether to keep going south or elsewhere.
I got back in the car and on the freeway, I was thinking about Los Angeles. I missed the turn that would have put me South on 101 and continued East and just kept going. The next thing I knew, Modesto had come and gone and so did Sacramento. My sights were set on Denver.
I had a friend who’d lived in Denver. We met up at her apartment, a nice place within walking distance to the popular streets with all the bars. She worked at one of them and we drank and watched bands with her friends. Everything was a blur. We ended up back at her place and things got pornographic very quickly though I was so drunk that I could barely walk. When I woke up, she had left for work. I ate cereal, took a shower, washed my clothes and hit the road.
I went to quite a few other places. From Denver I back tracked to California through Los Vegas. Using the gas card. I had a lot of money saved up, but was trying to not spend it. I went to food banks when I could, acquired day labor and odd jobs whenever I felt like making a few bucks. I looked for work on Craigslist and met a lot of nice people. After telling my story, a lot of people wanted to help and often provided me with food and a few extra dollars if they had it. I never asked any of them for anything. They just offered it to me.
Every time they handed me cash, I just threw it on the front passenger side floor.
I slept in the car most nights. That’s if I’d slept at all. Sometimes I’d drive and stay up for days. I drove from LA along highway 10 all the way to Florida.
I went to St. Augustine to see where a friend of mine was from. I spent a day there, ate a sandwich from my friend’s step dad’s restaurant and drove up to New York City.
At the time, it just so happened that the Seattle Mariners were in town to play against the Yankees. I bought a “cheap” seat and went into old Yankee Stadium and saw the Mariners win 9-2.
After the game, I stayed at a hostel. I had reserved it a day or two before, but when I got there I was informed that I would be upgraded to a private room. I didn’t care why, all I knew is that it was nice.
I called they guy who owned the car I was driving and picked him up at the address he’d given me in Albany. I got there, and he immediately hopped into the driver’s seat and told me that we were going to Jackson, Michigan. We left immediately, stopped in Pittsburgh. He paid for my hotel stay and all meals.
His name was Eric. He was a hippy dude in his 50’s. He’s originally from Albany, but had lived in Port Townsend for most of his life. He was a retired lawyer. After his kids grew up and moved out, he and his wife had sold their Port Townsend home and moved into his parent’s place in Albany while their new home in Jackson was being built.
We got to Jackson at about 2:30 in the morning. It was 15 degrees outside and all I had was a hoodie. I scraped up all the money I’d thrown on the floor and gave Eric his gas card back. He then gave me $1,500 (the agreed upon amount)for returning his car back to him safely in one piece.
Downtown Jackson was freezing. I wandered around until I found the Greyhound station, though closed.
After a few minutes, a police officer pulled up. He checked me for warrants and then drove me to a homeless shelter. I was given a mat to sleep on, but didn’t sleep at all. On our way there, we’d passed a 24 hours Denny’s. I went there and drank coffee until the Greyhound station opened.
It really wasn’t far from there. Some of the people I’d met at the Denny’s were just totally shocked when I told them that I planned on walking there. I guess I guess “walking” was a totally foreign term for people in that town. Ten minutes later, I had purchased a ticket back to Seattle.
A few hours later, the Greyhound picked up a group of us and we were in Chicago. We had a while to wait so I wandered around town. All I had was a backpack full of clothing and enough money to get me started. The bus had taken off and I wasn’t on it.
I went to a hostel off of Clark Street by DePaul college and stayed there for a few months. The hostel was gigantic, so even when it was really busy there it seemed very empty.
At first, I shared a room with a guy who was from Portland, Oregon. He was doing the same thing as me, but came straight out there. After a few weeks, he was gone and I had the place to myself for months.
I’d found a job working working for a short time as a cook at this new “concept” eatery called The Fit And Fresh Cafe. I immediately started looking for new work after a few days of working there.
I eventually acquired a position I was a lot more comfortable with manufacturing tea. I worked there for about a year. In that time, I’d also met a girl there and we’d began dating. After a few months we got a place together off of Western and Augusta in Ukrainian Village.
She was an art professor at UIC and came from a wealthy family. Her father was the executive chef for the Hyatt hotels. She was a beautiful girl. Smart. Pretty. Tall. Artistic. Fun.
The thing is that she wanted to get married when I wasn’t ready to do so.
After we got settled into our new place, I started working as a taxi driver. The hours were long, the work sucked balls, but I was blinded by my own ambition thinking that I could make a ton of money.
As it turned out, I learned that cab drivers actually work long hours for little money. The owner of the company (Universal Taxi) I worked for, Gordon Simic, was obviously mafia connected. He was a complete piece of garbage. He was Serbian. I’d heard many stories from people all around of him and his illegal activities. I had many conversations with the individuals he was supplying drugs to, the prostitutes he had been having sex with unbeknownst to his wife, the violent acts he had committed against others and all of his “side businesses.” He was a very aggressive, mean and controlling prick of a boss.
I spent a lot of my time picking up and dropping off drug dealers and runners and prostitutes and call girls and a lot of other very questionable characters who were all involved in a lot of other questionable activities. Most of these people were “associates” and “friends” Gordon Simic.
I’m the type of person who gets obsessed with work. I like working and want to do a good job. Driving a taxi made my skin really tick really fast. Dealing with assholes every day. People constantly trying to run on me, trying to rob me.
I was robbed at gunpoint 8 times. People would pull knives on me or try to fist fight in the cab with me. Little did the realize was that my taxi was a former police cruiser. You couldn’t open the doors from the back, but only by the button underneath the dash board or on my key chain. I was told that the windows were also bulletproof.
Most of the time, when someone tried to rob me, I would just get out of the car, locking them inside and call the cops. The police would arrive, they’d get arrested and they always had more than enough to pay the fare.
A year of this had taken its toll on my relationship with my girlfriend. One day, I came home and her dad came over when she wasn’t there. He’d told me that if I wanted to marry her, that I’d have to first get his approval. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t interested at the moment. A few days later, she wanted to move on if I couldn’t commit to taking the next step. One day soon afterward, I came home from work to find that she’d packed up all of her belongings and left.
I mourned our breakup for a few days before I realized that I was ready to move on well before we broke up.
Every once in a while, I’ll look her up on social media to see how she’s doing. She got married in 2013. She seems very happy and I’m happy for her.
I placed and ad in the newspaper looking for a roommate. This guy named Joshua moved in. He was a pedicab driver. He’d also lived in the Seattle area for a brief period of time. He lived on Mercer Island and worked at a pizza place. He liked to party, and came with all of the party favors. The place became a total bachelor pad within days. He paid the rent on time though.
Driving that cab was also very stressful on my health. One day, was was working when I pulled into a gas station to fill up. I put the nozzle into the tank and stood there as the gas was going into my tank. The next thing I knew, I was waking up strapped down in a hospital bed.
Before I knew it, all sorts of beeping sounds were happening and a bunch of hospital personnel were hovering over me removing tubes and stuff out of my body.
I had no idea what was going on. After a few moments, the room cleared and a doctor came into the room. I was informed that I went into diabetic shock and was in a coma for six days. My blood sugar was nearly 1,000. The doctor told me that he had no idea why or how I was still alive, but they couldn’t do much to help me while I was out due to consent issues. So, I consented immediately for them to get my blood sugar and A1C levels under control.
I was in the hospital for about six weeks. During this time, I lost my apartment because that roommate of mine had moved out and I had no way of paying the rent. The only way I had to contact anybody was through e-mail, the nurses were cool enough to let me use their hospital computers as I had a constant stream of salad, jello and diet soda coming to my room at all hours of the day and night.
That was a very lonely time for me. 2,000 miles away from my friends and family. When I blacked out, people had the sense to call the number on the side of my taxi to inform my employers of what had happened. Gordon knew exactly where I was and was informed when I woke up.
He’d called the phone in my room and told me that my taxi was in the hospital garage. They day I was released from the hospital, I found it. I got in and cried. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to drive that car. It was two days before Thanksgiving, my good friend Jennifer read one of the e-mails I’d sent her and flew out to visit me.
I tried to get it together and get a room somewhere. I found one in the town of Downers Grove above a movie theater. It was one of those pay by the week types of places. I had a suitcase full of clothes and a typewriter. I went into my furnished room, put my powder blue typewriter down and looked in the mirror above the dresser. I looked at the typewriter and saw the keys go up. I turned around, put the keys back down and went back to what I was doing. I turned around and saw the keys bunched up again. I put them down again and went to bed.
When I woke up, I saw that the keys were once again bunched up. I put them down again and went to take a shower. I came out of the bathroom and saw that the keys were not up. I got dressed to go out. I opened the door and there was this couple in the hallway. They introduced themselves. They asked me if they could take a peek inside my room, I told them that they could. They then mentioned that “they did a good job of cleaning the place up in such a short amount of time.”
I then asked the couple what had happened. They told me that the week before, a young man had blown his brains out in there.
I was spooked, so I immediately packed up all of my stuff, went to the front desk and got my money back. Jen was arriving, so I went to O’Hare airport and picked her up. She was shocked to find out that I was essentially homeless and got me a hotel room for a whole month at this place called The Highland Manor in Lombard.
I vowed to work through New Years Eve (The biggest money making night of the year for cab drivers) and get the fuck out of the mess I was in. I worked every second that I could and made enough money to survive the miserable holiday season. Jen had left after only a few days. I remember spending that Christmas all day at the movies from the first showing to closing.
You’d think that people are more giving the closer it gets to Christmas, but you’re wrong. It’s more of the exact opposite.
New Years Day came. The dispatcher’s name was Rosey, an 80 year old woman who believed in aliens and ghosts and conspiracy theories and lived all of her life unmarried and without any children. Rosey and Gordon and the other dispatchers had repeatedly warned all of the drivers that they’d be fired immediately if we didn’t respond to dispatched calls for that day. I turned my radio and my phone off and went into The Loop where I was absolutely pulverized, slammed busy for the next 24 hours. It quickly came to the point where I put signs in my windows stating that I would only accept cash and that everyone would have to pay $20 a head to enter the cab in addition to the fare. It worked, people were grabbing at my doors and pounding on my windows all night. And in order to absolutely get the money, I made sure that everyone paid as much as they could up front before entering the car.
That 24 hours, I made my goal of 4 grand before I quit. It just so happened that the last ride of the night took me to within a couple of minutes of where I was staying. It was well into daylight when I got back to my place. I pulled into the spot in front of my door, opened the car door and got out. The keys in the ignition and the car still running. I took a shower and went to bed.
Ten hours later, I woke up and thought about my future. Where I wanted to go. I walked out the door and saw that the cab was still running and door was still wide open. I thought about getting back into the car and driving somewhere with it, but it repulsed me to even think of doing so. I went out to Roosevelt Rd. and within an few minutes I saw a Universal Taxi coming down the way so I flagged it down and hopped in. I was taken the the Lombard Metra Station where I caught a train back to Downtown Chicago.
It was really cold, very chipper. I wandered around Milwaukee and Damen. Went and got some coffee and pondered my thoughts. The day was new, where was I going to go? I thought about going further East, but couldn’t ultimately decide on where. NYC? Back to Buffalo? Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or DC? Why not Baltimore? I got down to the Greyhound station and found that all coaches heading East were hours away from arriving, but the bus to Seattle was leaving in twenty minutes.
On the bus going back home. I was at peace for the first time in a while. I remember looking down at my phone and seeing that Gordon and Universal Taxi had been calling me non stop for hours. Gordon had left me a wide array of very threatening messages on my voice mail.
Somewhere in the middle of Montana, my phone rang and I actually answered the call. It was Gordon, he was making his usual threats and trying to talk tough. I simply told him that he should get polite and nice with me very quickly because I knew that he didn’t have any power or control over me at all, that he never did or will. He started to yell and make more threats and I told him to go fuck himself and that I was tuning him out. I didn’t hang up on him, but played songs from the Husker Du CD I was listening to from my earphones directly into the phone. I could hear his frustration loudly over the music before he eventually hung up.
I eventually got off the bus in Seattle. I kissed the ground as my Mom and Sister picked me up.
I was glad to be back.