Kestrel, 26, is a beautiful, outgoing brunette who used to wait tables. But she got tired of slinging a tray on her shoulder, so she threw in her apron for a hack license. Now, she works from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tonight, she’s my cab driver. Tomorrow, she could be yours.
The first customer who climbed into the back seat of our City Cab looked nervous. “Do you already have a fare?” he asked Kestrel.
“No,” she said. “Phil is a writer. He’s doing a story on cab driving, like ‘Cab Driver Confessions on HBO.’”
“Oh. I’m meeting some friends at 2630 South 300 West,” the man said, looking at the floor of the cab, “They just gave me the address. I don’t know this town very well.”
As we drove, the conversation moved slower than the downtown traffic. He didn’t want his name used in the newspaper. He was from out of town but strangely, didn’t have any opinions about Salt Lake City or the Olympics.
The closer we got to his destination, the more apparent it became he was meeting his “friends” at American Bush, one of South Salt Lake’s totally nude dance clubs. We pulled into the parking lot and the cab lights illuminated a man urinating between a Ford Bronco and a Chevy Suburban. The Bronco had one of those window stickers of a mischievous boy pissing on a Chevrolet logo.
“That will be $7,” Kestrel said.
The passenger asked, “What kind of place is this?” feigning oblivion to the naked women he was about to watch. Then he reached into his wallet stacked with one dollar bills, handed Kestrel 10 ones and told her to keep the change.
Leaving American Bush, Kestrel said this was the third time she had taken that passenger to a strip club. “When I pick up a single man in my cab and drop them off at Golden Trails, American Bush or the Million Dollar Saloon,” Kestrel said, “they’re always going to meet their ‘friends.’”
“Twenty-six,” the dispatcher said over the radio.
“That’s us,” Kestrel said.
“Pick up on E Street.”
We were given the exact address and drove into the Avenues. There were two men standing by the side of the road. One of the men put out his cigarette and climbed into the back of the cab.
Carl, a clarinet player in the Utah Symphony, was our next passenger. “Cafe Trang,” he said.
“How was it playing during the Opening Ceremonies?” I asked.
“Cold,” he replied.
“Did the reed on your clarinet freeze?” I asked.
“We didn’t play our instruments that night, it was too cold,” Carl said. “John Williams, the conductor, came to Salt Lake earlier this week and we pre-recorded all of the Opening Ceremony music.”
“So it was like you were lip-synching?” I asked. “What about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?”
“That was pre-recorded also,” he replied.
“If the choir sings during the Closing Ceremonies,” I asked, “will they sing ‘Blame it on the Rain’ by Milli Vanilli?”
Kestrel steered the City Cab to Cafe Trang, and we waited outside while Carl picked up his to-go order. We drove him back to the Avenues. We were a $15 delivery vehicle.
Later, as the bars started to kick their customers out to the streets, we picked up a couple by the Gateway. “Take us to Wendy’s,” the woman said, unaware at what volume she was speaking.
There was a Ute and Yellow Cab at the drive-up window in front of us. All of the cab drivers pulled up so the back-seat passengers could do the ordering. When it was our turn at the microphone, Kestrel pushed a button on her consul that rolled down the back window. The passengers both ordered the number six combination meal, with a Coke, because, as one of them said, “Coca Cola is the best company to work for.” Then, they balked at the extra 25 cents Wendy’s charges for honey mustard sauce.
First, they argued with the voice on the speaker about the 25 cents. Then we pulled up to the window to pay and they contested the 25-cent surcharge with the cashier. And at the final window, holy hell was unleashed over the 25 cents, but Wendy’s stood firm with their company policy.
Kestrel pointed to the meter in her cab. While defying the 25 cents for honey mustard sauce, the couple had racked up $1.50 in cab fare. They were still hot on the honey mustard topic when we dropped them off near Capitol Hill.
“Coke,” the woman said again, “is the best company to work for. Today, I met Evander Holyfield. But Coca-Cola should pull their product from that Wendy’s location.”
Kestrel stepped on the gas, the cab’s engine clunked and number 26 left to fish for fares around the downtown bars. “I’ve gone on drug runs,” she said as she scanned the side of the road looking for someone to flag her down, “dropped off prostitutes and picked up families in the middle of the night who were ditching out on their rent. Those people don’t tell me what they’re doing, and I don’t ask. As a cab driver, you definitely can see the best life has to offer.”
No sooner is this said than we’re flagged down by a couple leaving a bar. Kestrel tells them I’m in the cab because I’m doing a “Cab Driver Confessions”-like story.
“I’ve seen that show on HBO,” the guy said, standing up in the back of the cab. “And I know what you want to see.” Actually he was wrong, but he pulled down his pants and tried to convince his girlfriend to give him head in the back of the cab. She didn’t tell him to put his pants back on, but she did decline to make this a “true” taxi cab confession moment.
With his pants still around his ankles, he turned around and said, “Do you want to see my ass?”
But before there was time to answer, we were practically face to face with it.
“Twenty six,” the dispatcher said, “Pick up one at American Bush.”
Kestrel looked over at me, shook her head and said, “Give it to another cab, we’re going to Wendy’s.”
At the drive-thru window, we both ordered the number six meal, paid the extra 25 cents for the honey mustard sauce and drove back to the City Cab garage.
“There’s no job better than being a cab driver,” Kestrel said, “except, of course, unless I was driving cabs for Coca-Cola.”