Merry Christmas, Thirty Five
The job was tedious and boring, but had its moments of danger, excitement, and drama. I carted the band members of Seals and Crofts around one night when they were in town for a concert performance. The one thing I remember about that ride was that none of them knew that Hoyt Axton wrote "The Pusher." They were pretty low-key for a rock band, easy-going and relaxed, but they didn't know their rock 'n roll history.
Ann Arbor had a number of street characters. The best known was "Shakin' Jake," a psychotic downtown "bluesman," who would often be seen on the streets yelling at traffic going by, or "playing" his guitar in frigid weather. You notice people like that differently when you drive a taxi. If they want a ride, getting paid can be a source of frustration, hassle, and wasted time.
I didn't encounter Shakin' Jake very much, or the other two downtown characters - the "Count" and the "Prince." The Count was a steady customer, and would touch the four corners of the taxi with a penny before getting in. He always paid, though.
The Prince was someone different, more bothersome, aggressive, and not especially inclined to pay. I remember one day the dispatcher saying several times, "Anyone want to pick up the Prince?" No one answered. I think the cab company finally cut him off, refusing to take him anywhere.
The owner of a downtown book bindery called every night to have a "golden chariot" arrive to take him home. He was a pretty good guy, a live wire, and tipped generously.
I almost got robbed late one night, taking a guy out to one of the housing projects. He sat right behind me, something I was told was a warning sign of trouble. He took his time paying, asked me if I could change a $20 bill, and was pretty fidgety. I finally got tired of waiting for him to pay, and told him I had to get going. I kept my hand on my radio microphone, and that likely was what saved me. He paid and got out. I managed to avoid taking anyone to the housing projects after that.
Every so often I would get an "out of town." Flight crews from the airlines stayed at the hotels in Ann Arbor, because the accommodations near the Detroit airport were too dangerous. If I remember right, Yellow Cab offered the crews a flat rate of $21 for a trip to the airport. I would typically get a tip of one to five dollars. The airport was a thirty-five mile drive, and was usually a pleasant experience, except when there was packed snow on the highway. The cabs were pretty slippery on snow and ice, and it was harder to stay on the road than passengers ever knew.
Yellow Cab had a contract with the University of Michigan to pick up crates of laboratory rats at the airport, and that also was a chance for some easy money, though the rats were known not to tip. Some of the drivers had ethical problems with delivering the rats, but I didn't know any better, and went on a rat haul one night. I feel bad about it now. They looked at me with appealing eyes, and made little whistling sounds.
My favorite memory of my time at Yellow Cab was on Christmas eve. My cab number was 35, and instead of being addressed by name, it was always "Thirty-five, there's a pickup at the Union," or "Thirty-five, I need you to take a "fare" to Ypsilanti." When it turned midnight on Christmas eve, I called-in to the dispatcher to wish her Merry Christmas. She responded by saying, in a monotone, "Merry Christmas, Thirty-Five." For years I had the wish of writing a book with that for a title.
One night I got a call to pick up a pizza and deliver it to a house on, if I remember right, Earhart Road in Ann Arbor. The homes on Earhart Road were newer and for the very rich. The house where I delivered the pizza was big and the exterior was made of glass. It had a driveway that was about 150 yards long. Someone with a lot of money lived there.
When I rang the front doorbell a young, twentyish man of dark complexion answered the door. He was a student at the university, and he owned the house. He was a friendly, lighthearted guy, and gave me either a five dollar or ten dollar tip. I asked him where he was from, and he answered "Saudi Arabia." I said something like "Oh, great." Great to have a lot of money. I was thankful for the tip, and for the pleasant experience. He was probably the friendliest customer I had in that often unfriendly job.
A couple of years earlier I had my first encounter with a "Saudi Arabian." A friend when I was in graduate school suggested that I participate in a "model U.N." that was being held on the Southern Illinois University campus. I signed up, and picked "Ghana" as the country I would represent.
Many of the "countries" were represented by students who were citizens of those countries, especially "Mideastern" countries. "Israel" was represented by an "American" "Jew," and the event promised to be interesting at the very least.
We had packets of information about issues and proposals. I looked at the event as a learning experience, and voted with the "African" bloc on resolutions, leaving the heated rhetoric to others.
And there was plenty heated rhetoric in the two days of the conference. There had been a war the year previous between "Israel" and several "Arab" countries, and the memory of it was fresh in the minds of the students from the region.
The star of the event was the representative from "Saudi Arabia." I wish I knew who he was. Eloquent, charismatic, swarthy even, he stole the show - to the absolute fury of the student representing "Israel" - and convinced the assembly to adopt resolutions condemning "Israel." The thing I remember most about him is how he kept referring to "Israelis" as the "Eez-rye-aay-leez." It was like syrup. "Saudi Arabia" was pronounced "Sow-oo-dee Arabia."
Southern Illinois University, though a pretty good school, is hardly a leading institution in "American" higher education when compared to such fonts of knowledge as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. Buckminster Fuller taught there for eleven years, and students have come from all over the planet to study there. Most of them go back to their respective "countries." The lessons they learn about "American" life and culture stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Another "Saudi Arabian," Osama bin Laden, apparently spent some time in the "U.S.," a couple of weeks, it seems, in 1979.
So it is safe to say that whether it is Southern Illinois University, Harvard, or the streets of Los Angeles and Indianapolis, foreigners come here to learn, and they take what they have learned with them to their home "countries."
Some of them learned to fly planes. Somewhere along the line they also learned to hate "America." We might be tempted to dismiss them as religious fanatics, but religious fanaticism, I contend, is a cover for something deeper in the minds of men.
It should be obvious. There was a time before the spread of "terrorism" and "Islamic" fanaticism. There also was a time in the "U.S." before "Christian" fanaticism and its occasional "terrorism." There will be a time after.
In the meantime, we might wonder what Osama bin Laden learned about "America" in the two weeks he was here. He somehow learned that "America" is vulnerable, not only to attack, but to economic collapse. He stated in a video in October 2001 that his goal was to bankrupt "America."
It's hard to say that bin Laden is succeeding. For one thing, I believe the likelihood that he is still alive is pretty slim. If he is alive, he is most likely basking in luxury in one of his family's many palaces. As it turns out, we are perfectly capable of bankrupting ourselves. Thanks to many decades of handing economic policy over to criminals, our economic system teeters on the brink of collapse. The two "wars" we are engaged in are mere icing on the cake.
Initiated with criminal intent by the Bush regime, the invasions of "Afghanistan" and "Iraq" are both turning into fiascoes, wasting billions upon billions of almighty dollars, ruining and ending countless lives, destroying antiquities as well as homes, businesses and civic institutions. According to Thomas Ricks, the "Iraq" war was a fiasco from the beginning. And it can convincingly be argued that the Bush criminal regime had no intention whatsoever of capturing and/or killing Osama bin Laden, given the failure at "Tora Bora."
And, of course, neither "war" is likely to end soon. Both campaigns may spread throughout the region(s).
I wonder what the guy at Earhart Road thinks about the "America" he left so long ago. I wonder what he thinks about our silly attempt at health care "reform." What he thinks about our economic "recovery." What he thinks about our efforts to stop global warming.
Even more so, I wonder about the swarthy "Saudi Arabian" who captivated the crowd at the Model U.N. Is he part of the government of "Saudi Arabia?" Is he a "terrorist" mastermind? Does he know something we don't? If he does, I wish he would tell us.
I wish all the "foreign" students and visitors who have come here over the years would tell us what they learned about us. If we are willing to listen, maybe we could stop the next "911." Maybe we could also learn something about how to save our civilization.
I was planning on writing on some other topics, but never got around to it. Below are some links that you might find interesting, and maybe write something yourself:
Review of Thom Hartmann book
The political reach of "The Family"
Obama's Big Sellout
And, for the likelihood of expanded coflict in the "Mideast," this.
Here's a little update about Goldman Sachs.