I touch down in a new city, tired from my several hours of travel, and walk out to the taxi stand. The first driver in the line is driving a van. When I ask if he's a regular taxi or a hotel shuttle, he grunts and opens the door. I get in, surprised by his brusqueness.
He is listening to what I imagine is a conservative radio show. The host is railing about the mayor of San Francisco, who has apparently slept with the wife of one of his friends (and employees). The employee has resigned, but has made some sort of statement - perhaps it is his resignation letter that has been made public - of support for the work he did with the mayor.
My driver scoffs. "What kind of a man would do that? If he'd slept with my wife, I'd'a killed him. And then her! What kinda man resigns and writes a supportive letter?!"
"One who wants to salvage his career?" I suggest.
He nearly spits out the words. "Career! Who gives a shit about a career! The man slept with his wife! He should hunt him down and shoot him like a dog!"
I'm surprised. I'm not used to having such opinionated taxi drivers. He seems a little off, and the tirade that follows is unsettling. I consider asking him to let me off at a corner, but I have no idea where I am or if I'd be able to find another cab. He continues to spew forth venom for some time, and my pointed silence is no deterrant at all.
Finally, a lull.
"How long have you lived here?" I ask, hoping to change the subject and to learn something about the city in which I will be interviewing.
"Ten years," he says.
"You must like it here?" I ask.
"I hate it," he says, before launching into another tirade about various community leaders who are, he says, "queers" and "child molestors." I bite my tongue, take a deep breath, and say, "what?" "They might as well be," he says, and complains about some program that would reduce child abductions but that the city did not want, and then goes on about there being too many "queers" in town. He complains as well about the road repairs, which have resulted in "squiggles" of patching on the pavement. "Tacky!" he says, and when I do not respond, he insists, "don't you think it's tacky?"
"I suppose I'm used to it," I say. "It's the same way at home." I'm hoping he'll take the hint and shut up rather than offend me.
"Guess they're tacky there, too," he says, not the least bit concerned about my feelings.
I hear a bit more about child abductions, which, to hear him speak, you'd think were the major problem in this city (though none of the many parents I will speak with over the next two days will mention this topic at all).
I am anxious to get out of the cab. I'm also preparing a lecture in my head - something about "being a queer, I really don't appreciate your tone." But then he says,
"I guess no one realizes until they have a child taken."
Something in his tone pulls me up short. Carefully, I ask, "Did you have a child taken? This seems very personal for you."
He has. His girlfriend took his then infant daughter (now grown) away and has prevented him, with the help of a boyfriend and a gun, from seeing her.
I find myself wondering which came first: did his behavior result from or cause the child's abduction?
"That's just awful," I say, with real feeling.
And I step out of the cab.
And the tip?
What would you have done?