Excerpts from Cablog: Diary of a Cabdriver
Dege Legg—aka Brother Dege—is a Grammy-nominated musician and award-winning writer. In his new book, Cablog: Diary of a Cabdriver, he recounts stories from his five years as a cabdriver on the night shift in Lafayette, Louisiana. This work of creative nonfiction provides glimpses into the highs and lows of the city’s underworld and into the lives of the downtrodden. Garden District Books in New Orleans is hosting a virtual launch party with Brother Dege and fellow author R. Reese Fuller on Thursday, November 12th at 6 PM CT. Learn more and register for the Zoom event at the following link: Garden District Book Shop Virtual Launch Party.
This is the end of the line. I’m living in a cheap motel in Lafayette, Louisiana. Room #109. $165/week. I’ve got $81 in my pocket and no job. Most of the residents are tenured alcoholics. They drink cheap beer, meander around the parking lot, and blow smoke into the hole where expectations go to die as the cable TV flutters and the passing traffic growls.
There is nothing to do here but poke through the rubble of dead dreams. It is here in these motels that capitalism crashes into the sad reality of losers on the ragged journey to rock bottom. It’s the last stop before homelessness, one hundred yards from the train tracks. It is here that your dinner drops from a coin-fed vending machine. It is here that America comes to die or to hide from the inevitable.This place is like an abandoned carnival ride half-buried in the sand. It’s all here, leaning into the clock and slipping away. Nobody cares. Or pretends to care. They just exist and survive, as prostitutes swat flies and junkies wander the sun-bleached concrete and ex-carnies belch behind the Molotov drapes and dig through the archeological trash of a past life, waving at ghosts, puffing on cheap cigarettes and cheaper beer.
FIRST NIGHT ON THE JOB
I write my name on the night shift driver roster and wait around the day room. Drivers mull around, smoking cigarettes, making small talk. Day drivers return from their shifts. They walk in and hand their keys to the shift leader who promptly passes them to the next night driver in line who promptly walks out the door to begin his or her shift.
Eventually, I am assigned a cab. I walk out into the afternoon daylight and locate my cab for the evening. I inspect it, checking the lights, oil, interior, exterior, and all the other things mentioned during my driver orientation. After strapping in and starting the cab, I key the mic on the CB radio and alert the dispatcher that I am “10-5” (empty and available for calls).
“10-4, Number Four.”
The dispatcher sends me on a series of short calls. Within the first two hours, I quickly learn it is a madhouse out there. Customers getting [messed] up. Drugged up. Cracked up. Drunk. And whatever else they can think of. It’s humanity in its strangest and most ridiculous modern incarnation. Just as Billy, my trainer, had predicted, the dispatchers give me a hard time.
On my fourth call of the night, a man loads a giant TV into the backseat of the cab and asks that I take him to a motel.
I raise an eyebrow and roll with it. When we arrive at the motel, the man’s contact does not want to buy the TV, which means the guy does not have the money to pay me for the fare.
This is my real first lesson on the job: if a customer cannot pay the fare, the driver must pay it. That’s the rule at the cabstand. The driver eats any loses, aside from being robbed. No exceptions.
I shake my head and leave the guy in a parking lot. But I keep the TV as collateral and drive off with it, TV wobbling around like a whale in the back seat of the cab.
When I arrive, three women attempt to get in the cab. They see the massive TV in the backseat.
“Oh, no, honey. We can’t fit in there.”
I exit the cab, remove the TV from the back seat, and leave it on the curb. Merry Christmas to someone out there. I roll on, fielding calls and bouncing around the city, slowly getting the feel of the job. I’m sent into neighborhoods and down strange backstreets that I’ve never even heard of. You can never know all of a city. There’s always more to the mystery. It’s everywhere. Around every corner. You pass it every day. But you don’t notice it until you have to stop and look at it.