uptown action
  chicago, illinois, u.s.a.
 
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taxi garage: winter of 2002

I'd never been anyplace that felt so much like jail - except jail. Everyone was male, dark, above average height and in possession of some kind of brutish cunning if they lasted more than a few weeks. Everyone here had learned the hard way that life wasn't always fair, or easy. The voices, here, were tired; the faces, here, were tired. Everyone was doing time.
You'd wait in line - sometimes for hours. You never knew if you'd get a car. Maybe, when the cashier tossed a pair of keys into the stainless steel tray you'd need to look for 30 minutes before you found the car that they matched. And then, when you found the car, it wouldn't start - or the windows were open and the car was full of snow. There was one thing that you could count on: whatever you got, it would be dirty.
People gambled. I don't doubt that many of the drivers made more at the table than they did on the street. Then again, what they were doing on the street was anyone's guess.
If the cars were dirty, the garage was dirty too. Waiting was bad enough; waiting here was worse.
Finding a safe, clean bathroom turned out to be one of the most difficult parts of the job. Something happened at the garage one night; and then the bathrooms were locked.
Homeless people hung around, and in, the garage. Once upon a time it was open 24/7. And it was heated. No one was real quick to complain about anything. I never saw the police. The apathy was palpable.
When the cars came into service, they had 100,000 miles on them. It wasn't unusual to see an odometer that read over 300,000.
Lines of wrecks surrounded the property. Accidents happened constantly. Like the death of the ball-turret gunner: hose it out; put a new man in.
Mechanical failures were a fact of life: a transmission might suddenly fall out of gear. Once you signed the lease, no one cared.
Everyone chased a mirage like vegas: flashing lights in the darkness, and the lucky run that was sure to come. But, mostly, it was just garbage blowing around.
Winning, for me, was pulling a car with a shield - a car that I might need to waste only 30 minutes cleaning.
The feeling of imminent danger diminishes as the distance between myself, the car and the garage increases. Home is safe. Home is clean. Home is another world. Every morning the birds sing, and I'm free again. After 4 or 5 hours of sleep, the next shift begins...


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