Cowboys at the Hyatt?

The cab company office had posted a flyer describing a convention for “IML” being held at the Hyatt. IML, I pondered? Maybe trade show participants, or health care professionals? The flyer estimated more than 10,000 people would attend the convention.
My evening had started out busy as I shuttled fares to and from many of River North’s hottest dining spots and nightclubs. When the pace finally slowed, I thought I’d head to the Hyatt to get a piece of profitable convention business. As I pulled up in front of the Hyatt entrance, I saw what must easily have been at least 1000 men dressed in what could be considered modern cowboy attire. Many wore black leather vests, chaps, and/or boots – they all sported some sort of leather apparel. ‘IML,’ I learned, was the acronym for International Men of Leather. The men stood outside socializing and smoking on what was a beautiful Chicago summer night. It was about 80 degrees, even as the midnight hour neared. Most of the men wearing vests were not wearing shirts. The cab line moved quickly, and as I pulled to the first position, two leather-clad men extinguished cigarettes, stepped toward the cab, and entered the vehicle. One wore a vest and chaps ensemble, like many of the other convention goers. The other wore what’s best described as a cook’s apron, made of dark red leather. Neither of the men wore shirts. They gave me a friendly “Hello, how’s it going?” and one of them said, “Halsted and Belmont please.” We chatted during the drive, and they said they were looking forward to checking out the Halsted street bars. One of them said he was here from the UK, and the other was an Aussie. They asked how late the bars stayed open, and I mentioned the names of a couple 4am bars where I often got fares (who happened to dress much like these gentlemen). They thanked me for the information, said good bye, and got out at their requested destination.
Now let me just interject that I am a country boy at heart, having grown up in rural Iowa where my elders still live on the family-owned farms. I’ve always especially enjoyed magical nights when the moon and stars cast a beautiful glow on rolling, green hills. Anyway, that said, let me return to the scenario at hand.
As my leather-clad fares walked away from the cab, I quickly learned more than I cared to know about them. I must say that the full moon was out for both of these men. Being a responsible cabbie, I try to always be prepared. I simply got out my antibacterial wipes, cleaned the back seat, and went back to the Hyatt for what proved to be a very profitable evening.
As I end this post, the words of a once-popular country song by Willie Nelson come to mind, “My heros have always been cowboys…” If I were more tech savvy I’d include a link to the song, but I’m sure you can find it yourself. Thanks for stopping by, and, happy trails – sorry, I couldn’t resist making one last cowboy reference. (image courtesy of 123rf.com).

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The Diehard Soccer Fan

The couple entered the cab on north Milwaukee near Damen, the epicenter of the Bucktown club district. After seeing many heavily intoxicated people staggering by, it was a relief to see an apparently sober and appropriate couple hailing a cab. The woman immediately and cheerily said, “Oh, your cab is so clean, and it smells good.” I laughed and thanked her. Her boyfriend gave me a Streeterville apartment address. As I put the cab in drive, her tone of voice changed, and she said, “Don’t think I didn’t see you flirting with that bartender.” Her boyfriend denied he was flirting and said, “Why would I be flirting when I’m out with you?” She responded that she knew what she saw, and the sudden increase in the volume of her voice made it obvious she was angry. I thought that surely he would apologize so she would calm down. She said she knew he was a (insert expletive) whore – always had been, always would be. He defended his actions, saying he was British, and “She was Irish and a soccer fan-it would have been rude not to talk to her.” This remark made the woman escalate, in anger and volume level. She then took off the plastic party beads she wore (those free beads bars give away). She began to repeatedly whip him with the beads as she continued name calling. He kept saying, “Baby stop. Baby stop.” She ignored his pleas and continued swinging until the beads broke, sending small, colored projectiles throughout the cab. She then scratched him on the neck. I attempted to intervene, asking her to stop and calm down. She continued screaming expletives at her boyfriend. The front windows were partially lowered, as it was a pleasantly warm night.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did. At the next stoplight a police SUV pulled alongside the cab. The officer driving leaned out his window and made a gesture which suggested to me he wanted the melee to stop. I nodded to the officer and shrugged my shoulders, hoping this would indicate I concurred. I told the couple that the police were involved and again asked them to stop. The police, apparently having more pressing matters, then sped away.
As the woman was giving me no indication she was changing her behavior, I pulled the cab over. She then stated, “Fine. I’ll get out,” and exited the cab. As the gentleman and I drove on, he said, “Dude, you gotta help me with her.” He said she had a violent temper, and the police were called the last time he upset her when he tried to defend himself. I told him it was not my business, but he couldn’t be hitting women, and I suggested he walk away if she started hitting him. He went on to say his parents told him to break up wih her, but he loved her and wanted it to work out. He added that his parents were coming to visit him the next day.
A few long minutes later, I pulled up in front of their building. On the steps waiting was the formerly bead-wielding woman. She had her arms crossed tightly, was tapping one foot, and had an angry look on her face. The gentlemen then repeated, “Dude, you gotta help me.” In response I said, “Sir I’m sure you two will work it out. Good bye and good luck.” He paid me and exited the cab, looking much like my dog after he’s been scolded for being naughty.
Well, anyway, I guess some people are more serious about their soccer than others. “Go Manchester United!”(image courtesy photobucket.com)

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The Secret Destination

One beautiful summer night I picked up a young, 20-something couple on Michigan Ave. in the south loop. They were well-dressed, looking ready for a pleasant evening out. As they sat down in the cab I said, “Hello. Where can I take you this evening?” The woman made eye contact, smiled, and said nothing in response. I repeated my question, and the woman reached in her purse and removed a small piece of paper. She quickly handed it to me, saying, “It’s a secret.” She then turned and smiled at her boyfriend. The small note had been folded several times. I unfolded it to reveal a Bucktown address on west Armitage avenue. I asked her if she wanted the fare to be a secret also, and she and her boyfriend laughed. As we drove to the address, her boyfriend repeatedly offered incorrect guesses as to the possible destination. It was then apparent that the woman wanted to surprise her boyfriend with the evening’s dinner destination. We pulled up to a newly renovated, entirely nondescript storefront address. The location was noticeably unmarked, except for the street number, and even the windows were carefully concealed by white paper. When her boyfriend got out, she told me she had purchased a special prix fixe meal at this restaurant, at $100 a plate, and the exact menu would be a secret to them until it was served.
Ahh, you gotta love it – the perfect combination of young love and haute cuisine.

The World’s Oldest Profession

I picked her up on Ohio street just off Michigan Ave. She was dressed in a tasteful, somewhat underplayed yet stylish manner. She was model tall, but not model thin, and strikingly attractive. One of those friendly fares who calls you ‘Sweetie’ and asks how you are. Though I’ve always claimed to not like being addressed this way by strangers, from her it seemed sincere and appropriate. She was instantly comfortable in the cab, smiling and politely asking if she could smoke. She lit her cigarette, settled back in her seat, and began poking at her smart phone. She received a phone call, and it was apparent from her responses that the person was a stranger to her. However, unlike most people receiving a call from a stranger, this was not a wrong number. She was adeptly engaging and friendly as she dominated the conversation. I heard her ask the caller where he was, and she told the caller she was in downtown Chicago. She then said ‘it’ would be $350. In response to the caller’s next statement she said, “I can work with that.” She then went on to say that she only needed him to text his first and last name, and she would be on her way when she received the text. As I dropped her off at her desired location, a trendy, south loop luxury apartment building, she smiled, called me sweetie again, and said if I was still in the area in 15 minutes she could use a ride. She then asked for my name and number, which I provided.
Fifteen minutes later I arrived again at her building to pick her up. She was just returning to her building, and smiled upon seeing me. She pointed toward her door and then pointed back at me. I nodded to indicate I understood that she needed to go inside but would be coming back out. About five minutes later she entered the cab, giving me the address of a downtown Chicago hotel. I took her there and she paid me cash, leaving a generous tip as she had at the first drop-off. As she exited, she said she should be done in 20 minutes, and she confirmed that she had my correct number.
What line have I just have crossed? I’m now transporting prostitutes? Who am I to judge anyone? She’s out here doing the same thing I am-serving the public to make a living. Though my service, unlike hers, is legal. On her cell, I had also heard her tell someone she had to make rent this evening, which she said was $1500. Given that amount, and the stylish rental location where I dropped her, she was apparently living well. But at what cost? Anyway, so goes another night in the big city.
On a related note, five years ago I visited Amsterdam. Friends and I stopped in the McDonalds, in the ‘red light’ district, for a bite of lunch. This part of the city, traversed by picturesque canals, has many brothels where prostitutes openly offer services. A friendly woman sitting at the table next to us said ‘hello,’ noticing we were travellers, and welcomed us to the city. Making conversation, she said she was on her lunch break and was waiting for her husband and 5-year-old son to join her. When asked where she worked, she said she was a sex worker. When asked if she felt safe doing her job, she smiled and said she was perfectly safe. She said the police were always nearby and the laws protected her from mistreatment. She said she emigrated here from eastern Europe, where she grew up in a poor family. Unable to be educated there or find employment, she said she came to Amsterdam for a better life. She said she now makes more money than her parents or siblings, and her salary allows her to have her son in a good school. She said she has healthcare benefits, for she and her family, and commented that she is frequently tested for STD’s. She said she has paid vacation time and maternity leave. She assured us she has never been mistreated while doing her job. So what does all this mean when comparing Dutch versus American society? What do you think?.