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Working the Hard Side of the Street

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Success Stories

by Kirk Alex


ISBN 0 939122 25 1
Published by Tucumcari Press, 1999
366pp, paperback
Retail price $11.95

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

Individual creativity is a great thing, but sometimes the simplest ideas are the most brilliant. To build a collection of short stories - or, as the cover puts it, "stories/poems/screams" - around the life of a taxi driver is a scheme whose potential ought to be obvious, yet I've not heard of it being done before. On the front cover, we see the cab driver, face partly concealed by dark glasses, a baseball cap, and the car's wing mirror. It's rather like "Driver 67", the late Queen Mother's favourite pop star, who kept his identity secret just in case anyone took it into their head to go round to "Royal Gardens" looking for a lift from the man himself.

This anonymity is essential if we are to believe in the cabbie, because his job is to pick up people he has never seen before, drive them where they want to go, then leave them to carry on with the rest of their lives. It isn't to be expected that any life-transforming exchange will take place between driver and client. The people who hire our hero's vehicle to transport them from A to B generally have little interest in him as a person. Perhaps it is in the nature of his work that he should become an amateur psychologist, observing and ruminating on the actions of his customers, the more so when they barely register his existence.

In the meantime, Chance is suffering. He has lost his girlfriend, but still loves her. From time to time, he meets a promising woman, to no avail. He sits at home feeling sorry for himself, occasionally contemplating suicide. He thinks about the past and tries not to think about the future. He takes himself apart in much the same way as he analyses his fares, but with less patience and sympathy than he shows to strangers. In some of the sequences (I prefer to think of them that way, rather than as stories or even essays), we learn a little more about him without even seeing the inside of his cab, and we start to relate to him even though he may not be the world's greatest at expressing himself. His schemes for finding another way of life, another source of income, repeatedly come to nothing.

If Chance is a loser, then most of the fares who ride in his cab are even worse. Prostitutes, drunks, transsexuals, wannabe film-makers, lawyers, nurses, he serves them all and treats them all alike. He tries not to judge, though sometimes he can't help himself. He has come to a crucial point in his life, but in the end his resolve fizzles out and no decisions are made, no new way of life discovered. Underneath it all are the strands of something approaching the plot of an infuriatingly inconclusive novel. Or is it an autobiography?

That comment is prompted by the curious feelings I had while reading, as though I were intruding on the life of a real, and rather sad, person. I simply couldn't be sure whether this was the clever work of a very inventive writer or the scribbled journal of a genuine L.A. taxi driver with a hopeless yen to make a living from the pen. My only clue to the truth lay in the fact that Tucumcari press is based in Arizona which, whilst not a million miles from L.A., is far enough not to be the author's present home. But I would put money on his having spent some time driving a taxi.