Ol' Rickety (Part 1)
Diggory Kade was a 56-year-old cabdriver with the face of a trout and the voice of a bullfrog—at least according to many of his patrons. Some of them would profess his trout-like qualities even extended to his smell. A misappropriation perhaps, but his wool tweed jacket did always have the sour-acrid odor of cigar residue, and his breath tended to reflect his affinity for the tuna melt sandwich from Carnegie Deli on 55th and 7th in Manhattan.
As unkind as it was, Diggory did appear rather trout-like. He had a round face with a squashed nose and small eyes that were spaced rather far apart. He also had a massive mouth with a protruding lower lip, crowned with an upper lip that pinched together. Happy, sad, angry, afraid, Diggory always looked like he was scowling. Truth be told, though, that was usually what he was doing.
It was August 1968 and a Monday like any other Monday. Diggory had spent the early morning arguing with his gravel-voiced dispatcher Marco Dionisio about getting stuck with “Ol’ Rickety” again. It was a tradition at that point; there was never indication that arguing would ever result in Diggory getting assigned a better cab.
“Ol’ Rickety” was the only yellow Checker Superba left in the fleet, a 1959 model, and was infamous for being an old junk bucket. All the other cabbies who worked out of that garage got to strut around town in the updated Marathon A9 models. Why Marco kept that one Superba around, only Marco really know, but speculation was that it was mainly to irritate Diggory.
“I can’t have ya stinkin’ up another one of my cabs,” Marco said, running a palm through his slicked back hair. “Maybe if you’d take a shower every once in awhile, Diggity, I might consider assigning you one of our more pristine machines.” He then handed Diggory the empty yellow envelope that he was expected to turn in full of cash at the end of the day.
Diggory snatched the envelope, pressed his upper lip to his nostrils, and gave Marco a chin flick.
Ol’ Rickety was up to its old tricks. It had thick, lung-choking smog billowing out of its exhaust, there was something off-balance about its running engine such that it sounded like a coin rattling around in a can, and shocks were pretty much nonexistant. Diggory took the nonetheless reliable Checker Cab out of the garage at 8 o’clock sharp.
The day was going to be a scorcher. There was hardly a cloud in the sky, and the morning sun was already beating hard on the black pavement. It was going to be busy too—the sidewalks were bustling with early rush-hour pedestrians. Diggory had his hairy, beefy arm draped out of his window as he puffed on a fat stogie. He scanned the sidewalks for raised arms as he cruised the concrete jungle.
He spotted someone almost immediately, and he pulled over. He felt his back door open and someone crawl into the seat.
“Where to?” Diggory croaked. He turned on the meter and then took a glance into his rear view mirror and saw the face of a woman with brown hair in a flip and garbed in a flowery print cocktail dress.
“Grand Army Plaza,” she said in a voice so shrill that it smarted Diggory’s eardrums.
She then took a sniff of the cabin and asked: “Could you make it smell a little less in here?”
Diggory rolled his eyes and let out a groan that sounded like someone hitting the bass note of a pipe organ.
“It didn’t start smellin’ till you got in here, lady,” he said.
His passenger didn’t move or speak after that—preferring to remain frozen in place until Diggory made it to the destination. She’d left him with a 19-cent tip. It was a wonder he’d gotten a tip at all, but she didn’t care to stick around to watch him fish around for change.
He then quickly spotted a green-eyed woman with horn-rimmed glasses. She had in tow her nine-year-old son with a slack-jawed and a rather comatose countenance. He held an index finger motionless and knuckle-deep up a nostril.
As Diggory hauled his taxi next to them, the woman slapped the boy’s finger out of his nose.
“I told you to stop that, Freddie,” she snapped.
She then ushered her kid into the backseat and she followed and closed the door.
“Now, Freddie,” the woman said to her son in a baby voice. “Tell the man where you would like him to take us.”
Before giving the boy a chance to answer, the woman turned to Diggory and said: “I find that it’s never too early to let my Freddie practice how to order cab rides.”
She turned back to her son to see that he'd once again had his finger lodged into his nostril.
“I said stop that!” she snapped, slapping it out again. She then re-adopted her baby voice and said: “Now Freddie, tell the man where you would like him to take us.”
Diggory groaned and said: “How about we take him to the dump?”
The mother gasped and shot her eyes wide open.
“Well, I never!” she exclaimed. She then looked at him through the rear view mirror, blinking her eyes incessantly in some kind of silent demand for an apology. When it was clear one wasn’t forthcoming, she turned to her son (finger back in nostril) and said in her baby voice: “This is exactly how you don’t talk to people, Freddie.”
The boy then took his finger out of his nose and flicked a jumbo-sized booger onto Diggory’s rear view mirror.
Diggory was cruising down 6th Avenue when he spotted a hand go up that belonged to a short man with a toothbrush mustache. He was garbed in a black, cashmere coat and black bowler hat. In his other hand, he held a small leather briefcase and a full-sized umbrella, which he used as a walking cane more than anything else—particularly on a day like this. As Diggory drove closer, the man started to wave his arm.
“I see ya, Mack,” Diggory grumbled, as he pulled over.
The man then opened the door and plopped himself inside.
“Chrysler Building, 42nd and Lexington,” he said in a Mid-Atlantic accent. He placed his briefcase and umbrella in the seat next to him.
“I know where the Chrysler Building is,” Diggory grumbled.
The man defensively raised two arms in the air.
“Pardon me,” he said. “I didn’t mean to get you all riled up!”
The man then took a Mackintosh apple out of his cashmere jacket and bit into it. Diggory groaned.
“Listen, Mack. Would you mind not doing that?”
“Oh,” the man said, then giving his once-bitten apple a rather morose glare. “…Well, I am feeling a bit peckish. I missed breakfast this morning, you see.” The man continued to give his apple long, hungry look. “Listen. I promise I won’t make a mess. I’ll even throw in a little bit extra in the tip. How about that?”
Diggory was about to roll his eyes and release a gruff exhale through flared nostrils when all of the sudden, a red 1962 Ford Galaxie cut in front of him in the right lane.
Diggory to slammed on the brakes, which created an ear-splitting squeak. He then shot his head out the window.
“You son of a biscuit!” he screamed. He pressed the butt of his palm to his horn, which created a sound something like an elephant trumpet. “Just watch where you’re going!”
Diggory then looked to the backseat and realized that this sudden braking had caused his passenger to slam his head against the seat in front of him. His bowler hat was left with a large dent in front.
“Hey, you alright, Mack?” Diggory said.
The man, whose face was then bright-red with rage, removed his dented bowler hat and replied: “I’m alright, but that man isn’t. How about I give you a crisp 20 if you catch up with that car, so I can give him a piece of my mind!”
Diggory widened his eyes, and with a delightful croak, he said: “Gladly.” He pressed the accelerator to the floor.
The speeding Galaxie had moved back into the left lane when Diggory caught up alongside him and passed him a little bit. His passenger then leaned out the window and hollered: “Take this, you one-eyed orangutan!”
He chucked his partially eaten apple at the Galaxie’s windshield, which left a star-crack in its wake. The car’s shocked driver turned his wheel in a sudden, knee-jerk reaction, which caused him to skid over into opposing traffic. He then collided with an oncoming maroon 1965 Chrysler 300L.
A shocked Diggory started to brake when the man said hoarsely: “Go, go, go, go!”
Diggory then obliged and sped off. He looked in his rearview mirror to see thick puffs of white smoke billowing up into the sky.
As Diggory continued to drive, he realized that he was feeling something he hadn’t felt in a long time: Elation. He’d hardly knew what hit him. His breathing had suddenly became easier, and what seemed like decades’ worth of brain fog seemed to lift immediately. He also, in the next few minutes, would string more sentences together in one sitting than he typically did in a year.
“Boy-o-boy,” he said, grinning.
That grinning was such a peculiar facial expression for Diggory and clearly unpracticed. It manifested with him raising his chubby cheeks so high that it caused his eyes to nearly close. His upper lips were raised as well to reveal surprisingly clenched teeth.
“I’ll tell ya sumpin’,” Diggory said, playfully slapping a palm to the top of his steering wheel. “I haven’t had fun like that in ages.”
Diggory then let out a wheezy laugh—another show of emotion which he was clearly unpracticed. One might describe the sound he produced as that of a dying walrus.
“Is that right?” the passenger said, giving him a tight lipped grin and situating his fixed bowler hat back to the top of his head.
“You bet,” Diggory replied. “These guys in their fancy muscle cars... These guys never get their comeuppance. Even the cops don’t care. Especially when all they’re doing is pickin’ on an old hack like myself. But today, I get the sweet end of the lollipop for a change. I get the last laugh.”
“It’s tough being a cab driver, is it?” the man said, then making polite conversation.
“Oh, I don’t mean to complain, Mister, but it is tough hacking in this city,” Diggory replied. “Usually I get fares that just want to take-take-take. They wanna leave this cab worse than they found it, and they treat me like real scum of the Earth. Like I had some kind of tropical disease. …But not you, Mister. You’ve treated me to the biggest thrill I’ve had in my life. Well, for under 30 cents.”
“Is that right?” the man said. He then leaned in closer. “Well you know, you don’t have to take any passenger you don’t want to, right?”
“Yeah, right, Mack,” he said, giving a hoarse chuckle.
“Now hold on a second, I’m being serious,” the man said. “This is a Checker Superba A4 Model, isn’t it?”
“That’s right, Mister.”
“Thought so,” the man said. “I know a little something about these models. I might have even sold this very one to your garage back in the day. Frankly, I'm a little surprised to see there's one still puttering around.”
“Yeah,” Diggory replied. “This the last of the fleet. They call ‘er Ol’ Rickety.”
“Right,” the man said, flashing another tight-lipped grin. “Anyway, do you see that green button there between the oil pressure and coolant temperature gauge?”
“There ain’t no button there,” Diggory said.
He’d been driving Ol’ Rickety for years and knew the dashboard like the back of his hand.
“Are you sure about that?”
Diggory grimaced and shook his head in disbelief.
But then he looked at his dash board and there it was, just as the man said it would be. It was a green button that protruded up about a quarter inch and was just wide enough to accommodate being pressed down with an index finger.
“Well I’ll be darned… That was never there before!” Diggory exclaimed, wide-eyed and in disbelief.
“Oh, I most assure you, sir, it always was," his passenger insisted.
“Well, how's come I never seen it?”
“I can’t tell you that, Mister.”
“Well, what do you suppose it does?”
“It’s the ejection button," the man replied. "When you get passengers who are giving you a hard time, all you have to do is push it. And whammo—they’re gone!”
“An ejector button?” Diggory repeated in disbelief.
“Yeah, I’m surprised you didn’t know about that.”
Diggory huffed and shook his head.
“Well I’ll be…”
He ran his finger along the perimeter of the button. The man saw Diggory was doing that, and a frightened jolt seemed to pop in his gaze.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised garages wouldn’t be too keen on advertising that feature to their drivers,” he said. “Ejecting passengers is bad for business, I suppose… Ah, I see we’re coming to my stop, and I’m running a bit late, so if you don’t mind…”
Diggory quickly pulled over to an empty spot by the curb and put it in park. His passenger got out and handed him a crisp $20 bill, just as promised.
“Gee, thanks Mack,” Diggory said, admiring it for a few seconds before folding it and putting it into his breast pocket.