By: Megan Montgomery
It’s another Friday night in Worcester. Corporates, average Joes, and college kids become nighttime revilers, prowling the street for kicks. While most 9-5 workers have called it a day, Rammy’s has just begun.
“Five-five” the dispatcher said, over the taxi radio.
“Lincoln and Belmont,” Rammy answered.
“Couple at Funky Murphy’s. Go.”
The cab slowed in front of the bar. A young man and woman approached. The woman dragged the man by the jacket as he muttered something. They got in and he fell on her lap.
“Websssster Square,” the young man said, slurring.
“Shut up,” said the woman. “11 Chino Ave, please.”
“I think I ate too much,” he said. He repeated that a few times.
“Yah, that’s it,” she replied. “Idiot.”
Rammy was silent. He glanced nervously at the back seat and pushed down hard on the gas pedal.
“I’m gonna, I’m gonna be sick,” the young man said. “The window, Jen, open the window!” He threw up onto the street.
Suddenly, Rammy had a lot to say. “This is my cab, you hear me? M-Y C-A-B. My God, your head better be out the window!”
The young man stuck his head back in the cab.
“This is so embarrassing,” the woman said, shaking her head.
“I’m okay now, I’m better, really,” he said, straightening up. A few minutes later, he heaved again – all over Rammy’s freshly shampooed upholstery.
“My God, don’t you young people learn? You think you’re invincible, that’s what the problem is. Would you look at my seats?” He let out a groan.
“I’ll give you extra money to clean it, I’m so sorry,” the young woman said.
Rammy reached the front of the house. In addition to the $10 dollar cab fare, she handed him a hunk of change, a bill, and dragged the young man to the door.
Rammy counted his tip. “One dollar and fifty cents, that’s it. My God, what am I supposed to buy with that?”
Ramus Lerice, is part therapist, cowboy, philanthropist, janitor, thrill seeker, and traveling minister. On any given day, he takes on one, all, or more of these roles. On his resume, it’s simpler: taxi cab driver. In the world of cab driving, he is known as “55,” the number painted on the side of his car, which the dispatcher grumbles over the taxi radio. Rammy, as he prefers to be called, answers to a local cab company in Worcester, and has for the past seven years. Unlike most other cabbies, Rammy is his own boss. Since he bought his own taxi, for $10,000 from the company boss, Rammy’s been living a cab driver’s high life.
“I get my own freedom; I make my own schedule,” he said, blaring his horn at sluggish vehicles on a green light. I don’t want to work, I don’t work. I want to end my day early, I do that. And work on a Sunday? Oh baby, that’s the Lord’s day, and I won’t have none of that.”
Rammy works six days a week. He starts his day at 5 a.m. and is on the road for 14 hours a day. Sometimes, his shifts stretch well into the night.
Rammy was born in Haiti. For a cab driver, he’s relatively scrawny. But he does have a temper — especially when passengers duck out of paying for fares. Rammy’s quick with a smile, and waves his hands wildly when he gets excited. He wears tiny spectacles and is a self proclaimed current event junkie. His cab is littered with newspapers, and he has a growing collection of floral and cinnamon scented trees hanging from the rearview mirror. Rammy also has a trumpet in the front passenger seat. If you’re lucky, he might play for you on red — or when he knows you’re especially happy — or drunk, in hopes of nabbing a decent tip.
That same night Rammy got a call over on Main. He pulled up to the street corner, littered with fast food wrappers, where a man stood. A hood was pulled low over his face. His hands were hidden. The man saw the cab and shuffled over, dragging his feet on the pavement.
“Jasmine? Jasmine, is there a Jasmine here?” Rammy yelled, into the night.
“I’m the only one that called a cab to come to this spot,” the man said.
“Nope, no Jasmine around here,” Rammy said, laughing too loudly. He rolled the window up and sped off. “I lost a fare, yeah, but it’s better than losing my life.”
Rammy dislikes driving nights, especially weekend nights. An old friend, a cab driver in Manhattan, got shot in the arm working the graveyard shift on a Friday night. A passenger put a gun to his ear and told him to hand over his money. He started to count; he got to four, and shot. “You never know the people who are getting in your cab. Sometimes they’re drunk, high, or just plain nuts — you never know.”
When he first came to this country, the only place he could find work was with the cab companies in Manhattan. He had traveled the world as a musician, and the freedom cab driving offered suited him.
“I was a crazy twenty-something in New York,” he said, in his soft spoken French Creole accent. “I did drugs, I lived a wild life.” Now I’m fifty-four and I’d like to think I can control myself a bit better.”
One afternoon the radiator flush of the taxi cab overheated. It had been a slow morning. Rammy was dressed in a maroon dress shirt and formal dark slacks. The sappy sound of jazz filled the cab; the morning newspaper and his gold trumpet cluttered the front seat. Rammy drove the car to a shop off Central. He had spare time on his hands and his stomach was empty — much like his pocket for the day. Rammy decided to go to one of the bars, and order himself a steak and a beer.
“I never have time to go and do things like that – that meal hit the spot. It’s times like that when I miss a woman who could cook for me.”
Rammy has at least dozens of strangers in his cab on any given day. Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes they’re yammering on cell phones; sometimes they can’t be bothered; other times they’re outright feisty.
“Five-five at Main and Chandler,” Rammy said to the cab radio dispatch.
“Compare foods. Go.”
Rammy pulled up to the Main South grocery store. A woman and two men stood outside the store with impatient looks on their faces. They threw the groceries in the trunk and piled in.
“27 Cathery Street,” said the woman. “And take the short way.”
“What’s the short way?” Rammy asked.
“You should know this, right, you’re a cab driver. I’ve been in this country since I was thirteen, and I know these roads better than you.”
Rammy let her talk.
“Listen,” she said, continuing. “I’m pretty lucky, God has blessed me with ten dollars — just now, someone handed it to me. Now I have to give it to you.” She grumbled and turned away mumbling some curse words in Spanish.
“Yo, he has mad scented trees in the car,” said one of the male passengers, laughing. “He’s decorating the place.”
Rammy broke into a smirk, falling against his seat and let them get their laughs from his scented trees.
“Vienti cinco, verdad?” Rammy said.
“Hm, you know Spanish? Well how much is it?” she piped up.
“Twelve dollars,” he said.
“Bullshit!” she said. She pointed at the meter on top of the dashboard. It read $9.00.
“It was a joke, ma’am,” Rammy, said.
“Money ain’t nothing to be laughing about, it’s no joke, senor,” she said, picking up the groceries.
Manny said something to her in Spanish. Her expression softened a bit. She walked off with a grin on her face – and a loss of $10.00.
“You know what I told her? ‘You take the good with the bad and the good with the good,’” he said, laughing. “No, but I was really going to overcharge her because her friend made fun of my scented trees.”
One day, Rammy found a worn leather wallet in the back seat. He shuffled through it. “There’s four hundred bucks in here,” he said, counting the stack of bills. Someone must be fretting over this. “If it was me, oh God.”
He drove to the police station and dropped off the wallet to officials. “They looked at me like I was crazy,” Rammy said. “An honest cab driver, who woulda’ thought?” A few days later he received a phone call:
“Rammy, is this Rammy? A tired, scratchy voice said. You found my wallet. I’m so happy right now – so happy. Happy; I’m also drunk. But I’m very happy. Can you hear me? I’d like you to meet me at the library downtown. I want to give you something…”
“My God,” Rammy said. He laughed and immediately headed down Franklin.
He parked outside the library, near one of the parking meters. Rammy paced outside the cab. He was a little nervous — heroic deeds made him uncomfortable.
“Rammy, do I owe you!” the old man said, running up to him as best he could, wobbling on a cane. “Any other cab driver in their right mind would’ve taken the money and run.” He waved the cane wildly.
“God wouldn’t let me do that,” Rammy said, beaming.
“I’ll tell you, it’s sorta some work of God.” He reached into his wallet. “It’s not much, I know.” He handed Rammy fifty dollars.
“No, no I couldn’t,” Rammy said. He paused for a moment. “Well, on second thought, what I…”
“Just take it,” the old man said. “You’re a good man, Rammy.” He walked up and hugged him. This caught Rammy off guard. He responded the best way a cab driver knew how:
“My God, can I at least drive you home?”
Sometimes, a cab driver gets tuckered out. After all, they’re on the road, all day, stuck in traffic, dealing with imbeciles who forget to signal. Thankfully, there are an abundance of rest spots, called taxi stands, where a driver doesn’t stand — they sit – in their cab. These stands are strictly taxi cab territory – no buses, bikes, or other vehicles allowed. These spots are a cab driver’s safe haven, where their vehicle can idle, along with their thoughts.
At one of these taxi stands, Rammy opened up, resting his head on the seat. He removed his glasses to rub at his eyes. “When I turn sixty, I had this dream that I would retire, go back to Haiti, and live a good life. Over there we believe in leading a simple life. I never wanted much, and still I want for nothing. But when you’re a cab driver you become one for life — cabbies are lifers.”
A cab drove by, a company friend of Rammy’s, and waved. “You see what I mean? That guy, he’s forty-two and still lives with his mother.”
Unfazed by his newspaper headlines, Rammy is positive cab drivers will always fill a need in Worcester. “There’s a place for firefighters, cops, prostitutes, and cab drivers,” he said, triumphantly.
One morning, Rammy put fuel in his cab. He saw another company car at the gas station. The driver, Costello, fumbled with the front door. He accidentally left his key inside, and was locked out.
“I do it all the time,” Rammy said. He went across the city, where headquarters was located and got a spare for Costello.
“Why’d you do that?” Costello said, shaking his head in disbelief. “None of the other guys would have given a shit.”
“Life will be a long one if you think only of yourself,” Rammy said, driving off with a brisk nod.
Tuesday was a slow day. Rammy made $67; the dispatcher hadn’t gotten many calls at cab headquarters. “You just never know,” Rammy said, turning up the car radio. “Sometimes it’s $92, $87, $240. I wake up in the morning and I never know.”
Later on, the dispatch assigned him to pick up Ms. Lily May Martin, a regular of Rammy’s. “Lily is my daughter’s name,” Rammy said with a smile. Lily May is on welfare. She handed him a slip, a voucher, which Rammy shoves under his sun visor; at the end of the month he will receive a check from the government paying for Lily’s fare. “I don’t like waiting until the end of the month, of course. I want my cash, and I want it now,” he said.
Lily May is pretty quiet. Rammy never minds this. “Usually, passengers get in and I don’t talk to them. I don’t know what kind of day they’re having or if they even want to talk.” Old folks and youngsters are usually the most chatty,” Rammy said. “Sometimes they tell me they want to leave their wives, or quit school, this and that. I try to help them out, I mention God and they calm down, usually. I’m just a cab driver anyway, but you’d be surprised.”
Before picking up Lily May at the blood clinic, Rammy had a brush with his past. A man came running out of the hospital. “Rammy, Man! It’s been too long, where’d you go off to?”
“I’ve been working, Dominic, my man,” he said, rolling down his window and offering a firm handshake. Dominic and Rammy used to play music back in Haiti.
“Those were the days, Rammy said. Simple days – we’d play some trumpet, some guitar, have us some rice and beans and squeezed plantains.”
“Good days, for real,” Dominic shook his head in agreement.
“Long time gone,” Rammy said, sighing. They said their goodbyes. Then he drove off to pick up Lily May Martin.
Coming from Haiti, Rammy has an appreciation for small town life. “I’m working and looking at the birds and the people walking their dogs. Sometimes they send me out to Milford or Northborough, and my God, the trees and there’s this dam along the way.”
If Manny has a brisk month, he banks close to $2000. “I’m an uneducated guy; this job is perfect for me. Anyone really can become a cab driver; really, it took me a day. You walk in and ask for a job, and as long as nothing comes up on your background check, you’re in.”
Sometimes — though he claims he doesn’t like it — Rammy has to use some dirty tricks of the trade. He was on Shrewsbury and Central, but when the dispatch buzzed in, Rammy said he was just off Main and Henshaw, in order to secure a decent fair. “Cab drivers are liars – all of them, they all lie. If you’re not aggressive, you don’t get the job,” Rammy said.
The other day, Rammy picked up a woman from the methadone clinic on Lincoln; she wanted a lift to Main Street. She had a bag with her, and was missing a few teeth.
“My husband is going to pay for it, let me get him,” she told him. She opened the cab door and walked up to a shabby beige three-decker. Suddenly, she broke into a sprint and hoisted herself up the iron fence beside it. Rammy slammed on the horn: “Get back here!”
The woman was out of sight. Rammy picked up her bag. In it were dirty shirts, pants, and socks.
“Forget it. I’m not chasing after her. I knew she didn’t have a husband, never mind a home. She was too ugly.”
Taxi cab 72 had been missing for two days; the driver, Joe, wasn’t answering any of the dispatcher’s calls. The call came from the police station: Joe was dead. He was found in the parking lot of Holy Cross College, slumped over in his seat. He died from a heart attack. The job had gotten to him, doctors said. He was one of Costello’s best friends.
“It’s rare to find friends among cab drivers,” Rammy said. “Most of them accuse you of lying and cheating whenever they see you, so I do my best to avoid them. The next time Rammy saw Costello, ambling around the College Square area, he had quit taxi driving for good. “It’s too much, man,” he said. I can’t take it anymore – the job, it kills you, slowly.”
“That’s it then?” asked Rammy.
“I gave my notice already – I did it for Joe,” Costello said.
“Well Joe’s dead and doesn’t have to pay rent anymore. What about you? What do you want, what are you gonna do?” Rammy asked.
“I don’t know,” Costello said. “But not this, I’m done with this.” He said, shooting dark looks at Rammy’s cab.
“You’re going to stay?” Joe asked.
“Why not? I don’t see what else a guy like me can do.”
Costello sighed and started to walk away. He turned back for a second. “You’re a good man.”
Rammy laughed. “Well, I’m not sure about that.”
Costello continued down the sidewalk and Rammy straightened up, just a bit, and tuned into the cab radio for the next job.