Poet and fiction writer Jennifer Keith finished her novel The Blurred Girl last December in a blurry, extra-busy life mode, amid working her full-time job and caring for her terminally ill mom. Unfamiliar with the process of shopping a book-length narrative — and woefully short on spare time — she decided to publish her entire novel via an artfully designed author’s website, and hope that an agent and/or contract for book two would follow. I talked to her about the story, the publishing project, and the results.
A couple of months ago, my friend Thomas gave me a book he’d picked up for free at The Book Thing — Hey Cabbie!, a memoir by Baltimore cab driver and former police officer Thaddeus Logan. A pioneer of self-publishing (Hey Cabbie! was first printed in 1983 by “Logan Enterprises”), the author worked as a vice cop from 1969 until 1976, when he turned in his badge and gun in exchange for a taxi driver’s medallion — one of 1,100 or so permits offered in Baltimore City for cab drivers to operate within its boundaries. There were three printings of Hey Cabbie!, two hardback and one paperback, in which Logan invested around $5000 from his own pocket.
As long as you don’t mind a bit of circuitousness and repetition — and as long as you’re not a stickler for perfect grammar and punctuation — Hey Cabbie! is an engrossing read. Honest, up-front and opinionated, Logan makes it clear that driving a cab in Baltimore can be a sordid business, especially during the late 70s and early 80s. He picks up drunks, junkies, hookers and johns; he’s regularly cheated out of his fare, and when he’s not watching the road, he glimpses all kinds of unsavory business through his rear-view mirror. He gets hit on, robbed, beaten up and abused; in one anecdote, a homeless woman with her wig on backwards urinates in the back of his cab, and in another, gangsters hold him up at gunpoint. On the plus side, he gets invited to swanky parties, hears some fascinating tales, and accepts plenty of favors from attractive ladies in lieu of cab fare.
In one passage, Logan explains the different ways in which cab drivers are addressed by men and women of various races and age groups (the author’s original eccentric punctuation and spelling have been retained): “Young black males will call the cabbie and their friends either ‘Yoe or Moe.’ The meaning of those names are unknown, but they are of ethnic origin and considered uncomplementary. The older blacks and whites, (let’s say of the middle class) will refer to you as ‘Mack.’ The elderly poor whites may sometimes refer to you as ‘boy.’ Women and the sophisticated will refer to you as ‘driver or cabbie.'”
During one ride, Logan recalls, “I turned to say something to the fare regarding his destination and to my surprise, I was confronted by this five- foot-long Boa Constrictor Snake which was wrapped around the man’s body.” On another occasion, he picks up a woman and her three children and notices she’s hiding something under her coat. “I asked her what she had under her coat and she showed me a butcher’s knife that was about 12 inches long. I said, “What are you doing with that knife, Miss?” She stated that she was going to kill the children’s father and the b**ch that he is laying with. Then she stated that she wanted his children to witness the incident.”
Logan has a penchant for italics, bold font and capital letters, his paragraph structure is seemingly random, and some of the vignettes seem to peter out without reaching a point, but the anecdotes are so engaging, you quickly forget the book’s formal anomalies. There’s a lot of light philosophizing among the stories, too. “The scroungiest dressed person could be one of the most highly intelligent and nicest people, and vice versa,” Logan informs us. “The same applies to tipping habits. There is just no formula to determine who is going to give you that extra money.”
Reading Hey Cabbie! is a bit like taking a taxi ride through the streets of Baltimore. It’s a wandering, fragmentary and sometimes halting journey, but there are some intriguing sights along the way. The book is long out of print, so keep an eye out for used copies at your local thrift store.
“Hidden Baltimore” is a new column by Mikita Brottman, investigating the stranger side of our city. Brottman teaches literature and film studies at MICA.