When I was driving taxi in Boston in the mid-1970s I had this neat trick I used to pull. I had a couple of variations, all derived from the same standard procedure. I'd pull my cab to the rear of the cab stand on Brookline Avenue outside Fenway Park, park it, lock it, then slip inside. No parking hassles like paying for a spot or getting ticketed. Sometimes I'd get in free about the fifth inning after the gates were left open and stay to the end, or near the end if it was a lousy game and people were leaving early. Sometimes I'd buy a ticket and watch the whole game. When I left, there would usually be a fare or two or three loitering by my cab wishing I was there. And then suddenly I would be there, and everyone was a happy camper. They got the cab they needed, I got to see a game and have guaranteed fares.
For an important game like the home opener in 1976, though, I came early, bought a ticket and a scorecard, and intended to stay for the last out. I knew that by the time I got back out that there might not be any fares left as the crowd cleared, but I also knew some straggler would come along in a minute or two and I'd be all set. That did, in fact, turn out to be the case--after the game, when I returned to my cab there were no fares of the instant. The crowd was mostly dispersed and the parking lots emptying, leading to much more than the typical traffic gridlock--it was a sold-out, weekday afternoon game, dumping all the game traffic smack into regular rush hour. So I figured I'd just sit tight until I got a walkup fare. The rule is, if you're stuck in traffic, always make sure the meter's running.
But just as I turned on the ignition, I heard Ken the dispatcher's plaint over the two-way radio: "Please," he begged, "Please, I need a cab in the vicinity of Fenway Park right now." I was going to ignore him since I figured the walk-up I'd get in 30 seconds would be easier, but I also know that when you do the boss a favor, when you need a favor you're more likely to get it. "I NEED a cab around Fenway NOW," he sobbed.
"I'm on the cab stand at Fenway," I radioed back.
"Jack!" he snapped, "Where have you been? I've been calling for five minutes!"
"Well, I was at the game and just this second started the cab," I sheepishly excused.
"Oh. Yeah. Well," he sighed in relief, tactfully ignoring the fact that I had just admitted I had abandoned my cab unattended for three hours. "Can you get to the Fenway Motel [now the Howard Johnson Boston Fenway Park] pronto?"
I looked over my shoulder and saw I could back up through empty parking spaces to Jersey Street [now Yawkey Way] without making a U-turn into the Brookline Ave gridlock and reported "Yup. A block down Jersey Street, through the back parking lot, I'm there. Two minutes."
"Swing around to the front entrance and pick up three men and let me know when you got 'em," he ordered.
So I pulled up and two Black guys and a Jew lope over to my cab. Well, two of them loped and one waddled. One of the guys jiggles the handle on the passenger front door, but I simply gestured for him to get in the back:
That's another rule [actually, a law]: You don't put passengers in the front unless you have to. But the guy jiggled the door handle again, so I leaned over to look at him and more emphatically gesture him to the back but instead I pulled an absolutely pure double take. I looked out, looked up, thought "Oh my God," and looked out again. Daffy Duck would've been proud. I leapt over to the passenger door and fumbled to open it to welcome the guy to my front seat as generously as I could.
I thought I knew what sheepish was until I realized I had just tried to shoo Jim Rice to the back seat.
Only the most-feared right-handed hitter of his time. Only the capstone of fifty-years of Red Sox left-fielders: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, all, as of today, members of The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Jim Rice, as close to me as you are to this text. As bright and glib as I am, naturally I simply said. "Oh. Wow" and sat there frozen.
"I'm Jim Rice," he said, with a warm smile, offering his hand.
"I know" I stammered, shaking his hand but forgetting to introduce myself. The soul of wit, was I. The radio crackled.
"You there yet, Gillis?" Ken asked.
"Oh, I got 'em," I gulped. "Jim Rice, right?"
"You got it," he laughed. And off we went .... the ten feet from the entrance way to the curb because Boylston Street was packed solid. They gave me the destination, the Sheraton at the Prudential Center, which wasn't a long fare but looked to be a long time in the horrendous traffic. Traffic was literally not moving.
As I sat there in the driveway trying to figure out how to proceed, the Black guy in the back started talking about the game. Somebody, I forget who but looking at the box score I think it was Dwight Evans, had smashed a double off the Monster that would have been a home run in other parks. People forget that the left field wall turns line-shot homers into doubles or singles just as much as it turns lazy pop flys into home runs. The two Black guys talked about that for a bit until I piped up.
"That was great," I said to Rice, "But I loved your triple."
"You saw that?" he asked.
"Heck, yeah," said I, "I was at the game, see?" and I held up my official scorecard filled out from the first out to the last. He examined it for moment as if to see it was proper, gave me a huge smile and a laugh and asked me if I'd like him to autograph it. Okay, so now I shouldn't be behind the wheel because I feel faint.
"That's Cecil Cooper," Rice informs me as he signs, "Want his autograph, too?"
"Of course!" I swoon. As Cooper signs, I say to the Jewish guy, "You too?"
"No," he laughs, "I'm their agent--they sign things, not me."
We were having a grand old time there talking baseball and such. But then a certain problem arose, or rather, looked to be approaching critical. It's supposed to be right-turn only, dead into the gridlocked outbound traffic .... and we needed to go inbound anyway .... and the cars have only moved maybe a half-length in the five minutes or so we'd been there .... with the meter running .... and the guy in the back seat who's supposed to watch the athletes' money. The agent is starting to scowl.
"Hmmmm," I mused out loud, "If I can take a left, I can scoot over to Park Drive, loop around, then swing into the Pru the back way."
"You can't make a Left!" Rice protested. I'm not sure if he meant "That's illegal," which it was, or "That's impossible," which it also was, but hey, I'm a Boston cab driver. Why should either of those things bother me? Yeah, I had a great professional baseball player in the front seat with me, but I can be just as great a taxi driver as he could be a hitter.
I took it as a challenge. "Sure I can!" I boasted, "Watch me."
I had been kind of edging out as if to take a right, but the next time the cars crawled forward a foot or two, I cut the wheel hard left and lurched forward as if to block rather than merely cut off the nearest car. The guy glared at me hard and gave a little toot. The next time a little room emerged, I lurched forward again and now the guy is really angry, giving me gestures I won't reproduce here, banging his horn. I was now virtually perpendicular, obviously trying to make an illegal left, blocking about a third of a lane and making some guy very, very angry. He tried to squeeze left, then squeeze forward to block me, but when our fenders got to be an inch apart, I was always going to win that game of chicken. That's another rule: Between a cab and a car, the cab always wins because if they bend fenders, the car drivers' insurance rates go up but the cab driver's doesn't. Technical knockout.
So he had to jam on his brakes. He got on his horn, leaned on it, and stayed on it. I could see he was probably saying very bad things but I couldn't hear him. However, all that horn blasting caught the attention of a traffic cop thirty yards or so away. He strode over to tell the guy to knock it off when he happened to discern what the guy was so upset about. Me. He looked at me with a stare that said "You gotta be kidding me," and motioned me to back up. But just then, traffic burped forward a foot or two.
So of course, I took the opportunity to lurch forward again. So now the cop is really mad. Really REALLY mad. Like Irish-cop red-faced mad. He starts gesturing wildly at me, as he rushes forwards, alternately signaling "You" by pointing directly at me and "Go back" with an open hand:
So he does this from about twenty feet away and keeps doing it until he's not just at the front of the cab, but leaning on the hood as far forward as he can so by the time he's done his hand is about two feet from my face through the windshield. Meanwhile, the whole time he's doing that, I'm smiling like I had clown makeup on and pointing to my front seat passenger:
The cop seems to be deliberately ignoring my gesture but since I'm not moving and his hand was probably getting tired, he finally breaks down to look where I'm pointing. And I thought my double-take was pure. The cop's face went from Irish red to foul-line white. Rice seemed a little bashful but the agent collapsed in laughter at the look on that poor cop's face. Then the cop turned to the car I was confronting and motioned him to go back. The driver threw up his arms in disgust and dismay. His mouth looked like he was saying a word with "F" in it. It's hard enough fighting a war with a cab in traffic, but a cab AND a cop? All you can do is surrender.
The cop had the far lane traffic back up enough to squeeze me through and off we went. Sure enough, Park Drive was clear and my back way worked, so five minutes later the Sheraton doorman was opening my doors--and doing a double take.
As he was leaving, Rice shook my hand again and told me, "That was good. Real good."
And here's the best part of this story. Rice gave me a great tip: A five-dollar tip on a five-dollar fare.