A local cabbie’s second book about life behind the wheel is a bumpy ride
Published: May 23, 2012
Thaddeus Logan analyzes every potential customer who hails his cab. First, he tries to figure out if you are likely to kill him, and then if you are likely to have the fare. From there, it gets more subtle. “If you seem like you might like opera, I’ll try to have that station on, you know, make the cab seem pleasant to you,” Logan says while touring a City Paper reporter around in his cab. And whatever ends up on the radio, once you’re in the cab, Logan will listen to your story.
Logan has been reading the city from the front seat of his cab for over 30 years. And this summer, for the second time, the city will have the chance to read Logan when he self-publishes Hey Cabbie II, the sequel to his quirky 1983 book Hey Cabbie.
The books are both arranged like Logan’s life: vignettes describing brief encounters with a wide variety of people. “My friend tried to get me to arrange this one in [thematic] chapters,” Logan says. But he wasn’t interested in grouping together all of the stories about, say, drugs. Instead, he wanted the book to feel like a day (or, rather, 30 years) in the life of a cabbie.
Both books are a bumpy ride. While some of the stories—especially from the first book—provide a fascinating glimpse of the city, others stagger off the page like so many drunks on a Saturday night shift. Logan’s punctuation is erratic and his prose less than artful, but occasionally the effect is a street-level modernism that seems intentional. In one story from the first book, Logan stops at Pollack Johnny’s on the Block and ends up picking up a hooker and two johns and delivering them to a motel. He agrees to return and pick her up after the tryst. When he does, she asks him to take her to the corner of Broadway and Oliver to score drugs. “’I felt sorry for you and you turn out to be a FUCKING JUNKIE, I told her,” Logan writes. “Right then my attitude changed!. . . The hooker or junkie got out and found some dude that was HOLDING. They walked around the corner as they made the DEAL.”
What happens next, however, is the sort of thing that makes us overlook the irregularities of Logan’s prose. When the woman gets back in the car, Logan reports, “I told her I’d never seen a person FIRE and asked if I could watch. I told her I wanted to see her mood change as she mellowed out.”
This sense of curiosity—an addiction to the dark secrets of other people’s lives—suffuses most of Logan’s stories and gives the reader a vicarious thrill. It is this curiosity that compelled Logan to write in the first place. Before he began driving a cab, Logan worked as a police officer, a vice detective, and then a salesman. “When I started driving the cab, I wrote down things that would happen in a notebook in the mornings just like I did the police reports,” he says. (The pieces tend to begin by identifying the corner where he picked up his fare, much as a police report might.)
In 1979, Logan was going through a messy divorce and had “girlfriend problems,” as he puts it. “My life was in complete turmoil, with all relations going downhill.” He had just earned a sociology degree from the University of Maryland after eight years of night classes, and he needed a change. He quit his job, got in his Datsun 240Z, and drove to California to clear his mind, he says. When he returned, he couldn’t find a job. He had occasionally moonlighted as a cab driver back when he was a cop, and he saw an opportunity. At first, he thought of it as a temporary gig and continued to send out résumés and fill out applications. But after a year of this, he writes, “I started to enjoy my lifestyle. I did not have to worry about being late for work, or what I was going to wear on the job. . . plus I was making money listening and learning from people and at times giving them advice.”
That was when he took what he had learned writing police reports and applied it to composing Hey Cabbie. He began to put the book together and, after receiving positive feedback from friends, he decided to self-publish it.
“[The book] made it to the front page of The Wall Street Journal,” Logan says. The Journal story was about a new trend in self-publishing. “I worked so hard to sell it, because I’d put $5,000 down and wanted to make that back,” he says. (Over time, “I made my money back, and a little extra,” he adds in a followup call.) Like driving a cab, it was all about the hustle.
In 1984, Logan hung an advertisement for the book in dozens of city buses. It proclaimed:
BALTIMORE CITY TAXI DRIVER writes of the Poor, the Angry, the Sad and the Sick who pass through his doors. Junkies and Dealers, Thieves and Hookers going about their trade, as they rack up time on his meter.
“That MTA ad really worked,” Logan says. (Logan claims his first book was the most requested at the Enoch Pratt Library for 10 weeks straight.) But it didn’t work well enough to get him out of a hack and into a “green Jag” as he had predicted to the Baltimore News-American back in the 1980s. So, he kept driving and occasionally getting up in the morning and writing “reports” of his memorable fares.
This year, he decided it was time to put out the sequel. And though technology has made self-publishing available to anyone with a computer (Logan’s new book will soon be available on Amazon), a lot more than publishing has changed since the mid-1980s. For one, junkies, dealers, thieves, and prostitutes play a much smaller role in Hey Cabbie II. “Back then, most people’s problems were sex, drugs, money, power, and rock ‘n’ roll,” Logan says (echoing the words in his book). “Everybody from the richest to the poorest took cabs. Now, so many cab rides are subsidized” for the elderly and the infirm.
“Back then, I was young, having the time of my life—partying with people and all,” Logan continues. “But now I’m 30 years older and I see real problems.” So, in Hey Cabbie II, Logan uses his sociology background to address larger social and economic issues like Occupy Wall Street and the recession, but just as many stories—far more than in the first book—are little more than gripes about people who’ve ripped him off. Still, the real subject of Hey Cabbie II is the way the city has changed in the last 30 years.
“Story No. 11 is my favorite,” Logan says from behind the wheel of his cab. The story begins, like so many of his cab scenes, at the staging line at Penn Station. Logan’s cab reaches the front of the line and a well-dressed black man gets in. He tells Logan that he grew up in Baltimore but moved away 50 years ago at the age of 14. “My old neighborhood was around Fulton and Baker,” the man tells Logan, and they set off.
Logan retraces the route with a City Paper reporter. “That vacant lot there is where he lived,” Logan says. Boarded-up rowhouses line the other side of the street, a teddy bear stuck between boards in one window. “He was devastated,” Logan says, recalling the scene in the book where he explains to the passenger that teddy bears are “how street killings are memorialized in the ghetto.”
The story continues, but not much more happens—at least nothing as dramatic as the “dirty white juveniles” in Hey Cabbie, who help a young girl escape from juvenile detention by breaking her out of a second-story window with the aid of a group of teetering winos, who try to grab her feet as she hangs from the ledge and eventually huddle together to help break her fall. Instead, the two old men drive around the city reminiscing and asking each other, “What happened?”
The city has changed, but it may be that Logan has changed even more. “I’ve definitely matured some as I’ve gotten older,” Logan says as he parks his cab by Druid Hill Reservoir. “This book isn’t as raw as the first one.” But Logan can still get around. Hey Cabbie II ends with a meta-vignette that recalls the old days. In the story, Logan picks up a woman who recognizes his name from the first book. Her questions give the author a chance to talk up his accomplishments—and then successfully ask her on a date.
> Email Baynard Woods