How the good kids get home

John Hult

John Hult

Despite the relatively simple service they provide, taxicabs have managed to fascinate the American public since the first driver picked up the first passenger.

Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece used the storied yellow New York box, driven in this case by an introvert with a tendency for hyperbole, as a metaphor for male loneliness. When he still used English letters to spell his name, Prince sang the praises of a lusty “Lady Cab Driver” who helped him take out his life’s aggressions in a steamy backseat lovemaking session. Tipper Gore was not amused.

Although I’ve not heard the squabbles myself, I’m sure Tipper is not a fan of HBO’s mockumentary program “Taxicab Confessions.” The “Real Sex” on wheels worked a reality TV feel into its steamy scripted program through the creative shooting of that realest looking of autos.

When I hopped into the cab of Brookings cabbie Brooks Behrend this past Saturday night, I wasn’t expecting to hear the confessions of a middle-aged, adulterous husband spewing the sordid details of his relationship with his cross-dressing German expatriate lover. This is Brookings, after all.

What I did want to know was how well the city-subsidized service is able to transport partied-out residents from one place to another with the limited resources it has. All counted, the Brookings Taxi has two Cadillacs, a Buick, and seven drivers to pull the weight of seven days of service. The cars run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. most nights, and five and a half hours of service on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. What follows are the highlights of my experience on what Brooks said was a fairly slow Saturday.

10:30 p.m.: Brooks rolls up to my house with what I later learn is his first ride of the night-two middle-aged women who were on the way home following what smelled like a long day at Danny’s Lounge. One of the women takes a shine to me, calling me Cupcake and insisting that I sit closer than I feel comfortable sitting to next to, well, anybody. Maybe this will be like Taxicab Confessions, I think to myself. I also hope I get to sit in the front for the next ride. I really hope …

10:40 p.m.: Two women flag Brooks down outside of the Safari Lounge. It turns out that there were three women-visitors in town for a bowling tournament-who needed to get back to their room. I think they were mechanics, actually, because they couldn’t seem to stop making fun of a certain husband whose car they were constantly working on. The one they called “grandma” is apparently a city commissioner when she’s not fixing cars or bowling.

10:50p.m.-12:30 a.m.: Brooks and I drive around, sit and wait, drive around a little more, sit and wait a little more … you get the picture.

12:40 a.m.: We pick up a couple outside of the Starolite Inn. The guy says that he’s lived in Brookings since 1970, and reiterates the importance of grabbing a cab early. Wait too long, he says, and you’ll be waiting a half hour. I’d see why soon enough.

1:21 a.m.: An SDSU student and her friend from Sioux Falls can’t figure out why I wanted to ride with a cab on a night when I ought to be out having fun. I tried to explain, but it didn’t work:

“I’m not gonna lie. You’re not getting paid. That sucks,” she said. I guess some folks just aren’t cut out for college journalism …

1:43 a.m.: Two guys ride from a house party to an apartment. One guy was singing along-loudly-to Billy Idol’s “Mony, Mony” with a voice that sounded like a dying cat. One guy almost got a pen in the eye. Guess which one.

2:35 a.m.: Six people at George’s jump in the cab. Well, they didn’t exactly jump. One of the riders in this group had hit her head on the concrete from six feet up.

It took one girl nearly a full minute to scoot from the window seat to the middle-not the one who had hit her head, mind you. The injured one was giving the directions.

2:45 a.m.: We take a guy just past the city limits and call it a night.