David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 243: Stan Ridgway (Drive, She Said)

April 16, 2023

I'm a dying breed. I am probably one of the last Americans to yet take an Uber or a Lyft. It helps that I am not a worldly traveler in my advancing age. The next time I arrive in a distant airport with no rental car waiting for me, I will probably step outside of the airport still expecting to see a long line of taxis.

Taxis are built into my visitor's mind zeitgeist. One of my favorite memories is of a harrowing taxi ride through New York City (clich├ęs sometimes are just reality) with a colleague from Davenport University, racing from downtown Manhattan to one of the airports. We had flown to NYC just for the day to meet with a potential partner, spent a few hours doing the tourist thing in Manhattan, then had to catch an evening flight back to Grand Rapids. Traffic was, well, NYC-like, and our driver flew through the jams, rarely braking. I was trying to catch a glimpse of anything and everything out my window, yet when I glanced to my left at Darryl, I saw for the first time in my life how one looks when one thinks he might die.

We got to the airport in time; I must admit I have never had a bad experience with a cabbie (some haven't been great, but let's face it, the bar is set low). I always hoped I would get a Reverend Jim or Bobby Wheeler, rather than an Alex Reiger (I would never dream of getting an Elaine Nardo), a cabbie more on the cynical side than the sincere side. In many ways, Taxi is one of the most important t.v. shows ever made. It launched many careers (DeVito's, Danza's, Kauffman's), while continuing the trend of allowing comedies to tackle serious material. However, through Hirsch's role as the main character, I felt like we were just getting more Harry Chapin "Taxi" material.

Chapin's "Taxi" is well-known, of course, and captures much of the life of a cabbie, but in such a sincere way that I want to throw up. That's why I find Stan Ridgway's 1985 ode to cabbies, "Drive, She Said," a fantastic antidote to the cabumentary of Chapin's 1972 hit.

Part of this comes from job expectations: a good cabbie needs to be like a good bartender. Speak and share with your clientele as they seem to encourage. Read the room, or at least the back seat. Jeez, if I ever had Harry Chapin as a bartender or a cabbie, I might have quit drinking and jumped all over Uber.

First off, Ridgway dumps us immediately into the seedy world of the cabbie, the restrained space filled with his fare's perfume, spilled drinks, sticky floor, crumpled styrofoam coffee cups, and gum on shoes. This ain't nothing like the lady in the gown picked up by Chapin at the start of his song. The music also displays this more chaotic environment, Ridgway's harmonica serving especially well as the bright, flashing, hypnotic lights accompanying a night-time drive through a city.

We are also thrown off by the purposelessness of the fare at the beginning, driving round and round the block. When he demands she tell him a destination, Ridgway gets the title as a response:

Shut up and keep your eyes on the road/

And just drive, she said.

While the second stanza has Chapin reminiscing about his and his fare's shared past, Ridgway's has the slightly less appealing cabbie scratching "the bald spot" on his head and munching on a donut, causing his fare to pull out a gun, demanding he

Keep your hands on the wheel/

And just drive, she said.

Ridgway parodies "Taxi" all the way down to the fantasy-interlude that serves as a bridge to both songs, Chapin remembering the innocence of young love, Ridgway fantasizing about "walking down a white sandy beach somewhere, eating something," lured by the stolen money his ride has as much as by her physical beauty.

Ridgway drops her off, says nothing to the police to give her away, and closes the song eating "a handful of peanuts." Our cabbie has spent the whole song drinking coffee and eating snacks. This is the kind of story I want from my cab driver, not some maudlin tale of lost love temporarily found. The lack of any connection past the time in the cab is the attraction. Such anonymous moments seem unlikely when contracting an Uber.

Stan Ridgway. "Drive, She Said." The Big Heat. I.R.S. 1986. Link here.

Day 242: Del Amitri "Second Staircase"

Day 244: Tina Turner "We Don't Need Another Hero"

See complete list here.