My usual shift for driving was 7 at night to 7 in the morning; I enjoyed the diversity of people, some so willing to share personal snapshots of their lives. I enjoyed the conversation, the ‘counseling,’ the celebrities, loved the adventure. I’d tell many riders, if I got an opening, who MY mother and father were (as if they would know who they were. If they didn’t, all I’d have to declare… “Why she was in Phantom of the Opera” and “His most notable role was in London in South Pacific opposite Mary Martin,” I lived for this meager scrap of a fleeting self-worth. Would slyly set it up, bursting forth… with any opening I got. Aaah, the warm fuzzies.
Like the sleek, perverse filter that denial is, it propped my puppet- head up high. All an angst-ridden fog can remember. Maybe why I have worked so hard on this whole thing (‘Wilburs’ Working Fresh’). It’s become like an ‘opus’…. Inexplicable drives over the last seven years… urged on by ‘Signs’ and yes …the paranormal. Describe and illuminate I’ll try. Burning and lifting the anxious, chronic din once and for all.
There was Martha Ray, picking her up at her Beverly Hills house; I was excited. Here was an assured tossed bone of esteem, knowing that she worked with Susanna, doing a WW II USO tour together. Martha was in a rush, and irritated about something, her assistant was along, giving each other grief.
A pause in the squabble is when I made my move for instant recognition.
Martha smiled, said some kind things about Susanna, and muttered modest surprise at my driving a cab.
A familiar mutter for me (even today, with my singing, my play with voices and with; “oh Michael, you missed your calling…I hear it all the time, a nice compliment but it hurts all the time) now that I think of it…I’d been grumbling and muttering and fuming with ‘why’ for years. The antithesis of never-ending epiphany, leaden-like. Perhaps was a good excuse for the never-ending anesthetic.
Years later in some memorabilia that I was sifting through, I came across an article on Ray and as a footnote it mentioned that “her cab driver recently was Susanna Foster’s son.” I was immortalized.
David Ogden Stiers who played Col. Winchester on TV Mash became a regular call, took a liking to me. Would call for me at the end of his daily taping when in town. It didn’t matter where I was, it could have been anywhere in the LA basin. When I got the call, “Hey Mike, Mr. Stiers is calling for you..” I’d be gone, pedal to the metal, through hill, plain and mountain crevice to force my, albeit transitory, ‘rightful’ place (The Artist Shadow). I’d drive on to the Twentieth Century lot and wait for him by his trailer. He was particular, only one route allowed to his home in downtown L.A. (Silver Lake), and only at a certain speed. He liked his pot, his special pot. Would relish it on our long, slow drives home. Enjoyed sharing with me and getting my opinion on its pungency. Once invited me in, to share more. Was proud of his state of the art stereo and that his home was Walt Disney’s first in L.A.
Charles Nelson Reilly became a good one for some instant strokes. It was 1980 and he was a popular TV personality i.e. ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,’ a regular on the ‘The Match Game’ with Gene Rayburn et al.
I was called to a hilltop Benedict Canyon home, knocked on the door, Mr. Reilly answered, recognized him, was there to take his housekeeper to the airport, invited in to help with her luggage. There wasn’t any time to waste, I had no choice, had to straight away exclaim… “Do you remember…?” He was very gracious and seemed sincerely impressed, knowing them right away, “Your mother and father were wonderful artists, I’ve seen your father perform and remember your mother well in ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ they were both superb…thoroughbreds!” Wow! What a rush! I didn’t know at the time that I’d be back in the near future to test how deep this admiration really was.
Cab driving took me to some dark places, literally and figuratively, as well.
Taxi’s in L.A. were pretty much ‘radio driven’, that is 95% of our pick-ups were fed by the dispatcher via the cb radio that was under the seat. The dispatcher would call out the location and whoever was in the vicinity and quickest on the mic key would usually get the call, but if you had something ‘going’ with the dispatcher then you could be favored. One dispatcher, was gay and made no secret that he liked me and favor he did with profitable runs, I’d fool and play with him on the radio, he’d easily crack-up and gush…rewarding me with a fat ride. Luckily he got fired so I never had to officially reject him. But who’s to say I would have rejected him… in my chronic state of get over.
Vast stretches of Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards were especially loaded with young male prostitutes, their tricks and the simple lonely gay guy looking for that one nighter. Many of the tricks were older guys looking for young boys, some barely teenagers…these were my child hood predators, I hated them. My brother was a constant living reminder; he lived with one in Glendale, ‘Chuck’, in his fifties a spineless creep who’d provide the roof and pills for Philip. But Chuck was a movie fan and adored Susanna…she learned to like him too.
There were several gay clubs that we’d get calls from with names like ‘The Man Hole’, ‘Basic Plumbing’. I’d get a kick out of picking up fairs at these places, like a fantasy cartoon world, the leather, the showboating,. The darker side was ever more deliberate, and palpable. The pretentiousness and in your face S & M, B & D vulgarity was hard to take. The AIDS onslaught was just around the corner. My dichotomy was the very real moments that I was attracted and disgusted with it. Brief landings to this world I made. Rampant impulse of instant gratification with the grinding, conundrum of identity…a bumbling, whirling, self-obsessed, escape artist in more ways than one.
Driving taxi was often like the Wild, Wild West. I loved it. My street adrenaline would pump; I was comfortable on the street, “Come on, fuck with me!” was my street doctrine. “I don’t know karate but I know crazy!” Crazy was effortless.
One late rainy night, a guy flagged me down in Century City. Hops in and says he’s going to Santa Monica, “just drive,” he orders. I begin to drive. Not feeling real comfortable with his commands, I told him that it was policy that if he wanted me to “just drive” he would have to provide a fifty-dollar cash deposit…. upfront.
He sat to the edge of his seat, with his hands out of sight ignoring my request with a snarl…asking how I thought a “racing bolt of hot lead would feel tearing into my underbelly. Describing its entry and exit points and how my death would be swift. He had a vivid descriptive going. As street wise as I thought I was. I was terrified and began to envision my life racing before my eyes.
He went on like this, hunched over as if holding a gun to my lower intestine. And (pardon another cliché) I was sweating bullets. Certainly wasn’t convinced but I began to sense one more frustrated L.A. thespian getting his drunken rocks off.
I carried a 4-inch buck knife in a holster looped to my belt. I had to call this guy’s bluff, had to do something. I slowly took the knife out of its leather case and opened it, said a foxhole prayer and jerked the cab suddenly to the side of the street, wrenching the car to a screeching stop knocking him as violently around as I could. Jumped out, opened his passenger door and stuck the knife up to his throat. He’s startled, and coils to a freeze while showing me his palms, saying in a high-pitched plead, “Hey man, I’m just fooling around!” … “Just playing with you, man!” I was furious, letting him know what an asshole he was. I was ready to let him walk when he appealed to have dinner and drinks on him, he seemed sincere enough. So I took him up on it. Spotted a restaurant across the street. We had dinner and drinks, ended up tipping me a $100. I left him behind sucking on another cocktail.
I crowed about this one too:
Picked up a very drunk, very fat cowboy with the hat and boots at a club on Sunset Strip. He gets in the cab and says the same thing “just drive.” I say “Sir, it’s the policy of the…” He throws a $100 bill in the front seat before I could finish my sentence. We drive for 10 or fifteen minutes when he directs me to a house up in the hills. As we wind our way up the canyon, he’s obviously bleary-eyed and top heavy, can’t settle on the address we’re looking for while flopping from one side of the seat to the other. He finally spots his place, we pull up, he looks at the meter and slurs in a twang “What’s that say?” I told him $11. I begin to give him his change when he says, “Keep it!” I thank him while he huffs, puffs and mumbles his way out the door. I notice his wallet on the seat…mums the word. I hurriedly drive down the hill and snatch it up. It had fifteen crisp $100 bills in it. I hit the mother lode. But did have a conscious, put his wallet in the mailbox minus the cash. I sang my own praises about that one…. big time.
Suddenly the need to party was forefront, which would necessitate that status-magnet drug of the era…. cocaine. Oh, and I needed a new leather jacket too, which would complete the image.
The Starwood Ballroom was a popular showcase club of the late seventies, early eighties. A host of hopeful, drugged-out, talented, arrogant, talent-less, overly confident, desperate bands played there. Van Halen one of the premier rock bands of the time (some would argue of all time) was discovered there. If you were playing the Starwood it was certain (or hoped) a record company executive was there to see you.
A few days after my $1500 windfall, the purchase of my new$350 leather jacket and the procurement of several packets of cocaine, Stan K. from Brass Knuckles called, said he had two tickets for the VIP section at the Starwood, did I want to go?
The place was packed; we were shown to VIP.
Soon after sitting…as a goof… I let it leak that Stan and I were from Capitol Records, were there to check out the bands in the showcase.
It was funny, surprised and amazed me how easy to fool they were. Before long we were the king bees, the hum of the VIP; “Mike Evans from Capitol Records…is here!!” I could have said “I’m Captain Kangaroo from Buffoon Records,” the reaction would have been the same.
Before long we were back stage mingling with the wanna be’s and their kiss-up managers. Everybody had cocaine and they all wanted to turn us on and they did. Free cocaine and a goof, it didn’t get any better than this. I loved the Act, and the Get Over (the cheap facade of make-believe was effortless). A Hieniken and a Marlboro topped it all off.
Not very long after our goof, several days later ....a guy flagged me down in Van Nuys......after driving him to where he wanted to go...he takes out his wallet....with the 70's style Velcro busting wallet, he suddenly bolts into the Van Nuys alleyways and courtyards. In a mad rush to catch the creep, I tried jumping the a cinder block wall he flew over. but I fell on my ass, he flew, I fell on my ass..fell off hard. Ripped up the leather, getting bruised up pretty good. My prized leather was never the same. Damn those fair beaters.