Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mean Streets

Mean Streets: Confessions of a Nightime Taxi Driver
© 2002 Peter McSherry
256 pages


Mean Streets takes readers into the dark side of Canada, or at least the dark side of Toronto. Ever since the 1970s, Peter McSherry has been driving the night shift at various cab companies,  writing about the strange people and stories the night produces along the way. In this volume many columns he's submitted to taxi publications are collected and organized in particular categories --  his experiences with drug dealers, prostitutes, and criminals on the lam, for instance, or the shady practices of tax firms -- spanning his time driving. McSherry isn't simply witness to many of these stories, but an unwilling participant in them; he is often threatened or solicited, and in his younger days was known to give chase to people who tried to stiff him on the cab fare.  Being far removed from Canada, I tend to imagine it as a bland, safe sort of place, nice to visit but not that exciting. McSherry's account certainly presents a different picture! His Toronto is just as grimy and unruly as New York City. with affair after affair recorded here that are worthy of depiction on COPS.   I didn't realize Canada, or at least Toronto, had the sort of racial strife that still besets the United States, though its came from Britain's colonial heritage, rather like France's does today.  Driving a cab was an education for McSherry, too;  originally an idealist who went to school to teach children and believed the best in everyone,  his experiences being cheated by bosses, customers, and city officials alike definitely create a world weariness.  With that, though, comes a genial tolerance both of people's failings (including his own), though he's definitely no pushover.   He readily ignores teenagers, drunks, pushy pimps, and others on the street who bitter experience has taught him are more trouble as fares than they're worth -- and if push comes to shove, he's as ready with a right cross as he is with a kind word. (Melissa Plaut, in her Hack, also learned to discriminate against teenagers, though she felt bad about it.)

Those interested in learning about the business practices of cab companies won't find too much here beyond the 1970s,  but the memoir has the usual appeal to those who like "a day in the life"  tales or true crime stories.  I noticed that McSherry prefers to drive as an independent contractor, just like Melissa in Hack;  this allows himself and other drivers to work as much or as little as they choose to, depending on their circumstances.

McSherry is, at least of 2014, still writing about driving even as he hits 70.

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