“Why, Sir, consider how much easier it is to learn a language by the ear, than by any marks. Sheridan’s Dictionary may do very well; but you cannot always carry it about with you: and, when you want the word, you have not the Dictionary. It is like a man who has a sword that will not draw. It is an admirable sword, to be sure: but while your enemy is cutting your throat, you are unable to use it. Besides, Sir, what entitles Sheridan to fix the pronunciation of English? He has, in the first place, the disadvantage of being an Irishman.” – Johnson

Elwell, Frederick William, 1870-1958; The Last Cab

It was brisk but not cold, and I held my jacket in the nook of my curved, right arm. I set my bag on the curb and waited. Not long though. The cab sped my way, cutting off another cabby who honked. As he pulled forward and parked, I reached and grabbed ahold of the back door handle. Before I could squeeze my old, tired bones into the vehicle, the man stopped me.

“Wyanna pyut ’em byack here?” he asked. “Yit wyould be a lot easier fyir ya.”

“Oh, sure.” I placed my luggage in the trunk. “I appreciate it,” I said, as he shut the door. I shuffled into the back seat, and he took the wheel. Inwardly, I smiled. I knew the accent. It sounded like the many horns of heaven trumpeting across the automobile, and it was beautiful, if not divine. For it was the all too distinct nasally noise of the North. Of long, blustery winters and short, steamy summers. Of ominous autumns and reluctant springs. The sound brought pines and lakes and geese to mind. The sound brought ice, and fog, and pastureland to mind. The sound brought memory. It came equally from his mouth and nose, and it piped and resounded in my soul like the final flourish of a Rachmaninoff concerto.

“Whya’re tyo?” he asked, fiddling with a phone. The crackle of a radio noised behind him, and I gave him my address.

“Eh? Whyat’s thyat?” I repeated it.

“Sorry it’s not an easy casino.”

“Nyo, nyo. Nyo problem. Jyust gyotta gyet yit in my phone. Thyat’s how thyey’re doin’ it these days, ya know. Whyen I was a Kyid, ya know, ya hyad to pull out a myap and fyind the streets all on yer own. Nyow these phyones jyust tyell ya whyere to go.”

“Well, you’re a better man for it.”

“So, East Rochelle? I’ve nyever byeen to East Rochelle, only Wyest Rochelle, over by Jyones and Ryainbow.”

“I’ve never been to West Rochelle.”

“Yyeah, I jyust moved hyere. I gyot a plyace in Summerlin.”

“Summerlin’s very nice.”

“Yyeah. Moved hyere from Minny-soda.”

“You know. If I had to guess what state you were from based on your accent, I would’ve said Minnesota.”

“Oh, yyeah? Wyell, I lyived myy whole lyife thyere before I moved hyere. I retyired and thyen thought I’d pyick up thyis gyig. Thyere’s nothin’ to it.” He honked at another cabby. “Excyept fyir thyat gyuy. So, whyat would be the easiest wyay to East Rochelle?”

“Probably Swenson to Trop to Maryland.”

“Swyenson, Trop, Myarylyand…” He said somewhat trailing into space. He sped down Swenson, looking as much at his phone as the road. I kept an eye on my rising bill, blinking at me in red from the dash. He turned right on Tropicana.

“So what part of Minnesota are you from?” I asked.

“Minny-yappolis. Lyived thyere my whole lyife.”

“I lived in Waterloo, Iowa for three years; northeast Iowa for five years.”

“Iowa? Yyeah, Lyots of cyorn thyere. Lyot’s of pyigs too. “

“More pigs than people.”

“Yyeah? Yyeah, I thyink I’ve byeen to Wyaterloo. Once ’er twyice. I knyew a gyuy who wyent dyown to the Yiowa byorder, ryight thyere on the thyirty-fyive, yand he’d brying me byack a hyalf a hog. Gyot a real gyood byargain. Syome asks, wyell, whyy do ya go dyown to gyat hyalf a hyog fyer? Byut, if yit’s a gyood dyeal, wyell, ya know, thyat’s a tyon of myeat.”

I agreed with him on this point.

“I’m drivin’ byack to Minny-soda, yand whyen I do I’m gyonna styop thyere off the thyirty-fyive and gyit me a whole hog!”

We sped passed Maryland, and I saw he was taking Spencer instead. I thought about how I knew more than his phone. He ignored the fifteen-mile-an-hour zone on Spencer and continued chatting in his glorious, high pitched, speedy Minnesota accent. I almost asked if I could take him home with me, but then said,

“Hey, have you ever been to the Blue Ox?”

“The Blyue Ox? Nyo. Whyat’s thyat?”

“It’s a bar, but it’s Minnesota themed.”

“Oh, ryeally? Whyere’s yit yat?”

“Well, there’s one right by the airport. Another on Flamingo. East. Not sure if there’s one in Summerlin or not.”

“The Blyue Ox? Ya know, I’ve byeen lookin’ fyer a byar, but all the byars hyere are casinos.” He laughed at this. “So the Blyue Ox. I’m gyonna hyave to chyeck thyis out.”

“Yeah, it’s a very comfortable atmosphere. Very laid back. Good prices. Pictures of Minnesota on the wall. They even play the Viking’s games on Sundays.”

“Yyeah? I styopped chyearing fyor the Vyikings yafter the Hyershyel Wyalker tryade.”

We were on East Rochelle, and soon parked at my apartment complex. The cabby grabbed a tablet of some sort.

“Whyat’s the myatter hyere?” he said fiddling with it. “Yit’s nyot totalin’ yit up.” I looked at the screen, which read that I owed him nothing.

“I like that total.”

“Yyeah. Yit wyas dyoin’ thyis tyo me thye yother dyay. I wyas in thyis cyar. Thyey’re myust be somethin’ wryong wyith yit. But ya shyoud owe me abyout fiftyeen. Syee?” He pointed to the red figures on the dash. “The tryip wyas twyelve nyinety-fyive, yand thyere’s a two dyollar yairport fee. Syo thyat’s fyourtyeen nyinety-fyive.”

I pulled out a twenty and told him we’d call it good. And now, as I write this, I realize I gave him an outrageous and possibly undeserving tip. But I stand by my weary, knee-jerk, Christmas-spirited decision. For it is only fitting to pay a man too much who speeds around town, talking in a high, nasally voice. I know too that someday I’ll be at the Blue Ox, hungry and alone. That day a certain cabby will show up, and because he is from the North, and from the Midwest, he will remember me. And we will split some Minnesota cheese curds on his tab, as he tells me all about his latest hog.

Broom Snow
East Rochelle
The Orange Tabby on my lap
Friday, December 30, 2016

Painting: “The Last Cab”
By Frederick William Elwell
Oil on canvas, 1931-36


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