FOUNTAIN: I’m still America’s taxi boogeyman, but now I can get a lift

SHARE FOUNTAIN: I’m still America’s taxi boogeyman, but now I can get a lift

I stand on Michigan Avenue in the warm sun, needing a lift up north. For once, I am oblivious to the swirl and buzz of afternoon taxis.

With Android in hand, I open my app and let my fingers input my destination to digitally hail a ride.

OPINION

I used to lift my right hand while attempting to summon a taxi in a kind of bourgeois flick intended to signal that I am a “safe” fare.

Back then, even with a dapper suit, white shirt and tie and spit-shined shoes — sometimes even raising my reporter’s notebook — hailing a taxi in my hometown and every other urban American center where I lived was a game of cat and mouse.

The anxiety of the experience, the embarrassment of being passed up for lighter skin — as in white skin — made me sometimes walk to my destination in sweltering summer heat or winter frost.

Those walks seldom quelled my anger or pain over being America’s taxi boogeyman.

As a writer, I once chronicled this travail known to many a black man — our taxi cross to bear. A sobering slap in the face, it reminds us that no matter how high our socioeconomic climb, the color of our skin is still a potential barrier to securing something as infinitesimal as a cab ride. A symbol of our eternal consignment as America’s Negro.

Our eyes have seen a taxi’s taillights glaring in the distance. Our souls have known the splash from tires spinning in a puddle while left standing curbside with arm lifted.

Within seconds this afternoon, a white Toyota Prius appears on bustling Monroe Street. It swerves to the curb to scoop me. A smiling driver greets me. I climb into the back passenger side and sink into the seat in a cloud of euphoria over the ability — thanks to technology and innovation — to bypass my taxi-hailing trepidation.

I say as much to my Lyft driver with an almost childish glee. He laughs aloud as we roll north and I unpack the anguish of decades.

I tell him about the time a black taxi driver some years ago did stop for me. How I told that driver, who was African, about my dilemma and how he explained: “It is hard for me, even as a taxi driver, to get a taxi myself…”

I fired back. “But I have on a suit and I’m downtown. I am not a robber…”

“Dat meeeans nuh-ting,” I recall in my best accent of the African taxi driver’s response to me at the time. “Robbers wear suits too… Whenever a taxi driver is shot or robbed, it is always a black man…”

Truth is: The taxi driver passing me up many days was a black man.

My Lyft driver laughs some more. I laugh too. I tell him about the time when I lived in Midtown Manhattan and tried to catch a cab one sunny summer Sunday morning to church in Harlem with my wife and two young daughters.

Our concierge — witnessing my difficulty — flagged a taxi for me. I leaned in to tell the driver where we were going. He saw my black face. His face twisted in disapproval.

I don’t remember what I said exactly. But it wasn’t something you could write in a family newspaper.

My wife and eldest daughter caught the drift, however, as the driver sped off, signaling with his index finger circling the side of his noggin that he thought I was loco.

Nope. Just tired.

Nowadays I’m just happy to know that a brother can get a lift, even if there’s still a long way to go.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

The Latest
A person was shot to death Tuesday evening near a bicycle trail in the 12200 block of South Parnell Avenue.
The girl, 19, is spending weekends with out-of-town guys she met online, and her aunt is concerned she’s putting herself at risk.
Workplace drama follows the disgraced journalist as she moves north to start over in Anchorage.
After wasting two years of championship window with Tony La Russa, team has to make it up to fans.