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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.


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

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