Last night I sat at home watching my favorite show on TV The Next 48 Hours with my wife when I got a call from a friend who I have known for years telling me that he had a guy in his cab wanting to go to Chicago. He asked me if I would be able to make the trip since he had to pickup up a school kid in the morning and I said sure.
The St. Louis to Chicago run is about $550 or so and given the fact that I have a lot of bills and a baby on the way I can use all the extra money I can get. The week had already been good thanks to the bad weather and I had been able to catch up on some bills I was behind on and get a few extra things for the house and had planned to stack my money on Thursday to give me some padding to go into the weekend and then go shopping Sunday night.
My thinking was that an extra few hundred dollars in my pocket from this trip would put me in a great position. While in Chicago, I thought, I would buy my wife a couple of outfits.
The guy who needed the cab is a college student in St. Louis from China. He told me had to get to China because there was an emergency that was “worse than your mother and father dying”. He told me he had bought a last minute plane ticket for thousands of dollars.
I am notorious for not watching the weather and while I knew it had been bad all week I had been driving in it fine and had never had a problem in bad weather before having driven my cab in a number of blizzards and ice storms.
My passenger went to sleep in the backseat and I drove the roads that, while they were bad, were manageable. About 40 miles outside of St. Louis my Cricket cell phone went out of service so while Cricket is cheap and a good deal for people looking for a phone that does not do credit checks or mandate contracts that is something potential customers may want to keep in mind.
Things were going fine until I got around Springfield, IL. For those of you who do not know, Springfield is the Illinois state capitol, where Obama kicked off his presidential campaign, and home to the excellent Lincoln Museum.
The roads became real slick and because I have old tires I was having a hard time keeping my car straight. My worries of crashing were compounded by the fact that every other car on the road was a semi-truck that could have crushed my Crown Vic.
A ways after passing Springfield I was in some county I had never heard of and hit a sheet of ice. My car spun out of control and swerved and as I tried to gain control I looked as a semi headed straight toward me. I had no control of the vehicle, as much as I tried, and was prepared to get hit. Within the brief seconds I a prayer out loud and prepared for the worst just as the vehicle continued to spin and went off the road, missing the truck, into the embankment where it spun around a couple of more times and almost went into the opposing southbound side of the highway. As the car prepared to stop, or crash into something.
When the vehicle finally stopped, in a huge puddle of water, I was unscathed and my passenger was fine. I sat for several minutes and thanked God for sparing me from what could have been a terrible fate.
I was a little disoriented and rattled and did not know what time fajir came in where I was; I used my passenger’s cell to call 911 and about 30 minutes later a tow truck came and pulled us out of the rut we were in. The tow truck driver told us the further north we headed the worse the weather was going to get.
Getting back on the highway the roads seemed better for a little while and then they got suddenly worse and at that point I said I have to think about my health and my family and I told my passenger that I could not take him to Chicago.
We pulled off of highway 55 into a town named Lincoln and drove around lost for several minutes. There appeared to be a power outage in the area and nothing was open except a doughnut shop in between a Chinese restaurant and a liquor store located within shouting distance from an Illinois state prison.
I love doughnuts so if I am going to be stuck anywhere in the middle of a storm a doughnut shop is a good place to be for me. Walking into the place with my passenger caused quite a stir in the joint as everyone in the place dropped what they were doing and started at us.
This doughnut store represented quintessential Americana; a small town mom and pop joint with a ton of regulars. Alongside the wall to my right there were portraits of locals who had served in Iraq and previous wars and a write up from a local newspaper on how people went there to eat doughnuts and catch up on the news in town.
To my left there were several burly white men who I would recognize anywhere as hard nosed blue-collar types. Behind the counter two old ladies looked at us like we came from another planet. After all, how often did an out of town taxi pull up with a guy wearing a big beard and a Chinese guy with him?
I explained to them the situation and asked if they knew the forecast. They told me after the sun came up things should get better and the ice would stop coming down. So, I decided to wait till that point and this would also give my passenger time to think about what to do.
He waited inside and chatted with people and I waited in the car with my window down. Ironically, and somewhat comically, this allowed me to hear two prison guards look at me and ask one another if I had been an inmate or even if I was an escapee. This was kind of funny; but then I thought hold up, wait a second, I am Umar and crazy s&* has a way of happening to me so if anyone could be shot as an escapee without escaping it is me. I wondered if there were any Muslims in town not in prison. For that mater, I wondered what the political leanings of the patrons of this doughnut shop were? Under other circumstances I may have chatted them up on politics.
My passenger decided to try and go to a truck stop and hitch a ride with a driver even after I told him along with everyone in the doughnut shop that his flight would be delayed. I took him, and he did not find a trucker to take him, but found a local cabbie insane enough to take him into the storm.
I headed back to St. Louis just grateful to be alive, and while I did not make any money after paying for the tow and gas, I lived to fight another day and had my health and am thankful for that.