Book review of 6 to 6 by Mather Schneider.
There are some careers that inevitably push their people towards misanthropy. Cops, criminal lawyers, prison guards. Social workers.
Mather Schneider was a cab driver in Tucson, Arizona for 15 years. This is a collection of stories he collected along the way. A few make the spirit soar; most leave the spirit muddied and lying in the gutter. In a good way.
There’s the gangster who takes a taxi from job to job, warning the driver to keep his mouth shut about all he sees and hears along the way.
Many of Scheider’s passengers take advantage of a program that offers free rides to and from medical services. Like all well-intentioned ideas it has turned into a monster. Obese people whose bodies are falling apart, drug addicts, mentally ill artists.
The paintings are so bad they almost make me angry.
These people are never ready when the taxi arrives and can’t keep track of their own doctor’s appointments. Most are on valium or morphine, smoke, eat nothing but junk. Dope is ubiquitous. They are kept alive by the financial momentum of a once vigorous society together with occasional prostitution.
I wonder what these middle-aged people were like when they were young; what dreams they had in the brighter 1970s. Before they did a stint in jail, got into a car crash or whatever it was that happened to them.
Through the taxi, one gets a front-row seat to the collapse of the American Empire. The people themselves are collapsing. The poor who live far from the coastal bubbles of prosperity are poisoned, demoralized, defeated; they are like American Indians or Australian Aborigines.
They were once proud, independent people. They had families, jobs, hopes. Now they are broken; their only connection to the outside world are these occasional safaris into America’s failing medical system. Theirs is an isolated, indoor world of air-conditioning and TV. With a meth lab next door.
The rich come out smelling no better in the universe of the cabbie. Wealthy, bullying women taking trips to an expensive ‘spiritual’ retreat. One demands the driver remove his shirt because of the smell of tobacco. They always say, ‘Highway robbery!’ when told the price of the ride, as though their cabbie is a villainous tycoon.
And there are the beautiful, brainless college girls disdainfully riding to the next pool party to flaunt and flirt.
Their world is entirely disconnected from that of the poor. The taxi is the nearest thing to a crossing point because, for a short time, they sit on the same car seats where the dregs of society have sat, and they are none too happy about it. For the well-off, the other half of society might as well not exist. The world of daytime TV and proletariat drugs is a mystery to them, like the secret rituals of an Amazonian tribe.
And then there are the passengers incapable of shutting up for one minute, let alone listening to a word anyone else says. Rich or poor, these come across as the most intolerable of all.
The author in no way holds himself aloof from the human wreckage of his stories. He writes matter-of-factly about his own weaknesses, his trolling of cranky old ladies, his wanton thieving from drunk passengers, his apathy. He doesn’t demand or expect our sympathy.
There are moments of light. The disabled who soar above it all; Schneider’ loving wife; saving an elderly woman in a medical emergency. It’s a dystopia but it’s still a world of human beings whose humanity has not yet been totally extinguished.
This book reminds me more than anything of the unpublished novel by the host of Middle American Literature. The same degeneracy and hopelessness.
I wonder if books from the tail-end of the Roman Empire were like that.
It is not surprising that Schneider ends up living in Mexico. At this point we are all searching for our Byzantium.
I strongly recommend the book as an entertaining and enlightening window into a world I hope my reader does not know too well. Like Dostoevsky, it’s best read in small doses to avoid depression.
And always tip your taxi driver if he gets you there and doesn’t rip you off. They walk a hard road.