Required Reading: Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab

chicago cab
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Everyone has their preferred method of transportation. Cars are obviously popular, and despite many people’s gripes about the CTA, ridership has definitely increased over the past couple of years. For me, I’m all about the bike. And my natural enemy as a two-wheeler is of course: the cab driver. Always honking at me, veering me off the road…I have a lane too, you know!

Ok, that’s really a myth. I don’t share the resentment toward cabs many of my cycling friends do. They are actually often the only ones that know what they’re doing on the road and aren’t afraid to put me in my place (you’re right, I should have stopped at that stop sign). There are even instances of inclimate weather or states of mind where I find myself in the backseat behind a partition. But it’s rare enough where I never really have to consider “cabby culture.” But as a member of the service industry myself, I know the absurdity of a revolving door of characters in my life.

At least at a public restaurant, people generally behave. But something happens in a cab to people. There is an element of shadiness that has been associated with cab rides. Dmitry Samarov, artist, writer and cab driver of eleven years shares his experiences and drawings in the recently published Hack: Stories From a Chicago Cab.

Keeping with the theme of fleeting scenarios, the book is short: 122 pages. But within those pages is a vast array of stories, Samarov at the center of it all. A hushed sage, and accidental therapist, most of the time people just want someone to talk to. The power of anonymity: these paths will never cross again, no risk of judgment, there’s always somebody worse off than you. Want to have sex with your wife after a Cubs game before heading back to the suburbs and the screaming kids? Just don’t leave a mess. Scoring drugs? Go for it; just make sure you tip better for adding that sort of risk. He’ll take you to a strip club or prostitute, drive through a 24-hour White Castle, or just simply take you home from the airport after a hectic flight.

Samarov has a unique perspective as a white (or “American”) cab driver. His chapter on holidays expresses his isolation from the rest of us — out celebrating the nation’s independence, the routine of a new year’s celebration or a hockey team’s world championship while he has to work. Likewise, he can be a voice of reason to those who need it, and even physically comfort a passenger in dire need.

Of course it’s not all crazy drunks and sexcapades. Some of the most interesting parts of the book is learning about the daily process of a cab, and the often banal periods of waiting before the driver hits the road. Many use this time to hone billiards skills, but Dmitry uses it to sketch. Nearly every story is accompanied by a black and white rendering of the customers discussed. He’s held readings and has had work displayed in art gallerys, bars, record stores, and libraries.

The book is a fantastic introduction into the life of Dmitry Samarov, but the stories continue on Twitter and his website. Check it daily and learn from others, lest you end up there yourself.

Andrew Hertzberg

About Andrew Hertzberg

If identity is an illusion, I’m a magician in training. And although Emerson was right in pointing out that “with consistency, a great soul has simply nothing to do” the one constant I don’t mind in my life is Chicago. Yes, even the boredom of her suburbs couldn’t suppress the glow of the city, my attraction as a moth to flame. The future is unwritten, the characters are ever-expanding, and the plot is a perpetual foray through rising actions, conflicts and falling actions; the setting, however, remains the same.

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