Ode to Up-Chuck

Chuck was one of my first passengers that I recognized as a “Regular”. I have been giving him rides since I first started, he long out-dates me with history in the company. He’d ride from work (the Vilas Zoo) to his home, or from his home to the Kollege Klub (with a stop for lottery scratchers), and he’d walk up State Street to his favorite bar: The Paradise. He’d call us again at the end of his night to get a drunken ride home. There are rumors that he really hung out a lot at the gay bar next door, The Shamrock, and just called us from the Paradise: not wanting anyone to know he was at the ‘Rock.  He’d always be sitting in the Paradise when I came around to pick him up, though.

Chuck had his own style.  He would groom his thick mustache into one of those Curly Q mustaches. He had peppered hair. On his way to the bar, when he would make a stop for his scratchers, he’d only tip about $1. On his way home, he’d tip 2 or 3. The Paradise serves food, and he would have a box of chicken fingers for his dogs on his way home. He’d whistle through his teeth, apologize for being “Pie Eyed”, and ask you if he’d ever gotten a ride home from you before… even if this was the 50th time. Sometimes when he wasn’t extremely drunk he’d recognize you and not ask, but be embarrassed he didn’t know your name. He’d always tell you he worked for the Zoo, with the primates and big cats. He’d always try to get you to come inside to meet his dogs- they were mastiffs.  One was named Rosie, and I cannot remember the other’s name. Veteran drivers would warn you against ever accepting this invitation: once you pet his dogs, you would have to stop at the office to wash your hands because they were very smelly. VERY smelly. But also very nice.

We affectionately nicknamed him Up Chuck. Not because he ever got sick but because he NEVER got sick no matter HOW drunk he was (which was quite remarkable), and also because his name was Chuck.

One night about a year ago I took Chuck home, and he was more drunk than usual. He forgot to tip me and made a small mess of the back seat when he accidentally dumped over his chicken fingers (but put them back into the box to bring into the house for his dogs). He dropped money into the snow on his way up to the door, and I noticed this as I was backing out. He hadn’t figured out his key for the door yet, so I got out of my cab and picked up the money. I brought it to him, it was a $1 and a $5 bill.

“Did I tip you?” He asks.
“No, you didn’t,” I reply.

He hands me the $5, smiles, and asks me again if I’d like to meet his dogs. “Okay.” I smile, pet one of them behind the ear once, and let Chuck go pass out. I quickly get myself to the office to wash my hands, remembering the many times the veteran cab drivers warned me against doing exactly what I had done.

Chuck passed away almost two weeks ago.  Everyone had been wondering why he hadn’t been calling recently.  Someone found his obituary in the newspaper, complete with a picture of him with his curly q mustache. He worked at the Vilas Zoo for 35 years and died at the age of 53. Someone mentioned that he had been spending money like he knew “something was up”, and it is speculated that he died of some kind of cancer. The paper just said he was found dead in his home. The last time I had him in my cab, he mentioned his daughter had come back around and he was helping her out with bills and things.

Chuck will be missed by every cab driver at our company. Not a single cab driver I know has ever said they didn’t like driving him. He’s been a common ground for my co-workers and I, but I believe he’s truly a legend with us and will be remembered forever.

About yellowandblackmail

I pick people up and take them where they want to go.
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