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Books Fri Dec 12 2014
To my recollection, I never rode in Dmitry Samarov's cab. But thanks to his first book, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, and his latest, Where To? A Hack Memoir, I feel like a regular who's ridden around the city with him for years.
Samarov took a job as a taxi driver after graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, first in Boston and then back here in Chicago. Over the years, he sketched, painted and wrote about the places he went, the things he saw and the many, many people he met, of every stripe and level of sobriety imaginable.
In Hack, written in 2011 while he was still actively driving, Samarov organizes his anecdotes roughly according to the days of the week, linking the stories to the ebb and flow of the job -- slow weekdays when the quirky fares stand out, busy weekends when crazy meets drunk meets everything else. Sketches of some of the anonymous characters are scattered throughout the book like passengers slipping in and out of the back seat.
Pull ahead to 2014, and Samarov has continued to drive the cab but is on the verge of quitting. A successful Kickstarter campaign allowed him to take a hiatus to write Where To?, which was published by Curbside Splendor. The imminent career change drives the plot this time -- as he prepares for his last day behind the wheel, Samarov opens the book with reflections on his first days, learning the ropes in Boston, finding inspiration in Taxi Driver, and making his way back to Chicago.
From there he travels through all the travails of a cabbie, from the hassle of dealing with the police and taxi court to the frustration of auto insurance claims. And of course all the people. The "good ones" and "bad ones" get equal inspection, along with the strange comments and obvious dirty dealings. If you've ever wondered whether your driver was judging your behavior, don't worry, they were, but chances are you were too drunk to notice. Especially on holidays. Especially on St. Patrick's Day. Samarov lingers on his subjects a little longer this time around, fleshing them out and giving them more room to come alive over his shoulder on the page. His sketches and caricatures dot Where To? as well, adding visual relief from the textual parade of humanity.
As the book winds down and Samarov's last day approaches, he pays tribute to some of his regular customers, including WGN late-night radio host Nick Digilio and legendary artist and raconteur Tony Fitzpatrick, whom Samarov drove around nearly every day for two years. Finally, in the last week, he switches to chronological narrative, detailing the events of each day in what seems like a microcosm of driving a cab, replete with drunk Cubs fans, a car accident in rush hour traffic on the Kennedy, a road-rager in an SUV and plenty of fares, regular and otherwise. It's clear that Samarov is done with this life, and his turning in the keys feels like closure.
Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab and Where To? A Hack Memoir are both available on Amazon as well as in most local bookstores. While Where To? makes several passing references to its predecessor, each easily stands on its own -- but I recommend picking up both slim volumes to get a full glimpse into this unique job.