A Final Fare And Farewell

March 02, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Elizabeth Buie once drove a yellow cab but now it's painted black and it seldom leaves from the front of her home. After 37 years of hunting fares, the East Baltimore great-grandmother has called it quits.

For Ms. Buie, there are no more six-day work-weeks cruising the streets, no more early mornings sitting in a cold car and no more haunting stares from odd passengers.

"I'm just going to do what I want to do from now on," said the 76-year-old Baltimore native who began driving a city cab in 1956 as a way to help her family financially and just never decided to stop.

One of few female taxi drivers in the city and perhaps the only great-grandmother, Ms. Buie retired last month after nearly four decades on the streets.

"Yeah, I miss it. After 37 years you just don't get over it," said Ms. Buie, who drove for the Yellow Cab Co. "If I have any advice for new cab drivers, I'd just tell them to pray and to be nice and polite to whoever they pick up."

Although she worked for the Yellow Cab Co., she owned her cab during her last 10 years as a cabbie. Her last cab was a 1987 Chevrolet Caprice and before that she owned two Dodges.

During her run on the roads, Ms. Buie was a familiar sight cruising the streets -- especially in East Baltimore. Her friends called her a "fair-weather driver." Inclement weather was about the only thing that kept her from regularly working 10-hour days.

She became friends with many of the passengers she chauffeured, and those friendships have lasted for years.

"It's about being courteous and giving each passenger respect," she said. "That's why I've liked it for so long and haven't had many problems. That's why it's kind of hard to leave it."

A widow for 27 years who has four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, Ms. Buie began driving a taxi when the streets were a lot of safer to pick up fares, she said. She's been robbed and had passengers walk away without paying.

The robbery happened 10 years ago on a Sunday morning -- one of the few Sundays that she worked instead of going to church.

"It should have been a lesson to me because I should have gone to church but decided to give this guy a ride instead," she said. "He only got about $27. He told me his mother had cancer and that he was doing this to pay for her medical expenses."

In addition to the money, the robber took her wedding rings.

"He [the robber] kept telling me 'I hope you understand why I'm doing this.' When he got out I told him that I hope this is the last time you do this because you'll either get in trouble or someone will hurt you," she said. "I thought he was going to shoot me but he just slammed the door and left."

She was not afraid to drive to almost any area for a fare, but in recent years she was a lot more wary of whom she picked up.

"I lived in Baltimore for so many years. I love Baltimore -- especially East Baltimore," she said. "I love Highlandtown because it's so busy and I could always find a fare there. But there's some places I just won't go.

"The ones that were dressed so nice, that was their thing out there, robbing cab drivers to support their clothes," she said. "I

prayed a lot because I am a Christian. I was a little nervous out there, but not too much."

In 1958, she took a fare from the Penn Station to Philadelphia -- a real bargain for only $30.

"That was the longest fare I ever had. He was a seaman and he needed a ride because he had missed his train," she said. "Before I went with him I had to go in and get a spare tire because we weren't allowed to go out of the state without a spare."

She made it back from Philadelphia before noon and had time to pick up more fares.

Although she worked six days a week, she seldom worked after dusk and made it home in time to fix dinner.

Ms. Buie decided to retire after a close call -- her cab spun out on an icy road in Clifton Park. Neither she nor a passenger was injured.

Velda Kitchen, Ms. Buie's granddaughter, is relieved her grandmother has retired.

"In a sense I'm happy because of the high crime that we've had, but deep down I know that she's really enjoyed it," Ms. Kitchen said. "She's been out there all of those years. She's very strong willed."

People still call asking for a ride.

"I'm just going to do enough to entertain myself," Ms. Buie said. "I've got enough to do. I'm going to try and resist getting any more fares."

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