Fare play for women

CATCHING UP WITH . . . VERA JARON

When Vera Jaron got behind the wheel of a Baltimore cab back in 1929, she blazed a trail. At age 88, she's still driving, but now, it's just for herself.

January 24, 1999|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff

"I'm a young chicken yet," she says with a laugh.

But she doesn't pick up fares anymore, something she did as a pioneering woman cabbie for more than 30 years.

"I was the first woman cab- driver" in Baltimore, Jaron says. And who's to dispute it? She started hacking in 1929, before most of us were born. And no records from those days seem to survive at the Police Department, the Motor Vehicle Administration or the Public Service Commission, which regulates cabs.

"That's when I was young," Jaron says. She was 19 years old. And a new bride.

"I got married and then we started driving the cab -- together, my husband and I," she says. "My husband, he was a conductor on streetcars and he got laid off, so we thought we'd go into business. We got hacking tags, and I started driving daytime and he drove nights."

Vera and Milton Jaronczyk (later clipped to Jaron) bought a brand-new square-back 1929 Chevy and called it the "New Broadway" cab. She got her chauffeur's license at the Police Department.

"It wasn't easy," she says. "I had to tell how the wheels turn and all. I was 5-foot-4 then. I've shrunk 2 inches."

Jaron's a zesty, straight- forward woman with a pleasant, square face and wavy blond hair. She speaks with the kind of scrappy, urban ethnic accent you don't hear so much anymore on the streets of Fells Point, where she grew up.

"My first fares were people I used to take to work," she says. "We used to stand at Broadway and Pratt street. People used to come there and take the cab to work, 10-cent riders."

"I'd take them every morning, four of them at a time; then I had other jobs, steady riders. People liked me. They'd call me up. [I'd] take them places, to work and different theaters."

It was not a big-bucks proposition. Streetcars only cost a dime, and her average fare was maybe 35 cents. But gasoline was only 8 cents a gallon and her cab got about 15 to 18 miles to the gallon.

"You made $3 a day in those days, you were a lucky person," she says.

"My husband couldn't even make $3 a day. He'd come home with two dollars, two and a half. He used to work until about 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. Seven-thirty I'd get up and take my people to work, steady riders."

She and her husband did their own maintenance to keep their cabs going.

"We overhauled them," she says. "I used to take the rings and pistons out. My husband was on the bottom. ... I used to tune the valves up."

She also changed the oil and fixed flats and made emergency repairs when something went wrong.

"I could change a tire in five minutes," she says. "I relined the brakes on the car before my husband got up. I jacked the car up, took the brakes off, put new brakes on. All he had to do was just bleed them."

She doesn't do her own brake work or change the oil anymore.

"They won't let me," she says.

She lives now in Carney with her daughter, Mildred Trawinski, 68, who remembers carburetors spread out on the sidewalk in front of their home at 1622 Thames St. in Fells Point. The Thames Street Gallery is in the building now, a couple doors from the Horse You Came In On saloon.

"Which used to be Miss Brush's bar," says Trawinski.

"There were five bars on that street," her mom says.

Jaron was born in the Thames Street house, the daughter of Polish parents. She was Vera Jachimowicz when she married at 19, and she and her husband moved into the house. (They later divorced, and she remarried. Both men are dead.)

Her daughter and a son, Joseph, were born there too.

"I've children to the fourth generation now," she says. Mildred has seven children and Joseph five. Altogether she has about 35 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. The exact count sometimes eludes her.

But she does recall that she drove every day while she was pregnant with her daughter.

"I got up to go to work one morning, and something happened to me and I didn't even know what was wrong," she says.

So she drove her cab to the doctor and woke him up. He gave her two pills and sent her home to bed.

"He came at 11 that night, and that's when she was born," Jaron recalls. "The boy the same way -- I worked every day."

Being a woman, she says, was almost incidental to her job. She worked everywhere: out of the B&O's Camden Station and around Lexington Market and Sundays on Pennsylvania Avenue taking people to church and along the waterfront at Pratt Street and in Fells Point. And Canton was a good place to pick up seamen when the big ships came in.

"Rightaways when they get in the cab they say, 'Take us to the first barroom, we want to get a beer,' " she says. Sometimes they invited her along. A ride from Clinton Street in Canton to a Highlandtown bar cost about 35 cents, and the seamen were good tippers, she says.

"All that's gone now. No ships coming in on Pratt Street. No ships on Thames Street, either."

All told, Jaron drove her own cab for about 20 years, then drove for the Sun, Diamond and Yellow cab companies into the 1960s. Never, she says, was she stuck for the fare or held up.

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