KLEZMER GUY: Taxi Driver & Heavy Vinyl

Taxi Driver

By Bert Stratton

The taxicab supervisor, smoking a stogie, asked, “Where’s Charity Hospital?”

“I don’t know, ” I said.

“Where’s the Federal Building?”

“Ninth Street.”

“The Pick-Carter Hotel?”

“I don’t know.”

“The Hollenden House?”

“Downtown — St. Clair.”

“People want to know where their hotel is,” he said.

Fair enough.

He hired me anyhow. He was with Yellow Cab.

I drove welfare recipients with vouchers to hospitals, and workers to Republic Steel Works #4.  I didn’t drive many rich people; I thought I was going to drive rich people but it was mostly poor people.

I picked up a rich man downtown.  He said, “Severance Hall.”

“Are you Claudio Abbado?” I asked.

“How do you know!” he said.

I had seen his picture in the morning Plain Dealer.

I stopped at my neighbor, John, afterward, and told him I had just driven a famous person.  I said, “He’s a conductor from Italy.”

“So why did he come here?” John said. John’s favorite expression was “Cleveland is the armpit of the nation. “  Put that slogan on your cab door.

Taxi-driving  went downhill fast after Abbado. A cabbie told me to carry a bat.  He said, “A bat isn’t a concealed weapon. It’s legal.”

I had a low batting average. I thought I was being robbed.  Maybe I imagined it. I got in a pickle around St. Luke’s Hospital.   Left a sour taste.

My cab stalled at Fairmount Circle.  The engine smoked.  I left the cab and hitched back to the Noble Road garage.

The supervisor said, “You mean you left your cab, son?”

“I knew I could get back here. ”

“You mean you left your cab unattended?”



Heavy Vinyl

When I sold my record collection, my friend Carl said, “How can you do that?”

The LPs were heavy, for one thing, Carl.  And I hadn’t listened to the records in 20 years.  I said, “In 10 years  I might not be  able to physically pitch them.  I’ll be pointing at each one from my La-Z-Boy and making my kids choose between Bob Dylan and Jefferson Airplane.  So I’m doing it now for my kids’ sake.”

In fact, a record store came to me.   Pete from Blue Arrow Records showed up at my door.

My record collection was my former identity.  It was my Facebook persona, circa 1975.  Back then, records were a tangible signifier of how cool you were, or weren’t.

I found a receipt in one record — $1.50 from Mole’s.   Where was Mole’s?  I don’t remember.  [It was on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.]

Harvey Pekar used to rifle through my albums.  The only album he ever wanted was my Charlie Parker Memorial Album, Vogue Records, England, 1956. I didn’t sell it to Harvey.  I figured, If Pekar wants the record that badly, it must be worth something.

Pete the Record Guy went through my albums three times.  Adiós Aretha Live at the Fillmore West, Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground, Paul Butterfield . . .

I got $300 from Pete for 100 records.  Not bad.  Pete didn’t care about the condition of the records.   Pete said kids –- his main customers — “won’t buy the reissue LPs, they want the originals, like yours.”

I said, “What jumped out at you? Is there any album worth 90 percent of what you paid me?”

He said, “I like your two Fred Neil’s, Everybody’s Talkin’ and Sessions.  You don’t see those often.”

“Let me take a photo, Pete.   Don’t worry, I’m not taking the records back.”


[Illustrations by Ralph Solonitz]


Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy. He knows about the band biz and — check this out — the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klez Landlord. You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. His blog Klezmer Guy (http://YiddisheCup.com/blog) has a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets. Klezmer Guy was a reporter for Sun Newspapers. He has written for Rolling Stone, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the New York Times. He won two Hopwood Awards.

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