When I was 17, I dropped out of high school. I got lucky and picked up a paying internship at a graphic design firm a few months later.
Unfortunately, the firm was far away — in Montrose, Houston’s gay district. As you might expect, high school dropout me didn’t have a car. What little money I scrounged went toward renting an apartment with some guy I’d met on the Internet, because I was just that desperate not to live with my family anymore. The bus was serviceable going to work — a 45 minute commute isn’t bad at all — but Houston traffic stretched a 25 minute drive home into a gridlocked mess that sometimes took three hours. Sometimes I’d take the bus. Sometimes a friend would come get me. Sometimes, I’d take a cab. I couldn’t really afford a cab, but I didn’t have a good grasp of that because money was new and mysterious to me. Money wasn’t something we’d ever discussed at home; if anything, the topic was avoided. Don’t do that to your kids, by the way.
That’s how I met Thomas.
Thomas is his real name, unless he lied about it — which is entirely possible, because he was that kind of guy. Thomas was a taxi driver. Before that, Thomas was, if he was to be believed, a cop. He slowed down as I was being rained on at a bus stop, and asked if I wanted a ride. Sure, I said.
Thomas liked to talk, and he had a lot to talk about. All of it was shady. I didn’t really have a problem with that, because almost everyone around me growing up was shady. I think he must’ve been relieved to have some inoffensive and non-judgmental person to be shady toward, because when he dropped me off and my debit card was rejected, he was just fine with it. He told me not to worry about it, and handed me his business card.
I was very grateful for the free ride. As time went on, he rarely accepted payment from me. I’d like to say that I was suspicious of him, or confused by his actions, but I was not. I assumed he just wanted someone to talk to, and for whatever reason, preferred me.
One of the first things he told me was about how he ran credit card scams with the prostitutes he ferried from john to john. He was, he claimed, paid a premium for providing transportation to and from drug deals. He seemed to have a bottomless well of rich old white men who would “gladly” pay “600, 800 bucks” for me to take a shit on their chests. I declined the offers, but found the information well-meaning. After all, I was very poor, and always had been. I didn’t think his advice as to how I could earn easy money was especially troubling. The things he would tell me were almost always fascinating; for example, rent boys preferred one part of the neighborhood, and one cab company. Different ethnic groups also preferred different cab companies, whose affiliations and dynamics he could articulate. Really, the strangest claim he ever made was that he’d been a cop. Thomas had apparently found out that his then-wife was having an affair, and knocked her boyfriend out. He was suspended from the HPD for a year, minimum. Despite spending the interim shamelessly engaged in all manner of petty crime, he intended to return to the force when his suspension was up, but was unclear about why.
This has colored my perception of police officers ever since.
I got frequent free rides home from Thomas for much of my internship. Once, I had him drive my homeless friends to my boyfriend Greg’s house, just to enjoy the contrast of them posing on his immaculately upper middle class white boy lawn. Not that there were no costs, you know — one of the few times he did make me uncomfortable was when he told me he was so good at cunnilingus that he’d leave girls in “a puddle on the bed”. Occasionally, I wondered if this was an elaborate ploy to eventually murder me, because, you know, why not. It’s probably good that the friendship, if you could call it that, didn’t last long. Internships are notoriously impermanent, and mine was no different. Montrose was Thomas’s home base, and there was no reason for him to hang around my neighborhood. Plenty of drugs, but maybe not enough prostitutes.
I have no idea what happened to Thomas, and I’m still not sure why he gave me all those free rides. Maybe he was trying to get into pimping, but he never tried to push me into anything.
I hope he never got back on the police force.
Originally published at heysawbones.tumblr.com.