Touching Down

It took just minutes for me to plunge into Jacksonville’s mire of politics and race. My cabdriver pushed me into the drink. I sidled up to him, while he joked with a white driver waiting on clientele. He put my bags in the trunk, estimated the cost of the trip, and then sped off. “I’m here to cover the presidential campaign,” I blurted out.

He stared into the rearview mirror with a furrowed brow and said, “I’m confused.”

“The vote,” I said, trying to clarify. “I’m here to cover the vote.”

“Oh,” he said. “You're here to make sure it don’t happen again. Well, you about a week late—they already started.”

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By then he’d handed me his card—Mr. Brady. Personalized Airport Transportation. Please Call In Advance—and since we’d swapped business info, Mr. Brady now felt free to reveal something else: He wasn’t really a cabdriver. He was the punch-line from Chris Rock’s “cracker-ass-cracker” routine, escaped and hiding out in Duval County.

“I like it down here,” he said, asserting the virtues of Southern racists. “You know soon as they look at you that they don’t like you. There’s no hiding it like up north. I don’t even call 'em crackers. I call 'em devils. Yup. You got two types of people in Jacksonville: preachers and devils.”

He was 52, and happy to drop a few gems about the mayor’s familial ties, the Florida-Alabama game, and of course the thirst for revenge against Bush the younger for the Jacksonville 27,000. I said nothing much, preferring to weigh his assessment of his native town—preachers and devils. We pulled up to the hotel. He popped the trunk. The bellhop walked inside. “See that,” said Brady. “That boy don’t want that job. He seen me pop that trunk and he walked inside. Devils.” I paid my fare with tip, hoisted my four bags onto my shoulders, and for reasons I’ve yet to ascertain, shook Mr. Brady’s hand formally like a white man. Devils and preachers. Welcome to Jacksonville.

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