Thursday, January 24, 2013

barstool poetry lives!

I WON'T DENY IT. HAVING A FEW COPIES OF OUR 1ST BARSTOOL POETRY BOOK sitting nearby at all times in the cab makes me a little nervous. A quick glance at the cover reveals why. Handwritten titles like "Wonder Bra Beauty," "A Cunning Linguist" and "Her Tongue Was In 3 Mouths" have the potential to piss off the prickliest of prudes.

But then there are customers like the 4 UT frat boys who caught a ride downtown with me last weekend.

Justin, the SAE in the front seat who's ridden with me more than once, was explaining to his buddies how the guy driving them to 7th & Trinity was more than just a cab driver.

"Dude, Bob has written a book," Justin said as he reached to his left and grabbed a copy of Barstool Poetry to hold up. "Check it out."

As the kid in the middle of the backseat took the book from Justin, I tried to give them a little background on the thing.

"It's a bunch of poems written on cocktail napkins," I told them as we rolled southbound down Guadalupe. "And I didn't write all of them. Or even most of them. They were written by me and my friends and a bunch of complete strangers over the years. I just came up with the idea with my friend Jon and put the whole thing together."

The guys in the back were only half listening to my explanation. They were too busy thumbing through the book. Finally, the kid in the middle found a poem he wanted to read out loud – a proposition that always makes me a little squeamish. While many of the poems are clever, funny, even haunting, some of them are, well, downright bad . . . if not a little offensive.

"Okay," the kid in the middle piped up, "this one is called: 'Too Big For Linda.'"

I turned down the Zeppelin blasting from the stereo. The cab grew quiet. The floor was his.

"Linda wanted
shafts galore
Linda weren't no
two-bit whore
She was willing to rock
to and four
If the day's meet special
was more than she could
pay for"

With that, the frat rat reading the poem and his drunk brethren all cracked up. We'd stumbled upon just the right bawdy bad boys to appreciate the likes of "Too Big For Linda." (They'd probably like "Neon Noodle Dick" and "My Scrotum Is a Walnut" too.)

A brief, ersatz poetry slam had just broken out in my cab. It wasn't the first time. And I suspect it won't be the last.


More than one BobCab customer has heard about my long, strange history with Barstool Poetry. Last week I picked up a Boston lawyer from the airport who was curious about the book sitting next to me. The $50 cab ride to The Domain was plenty of time for me to give him the lowdown.

"So about 20 years ago I'm at a bar in West L.A. with my roommate Jon," I told the guy as I drove north on 183. "We were surrounded by pretty girls, but didn't have the balls to get up and talk to any of them. So I took my pen, grabbed a cocktail napkin and jotted down a title – something I thought might crack Jon up. Then I slid the pen and napkin in front of him and said, 'Write a poem to fit that title.'"

"Okay," said the lawyer, not quite sure what to make of the idea.

"Jon's a creative guy," I continued, "so he's into it. He gives me a title as well. So the two of us spent the next several minutes hunched over, writing our poems, then reading them out loud to one another. We both liked the creative challenge and it was fun trying to outwit the other guy with our clever titles. Basically, it was a way for us to stay busy because we were too wimpy to get up and approach the females in the bar."

"Instead of watching ESPN or playing Jenga," the lawyer added.

"Exactly," I answered. "Killing time in the bar. But this was years before you saw Jenga or Uno or any other game in a bar. And this was way more fun, way more creative. So we kept doing it all night long. And in the course of swapping titles, writing poems, reading them out loud to each other and cracking up, a funny thing happened – at some point in the evening, every female in the place wandered over and asked us what the hell we were doing."

"You met every girl in the place without ever leaving your barstool?" the lawyer asked.

"Riiiiiight," I said. "And that's when the lightbulb went off – 'Hey, we need to do this the next time we go out.' So we did it again . . . and again . . . and again. We handed titles to inquisitive strangers. Bartenders and cocktail waitresses joined in. We even turned it into a drinking game – 'Ask that girl over there to pick the best poem from the last round.' The author of the best poem gets a free drink from the losers. Not only is it a great ice breaker, but it's also an excellent way to give your creative muscles a light workout. Especially when you're hammered. It was money from the get-go."

"Brilliant," replied the Bostonian, who was no doubt familiar with Boston's booming bar culture and clearly had an eye for a good idea.

"We did this for years with various friends and strangers," I continued. "And at the end of the night, I was always the guy who gathered up the poems and took them home for safekeeping. After several years of this, I had accumulated over 550 poems. So finally, after lugging these damn things around for almost 2 decades, I decided to publish a book full of Barstool Poetry last year."

"And now you're selling the book out of your cab in Austin," pointed out Captain Obvious.

"And now I'm selling the book out of my cab in Austin," I confirmed. "Plus through Amazon and at It's been a long, strange road getting here, trust me."


Despite our lengthy ride to The Domain, I failed to fill the Beantown patent lawyer in on just how long and strange this journey with Barstool Poetry has been.

A few examples I didn't share with him:

More than 15 years before I finally published the anthology, I was introduced to a young book agent in Del Mar who loved the Barstool Poetry concept.

But instead of publishing the poems I'd already accumulated, SuperAgentSteve had another idea: What if I took a road trip around America in my VW bus, going to various bars for 100 consecutive days and getting people from all over the country to write fresh new barstool poems?

I loved the idea. And so did more than half of the 10 New York City book editors SuperAgentSteve sent my book proposal to. But after kicking my proposal to their editors upstairs to get final approval for a sale, the unanimous response we got back was: 'We love the idea – but poetry doesn't sell. We love this guy Bob's writing though. Does he have any more book ideas?'"

This led to me ditching the Barstool Poetry angle and re-tooling the idea. Our new spin – which ended up getting me a $55K advance from Bantam Books – still had me going barhopping for 100 straight days in my VW bus. Only instead of getting people to write poems on cocktail napkins, I was now talking to my fellow barflys about love and marriage for 3+ months, all in hopes of solving my "commitment issues." By the end of the road trip, I was supposed have figured out whether or not I wanted to marry my girlfriend or not.

What happened when I got home from that little adventure could fill another book or 2. But the bottom line is, while that crazy road trip yielded an abundance of writing material – and killed a whole bunch of brain cells I'll never get back – the resulting memoir remains unfinished for a myriad of reasons.

But without Barstool Poetry, that project and the life-altering road trip it led to never happens. I wasn't quite finished with Barstool Poetry though.

In 1999 I pitched – and sold – a story idea to Maxim magazine about 'the greatest idea ever for meeting women in bars.' (That's a blurb for my article right next to Rose McGowan on the cover.)

Several years later I was at a meeting with a literary agent at UTA, one of the top shelf talent agencies in Hollywood. My meeting was for another project, but somehow the subject of Barstool Poetry came up. Upon hearing the premise, the agent immediately perked up.

"I LOVE this!" he told me. "This would be a great reality show – you going to bars all over America, getting people to write Barstool Poetry. Let me call our reality TV guy."

Within minutes I was meeting with UTA's top reality TV agent, who ended up hooking me up not with a TV network but a new Hollywood-backed website looking for cheap reality programming. But when I found out just how little these guys were willing to spend on the idea, the project fizzled. Barstool Poetry was back on the bench.


Until last year, that is. After lugging around my Ziploc bag full of crusty old poems for nearly two decades, I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. I whittled my collection down to a manageable cluster of just over 150 barstool poems, learned how to use Adobe Illustrator and cranked out a book.

And to give each copy its own individual touch, I've included 13 blank napkins at the back of the book. Waiting for new titles, new poems.

During the year or so since I've had the book in my cab, I've sold several copies, both to my Austin regulars and to various out-of-towners. I sold a copy to a visiting M.I.T. professor. I sold a copy to a video game developer heading to a Radiohead concert with his wife. One of my regulars who bought the book said she and her friends entertained each other by reading poems out loud during a 5-hour drive across Texas.

One of my favorite locals – a medical supply salesman named Dave – was such a fan of the book that he wanted to help us throw a Barstool Poetry event in Austin. And that's how Barstool Poetry Book Party #1 came to fruition at Star Bar last November.

More than 50 people showed up on balmy Thursday night – most of them locals I'd met through driving my cab. We asked everyone in attendance to contribute at least one title-on-a-napkin, which were placed in 1 of 3 big bowls.

The attendees who felt like writing a poem could reach into Bowl #1 and pull out a title that they didn't write. Once they'd completed their poems, the novice poets were asked to drop their masterpieces into Bowl #2 – which also served as a place where people could reach in and grab a poem to read. If they liked what they read and thought the poem was worthy of inclusion in the next Barstool Poetry book, our guests were asked to put the poem in Bowl #3.

By the end of the night, a whole bunch of drunk BobCabsters got on the mic and read a colorful cross-section of poems written that evening. It was the closest I've ever come to attending a poetry slam. Besides the impromptu poetry slams in my cab, of course.


All of which leads us to this: Tonight – Friday, Jan. 25 – we're hosting Barstool Poetry Book Party #2. This one's on the Eastside at Violet Crown Social Club. (At the corner of East 6th and Waller.) We'll be unveiling our latest Barstool Poetry book, a collection of 50 poems, all of which were written last November at Star Bar.

We'll also be showing up at around 9pm with napkins, pens and our 3 big bowls, inviting everyone to contribute titles and poems. If all goes according to plan, by 10 we'll be diving into the first of several 10-15 minute blasts of poetry reading bliss every hour on the hour for the rest of the night.

And hopefully, by Saturday morning our hangover will be a little more bearable due to the fact that we left Violet Crown with a whole new batch of barstool poems for our next book.

Hope you'll join us.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

new year, old gratitude

ON 1.3.13 A COUPLE GUYS WHO LOOKED LIKE FUGITIVES came running at me as I made a right off Riverside towards the Congress bridge. Turns out they were just jonesing for a warm cab on a cold night. Refugees from the early morning/all-day shifts at their South Austin restaurant jobs.

The nosey bastard in me immediately wanted to know if they knew anything about the big heroin bust at Jovita a few months ago.

"I know the feds have confiscated the property," the Magnolia Cafe waiter told me.

"My friend's sister works for the FBI and he warned 'em," added the Polvo's waiter. "He told 'em they were being watched. But they must not have believed him. Supposedly they were selling that stuff for almost 20 years."

Polvo's Guy would go on to tell me he showed up in Austin nearly 20 years ago too. When I meet people in my cab who've been here awhile, my first instinct is always to ask how they feel about all the changes around Austin. I've asked the question many times, so I've got a pretty diverse sampling size. And I can tell you that most people, while quick to complain about the traffic, are okay with all the growth and the new people.

But every so often I'll meet someone like Polvo's Guy. When I ask him how he feels about the changes around town, his response sounds something like this:

"It sucks. Traffic blows. No such thing as Mopac when I got here. I could do without all these Californians moving here too. These people who'll order a meal – and you'll walk up 3, 4 times to ask if everything's okay, and they'll say, 'Yeah, everything's great' – then at the very end of the meal they'll say they didn't like it, it was too spicy, whatever. And they don't wanna pay for it!"

"C'mon," I blurt out from the front seat, my disbelief utterly sincere. "People actually try to pull that shit?"

"Yeah," Polvo Guy laughs incredulously. "And they're usually from California. I could do without those whiny motherfuckers."

By the time I drop off the waiters near Stassney, their fare is up to $35. Like true blue service industry workers, they tip me $8 bucks – a solid 23%.

Of course, I never mentioned that I was one of those freshly transplanted motherfuckers from California.


On New Year's Eve I was telling another pair of locals – a perky Westlake lifer and her bleary-eyed date – my philosophy on being a newcomer to Austin. It's an answer I've given numerous times over the last couple years, anytime someone asks me how Austin compares to my hometown.

"Austin reminds me of L.A. in many ways," I told them. "They've both got decent weather most of the time. They're both progressive places with lots to do, lots of stimulating, healthy activities. Lotta creativity flowing, good people watching, great restaurants. Lots of water sport options. But the things that drive me crazy about L.A. – the greed, the narcissism, the obsession with fame & celebrity – Austin is a huge upgrade. In L.A. people acquire things thinking it's gonna make them happy. In Austin, people are happy. And they really love living in Austin."

More than one of my customers over the last 2 1/2 years has heard me go on about how important it is to me that I don't become one of those annoying d-bags from L.A. I've been more than happy to get away from. I recognize that this is a very special place, largely thanks to driving my cab.

This job has allowed me to check out dozens of neighborhoods, drive down hundreds of streets and meet thousands of people.

And it's all led me to one indisputable conclusion: This place is amazing.

Far be it for me to screw that up. From what I can surmise, our mission is to enhance the Austin amazing – be thoughtful, interesting, informed – not detract from it.

And if you catch me stinking up the Austin authenticity by acting like an L.A. a-hole, feel free to slap me silly with a piping hot Home Slice pizza. Gluten-free, if possible.


BONUS QUESTION: We'll give a free copy of Barstool Poetry to the first person to identify the city where I snapped today's pic o' the day.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Totally Arbitrary BobCab Best & Worst List

SEEING AS HOW I'VE BLOGGED ALL OF 3 TIMES IN 2012, THERE'S clearly been a whole slew of BobCab stories I've failed to share with you this year. But that's all about to change, as you'll soon find out. (I'll be blogging at least twice a week in 2013, for reasons I'll explain later.)

So in the interest of remembering the classic moments and my favorite people from this year before they fade away into the mystic mist of my swiss cheese memory, allow me to share with you my personal, odd little BobCab Best & Worst List for 2012.

Best BobCab-Related Christmas Present: Hearing that my longtime regular, UT Connie, found a copy of Barstool Poetry waiting for her under the Christmas tree. Apparently it was on the Christmas list Connie gave her mom, who must've purchased our book on Amazon. Hopefully before Connie's mom wrapped it she didn't flip through the book and stumble upon poems like "Neon Noodle Dick" and "My Scrotum Is a Walnut." Sorry, mom.

Worst Excuse For a Classy Blonde: The coked out – or was it just the West 6th Street vodka? – marketing girl in her late 30s who thought it'd be funny to bitch slap the mini disco ball hanging from my rearview mirror. Knocked it right off. Yeah, that's hilarious, girl. That disco ball was never the same and soon fell apart. If you know where I can find a replacement, I'm all ears. That's right, I loved that baby disco ball. When the sun hit it just right, that thing threw off a thousand tiny lights dancing across my taxi. Besides, a disco ball in the cab is usually good for a few extra happy points.

Best Credit Risk: Wild Phil, the local handyman and occasional crack connoisseur who owes me $10 bucks from our last delightful ride back to his house in South Austin. He was hammered and cash-free the last time I took him home, but I know he's good for it. First time I ever drove Wild Phil home he didn't have enough to cover the full fare back to his apartment . . . so I dropped him off as far as his $10.50 would take him, near Robert E. Lee about a half-mile from his place. "I don't want to set a precedent of you thinking you can take advantage of me," I told him. He said he respected that and Wild Phil has been calling me – and paying up, with the occasional generous tip – ever since. And he's been known to pound out the occasional kickass drum solo on the passenger seat headrest with my drumsticks when Keith Moon lays into "Baba O'Riley."

Worst Memory of the Year: Watching a flat-on-her-back drunk sorority girl getting run over by a car a few months ago. When I pulled up to the corner of 8th and Trinity about 13 minutes after the bars had closed, I noticed the rear tires of a Camry-sized car running over a pair of legs and a torso like they were human speed bumps. Within seconds the car was pulled over, a cop was hovering over the girl – so fast that my initial reaction was, "Holy shit, a cop ran that girl over!" – and maybe a half dozen of us were frozen in horror, wondering if the girl in her Thursday night party dress was dead or dying.

Best Happy Ending to a Nightmare: Several weeks later one of my semi-regulars, an Austin-raised UT coed we'll call Lynn, told me the girl who got run over that night was a fellow Pi Phi – and she was somehow alright! "I think she might have had some bruised or broken ribs, I'm not sure," Lynn told me. "I know she was real sore." I was relieved to hear she had survived unscathed. But the memory of seeing the wheels roll over that girl's body haunted me for days. And to add even more gravitas to the situation, Lynn had called me sobbing that same night – maybe 20 minutes after I'd seen her friend get run over – looking for a ride to see her dying grandmother in Georgetown. The next morning I found a tiny metal Buddha someone left in my cab. Ommmmm . . . .

Worst Reaction to a 6th Street Drunk Jumping On My Cab: A jolly jackass jumps on the hood of my cab as I inch along 7th Street, dodging frustrated drunks who can't get a cab in the frenzied minutes after the bars have closed. Instead of calmly asking him to get off, I throw the car in park without bothering to pull to the curb, grab my trusted drumsticks and rush out of the cab like a madman to have a word with the stunned hood jumper – leaving the 2 UT foreign exchange students in my back seat equally as stunned. The anti-om. My bad, guys.

Best Apology to the Worst Reaction: This was my open letter to the jolly jackass. The 2nd of only 3 blog entries I've written in all of 2012. (Before today.) Possibly the best writing I've done all year.

Worst Barter Offer In Lieu of Payment: A geriatric black tranny with big hands and a Marilyn Monroe fetish stumbled out of Oil Can Harry's and into my backseat several months ago. A few miles into our ride up to North Austin, s/he slurred something about giving me "all kinda rubbin', lickin', strokin', pokin' – whatever you wants, baby." Umm . . . no, thanks. When it came time to pay up the old fashioned way, Big Black Marilyn weaved her way back to his apartment to get a credit card. Ten minutes later I called Austin's finest, who showed up promptly, to make sure I wasn't getting stiffed. After knocking on a few doors, the cops got him/her to come back out in a silk robe, clutching a credit card – minus the platinum blonde wig, looking every bit like a retired '70s era NFL linebacker. Props to the cop who guilt tripped Big Black Marilyn into tipping me 20% for my troubles.

Best Follow Up Ride With a Customer I Met Last Year: In 2011 I picked up this native son the night before he was set to fly to L.A. to start recording his first major label album. At that point I'd never heard of the guy, being new in town and all. Didn't even know he was a musician when he told me about the first time he ran into Jenna Bush as a freshman in the halls of Austin High. This year when I picked him up – yet again on Dirty 6th after the bars had closed, this time during SXSW – I had become a big fan of his music. As had the prez, apparently, who gave the kid a standing-O after a performance at the White House since I'd last seen him. He might be a limos, tour buses and private jets kinda guy from here on out.

Worst BobCab-Related Injury: The bruised shoulder and sore jaw I suffered when got hit by an unopened Coors Light that came flying into my driver's side window early this year. It was a quiet Friday night as I rolled slowly down Red River, just past 5th Street. Without warning, this speeding beer can rained down from the heavens – or, more likely, the 4-story parking structure across the street. The beer can missile slammed into my right shoulder – the closest I've ever felt to being shot – then ricocheted off the passenger seat, bounced back and cracked me in the jaw before exploding in a geyser of beer foam on the floor. I looked up and there wasn't a soul to be seen. A true low point in my cabbie career. Don't throw shit off parking structures, people. Drink your beers – don't chuck them at strangers!

Best BobCab Pit Stop: Sometimes my customers will invite me into their homes for a little non-alcoholic refreshments or a trip to the loo. Last month I parked my cab and was invited into the backyard of this guy, one of my favorite local musicians. Sitting at a picnic table reading a poem from Barstool Poetry to another musician buddy was this guy, yet one more talented musician who I'm now a HUGE fan of. The 3 of them were going on and on about how much they loved the book and how inspired they were by it. So inspired, in fact, that after I jotted down a title – "Whiskey Dick" – on one of the blank napkins at the back of the book, David took the book and the pen that came velcroed to the cover and cranked out a poem right there on the spot. "That might be the most honest thing I've written all year," he confessed. Then the 3 of them piled in my cab, Barstool Poetry book in tow, and set out for some Eastside fun. Their mission: write a bunch of titles on the 12 remaining blank napkins at the back of the book, then solicit a collection of strangers at Liberty Bar and the White Horse to write a poem inspired by their titles. When I picked them up a few hours later, they were drunk and happy, satisfied with the evening's output. "I couldn't believe how open people were to writing poems," David slurred as we pulled into the Wendy's drive-thru. "I thought all those hipster poseurs would be too cool to do it." We'll try to post some of those poems from their night out at in the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out all the music you can from Josh Halverson and David Ramirez.

Worst News For Cowboy Fans: During football season I picked up a couple Baylor grads in town to see UT lose again. I asked them if they knew Bob Griffin 3 and one of the guys said he tutored him in U.S. history for a while. "Good guy. Smart. Worked hard. Real down to earth. No attitude like a lot of those football guys." Sorry, Cowboy fans. Not only does the kid have crazy talent, but he's a smart, good guy on top of it. Confirmed in a cab ride to DKR. It's gonna be a long 10-15 years in Jerryville.

Best Substitute For a Customer Appreciation Party: Last year we had a Customer Appreciation Party at our house in Hyde Park. This year the closest we got to a big social gathering with some of our favorite BobCab customers was last month's Barstool Poetry book launch and party at Star Bar. A pretty diverse group of over 50 people showed up – from some of our favorite UT and St. Ed's regulars to our favorite retirees from Houston to a guy who bought a book on his way to see Radiohead this summer to many of my favorite working stiff regulars, including Dave, who liked Barstool Poetry so much several months ago that he offered to make the Star Bar event happen in the first place. (Thanks, Dave!) The feedback from the event has been so great – and so many poems were written that night – that we've decided to publish another book of Barstool Poetry. This one will be much smaller than this version, consisting of the 50 poems that were written that night. We'll be unveiling the new book at our next Barstool Poetry night, hopefully on the last Friday night in January, at a cool bar yet to be determined.

Stay tuned, y'all.

Hope everyone has a safe and satisfying New Year's Eve. I'll be out there driving your drunk asses home, trying to make a buck again after 3 weeks of vacation.

Here's to a healthy, happy 2013!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

blinded by the light

ON MY WAY TO THE AIRPORT TODAY I SPOTTED A GIRL WALKING IN THE RAIN. She wore a gray summer dress as she shuffled down 43rd St., feeling her way along the wet road near the curb with the help of a cane. The Texas School For the Blind isn't far from here, so it's not unusual to see folks tapping the sidewalks with their red-tipped canes as they stroll through town.

But it had just started to rain and I wanted to help this girl.

"Do you need an umbrella?" I called out as I slowed my cab. "I've got one in the trunk."

The girl stopped walking and leaned down to look into the passenger window. She gazed where she thought my eyes might be and smiled.

"Oh, that's okay," she said as I tried not to stare at her milky gray eyes. "My house is just another block down the road here. Thanks, though."

"You want a ride then?" I offered as the rain continued to fall on her chestnut hair. "Get you out of the rain?"

"Sure," the blind girl answered brightly as she folded up her cane and grabbed for the passenger door. She slowly lowered herself into the front seat, then turned to me and offered her hand.

"I'm Karen. What's your name?"


"Hi, Bob."

She turned as if to look out the front window. A big, blissful smile of total serenity washed over her face.

"I just love Austin," she beamed.

"Why do you love Austin?" I wanted to know. Because cab drivers pull over to help blind girls stuck in the rain? I unsuccessfully fought off a little snicker. Her enthusiasm was disarming.

"The people are so NICE here," she replied.

I wanted to tell her I tried doing nice things for people back when I lived in LA, too. And from what I've heard, Austin has its share of surly cabbies. But why fog up her rose-colored glasses?

"Didn't you hear it was supposed to rain all week?"

"I guess not," she laughed. I noticed a large green dragon tattoo just above her knee.

"Do you have an umbrella?" I asked, ready to give her the small black hand-me-down someone left in my cab weeks ago.

"Not only do I have an umbrella, but I've also got a raincoat," she said proudly.

"Really? Galoshes, too?"

"Yep. That's what happens when you move from Seattle."


Turns out, she was more than a block from her house. (Did she get it wrong because she's blind?) It was more like 5 blocks. Far enough to learn that Karen moved to Austin less than a year ago – but too close to find out exactly why.

"I moved here last October," she confessed as we approached Duval. "And I just love it here. I don't ever want to live anywhere else."

"Wow. Really?" I was being completely sincere. I'm still a little amazed every time I hear something like this – even though the sentiment flows through my cab on a regular basis. But to hear it out of the mouth of a blind girl from Seattle who's been here less than a year? For some reason, her Austin-induced bliss seemed a little more . . . mysterious.

"So what is it about Austin that's got you convinced you never want to live anywhere else?" I wondered, turning right at Duval in front of Julio's.

Karen didn't have to think long about her answer.

"It's the people. Everyone is SO friendly here."

She pointed to the big shaded house her roommate found for them on Craigslist. "That's me right there," she said, while I silently contemplated the degrees of blindness and just how bad your eyes have to be to justify using a cane.

"Thank you so much, Bob," Karen said with a warm parting smile.

"You're quite welcome. See you around," I said like an idiot.

As I watched her move quickly up the stone path to her front door – barely slowing to unfurl her collapsable cane – I felt guilty for wondering just how blind Karen really was.

Or did she just see things most of us could only hope to see?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

leave bob alone!

IT'S BEEN ABOUT A YEAR NOW SINCE THE GLORIOUS NIGHT I FOUND out Bob Plant was my neighbor. That's right, we here in Austin call rock star Robert by the more prosaic "Bob" – because that's how he likes it.

How do I know this?

I heard it during a cab ride down South Congress. Wayne, my new customer, was a hockey-playing Austin newbie by way of Boston when he was invited to his friend's Travis Heights backyard barbecue last year.

"So I'm standing there next to the grill," Wayne told me as my jaw began to drop, "and all of a sudden I notice the old guy watching the meat cooking next to me. I only realized it was Robert Plant until he stuck out his hand and introduced himself with a thick British accent –

''Ello, mate. I'm Bob. We live across the street.'"

You know Bob P. is feeling pretty comfy in Austin when he's showing up unannounced to his neighbor's backyard barbecue.


The first time I heard Bob was living in Austin, the news came from a trio of UT grad students. The 3 Ph.D candidates, all of them studying to be history gurus, had been getting their drink on at Crown & Anchor before I picked them up for a ride home. I don't recall how the subject came up, but before long they were telling me about some photos the bartender had been showing them on his phone.

"The guy had pictures of Robert Plant with his 2 pomeranians at a vet's office up here in Hyde Park," the future Civil War historian said all too calmly.

"No!?" I blurted out in disbelief, if not a little rudely. "Robert Plant's bringing his dogs to my neighborhood vet?! Bullshit! You sure those pictures weren't Photoshopped? Plus, what's one of the greatest rock stars ever doing with a couple pomeranians? You ever been around a pomeranian? Yappy little fuckers."

"I think they were springer spaniels," pointed out History Wiz #2.

"I thought they were more like shih tzus," countered History Wiz #3.

"Either way," said the aspiring Civil War buff, "they were not the kind of dogs you'd expect a guy like that to be showing up with at your local vet's office."

"Although," History Wiz #2 pointed out, "in his defense, the dogs did have a bit of the rock star big hair."

The budding historians went on to tell me that Bob was dating Hyde Park's favorite songbird, Patty Griffin, and that's probably why he was in our 'hood.

Thanks to the internet, the next day I found out that the man responsible for some of my favorite music ever lived less than 5 blocks from me. Don't worry, I'm not stalking the guy.

But I'm not gonna lie. We did see a sudden spike in the number of walks we took around the neighborhood.


I continued to believe I had a rock icon living a few blocks away until I heard Wayne's story about bumping into Bob P. at that Travis Heights barbecue. In the months since, I've had at least a dozen customers in my cab share their stories of seeing Mr. Plant at various spots around town.

A Westlake guy in his 50s – old enough to discover Zeppelin when they were the biggest band in the world – spotted Bob shopping at Whole Foods.

A girl who works at Fado said Bob comes in sometimes to watch soccer. ("Biggest head I've ever seen on a human being," she laughed. "Just massive.")

One of my regulars, Bailey, saw him more than once walking his dogs around Travis Heights. (Don't recall her take on the breed.)

We heard from a waitress at Quality Seafood that Bob came in with Shawn Colvin a few weeks ago – only to be bothered by a gushing fan during dinner. (C'mon, lady. Leave Bob alone!)

Last June I told my visiting musician friend, Colby Logan, that Bob was living in Austin. Not more than 2 hours later, Colby sends me a text: "Just saw Robert Plant" (He and his wife spotted Bob P. rolling down South Congress in a blue convertible.)

Apparently everyone in Austin has seen Bob around town except me.


I do, however, feel somewhat qualified to regale townies and tourists alike with Zeppelin trivia and all these stories of Austin brushes with Bob. Plus, I've got my own insights and opinions on Bob and the band after working on an ill-fated Led Zeppelin documentary project a few years ago for Spitfire Pictures.

I was hired by Spitfire to come up with a fresh concept and pitch it in a document called a treatment. (Part blueprint, part sales pitch.) For close to 2 months I immersed myself in Zeppelin. Listened to nothing but Zeppelin. Read everything I could about Zeppelin. Watched as many of the existing Zeppelin documentaries that I could stomach, a little daunted by the fact that there were nearly 20 of them. (Give us a FRESH idea, damn it!)

After several weeks in full Zeppelin immersion, I came up with my spin. I wanted to tell the epic Led Zeppelin saga through the story of John Bonham. Bonzo was a family man who lived in the English countryside with his wife and kids. When the offer came to join this hot new band with the great Jimmy Page from the Yardbirds and acclaimed session musician John Paul Jones, Bonham turned down the gig. It was only at the urging of his good friend, Bob, that Bonham joined Led Zeppelin.

And we all know how that turned out.

After all my research, I got the impression that the '70s rock god Robert Plant was – despite the sex, drugs & rock 'n roll veneer – not all that different from Backyard Barbecue Bob: a good guy, with a good heart and a relentless conscience.

It's no wonder that Bob, of the 3 surviving Zeppelin members, is the one who doesn't want to get the band back together. Because for all their fame and success, it wouldn't be surprising if there was some guilt, shame and heartache forever linked with those days too. Shame for the way they treated some of the women they blew through. Guilt for talking his best friend into a life and a lifestyle that would eventually kill him. And heartache not just over the loss of his good friend Bonzo in 1980, but also for the sudden death of his young son, Karac, 3 years earlier when the band was touring the U.S.

For all the glam and glory of those days, there was also plenty of darkness
and suffering. So you can't fault Bob for not wanting to re-trace those steps with a Zeppelin world tour that would have half the planet buzzing with anticipation.

I admire the guy for having the balls to say no when the whole world wants him to say yes. I admire the fact that he's trying new things. Sticking to his guns. Living in the now. Moving to Austin for love.

But staying because he loves Austin.

So let's give the man his space.


This past weekend I had the first Zeppelin album spinning in the cab's CD player. We'd just left west campus and I had the volume down low so as not to offend the UT kids in the backseat. It wasn't long before the girl sitting behind me spoke up.

"I LOVE Led Zeppelin."

"YOU love Led Zeppelin?"

I'm always a little shocked when anyone under 30 loves Zeppelin. Even though I know I shouldn't be. Good music is good music. Even if it was made 2 generations ago.

"I grew up with Led Zeppelin," the girl said. "My dad loved Led Zeppelin. It was on ALL the time when I was a kid. This right here is a slice of my childhood. Turn it up."

I cranked up the volume just as Jimmy Page was kicking off his blistering guitar solo on "Whole Lotta Love." For a split second I considered talking over the music, asking the girl if she knew that Robert Plant lived in Austin, telling her about my strangest Bob story yet.

But I came to my senses. Bit my tongue. Cranked it up a little more. Then let the ride down Guadalupe – trying to time all the lights before making that left onto 7th St. – tingle my ears and rattle my soul with the blazing genius of Plant and Page and balls-to-the-wall Bonzo.


That strangest Bob story yet occurred a few months ago. It was a Saturday night and I was driving 3 people to a party in Travis Heights. As we slowly rolled down Annie St., I gestured to the intersection ahead and said in my best tour guide voice – "And on the right, we have the street where the great Robert Plant now lives."

From the backseat a familiar voice piped up.

"I just played tennis with him last week."


Dixie had recently become a BobCab semi-regular. The first night I picked her up she wasn't feeling so great. Her husband of several years – the guy she'd been with since she was 18 – had just moved out of their house that day. A few days before that she got the news her dad had brain cancer.

So if anyone deserved to play a little tennis with Bob Plant in Austin, it was Dixie. (And who knew the guy played tennis? Springer spaniels and tennis – the man is full of surprises.)

"Yeah, we played doubles," Dixie casually continued, as if she was describing a new friend from boarding school. "He played with my mom. And I played with my friend who's friends with him."

I didn't want to be THAT guy and grill her for info. But a few quick questions and a short ride to the Travis Heights party left me with a few interesting Bob tidbits:

* In addition to that blue convertible Colby saw him driving down South Congress, apparently Bob also drives a Crown Vic. I know. I couldn't believe it either. I drive a Crown Vic myself. And my name's Bob. And I moved to Austin for a lady. Geez, it's like we're living parallel lives here.

* Bob's go-to grocery store is the HEB on Oltorf – "because the Mexicans don't recognize him in there."

* Apparently Bob's made several attempts to get his Texas driver's license. But every time he goes to the DMV and gets in line, he loses patience after 10 or 15 minutes and leaves. "I told him he should go the Georgetown DMV," Dixie said. "He'd have 3 or 4 people in front of him, be in and out in no time."


A few weeks ago, after hearing yet another brush with Bob story, my girlfriend asked me: "Have you thought about what you'd say if you did see him?"

"If I saw him out living his life I wouldn't say anything. I'd glance at him real quickly, then turn away and act like I didn't notice him. Then I'd muster up all my strength and will power to make sure I didn't turn back around and stare."

But if I bump into Bob at the DMV – whether it's in Austin, Georgetown, even Pflugerville – I'm definitely gonna offer to let him cut in line.

Ramble on!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

my apologies

To the douche, er, dude who jumped on the hood of my cab hoping to get a ride after the bars had closed on 6th Street:

My good sir, I hope you will accept my apologies for snapping at you like that a few weeks ago. After you did an impressive, albeit drunken and slightly slow-motion Jason Bourne shoulder roll off the hood of my washed, leased and dent-free white Crown Victoria, I should have kept my cool. Clearly. A couple deep breaths and a few moments to contemplate YOUR needs is obviously what the situation called for.

Instead, opting not to focus on what could have driven you to make such an asinine decision, I flew into the kind of public rage a civilized man like myself is not familiar with. Throwing my cab in park in the middle of 7th Street to get out of the car and confront you was most definitely a bad idea. Especially with two customers sitting in the back of my cab. My bad, guys.

And then to explode out of my cab like that, like a frothing Tasmanian devil — not cool. You looked pretty scared, like you thought I might be some unhinged maniac who was gonna clock you with my handy drumsticks. Maybe for a split second there . . . I was. Maybe for a brief snippet of time, all the drunk a-holes and d-bags who've flipped me off and screamed at me for not stopping for them as I'm on my way to pick up one of my regulars who has called me for a ride, maybe all that rage and stupidity that's been blasted at me when the bars close finally came out in our encounter. Your drunken stupidity made me realize I need to chill the fuck out.

So I thank you for that.

I'm not so proud of that torrent of inarticulate fury I leveled at you once I was out of my cab, either.

"What the FUCK, dude?! Are you KIDDING me?! What the fuck?! THIS is how you . . . you . . . you go about getting me to fucking STOP for you?! You fucking idiot! Do I go to your job and fuck up your shit?! Huh?! Would you like that?! What the FUCK, man?!"

My brain was in flames and the synapses weren't firing quite right. What I meant to say was:

"Listen, asshole. Jumping on my hood is probably the WORST way to get me to pick you up. In fact, it makes me never want to pick you up. Ever. Do I go to your house and destroy your property? Not cool, dick. Not to mention the fact that should you damage the cab — which I do not own, btw — I WILL track you down and get you to pay. Which would be a big pain in the ass for me AND you. So stop jumping on hoods, guy. Besides, I wasn't gonna be stopping for you anyway because I was on my way to pick up someone who called me ahead of time for a ride. Maybe if you stop jumping on hoods, some cab driver out there would be willing to take your call and come scoop you up in the middle of all this bullshit."

This is what I should've said. I apologize for not being more articulate in the moment.

And that move I made to crack you in the nuts with my drumsticks? That was bush. My apologies. That must've felt pretty emasculating when you cowered like a little girl. And I must thank you for being such a happy dumb-ass drunk. That's the closest I've ever felt to being a big league manager jawing nose-to-nose with an umpire. But you took it — all my spit and rage — like a goofy golden lab that just got caught shitting on the rug.

I apologize for rubbing your nose in the shit. And I thank you for not being an angry drunk with a short fuse. Things could have gotten ugly. Drumsticks could have been broken.

Again, I apologize for my unacceptable behavior. Just stay the hell off my hood.

Chilling the fuck out,
Bob the Cabbie

Monday, January 23, 2012

so many names to remember


“Bob, you do this to me EVERY time!”

“Dude, you’ve gotta sit in the front seat once or twice for me to remember you.”

“C’mon, Bob! It’s Spencer. You KNOW that!”

It’s after 2. The bars have just closed. And I’m in survival mode, dodging the hundreds of drunks flooding the streets of downtown Austin looking for a cab.

“I’ve got a better idea, Spencer. Let me take your picture so I can never forget that pretty face of yours.”

The double bird action was Spencer’s idea.

Hope the hook up was successful.