Albuquerque Reading

graveofnobody Here’s audio of my reading at Bookworks in Albuquerque. Lionhead Bunny (Jessica Billey & Bud Melvin) provide musical accompaniment. There’s a Q & A afterwards as well. It’s a low-tech recording but may perhaps be worth listening to anyway. I certainly enjoyed having such capable musicians make my job a lot easier.

Where To Review

Review: ‘Where To?’ by Dmitry Samarov

ctfl-010ct-prj-1012-where-to-dmitry-samarov-jpg-20141009(Rob Hart, for the Chicago Tribune)

 By Kathleen Rooney

All cabdrivers get dispatched, but most cabdrivers don’t send dispatches. Artist, writer and former taxi driver Dmitry Samarov does, though, and has for years: on his blog and through Twitter as well as in his first book “Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab” in 2011 and now in “Where To?: A Hack Memoir.” Samarov no longer drives a cab, but “Where To?” preserves slices of his life behind the wheel: misadventures from his professional past that feel as fresh in his telling as they must have felt when they were actually occurring.

Samarov began his career as a cabdriver in 1993 as an art-school grad in search of a job. “The words in this book would never have been written if I didn’t draw or paint them first,” he tells the reader in his opening note. The illustrations — “Dispatch Squawk,” with words hurtling out of the two-way radio, for instance, and “Blizzard,” with the streets of the city muffled in snow — work seamlessly with the text, coming across as essential elements, not merely as supplements.

Fittingly for a book by a visual artist, most of the episodes — organized into thematic sections like “Rules & Regulations,” “Romance,” and “End of the Night” — have the atmosphere of vignettes or sketches. Of course, the word “sketch” comes with the connotation of being unfinished — something that needs more development. But these micro-stories feel as though they all start and end in just the right place. In “Take a Chance,” about a nervous and indecisive customer who announces as he gets in, “I’m gonna take a chance,” we never find out what the chance was. But that’s OK, because it seems that the real point of this tale and others in the book is that taking chances — person after person, night after night — is in large part what being a cabdriver is about. As Samarov notes in a later story about picking up a problem passenger another driver warned him about, “Sometimes I’ll take the wrong people just to see what will happen.”

In each dispatch, Samarov captures the absurdity and occasional beauty of these temporary communities — however small, however brief — created when one person is a paid driver and others are paying passengers.

With his keen interest in divisions and connections among people of different races, classes, genders and social backgrounds, Samarov follows in the tradition of Chicago’s own Studs Terkel. In 1974, Terkel published “Working,” a landmark oral history about labor and people’s relationship to it, subtitled: “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” Roughly 40 years later, Samarov talks about his work a lot — what it’s like to drive a cab all day (or more often than not, all night) — and judiciously about his feelings; it makes for a wonderfully balanced account of what it means to be a cabbie.

He mostly records, like a camera, what people do and say and how they act — frequently, as you might expect of people being picked up outside bars at closing time, drunk and badly, but also sometimes with honor.

The fact that he composed these essays from images and tweets contributes to the book’s momentum. Encounters are circumscribed, but certainly not scripted, where people can find themselves musing, as in one of the Tweets he includes near the end of the book: “DePaul Chick: I feel like when it’s a white cabdriver, I tip more. Isn’t that true? Me: Don’t know, I’ve never been a black cabdriver.”

Often, Samarov presents uncomfortable moments with little to no editorializing, but the genius there is that even a nonjudgmental point of view is a point of view, and his subtlety and understatement become a kind of powerful presence, more so than if he offered more opinionated commentary.

Terkel concluded that, for many people, work was a quest “for daily meaning as well as daily bread.” Samarov manages to find not just the latter here, but also, luckily for the reader, the former.


Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press and a founding member of Poems While You Wait. Her most recent books are the novel-in-poems “Robinson Alone” and the novel “O, Democracy!”