in the mid 1980s, there used to be shuttle bus service that ran from
the Houston Intercontinental Airport to the 5000 block of Richmond
Avenue. The stand-alone building was in the middle of a parking lot
just west of the 610 Loop. It was long gone by the mid 1990s.
The building had seating for 20 passengers. It had large glass doors
and two drive-through lanes for arriving and departing buses or courtesy
vans from various hotels. Although there was a battery of telephones
inside the air-conditioned building, they also had a single phone
installed outside. The building was locked at 10 P.M. and someone
somewhere had thoughtfully added the outside phone – considering the
plight of a stranded passenger – or a patron of the nearby strip who
came out of a restaurant or theater to find their car battery dead.
It was a ten dollar trip to the airport by bus (with one stop at Greenway
Plaza) versus a direct trip by taxi which was $23.50.
Alongside the building were spaces assigned for six cabs and when
a bus arrived, departing passengers would usually empty the stand.
A “good” trip from these passengers might go to Sugar Land ($8-10)
but the worst trips only went a few blocks to the Houston Oaks or
the Galleria Plaza Hotel – less than $3.
Businessmen returning home to Sugar Land would always ask for
a receipt. Being considerate of the driver’s time, the polite ones
would say: “Please don’t bother filling it out” while others would
simply say “I need a receipt – and leave it blank.”
Cab drivers around the world share one trait. While the law of averages
says that roughly 50% of them may have been born at night – I can
assure you, none of them were born last night. They knew a
trip from the airport to Sugar Land was around $40 by taxi, so deducting
the $10 for the bus and the $8-10 cab ride to finish the trip, a scheming
fare could easily submit a $40 receipt plus a $5 tip and not arouse
any suspicion from their company’s accounting department.
Somewhere during the course of one of these drives, there would be
some friendly negotiation which usually resulted in a blank yellow
receipt being exchanged for a green engraved portrait of Alexander
drivers at “500 Richmond” as it was known, were a very loose confederacy.
They used to pitch quarters between buses, in the same way newsboys
used to pitch pennies back in the 1930s. In fact it may have been
the very last practice of that mildest form of gambling.
The dominant personality of the crew at 5000 Richmond was Alex. Alex
was the senior member at 65 and had the distinction of being one of
very few drivers in Houston
to be called by his name and not his taxi numbers. This was a respectful
gesture by the other drivers – and please note I did not use the word
While there was no real camaraderie between drivers, there was a certain
amount of professionalism among drivers who operated from a specific
location. Alex had tenure and was more or less treated as the crusty
old professor of “taxiology”.
A transplanted New Yorker via Miami Beach (with the attitude and accent
to prove it) Alex always pronounced the word Galleria as “Gonorrhea”
and when he would repeat a fare’s destination to them. It was amusing
to see the startled reactions. Alex griped and grouched about just
about everything; but if you managed to make him laugh – he
dropped the role and gave you a conspiratorial smile – but you had
to be quick to see it.
Over the course of a fifteen hour day, a driver could catch one or
two airport trips from 5000 Richmond – either from someone who had
just missed a departing bus, or someone who was in a hurry and didn’t
have time to wait. The drivers at 5000 Richmond were masochistic and
enjoyed the magnified suspense the terminal provided.
Most of the time business people were dropped off by coworkers and
there was that suspenseful moment when a panicked person emerged from
a private car and either approached the door to the waiting area or
ran directly to a cab. The drivers, wags that they were, had paraphrased
the then-popular song “Another One Bites the Dust” to “Another One
Takes The Bus.”
night, the terminal ticket seller came out and told us that the courtesy
van of the Adam’s Mark Hotel had broken down. The hotel had called
him and asked him to relay the message to the drivers. The hotel would
pay $6 for any taxi filling in for their broken van. I thought it
was a pretty smart solution – even though the hotel paid by a voucher
instead of cash.
That evening, if arriving passengers milled around for more than a
few minutes, the drivers would ask if anyone was going to the Adam’s
Mark. The drivers explained the situation and after being assured
it was at no cost to them, the people would get in for a trip to “Deep
Westheimer” – as the hotel’s neighborhood was then known.
In Taxi jargon, the opposite of deep was not shallow, but “short.”
Short Westheimer would be within Houston’s
encircling 610 Loop. Westheimer Road ran 20 miles from end to end
– and probably still does.
But while people came and went, one short, strangely-familiar looking
passenger simply paced back and forth, never getting more that ten
feet from his suitcase. He looked at his watch every few minutes and
tried using the pay phone that had been out-of-order for weeks.
Alex, in his deadpan manner asked if the man was going to Adam’s Mark
and the man said “Yes, but I’m waiting for their courtesy van.” He
was then informed that it wouldn’t be coming and after hearing the
news, he smiled at Alex and said, “That’s okay, I’ll just wait anyway.”
Alex shrugged. He was the only man I knew who could shrug with a New
The drivers continued to pitch quarters and when a winner would approach
the curb to collect his winnings, he might speak to the man, saying
“Really, the van is broken and the hotel will pay us.” The man would
give a patronizing smile and say again that he would wait. The drivers
Now that we heard heard him speak, his voice was familiar, too. One
of the drivers asked another sotto voce, “Isn’t that the guy from
the TV show?”
“Yeah, that really narrows it down,” the other driver said sarcastically.
“Which TV show?”
“You know, Dick Van Dyke!”
“Yeah, that’s it!”
Then a third driver (who had dropped off at Adam’s Mark) confirmed
that he had seen the show card at the hotel’s front desk:
“Appearing in the Lounge for Three Nights Only: Morey Amsterdam!”
The man heard the exchange, smiled and raised his hand as if to say
“guilty as charged.”
It was already after ten and the last bus had dropped off only two
passengers – one of which was going to Adam’s Mark. The driver explained
the situation to the man and the passenger (obviously not as worldly-wise
as Mr. Amsterdam), didn’t hesitate to get in the cab.
I took the other fare to Sugar Land and checked to make sure I had
a receipt. The two remaining cabs drove off empty to either work the
ship channel or take a nap until 2 a.m. when there would be a fifteen
minute flurry of calls when the clubs closed. One last effort was
made to convince Mr. Amsterdam his “ride” wouldn’t be coming, but
it was to no avail.
Born in Chicago, Mr. Amsterdam had once worked in a speak-easy owned
by Al Capone. He clearly “knew the score” and knew what was “up.”
Clearly, something was going on and he wasn’t about to be taken advantage
I saw one of the drivers a week later and asked if he knew the end
to the story. He said he had passed by later that night and was flagged
down by Mr. Amsterdam. When they arrived at Adam’s Mark, “Buddy” opened
his wallet to pay the driver what was on the meter. The driver then
laughed and said: “You should’ve seen his face when I went to the
front desk to get the voucher.”
© John Troesser
September 21, 2014 Column
More Columns by John Troesser