I don't exactly remember the first time I got a ride from Ted Narcotic, aka Theodore L. Higgins, aka Yellow Cab number 352. It was probably late and probably downtown. That's where he usually turns up.
But I clearly remember his vague resemblance to Iggy Pop—long hair, gently weathered face—and his boyish friendliness. I also remember the music playing on his car stereo: fuzzy, stripped-down, bluesy rock 'n' roll that wrapped its hazy arms around vocals that were half-sung and half-spoken, which also bore a resemblance to Iggy Pop. I leaned forward and asked the driver who it was.
"That's me!" he said, smiling. At the end of the ride, he handed me two home-burned CDs, pulled out a marker, and signed them "Ted Narcotic."
I remember a few other cab rides with Ted over the years—he's a memorable guy—and, one recent rainy night, I hailed a cab downtown. It was Ted. He drove a friend and me home while playing another one of his songs, this one with a glazed, tinkling piano/guitar combination that sounded like the Velvet Underground. As he gunned up a hill, his voice warbled over the speakers: "You say you want something wholesome... Well, I'm reading your letters from a prison cell. Is that wholesome? I'm stuck in Folsom."
At that moment, he made a hard but smooth left turn, cutting in front of oncoming traffic that a nonprofessional might have paused for. "Nice," my friend said. "My turn?" Ted asked, grinning into the rearview mirror. "Or my turn of phrase?"