Awful day. Then I stayed at work overtime, ran to catch the T but arrived too late. So I walked from Broadway to the ITOA taxi depot behind the Herald and asked, incredibly for me, for a cab to Porter Square. Unfortunately, the taxi company was unable to get me one. (I’m not kidding.) The five men sitting around playing cards advised me to hope to find one of their drivers on the street somewhere.
But I found one: Richard Piotrowski, who explained that — every episode of “Taxi” to the contrary — cab drivers don’t sit around the garage waiting for fares. They’re only there every 12 hours for shift changes.
There aren’t many jobs that demand 12-hour shifts. It turns out Piotrowski, who fled Poland about 23 years ago when martial law was declared, wound up in Alaska working at one of the few other jobs that do: commercial fisherman.
The information about taxi-driver shifts soothed me a bit. But Piotrowski went on to talk about fishing, all the way to Porter, and was, well, just short of enthralling. I was sorry when the trip ended.
Much of it was just details about how the industry operates compared with how it was when Piotrowski, now something like an older Robin Williams with a Polish accent, thinning hair and a mustache, started working the boats. His most vivid stories were somewhat grotesque. He told them with mildly embarrassed, but unrestrained, laughter.
The fishing attracted seagulls — in such numbers “they cut off the sun,” Piotrowski recalled — and the fishermen, punchy and savage after days spent awake, working constantly in below-freezing temperatures, took their revenge upon them. There were seagull gladiator games, in which the birds were stuck in the chest with large hooks and tied together to claw each other to bits. And there was seagull baseball, in which the birds, swarming in claustrophobic profusion, could merely be swung at with a bat and knocked brutally out of midair, then to be torn apart and eaten by their friends.
Awful stories. But distracting. Transporting. From Poland to America, from fishing to driving, from Southie to Porter Square, from a newspaper desk to a bloodsoaked boat deck. Nice to be taken away after an absurdly enraging day of technical problems and interoffice politics.