Chicago From Behind the Wheel: Stories from a Cop and a Cabbie

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HackWith just shy of 3 million people, Chicago is the third largest city in the United States. UChicago Press has two recent books by Chicago authors - Dmitry Samarov and Martin Preib - both of which describe the city from unique perspectives. In doing so, both come to a similar conclusion about Chicago: as bustling and crowded the city may be, many people living in the city find themselves lonely and depressed.

In Hack, cabbie Dmitry Samarov recounts interesting encounters with passengers as he navigates the city, typically in its darkest hours, the ones before dawn.  Hack consists of vignettes, which are organized by the days of the week.  Beginning with Monday, Samarov takes his readers through a typical week as a taxicab driver in the city.  He becomes the silent witness to the personal lives of his customers and privy to their secrets and dreams.  While Samarov takes care to remove physical evidence left by his rides, the stories of drunks, battered girlfriends, drug dealers and buyers, slobs, and yuppies, haunt him.

At first, I was skeptical about Samarov's ambition to give a full portrait of Chicago and its people because of his late hours.  Early on, Samarov made the point he often worked the "graveyard" shift because that was the most opportune time to find work.  However, the vignettes in Hack are thoughtful and well chosen, and the pictures that accompany the stories make them come alive.  The most surprising aspect of Hack is that many of Samarov's customers tried to befriend him, and HBO's "Taxicab Confessions" comes up in several dialogues.

In The Wagon, Preib presents a far more grim perspective on the city of Chicago.  A police officer, his accounts of broken, bruised, and sometimes bloody bodies are rather graphic and unsettling.  Over the course of the book, the author learns the ins and outs of Chicago and policing; once the city forbids rookie police officers from extracting dead bodies, he changes focus on the live victims and perpetrators he meets.  As The Wagon progresses, it becomes less about the dead and the people hencounters and more about his own attempts to make peace with himself and find his way, both as a writer and a human being.

Both Samarov and Preib invite readers into their intimate daily work in the innermost parts of the behemoth that is Chicago, however the two men could not be more different.  Originally born and raised in Michigan, Preib always dreamed of going to Chicago, where his parents lived before they decided to marry and raise a family.  After hitchhiking around the country, Preib decides to settle down in the city.  Samarov immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union with his parents at the age of seven.  Preib takes a rather pessimistic attitude toward the isolating and overwhelming Chicago, whereas Samarov appears to be amused, and sometimes sympathetic toward his subjects.

Both are quick and fascinating reads.  Overall I preferred Hack because I felt Samarov managed to give a better portrait of the flavor of Chicago neighborhoods and of what it is like to drive around Chicago.

Hack by Dmitry Samarov - includes a preview of the book
The Wagon by Martin Preib - includes a preview chapter and podcast
University of Chicago Press Books about Chicago


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Lynda said:

You make a very interesting point:

"In doing so, both come to a similar conclusion about Chicago: as bustling and crowded the city may be, many people living in the city find themselves lonely and depressed."

I wonder why so many people in the city find themselves lonely and depressed. Do you think it's something indicative of cities in general or something more about Chicago?

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