The cabbie didn't even give me a chance to announce my destination before he started in. "I hope you're going to write a column putting John Mitchell in his place," he said.
I asked him if his reference was to the former attorney general of the United States.
"That's exactly the geezer I'm talking about," the cabbie said (although he didn't exactly say "geezer"). "Anyway, he's been badmouthing the District, making racist cracks and -- well, it's all right here. Read it for yourself."
He showed me a copy of the bond-industry trade publication called "Credit Markets," in which Mitchell, a leading Wall Street bond expert and lawyer before he joined the Nixon administration, was quoted as saying he didn't like the idea of the District of Columbia's issuing its own bonds.
"Even a member of the Watergate crew is entitled to his expert opinion," I said. "You take two unrelated facts -- that Washington is a predominantly black city and that Mitchell thinks we shouldn't be allowed to issue a billion dollars' worth of bonds -- and you draw the unwarranted conclusion that Mitchell must be a racist. Your reasoning process . . ."
"Read on, dammit," the cabbie shouted, turn- ing toward me and jabbing his finger at the paragraph that apparently had set him off.
I read. "I never have been in favor of the nation's capital issuing its own bonds," the article quoted the man who was the nation's top law-enforcement officer before he served 14 months in prison on a series of Watergate convictions. Then: "I certainly wouldn't be until they stop running the government like the Amos 'n' Andy Taxi Cab Co."
"See what I mean?" the cabbie said. "First, he insults me by suggesting that cabdrivers are stupid, then he insults black people by saying our elected officials are just a bunch of ignorant ramuses like those folks on 'Amos 'n' Andy.' Even you would have to admit that's racist."
"Perhaps," I said. "But I do note that his reference was not to black people or even to black elected officials but only to the particular set of officials who run this city. Maybe he was only suggesting some measure of fiscal incompetence on the part of . . ."
"Don't be stupid," the cabbie said. "The man did not say diddly about incompetence. He's talking about 'Amos 'n' Andy,' and everybody in America, except you, knows exactly what he's talking about. Everybody on the show was either devious or dumb or both. The whole show was nothing but a negative stereotype of black folks, and for John Mitchell to be comparing the District to 'Amos 'n' Andy' is an insult, and you ought to know it."
I acknowledged that the cabbie had a small point, but reminded him that the publication in which the Mitchell interview appeared was for bond buyers, whose primary concern was not sociology or politics but the security of the bonds the city proposed to sell. Maybe he was just making a little joke.
"Then why did he also say he's opposed to home rule for the District?" the cabbie said. "What's that got to do with bonds? If this was a majority-white city, you think he'd have a problem with home rule? And if he was making a joke, it wasn't funny."
I told the cabbie that if he would stop being so sensitive, I would give some consideration to writing a column on the subject.
"Well, you do what you want to," the cabbie said. "You may not have any race pride, but some of us do. The man has insulted both my race and my profession, and I'm going to take it up with my organization."
"What organization?" I asked. "The Mystic Knights of D.C.?"
"Get out of my cab," he said.
Some cabbies have no sense of humor.