Saturday, December 5, 2020

All Hack by Dmitri Samarov


(Pictures and Blather, 2020) A few years back I read writer/artist Samarov's first collection of stories from his days as a cab driver in Chicago in the first decade of this Century. I missed his second book (which apparently had some bad mojo as far as distribution), and I had never seen his hand typed zines he did on this subject, so I was delighted to see a new beautiful, hardcover collection (of both volumes, all the zines, a selection of tweets taking notes on interesting rides, and related writing done after the second book), and borderline surprised that it was only $20. It is definitely interesting to learn about the ins and outs of the industry in the age of rideshares, when cabs seem like faxes (my no-credit card-having co-workers always paid friends cash to order Ubers rather than calling a cab, which they found inconceivable). Dmitry deals with predatory traffic cops, the whims of dispatchers, leased vehicles he hates (and loves), strange co-workers, arrangements for special needs riders, and particulars of where to eat, pee, and serve penance for wrongdoings. But the heart of the book is the vivid snapshots of the riders, many casually (or virulently) racist, and/or oddly open about their ethical deficiencies, but so many others delightful, fascinating, odd, beautiful characters, who reveal a lot (and leave a lot mysterious) during their short interaction. There is definitely some backseat fucking and drug deal adventures (and maybe a war crime or two revealed while discounting the cabbies ears), but more thrilling is learning about how interesting each individual in each corner of so many Chicago neighborhoods is, revealed by little trips to pick up a settlement check, deal with  a pet, or just go through a drive through for a burger. Samarov, an painter by training, says that interacting with these folks and contemplating life during these marathon shifts made him a writer. But for folks used to seeing his paintings at bars, him drawings bands at rock shows, and the thousands of aesthetic images he's made over the last couple decades, it is kinda interesting that while his written portraits are so vivid, his drawings of the riders are less so (understandable since his eyes were on the road). While not all of the people pics are evocative as you'd hope, where this book reaches the stratosphere is with the moody, magnificent ink washes of Chicago traffic, architecture, and the outsides of bars and businesses that were his whole world for 6 to 16 hours a day from 2003-2012. Some of the drawings of the people are intriguingly odd and ugly, but all of his cityscapes and auto view traffic portraits are all out beautiful. All hail this cab book.

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