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Taking a Taxi to the House of Representatives

Tom Williams/Roll Call

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Before joining Congress, Luis Gutierrez picked up thousands of passengers while working as a taxi driver.

But one stands out.

The man was well-dressed, Gutierrez said, reminding him of the Gordon Gekko character in “Wall Street.”

“You’re really smart, you’re real articulate, and you seem like you’ve got a good story and you want to go somewhere,” the man told him. “But I see one problem.”

“What’s that?” Gutierrez asked. “This guy’s obviously been successful. He’s going to give me that little morsel of truth,” he thought.

“You didn’t shave today.”

The passenger told Gutierrez that he would double his $15 fare if he would promise to shave every day for the rest of his life. 

“You gotta shave every day,” he told Gutierrez. “You never know who you’re going to meet.”

As it turns out, the well-dressed passenger didn’t know who he was meeting — a future Member of Congress.

Now a Democratic Representative for Illinois’ 4th district, Gutierrez says moments like that from his years as a taxicab driver still stick with him.

And yes, he took the money. Who wouldn’t?

“I can’t say I kept the promise,” he said. But he has always remembered that piece of advice. “[Driving a cab], you meet a lot of people and you get a lot of great advice.”

 

Behind the Wheel

Before he became one of the nation’s most prominent Hispanic politicians and before his 18 years of experience in Congress and his successful run for Chicago City Council, Gutierrez drove a cab, on and off, for eight years during the 1970s and ’80s. 

When he first started driving a cab in 1976, it was for a familiar reason: The out-of-work college senior was looking to make money. He was studying at Northeastern Illinois University to become an English teacher and was hoping to make enough to travel to Puerto Rico to see his long-term girlfriend at the end of the summer. Cab driving seemed like an obvious choice, and Gutierrez received his license with little trouble.

“I don’t remember it being very difficult to pass the test [to get a license],” he said. “What was difficult was when the first person got into my cab and said, ‘Take me to the northwestern train station.’”

Having grown up on the west side of Chicago, Gutierrez hadn’t spent much time downtown — he hadn’t stayed in the Hilton Hotel or taken an Amtrak train, and he often found himself bewildered when passengers would ask him to take them to downtown hot spots such as the Playboy Club. 

So he did the only possible thing to do: He asked his passengers for advice.

“I just confessed to all my passengers, ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m working, and I’ve got this goal,’” he said. “And people were very nice.”

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