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Taking a Taxi to the House of Representatives

Tom Williams/Roll Call

After driving the night shift for two and a half months, Gutierrez made enough to move to Puerto Rico to be with his girl. He sold his stereo and most of his belongings, and then he set out.

The girl — Soraida — became his wife during the next two years, and they returned to Chicago  in 1978 to start their life together.

But there were few jobs in the city to be had for an English teacher.

Gutierrez went to Exelon Corp. and offered his services as a meter reader. “You’re overqualified,” they told him. So he offered to work in customer service. “That’s where we promote the meter readers,” they said.

Facing the prospect of becoming a busboy — a job that Gutierrez had once suffered and didn’t care to have again — he hopped behind the wheel.

This time, he drove for a year, working six or seven 12-hour days each week. Having leased the cab from a company, working long hours with few days off was the only way to make money.

“I wasn’t around the house for Christmas Eve, but it didn’t matter ’cause I didn’t have kids,” he said.

He remembers listening to the radio on his boom box — “cabs then didn’t have radios,” he explained — and keeping his cash and change in a cigar box. The hours were long, but there was a freedom and simplicity to cab driving that Gutierrez sometimes misses.

“There’s a rhythm to it, and there’s an independence to it, and there’s a finality to it,” he said. “You pull the first flag, and you pull the last flag. You’ve picked up the first tip and the last tip of the day, and your day ends, and you can go home.”

 

Back to Cab Driving

Gutierrez stopped driving cabs for the second time in 1979, when he became a social worker for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. He was making less money, but the hours were easier. Gutierrez stuck with the agency until he did two things in 1983 that, individually, made a lot of sense but still struck some as odd.

He went back to cab driving.

And he ran for Democratic committeeman for the 32nd ward in Illinois.

“It was kind of hard to do campaigning, being a social worker,” he said. “You don’t want to mix government employment with politics. So I kind of said to myself, ‘You know, this is one area he can’t touch me.’”

Gutierrez went back to driving a cab seven days a week. He was working twice as long as he had as a social worker, but he was also making twice as much money. He managed to pay his mortgage, open a campaign office and finance his campaign by driving a cab.

When the campaign kicked into high gear, Gutierrez drove his cab three days a week and campaigned the other four. The taxi driving, he said, didn’t affect his campaigning — in fact, it was quite the reverse. 

“I was in campaign mode,” he said of his time driving a cab during his run for committeeman. Passengers would comment on his intellect and ask what he was doing driving a cab.

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