My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Dmitry Samarov’s book Where To? A Hack Memoir is odd little collection of memories, thoughts, ideas, and contemplations from his career as a cab driver in both Boston (briefly) and Chicago. Released by Chicago’s Curbside Splendor Publishing, Samarov’s book was financed in part through a Kickstarter campaign.
The overview: Where To? is a memoir-ish look at the life of a cab driver, written by Dmitry Samarov, a visual artist who decided he’d rather drive a cab than try to support himself with a 9-to-5 or service industry job. The book is a light read, existing somewhere between a short essay collection and a longer slice-of-life narrative. I sat down with the book, and finished it one sitting.
The good: I’m a sucker for non-fiction stories that stretch beyond the author’s own perceptions of the world. Certainly Samarov’s work is told from his point of view, but the book is filled with vignettes of the people who are passing through his cab. I found myself wanting to know more about some of the passengers, or to understand more about the “bad nights” to drive. But that wanting is part of experience of driving a cab, and the book does a good job of painting the picture of what drives somebody to keep coming back to a job that sounds, at times, quite horrible.
Even his lengthy diatribes against the bureaucracies that actively push against cab drivers felt more like vignettes about City Hall and the people who end up administering those policies than stories designed to allow Samarov to pontificate on politics. (Executives at Uber and Lyft will undoubtedly send these sections of the book to anyone who might want to shut those services down.)
The bad: Oddly enough, the vignettes that worked the least within the book focused on the regulars who many times became part of Dmitry’s social life outside the cab. The juxtaposition of these stories were, it seemed, meant to counterbalance the short one-shot scenes with so many random strangers staggering in and out of his cab. In that way, I think those longer, more personal recollections painted a fuller view of “life.”
From a narrative perspective, those moments pulled me out of the odd space Samarov created with his other characters, and I couldn’t wait to return to them. Ultimately, the book isn’t really about Samarov; it’s about life in the cab. Those deeply personal connections, while important to the author, felt dropped into the wrong story.
So: Samarov’s book is quick, fun read, punctuated by the illustrations he created to accompany the book. You won’t walk away from the book with a deeper understanding of the world, but you’ll be entertained while you get a glimpse into the world of the cab driver. As a GenXer, I appreciate the latter much more than the former.