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August 21, 2007

The singing cabbie

Chicago Sun Times (IL):

If a kooky taxi driver wearing a boater and a polka-dot tie serenades you on your ride across town, don't freak out. It's probably just Ray St. Ray, the singing cabdriver of Lincoln Square. The guy's a bit strange, but harmless. "It's not just a ride, it's a trip," he likes to say.

Just ask Lauren Ponc, who recently was a captive audience in Ray's back seat. "He was singing a song about a sexual scientist and all the fun things they did in their lab," Ponc says. "Lots of innuendo. It really makes the ride go quickly. It was fun."

Ol' St. Ray has been signing his quirky original tunes for passengers ever since his third wife divorced him, he lost his job and decided he never wanted to work another 9-to-5 again. Besides, singing cabdriver was one of the few jobs that wasn't already on St. Ray's resume. "I've been a nurse's aide, bicycle repairman, meat-packer, Army paratrooper, railroad switchman, graphic designer, adult education instructor, retail sales clerk, heating contractor, sign painter, personal secretary to two guys who sell violins, art director for a magazine, door-to-door salesman," he says. "I've never been a cowboy, astronaut or movie star. But I'm working on it."

The vaudevillian cabdriver act has been his steadiest gig. St. Ray's been at it for 16 years, four months, 27 days and 55,000 passengers, by his count. "My goal was to live the life that I would want to read a book or see a movie about," St. Ray says. "And who wouldn't want to see a movie about a singing cabdriver?"

He thinks of himself as an urban Gene Autry "rescuing strangers from everyday street corners, transporting them through surreal Hollywood musical interludes, and riding off into the sunset."

Don't bother screaming for your favorite song from the back seat. Ray doesn't take requests. "If people say they want Sinatra, I tell them to go get in his cab," St. Ray says. But you just can't call St. Ray, whose real name is Ray Suges, and ask him to pick you up. He prefers to let the fates pick his passengers.

When you get in the back seat, Ray asks you to pick a genre covered in his catalogue -- sex, love, social significance or other. And by the next stop sign and sometimes sooner, he'll belt out an a cappella rendition of one of his 92 original tunes, while banging on the dashboard, shaking his finger and obeying most of the traffic laws. "This is guerrilla street theater. I'm a street performer," he says. "But unlike guys on the sidewalk, I have better acoustics."

This act typically scores a nice tip at the end of a ride, but Ray's not getting rich behind the wheel, -- not yet. "My life savings is always in my pocket. I live modestly, but enjoy the extravagances of thrift store shopping," he says. "I'm not in the cab-driving business. I'm in the business of creating the legend of the singing cabdriver, and waiting to cash in on it."

Posted by acapnews at August 21, 2007 12:23 AM

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