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Somehow you knew that Fred Schepartz’s last fare after 31 years as a fulltime Union Cab driver in Madison wouldn’t be ordinary. After all, Schepartz, 57, was the "Vampire Cabbie." More on that momentarily.
On April 14, Schepartz was in his cab at the airport. The weather was lousy around the Midwest and flights were being canceled. A guy approached Schepartz’s cab and said the four words Madison cab drivers dream of hearing.
“Take me to O’Hare!”
A few hours and a $380 charge later, Schepartz dropped his final passenger at the Chicago airport.
“The Holy Grail,” Schepartz said last week of the Madison to O’Hare run. “It happened to me twice in 31 years.”
Schepartz has been thinking about a career change since summer 2013, when he witnessed the successful efforts of several Madison attorneys on behalf of the Solidarity Singers — the persistent protestors at the state Capitol tunefully opposing the policies of former Gov. Scott Walker — dozens of whom were subject to arrest.
“That’s a freedom of speech and assembly fight we won,” Schepartz said. “The attorneys inspired me to want to go into the law.”
In 2015 — “I procrastinated,” he says — Schepartz enrolled in Madison College’s paralegal program. Some of the wait was likely due to his loyalty to Union Cab and true affection for cab driving.
Schepartz is originally from the Washington, D.C. area and came to town in 1979 to study journalism at University of Wisconsin–Madison. By the time he graduated, he’d left reporting behind for writing fiction, a calling that generally requires an additional income source. Schepartz sold furniture, worked a couple of office jobs, and then in 1988 began driving for Union Cab.
He kept writing, and in 1989, founded a literary magazine, “Mobius: The Journal of Social Change,” a print quarterly until 2009 and now published online four times a year. In his writing, Schepartz moved from literary fiction to science fiction and horror, eventually writing a novel about a 1,000-year-old vampire who loses everything in a stock market crash and gets a job driving for a cooperative cab company in Madison. “Vampire Cabbie” was published by Literary Road in 2007.
As a published novelist Schepartz joined a colorful cadre of local celebs who once drove for Union, including radio star Michael Feldman and author/historian Stu Levitan, who famously drove filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola from the Park Hotel to the airport.
People always ask Schepartz if he drove any celebrities. The answer: some, mostly low wattage. He had discredited chef Mario Batali in his cab (“He gave me great advice about knives”) and the English singer-songwriter Graham Parker. The lead singer of Counting Crows jumped in at State and Gilman and asked to be taken to Strictly Discs on Monroe Street.
In 2009, Schepartz drove around the documentarian Michael Moore’s crew as they considered Union for a spot in “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Fred was interviewed (and shows up in a bonus feature on the DVD) but he neglected to plug his novel.
“Of all the things to forget,” he said. “It’s like showing up to a duel without your pistol.”
He is on the DVD doing an inspired impersonation of Robert De Niro n the film “Taxi Driver” saying, “Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the street.”
Along with the lawyers in the Solidarity Singers case, a second inspiration for Schepartz changing careers in his 50s was his mother, who took a similar step in her 40s. It requires some guts, and, of course, there are no guarantees.
Having graduated with a paralegal degree in 2017, Schepartz applied for more than 100 jobs and got 26 interviews. What he didn’t get was a job offer, but he persevered.
Finally, earlier this month, Schepartz accepted a position with Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a firm with offices in Madison and Chicago.
He’s kept “active” status at Union and may work the odd shift on a weekend day. Schepartz is proud of how the company has endured in the face of rideshare competition. “We took their best punch and we’re still standing,” he says.
He’s especially proud of having landed at Miner, Barnhill & Galland. They’re known for their work in civils right, employment and whistleblower law. And one more thing.
“In 1993,” Fred noted, “they hired a young associate fresh out of law school by the name of Barack Obama.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.
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