Dear Mike [Miner]:

Funny thing: I’ve just read your portrait of Debra Pickett [Hot Type, October 11], the new starlet of our morning tabloid, shortly after I came across her rabbit punch at Chicago cabbies.

Prelude to her column: I am slightly older than Ms. Pickett. Often these days, instead of my usual bus ride I grab a cab. In all my years in the backseat, I have very, very rarely encountered rude guys up front. They are usually weary, hours-weary and world-weary, doing the best they can. A great many of them work from 12 to 16 hours a day, sometimes six, even seven days a week.

“When do you see your wife and kids?” I usually ask. On the fly, they say. Maybe a little bit on Sunday. I give them a kiss, and I’m back to the old grind. You know, in the case of Yellow and Checker, the first eight hours goes to the company: gas, insurance, accidents, I pay. You keep movin’, you keep movin’. What can I tell ya?

The cabbies these days are of all worlds, the new, the old, the first, the second, the third. Their stories are invariably the same.

Now for Debra’s piece: “During my little odyssey” she encounters nothing but rude behavior. “One harangued me….Another missed the street I wanted….Another wouldn’t get out to help with my bag…. Another stopped to chat with another taxi driver.” On and on. The poor kid had a hard time of it.

OK, let it pass. It was, however, one passage in her column that said it all.

“I took down the medallion number of the driver who told me it was my sacred duty to get married and have children as soon as possible. ‘Otherwise, your life means nothing to God,’ he said.” Islamic, no doubt. That’ll show ‘im. It probably cost him his job. Good goin’, kid.

“‘Bad smell,’ I wrote of one driver. ‘Homicidal,’ about another. ‘Ran red light/whiplash,’ summed up my final depressing ride.”

Now comes the payoff. Pickett has suggested a “secret rider” program. “Just call 311.” This last told me who the starlet really is: John Ashcroft in drag.

Studs Terkel