PROVINCETOWN — Need a ride to the Boatslip and a soliloquy about affordable housing? Call Cape Cab in Provincetown, and you can have it all from cabbie Louise Venden.
She is a select board member who has been steeped in the workings of the town’s thorniest problems for years. In other words, she is a special breed: not only is she an opinionated cabbie — she may actually know what she is talking about.
I rode shotgun in Venden’s Cape Cab van on July 4. Our first passengers were Clarence Lang and his 17-year-old son, Zach Hamer-Lang, from State College, Pa., who were heading from the ferry on MacMillan Pier to Camp Lightbulb on North Pamet Road in Truro. Due to a miscommunication, they arrived to learn that Camp Lightbulb, which caters to LGBTQ teenagers, would not be ready to receive guests until 1 p.m. We showed up at 10:30 a.m. It was cold and rainy, and there was no place to leave two weary travelers. So, Venden drove them back to town, and directly to Drag Brunch at the Crown & Anchor. Venden had a talk with the manager, a friend, who found them two coveted seats.
They enjoyed some camp before camp.
Along the way, the Langs learned a few things: Those giant puddles on Court Street? Voters had just approved $3.5 million to fix the drainage problem, but, generally, repairs to the town’s infrastructure take too long.
Is there a Carnival parade this year? No, there was going to be a walking parade with no floats. But the police chief was pretty stressed out because there are so many more people in town than usual, Venden explained, so the select board voted against the walking parade.
Throngs of pedestrians descended on Commercial Street this July 4, and one of the summer cops, who was taking a break under an awning at Standish Street, got a wake-up call when Venden rolled down her window and yelled, “Hey, can you direct some traffic?”
Probably, the young officer did not know Venden was on the select board and thought she was just a mouthy cab driver. Either way, he shed his relaxed stance as we rolled by.
A retired real estate asset manager and Beacon Hill guest house owner, Venden has learned a lot during her five years on the select board. Like most of her fellow board members, she is privileged and comfortable. But in 2018, her colleagues voted to remove her as chair after she ranted with colorful language on Facebook against some of her detractors. At the time, she told reporter Katy Ward of the Provincetown Banner, she considered quitting.
“It’s fight or flight, and I usually like to fly,” she told Ward. “I don’t like fighting, but in the end it’s about me serving the town and I still think I have a lot of experience and good ideas to offer,” she said. “I’m not walking away. I’m a tough cookie.”
She then created her own Facebook page titled “Louise Venden Provincetown Select Board,” to highlight worthy topics. The page contains articles mostly pertaining to affordable housing.
Venden brings intensity to this topic because of her perspective as a former Stop & Shop bagger (an earlier post-retirement job) and as a cab driver. Workers living in overcrowded and squalid places take her cab to go to work, to the grocery store, to babysitters.
We picked up a mother and her three-month-old son, who took a $6 ride to the laundromat on Shank Painter Road. The woman told me she had quit her job because the person she had hired to watch her son was overwhelmed with too many children to tend, and her infant became sick.
“It breaks my heart,” Venden said, after dropping them off. “Wee Care has made a difference.” That’s the free child-care program offered to infants and toddlers through the Provincetown Schools. “We have more children here than we did in 2010,” she noted.
But that program is full, particularly in summer, when everyone is working.
The woman and child are Black. Race is part of the equation, Venden said. People of color get treated differently. Some live in intolerable conditions — Venden knows this now because her job has brought her face to face with it.
Venden said the woman and baby live with six men in a crowded basement in the West End. Her cab also transports workers from the Truro Motor Inn and from 101 Shore Road to their Provincetown jobs. Both places are owned by the Delgizzi family, landlords who have faced enforcement action from towns for unsafe living quarters and nonpayment of taxes. The fare from Provincetown to Truro is $13, she said, and many of her passengers earn $12 an hour.
The notion that the cab drivers are frontline tour guides for tourists is only half true, said this cabbie, who has gotten an education from her passengers. “I have seen the underbelly,” she said.