Catching up with Dmitry Samarov
Once you get to know Dmitry Samarov, you’ll never look at cab drivers the same way. An artist, writer and now ex-cab driver, he spent 12 years of his life driving taxis around both Chicago and Boston, picking up colorful stories and memories along the way. In 2011, he compiled his experiences in a book, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, filled with his musings and artwork depicting life behind the wheel. Now Samarov works as a full-time artist and author (and part-time barista). I recently caught up with him and asked about his current projects: a sequel to his first book and an album of his stories set to music.
Your album is called The Blue Light and Other Things That Happened. Where’d the idea for that title come from?
The Blue Light is the bar that I worked at, and it’s the name of the last piece on the album. [It’s] this horrible 4am redneck bar on Belmont and Western. They’re all true stories—I always call them stories, and sometimes people get confused about that, ‘cause they think stories are made up, but I’ve never had to make up any stories.
How’d you choose the stories that went on the album?
As far as selection, I didn’t want it to be all darkness or all comedy, so I chose a bit of each. I wanted a variety of moods, so I guess you could say it’s "The Many Moods of Dmitry Samarov"—sort of a like a greatest hits or whatever. [Laughs]
Your first book, Hack: Stories From a Chicago Cab, is filled with a lot of dark moments. When you look back on your experience, was it ultimately dark, or were there some gratifying moments?
Most of the time you’re just driving around with no passengers and hoping to find somebody. [Laughs] So most of that experience wasn’t dark or light; it was just kinda gray. I'm a painter and the saving grace for me was always that I could look out the window and [see] the city moving by. That made it bearable. Since I dealt with every kind of person, each day could go from complete comedy to a tragedy within 15 to 20 minutes. It was like a roll of the dice—you just didn’t know what you were ever gonna get.
Did you start sizing people up before they got into the cab?
Yeah, I mean the best times were the ones where I was wrong, you know? Somebody would stumble in and then all of a sudden we’d have an interesting conversation, and then somebody that looked completely straitlaced would pass out in the cab and then I’d have to get out and wake them up and they wouldn’t know where their house was and the whole nine yards.
So much of your inspiration for your first book came from being in a cab and interacting with your customers. Now that you’re not driving a cab anymore, where will your creative inspiration come from in the future?
Well, the second book’s done. What I’m doing now is just looking for a publisher. It covers a wider expanse of time. I go back to the very beginning in Boston. I’ll probably eventually write something else, but whatever it is, it’ll be organized around drawings and paintings. My main thing has always been just drawing and painting, and that’s never gonna go away.
Your paintings are being shown at the Elastic Vision Gallery right now alongside those of another artist, Shay DeGrandis. Did you guys collaborate on your work for the gallery?
She’s my girlfriend, too! There is sort of a connection in that a lot of the artwork deals with music. She has these gigantic drawings of Nick Cave that are in that show, and all of my artwork is based on sketches I did at rock shows. It’s an interesting show because it’s a real contrast between what she does and what I do. This is our first art show together and hopefully we’ll do more.
Now that you’ve found success with your artistic endeavors, do you ever feel lucky to have gone from being a Chicago cabbie to being a celebrated Chicago artist?
Not much—I’m really pretty much on to the next thing. All this making stuff and all this artwork, it pretty much chose me, and my responsibility is to keep it going, not to sit and, I don’t know, bask in my own glory. I haven’t really gotten that far yet. There’s a lot further to go.