This is the login panel

Return to In The News > Fleet Forward Blog

Fleet Forward Blog

The Secret Life of a Bullfighter-Turned-Taxi Owner

When you meet Richard Corey of C&H Taxi in Charleston, West Virginia, you could certainly ask him to tell you plenty of stories about working in transportation.

Or, you could ask him about his nearly 12-year career as a bullfighter.

Yes, a bullfighter. A well-known, internationally acclaimed, and beloved matador.

Some forty years ago, Corey was a young man in his twenties, living in Hollywood, California. One weekend, he traveled south to Tijuana to watch a bullfight featuring an American matador.

The fight intrigued him. Though it wasn’t a part of America’s mainstream culture, Corey saw something profound in the act of bullfighting, almost on a religious level. A man against a 1,200-pound animal, both with the ability to inflict mortal wounds. It was a battle for life itself, in its rawest, even primordial terms.

After seeing that first fight, Corey’s mind was made up. He would train to become a bullfighter.

Bullfighting, in some form, has existed for thousands of years. It can be traced through the Mediterranean, to ancient Greece and Rome. Eventually, it spread throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia before colonists took the practice to the American colonies. Bullfighting, in cultures where it is practiced regularly, is seen more as an art form, as opposed to a sport.

“I was born 200 years too late,” Corey said.

For Corey, it’s the ultimate art form and craft. During a bullfight, the bullfighter, or matador, waves a cape to prod the bull to charge. As the bull makes its passes, the matador is working to dominate the bull, eventually killing it. The performance requires an immense amount of skill and courage. Corey felt a deep respect and appreciation for the lethal dance itself, in the way a talented matador could roll a bull through elegant passes. The competition is not to kill the bull (it will be killed regardless of a matador’s performance) but to skillfully interact with the animal and to do so more artfully than the other matadors.

Though Corey impressed officials organizing bullfights throughout Mexico, the nationalistic nature of the business kept him from earning additional opportunities to get into the ring. Becoming impatient, Corey decided to take his fate into his own hands. So, one day, while attending a bullfight at a Mexico City arena, Corey jumped over the barricade and into the ring. Using a muleta, the traditional matador’s red cape, which he had smuggled in, he made a few passes with the bull before police removed him.

He stole the show to thunderous applause.

It was well established that a move like that warranted a seriously rough manhandling by local police, but not if you’re Richard Corey. The crowd enjoyed Corey’s gutsy showmanship so much, they encircled him and demanded he be left alone.

Months later, Corey received a tip from a friend about a testing ranch in central Mexico that bullfight organizers frequented. Corey, eager for an opportunity to get into the ring, took a bus to a town near the ranch and walked through the night to reach the ranch.

Upon his arrival, he was confronted by the director, who was angry that Corey, a “gringo” with no ties to the ranch, had shown up uninvited. In order to embarrass him, the rancher told Corey to take a pass with a volatile testing cow no one had managed to master.

Corey made 60 passes with the animal. A promoter from Monterrey saw his performance and was beyond impressed. He offered Corey a fight two weeks later in Monterrey against two other fighters, one of which went on to become one of Mexico’s top matadors.

In 1968, his career picked up steam, and he won a contract to perform in Monterrey, a key arena in Mexican bullfighting. Awards and impressive bullfights followed, and so did his first gorings. Still, Corey was known for his bravery. In one fight, after taking a bull horn to the right side of his groin, Corey refused to leave the ring until he killed his bull.

The moment is immortalized in two photos in the bullfighting history book, “Yankees in the Afternoon,” by Lyn Sherwood, who devotes an entire chapter to Corey. In one, Corey is flung six-feet into the air with a horn visibly impaled through his right leg. In another, he stands grimacing in pain, a gash in his leg, but holding his sword and looking out across the ring moments after the goring.

His courage and drive becoming the stuff of legend, Corey later moved to Sevilla, Spain, on a bullfighting contract where his showmanship thrilled Spanish fans. Stadiums filled with tens of thousands at a time to see him perform. During his 12-year career, he was gored six times and tossed by bulls hundreds of times more. He once broke his neck after being tossed 15 feet into the air by a bull. His clear commitment to the art form and its theatrics endeared him to crowds, more so than any other “Yankee” that had come before him.

It was passion that drove his bullfighting career, and when that started to fade, Corey decided to step away. His reflexes were slowing, and more importantly, he had lost the “eye of the tiger.”

It wasn’t without reluctance from the bullfighting scene, though. Two years after his retirement, Corey visited Mexico City, and organizers offered him a 40-fight contract to come out of retirement. He turned it down.

“I often think about going back and making a reappearance, a farewell tour, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” Corey said.

After his bullfighting retirement, Corey returned to West Virginia, where he bought a small cab company after his brother couldn’t get a ride to the airport. In the early days, he ran the dispatch service out of the phone booth at a local bar. Today, the cab company, now known as C&H Taxi, is the longest-running cab company in Charleston, West Virginia. Corey’s son, Jeb, now runs the daily operation of the cab company, and is also a well-known TLPA member in his own right and a member of the TLPA board.

Today, Corey lives a quiet life in Florida with his wife. The roar of the crowd and the thundering of hoofs on sand are distant sounds. But the bullfighter will always live on in Corey, a man who rose from spectator to beloved matador.

It is an experience that is hard to define, and even harder to explain to those who choose to see it merely as the death of an animal. As Corey points out, Americans slaughter animals every day by the millions and think nothing of it, and with far less honor and deference.

But bullfighting is life itself, he says, enacted on a stage for all to see, where death is inches away with every pass, where failure can summit to success in the blink of an eye, where there’s a sense of collective euphoria sometimes resulting in tears. Still, history will offer the final judgement on Corey’s bullfighting skills.

Today, there are fewer bullfights. Still, what Ernest Hemingway once wrote remains true: “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.

Posted 1/8/2018 9:48:14 AM