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Confessions of a Taxi Driver
As retirement age swiftly approaches I look back at some of the many jobs I’ve held. Most I didn’t like, but like everybody else, you don’t always have a choice. One of my first was working after school at a cafeteria as a “soda jerk”… not a title you hear much anymore.
A quick listing of varied jobs I held would also include: Security officer, warehouse shipping and receiving, military service, factory poultry worker, photojournalist, route salesman, operating room technician, various truck and van driving jobs…and “cabby”. Actually I prefer “tactical transportation engineer”, but “taxi driver” will suffice. Anything but “cabby”.
I signed on with a “Yellow Cab” outfit in Oxnard, California shortly after separating from the Marine Corps in 1978. I learned quickly, jobs were hard to find in civilian life. I stuck it out for 6 months before I couldn’t stomach it anymore.
Driving a taxi would not have been my first choice of professional pursuits, but all the positions at M.I.T. were already taken. To say the least, it wasn’t what I imagined it would be. Like most uninitiated drivers I thought it would be easy and simple. Pick up your fare, take them to their destination, take their money and drop them off.
Not quite that simple. First, I was assigned to night shift. Day shifts were reserved for women drivers as night driving was considered too dangerous. What happened to equal pay for equal work? Not that I’m a male chauvinist but I could be robbed, beaten, or worse as easily as the next person.
Yes, night operators contended with more difficult situations than their day counterparts. In the light of day life in the city seemed the picture of normalcy. But after sunset the situation changed drastically. It seemed as if every nut and kook in town came out. I guess some forms of life avoid daylight.
EVERY NUT IN TOWN
Anyway for the first several weeks I believed I was the only sane person left in town. The first problem to overcome was the language barrier. This was southern California with a large Hispanic population. Although, I had taken Spanish in junior high school, much of what I’d learned was forgotten after taking German. But I could still usually decipher addresses and sometimes get the general gist of a conversation.
This became a problem because my heritage included some Portuguese and Indian. Apparently, people tended to think I was fluent in Spanish. Hispanic passengers would get in my cab and immediately start a conversation in Spanish not giving me an opportunity to get a word in edgewise for several minutes. It always surprised them when discovering I hadn’t understood a word.
One elderly lady talked the entire trip before finding out I didn’t understand. She became extremely upset. I was able to gather she thought it terrible younger generations were no longer learning their native language and customs. No tip was forthcoming from that fare.
Fortunately, I was never robbed, but I knew other drivers who had…and one who pretended to have been. This genius knocked himself in the head with a tire iron, and then locked himself in the trunk. Unfortunately, it took much longer than he had anticipated for someone to find him. It was twelve hours before police found him. He spent a much longer time in jail.
Sometimes, public opinion can turn on an entire company. One female citizen reported she had been raped by a Yellow Cab driver. It was later discovered the charge was false. But by then the damage had been done. People on the street would throw rocks, or whatever happened to be handy, at passing cabs. My vehicle was the target of a well aimed balloon filled with mud. It struck my windshield and blinded my vision. Obviously, the irate citizen hadn’t considered the possibility of passengers. I had a young woman and her infant child on board.
Then there were the usual lineup of other characters like those who ran off without paying. Drivers had to pay those fares since they were registered on the meter. Next were the drunks who vomited in the back seat and women who changed their baby’s diaper…and left it. And of course, the occasional gay person who made a pass at you or having a “lover’s spat” with their partner right out in front of God and everybody. You never really knew what to expect.
There were busy nights and some extremely slow. It always got a little busier when a Merchant Marine ship arrived in port. Those boys had a pocket full of cash and ready to party. However, the most profitable nights were those when fog shut down the local airport. Travelers were forced to take a taxi to meet their connecting flight at Los Angeles International Airport, about a 150 mile trip. That took the majority of a shift to complete. One trip usually paid more than you would normally make on a regular shift.
Another scenario included mentally ill persons released prematurely. I’ll leave that one to your imagination. Fortunately, unlike what you’ve seen on TV, I never had to deliver a baby. However, given enough time on the job I’m sure it would’ve happened.
Speaking of television programs, like “Taxi”, life as a taxi driver isn’t as it's portrayed on the show. Watching that sitcom gives the impression most of a drivers’ time is spent hanging around the company lounge playing cards or discussing life’s problems with the dispatcher. I don’t know how other cab companies handle their payroll, but I worked on commission and tips. No fares, no paycheck.
I only spent 6 months at this profession before deciding there had to be a better way to make a living. I quit after the dispatcher insisted I drive the only vehicle left on the lot which I determined to be unsafe. And during that short time, I gathered enough material to write a book, but this will suffice for now.