Fare Play: Weird Tales from Driving a Taxi
Some shifts driving a taxi are weirder than others. One is, in essence, cruising around and picking up strangers for money. Part of the thrill and the joy of this job is never knowing who I’ll meet or what part of town I’ll end up in. Though it’s not always true, generally the risks involved in driving a cab go up as the night progresses toward last call.
There’s not really a way, other than having a well-developed and demonstrably good “gut feeling”, to only secure passengers that are sober (enough), sane (enough), and reasonable (enough) people to pay you. Let alone be at least courteous and sometimes even fun to talk to.
As long as a person is reasonably clean and put together, I pick them up. I have very few, but very important criteria that make me not pick up a fare. None of them have anything to do with race, gender identity, or whether they have a pet. In fact, I’m more likely to pick you up if you have an adorable scotty or better yet, a big ass malamute.
My criteria are:
1) If they are too drunk to operate/find the door handle…NOPE. The doors get locked and as long as they are out of the way, I hit the gas pedal. Included in this rule are actively throwing up and inability to stand under one’s own power. Deal breakers both.
2) As long as whatever genitals a person has are in their pants; they can get in the cab. Yes, that rule came about based on an actual incident. That individual also fell under rule #1.
Aside from that, how would one know whether a fare is an ax murderer, bank robber or Trump supporter? Unless you have a genuinely reliable intuition, its well-nigh impossible to know the character of the person who is getting in your cab, even if they seem sane and stable.
A person’s behavior outside the cab can be telling though. And once a fare is in my cab, I feel cause to protect them from harm while they wend their way home. That is, in part, the service that is being hired. Safe, secure, efficient transport.
Power locks are a cab drivers best friend. I was once taking a fella across town after his restaurant shift. We were heading up Guerrero. It was a chilly night, and a guy wearing a t-shirt and no jacket hailed me from a street corner at a stop light. He started walking over to the taxi even though I had signaled that I wasn’t available. He pulled his arms from out of his shirt, and as he got close he reached for the front passenger door handle.
Looking over, I hit the power locks and CLICK, locked the doors before his hand worked the handle. I watched in mild amusement as this obviously drunk individual tried to open the door and yelled, “Hey man! Lemme in! LEMME IN!” He then started slamming his body into the little Prius. He was not a small man. The cab rocked side to side as he bellowed “You’re an asshole!” Because nothing changes my mind about giving someone a ride like violently accosting my vehicle. Actually, no. That’s a deal breaker.
My fare piped up from the back seat and said, “Can you… just run the light? I’m getting a little scared…”
My own eyebrows already more than a little raised, I thought about it for a second, looked around, pondered the $500 fine for getting caught running a red light and with no one in sight and no other cars or people approaching (not to mention Goliath banging away outside) said, “Yeah, why not,” and we gas peddled away.
It’s not that it didn’t make me nervous, it’s just that I’ve seen way worse and unfortunately way weirder in the time I’ve been a cabbie. It wasn’t like he was a gun waving maniac. But I liked my fare, and besides, it was actually a good idea. I might have felt the same under different circumstances.
About a month ago at 3am I had decided to head back to the yard at the end of a mediocre shift. I was buzzing down Howard street near Fourth when I saw a woman in a fancy evening gown hail me. I wanted to go home, but it was late and I didn’t want to leave her stranded. It was a quiet night, precious few cabs around. I felt a duty not to leave her stranded off Howard at 3am.
Her destination was a small hotel near the base of Powell above the cable car turn around. We got to the hotel and she said, “I have to run upstairs and get some money. Here is my purse, ID, and phone. Please wait? I’ll be right back.”
“Ok. I’ll be here.” I said not totally happy to wait. The fare was $5 ish and I wanted to go home. But given a purse with all that in it, I don’t really have much option and the probability of payment seemed high. Also the woman was very polite, and treated me with not only respect but a smile and gratitude. Such things go a long way.
She ran upstairs leaving me pondering my navel. After about five minutes a man whom I can only describe as a young bro came swaying down the opposite side of Powell. It didn’t take much observation to see that homeslice was hammered.
“Taxi! TAXI! Taxi!” he waved and hollered as he bobbled across the street. My windows were down, and I was having a pleasantly quiet moment. A Celestial Seasonings tea moment if you will. I could have been painted on a box holding a cup of tea advertised for increasing patience through simple and delicious spices. I was at one with the peace of the night.
As he got closer he stammered, “I got. I gotta. I got…”
“Sorry buddy. I’m waiting for someone else. I’m not available.”
“But I. I gotta. I gotta a bigger fare for ya!”
I sighed, explained again a little annoyed; “I have this woman’s purse. I have to wait. I’m not available.” Had he been sober and polite, or even wasted but polite, I would have asked if he was willing to wait. Then I’d gladly take him. He looked like a solid candidate for rule #1 though. I didn’t want him in my cab.
“But I GOT MORE money! I gotta a, I gotta bigger fare.”
At this point his arms were inside the passenger window, his scrawny blond bro-body lolling on my cab. I rolled up the window. His hands were still inside.
“Hey! Hey HEY!! I got! I gottta! I got MORE moneeeeeyyyyyy!!”
Looking at him, not smiling, I was quite gratified that he managed to pull his fingers out at the very last second. I then commenced ignoring him. Once more, I was at one with the peace of the night.
“You’re an ASSHOLE.” he moaned and sauntered away.
Another few minutes passed, her interloper quickly wobbling his way down Market, when the lady in the lovely evening gown showed up and tried the locked door handle. Unlocking it, I smiled as she handed me a $20 through the front door.
“Thank you for waiting! You’re so nice!”
“You’re welcome.” I said smiling thinking that I just wanted to get paid and go home. “How much change can I give you?”
“Oh! Keep it! Thank you so much! You’re so sweet!” I handed her purse over, she gently closed the taxi door and went upstairs. I went home with 20 extra bucks, and reminded myself to add courtesy to that list of basic, hard and fast criteria for pickups thus cranking my rule book up to three.