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Blogity-blah-blah-blog: October 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Work, Work, Work Edition: You Don't Look Like a Taxi Driver

One of my earliest TV memories is the opening credits to the show Taxi. I had no idea that thirty-some years later I would become a taxi driver. 

I worked for the Billtown Cab Co. in Williamsport, PA. It was one of the most interesting jobs I've ever had. I met all kinds of people and I do mean "all" kinds of people while working that job. One comment I got from a lot of my passengers was, "You don't look like a taxi driver." I think the reason why so many people said this was because of the way taxi drivers are stereotyped in movies. Take these movie clips for example:

Wow, Bill Murray helped me out twice with those clips! Thanks Bill! So I made it my mission as a cab driver to break the mold of the stereotypical Hollywood version of cab drivers. I achieved this by showing respect to my customers, not stopping in the middle of a bridge, not refusing to take someone where they wanted to go, didn't smoke or drink on the job, when kids got in the taxi and said "Boy, it's scary out there." I didn't respond by saying "Ain't much better in here, kid.", and I didn't transport people back to the year 1955. Anyway, you get the point. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this job. However it seems the fun jobs never pay well. It was a minimum wage job, but we did make tips. So I had to rely on making good tips to get by and it didn't always happen. 

This cab company operates a little different than cabs you would see in a bigger city. You can't just hail a cab, you actually have to call the cab company to schedule a ride. I remember a few times people would try to flag me down, they were obviously from out of town. 

We had a lot of regulars, in fact they probably made up about half of my trips per night. Most of them were okay, some not so okay and some were okay when you took them somewhere, but not okay when you drove them home later that night. 

One question a lot of people asked me was "Don't you hate having to drive drunk people home?" Actually, that was probably one of my highlights of the night for the most part. Driving them home could be very entertaining, plus they usually tipped well. Especially when you stop at every gas station along the way and ask them to pitch in for gas money. Just kidding, that last sentence wasn't true. Many times I would be driving a group of drunk people home and many times they would want to go through a fast food drive-thru. I felt so bad for the person working the drive-thru because the people in my cab would always mess with them, but it was pretty funny sometimes. Usually the person working the drive-thru were pretty cool with them. They're probably used to it. Another question people asked me was "Is this the Cash Cab?" or "Are we on Taxi Cab Confessions?" which were both TV shows.

The good thing about taking people through the drive-thru was they would often offer to buy me food. Besides cash, food was always a good form of a tip. But there were a few offers people made me as tips that I did not want to accept. For example, someone tried to tip me with something and I declined because I don't smoke, and even if I did I wouldn't smoke that, not only because I don't want to but also because it hasn't been legalized yet. 

I guess you could say I got a good look at the underbelly of society, but what I saw in these people was their humanity, their brokenness. While driving people around I had the opportunity to listen to their problems. Sometimes I felt like more of a counselor than a cab driver. I didn't try to solve their problems though, that's not what they wanted, they just wanted someone to listen and know that I cared. One night, one of my regulars got in the cab. I said "How are you tonight?" He said "Eh, you don't care" So I said "Yes I do, I care that I get you home safely, I even know where you live because I've driven you before and I also know you own your own business." He said "Well, I guess you do care then, you remember all that stuff about me and I have no idea who you are." He did have a lot to drink that night, I'm sure.

That kind of sums up my time as a taxi driver. I'm going to share some stories from my experiences as a cab driver. I have many more to tell, but I don't want to go too long with this post. 

I would occasionally pick up someone I know. It seemed I picked up a lot of my former co-workers from other places that I had worked at. Some from Hope Enterprises and some from when I worked at the Holiday Inn. One time I picked someone up and I didn't know that she was one of my old co-workers at the time because I didn't always look back at my passengers. She said she was going to the James, which was a bar and grill at the Holiday Inn. I asked if she was going there to eat and she said she was going there to work. I told her that I used to work at the hotel, but it was quite a few years ago. She said she's been there awhile and that she was there when I was there. So I looked up in the rear view mirror and said, "Oh, hi Tricia!"

One thing I enjoyed doing was transporting items to different locations. We mostly delivered specimens to go the the lab at the hospital. But another thing we transported often were film reels from one movie theater to another. These were usually longer trips. A couple times I had to deliver film reels to a drive-in theater near Corning, NY. One time I had to go to Owego, NY. No, not Oswego, NY, Owego, NY, two different towns. The guy running the movie theater was supposed to meet me around midnight. I got there a little early but no one was there. So midnight rolled around and still no sight of this guy. I called my dispatcher and he said to wait around a little while more. 12:30 rolled around and I was getting ready to pull away and the guy just then happened to show up. Lucky for him I didn't leave. The meter was running the whole time I was waiting there, and if I had left, the meter would have ran all the way back to Williamsport which would have been a pretty big bill. 

The most awkward trip I ever had to take was from New Columbia to Harrisburg, about an hour and a half trip. The guy I was picking up didn't speak much English either. I had to take him to the Harrisburg Airport. I asked my dispatcher if there was more than one airport in Harrisburg and he told me there wasn't. So I looked up the Harrisburg Airport in my GPS and started heading down there. About fifteen minutes of silence because we couldn't communicate I asked him if he wanted to me turn on the radio, so I did. We finally got to Harrisburg and where the GPS told me to go, but it was not the Harrisburg Airport. Apparently it was a flight school, but the GPS listed it as an airport and since there's only one in Harrisburg, I figured that was it. So I apologized to the man and got the correct address and got him to where he was going. I even knocked a big chunk of money off his fare. 

When I was still training for the job I had to ride along with one of the drivers. One of the stops we had to make was at a women's prison to pick up a prisoner who finished serving their term. I was a little nervous about that. But one thing I found out was that picking people up from the prison became one of my favorite stops to make. The women who were getting out were the happiest person in the world that day. They'd talk about all the restaurants they were going to go to. That always seemed to be the one thing almost all of them would talk about. But of course they were happy they were going to be reunited with family and friends. Most of them didn't even seem like people who belonged in prison. I think a lot of them were people who just made one big mistake or perhaps fell in with the wrong crowd. One of them ended up getting a job at a fast-food restaurant here in Williamsport. I would drive her from the half-way house to work and back. We'd have great conversations. I'd tell her about my family and she'd tell me about hers. In fact, sometime after I quit working for the cab company I went to the fast food restaurant. April and Chloe were with me and the person taking my order happened to be the one I drove in the cab. So she was glad to meet the family that I had told her so much about. 

There was only one time I had to call the police while on the job, and it really wasn't a big deal. One night I picked up a guy that was drunker than drunk. He came out of the bar and as he was walking down the sidewalk he fell into the shrubs. So I helped him up and into the cab. I got him to his hotel and he was talking to me, he paid for his fare and said, "Okay, I'll get out of the cab in a minute." Well, less than a minute later he was sound asleep. As cab drivers we're not supposed to lay a finger on anybody so the only thing I could to was yell to try to wake him up. It wasn't working. So I called my dispatcher and he called the police while I just sat there waiting. The police showed up and were able to drag him out of the car. The guy woke up and thought he was in a lot of trouble. But the cops and I both reassured him that he wasn't in any trouble and that they were just there to get him to his room safely. 

I think I'll finish up here, this is one of the longest posts I've done in awhile. I eventually had to leave the cab company because it just wasn't getting the bills paid and it was kind of a dangerous job. I'd work from 5pm to 5am, but would often times have to stay on till 7am or 8am. My lack of sleep was effecting my ability to drive all night. There were a few scary moments of falling asleep behind the wheel. When we had some downtime I would try to get in a cat nap and that would help, but some nights we were busy all night long without any breaks on a 14 hour shift. Yea, it was time to leave. I'll talk all about my next job in the next "Work, Work, Work Edition". I'm gonna go get some sleep now. Not in my car, but in my bed. Goodnight.