Cabbott Honkstein’s bus lets him off in front of Life’s Not Fare Taxi Company. He’s feeling good about today. His afternoon was spent running errands, cleaning up his house, studying for an exam (he’s going to night school to try and get himself a degree) and hitting the gym. He checks his watch. He’s on time for his 12-hour shift to begin at 6 p.m. Third time this week he hasn’t been running behind! Might be a new record.
He waves at Donald getting into his cab. Donald moved to the United States from Nigeria six years ago. Contrary to common perception, only 13 percent of cab drivers are immigrants. In fact, most taxi drivers have some college background. Donald was working as an accountant before he started driving a taxi. “You never know what can happen in your career,” Cabbott always says. (In fact, he says it so often that he has already driven away several former friends who found his intense reliance on this phrase a little creepy.) Cabbott’s earning a degree in computer science, but the additional income helps him pay his student loans.
He checks his taxi before driving off the lot. He has to make sure that the brakes, windshield wipers, lights and fuels gage work before he leaves. The interior of the taxi must be clean. It won’t be by the end of the day, but it should at least start out that way. He sets out his business cards in the back seat. More and more cab companies are encouraging their drivers to develop regular customers for the driver or company. As an “independent contractor” for the company, Cabbott is always acutely aware that he must make enough on his shift to cover the lease. It costs roughly $150 to $180 dollars per shift to lease a taxi. Good or crummy weather, traffic, holidays and bad luck reduce his income. No one likes to end their shift knowing that they have to dig into their own bank account to cover the lease. Especially when the total amount in your account is only in triple digits. Or less. Gulp.
On the corner of the street, a woman is holding onto a shopping bag. The wind looks like it’s about to carry her and the bag away. Cabbott pulls up next her.
“Need a taxi?”
Hey, she didn’t flag him down, but there’s nothing wrong with hustling for a dollar.
“Yeah, it’s not far… only four blocks away,” she says.
Cabbott sighs. Taxi drivers do not like hearing, “It’s not that far.” Some passengers act like they don’t want to inconvenience the taxi driver, when in reality they are only inconveniencing you when the meter barely has time to get going before you’ve reached their destination. However, it’s illegal to refuse a passenger because they want to go a short distance. In addition, taxi drivers cannot refuse passengers based on race or any disabilities. It’s almost as if some laws were put in place specifically to quash discrimination. Harrumph.
They both chat about the weather and the woman’s weekend plans. She only has time to brief him on her plans through Saturday mid-afternoon before they pull up outside her building. Cabbott hands her a business card in case she needs a taxi the next time she’s heading out. Establishing a good report with female passengers is beneficial for business. Women typically want to call taxi drivers they can trust. To make absolutely sure, some of them might request that you stand behind them and catch them when they fall backwards.
Cabbot’s passenger hands him a ten dollar bill for the trip, which includes a 20% tip. People who don’t tip are the bane of Cabbott’s existence. In his opinion, the navigational expertise a taxi driver offers is worthy of a tip. And a 1 or 2% tip is even worse than no tip at all. He may need the money, but anything less than 10% is insulting.
The weather takes a turn for the worse. This situation can be good or bad for taxi drivers. People stay in when the weather is bad, so there are fewer people out and about, but they are also more likely to want a cab when they have to go out. Cabbott picks up a businessman who is late for the airport. This is a taxi driver’s favorite type of fare. The airport is ten miles away and he gets to charge for paying tolls and handling bags. If Cabbott is able to get there in time for the man’s flight, he is sometimes awarded a 30 to 40 percent tip (sometimes just because the passenger is running late and would rather throw a few twenties up front than take the time to do the math or to count out smaller bills). This passenger is not a talker. He looks nervously at his watch and stares out the window. Cabbott attempts twice to start a conversation with the man, but gives up and turns up the radio. No worries. Now he won’t even have to make polite small talk for his fare.
Cabbott takes care of another few passengers, and before he knows it, it’s 10 pm. People in his city are usually wandering the streets looking for taxis at this time of night. The bar scene can help a taxi driver’s wallet, as goodness knows those people shouldn’t be driving themselves. Cabbott picks up a group of young ladies celebrating a bridal shower. One of them throws enough confetti in the air to cover the interior of the back windshield. Girls will be girls. He takes a break after dropping them off to clean the back of the taxi and eat his dinner.
“I guess it’s a burrito kind of a night,” he thinks. Cabbott usually forgets to pack a healthy dinner before his shift. Fast food takes a toll on him, but luckily he works out most days. The same cannot be said for most of his fellow cabbies.
Cabbott heads over to a nearby neighborhood that has a thriving bar scene. He cruises around and picks up passengers. He’s pretty busy until an hour after the bars have shut down for the night. The rest of his shift is pretty slow. He listens to an Italian language CD to keep him awake.
“Quanto costa?” he says with gusto. It’s Cabbott’s dream to be able to go to Italy someday.
At 5:30 a.m., Cabbott fills up the taxi with gas and makes his way back to the cab company. Early mornings are his favorite time even if they don’t produce very many passengers. The sunrise reflecting off of the towering skyscrapers is a peaceful landscape. In this stressful line of work, Cabbott takes the peaceful moments when he can get them. He can also take time to appreciate that he is no longer around anyone who is throwing confetti.