A bit delayed, but here it is. Driving highlights during my shifts this past week.
- Right after I left the garage early Monday morning (late Sunday night to my passengers) I picked up 4 Mexican guys in the heart of the Mission at 26th.
I try not to stereotype negative traits, but I enjoy generalizing positive ones. So here goes.
Consistently, I have a great time driving drunk Mexican guys. At worst, they keep to themselves but are still lighthearted, polite and tip well. At best, which is most of the time, they interact with me, involve me in their conversation and share their spirit of the moment.
The guys I picked up on Monday fit that generalization. They were pumped from a night of partying. They were heading to someone’s apartment in the Tenderloin after a night of fun in the Mission. We stopped on the way to pick up some beer. Being a quiet night, I had no problem with this. They were respectful with my time and returned immediately from the liquor store. They tipped me very well.
- Later that morning (night) around 3 am I picked up a hipster and his girlfriend from the Haight. They were pretty smashed but still held somewhat cogent conversation with each other as we headed toward the Mission.
A few minutes in, the hipster guy said, “Gosh this music is crap. Can you change it to [107.7 FM] the Bone?” I was listening to a Daft Punk CD which, I realize, is a bit obscure and isn’t universally adored. Still, hipster dude, don’t insult other people’s music like that. 107.7 FM The Bone is no better, just more mainstream.
He annoyed me.
It was at that point when I thought to myself, I will try to never again disparage other person’s choice in music, no matter how much I don’t like the music. Does it have any meaning to say that it’s stupid that your favorite color is red? That statement just serves as an insult.
- I showed up for a radio call at Chestnut and Larkin, a very expensive area of Russian Hill with apartments that overlook the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.
I went inside and the doorwoman called up to the apartment. The lady answered and said she didn’t expect me to come so quickly, but she’d be down in a few minutes.
Okay, a few minutes, no problem. It turned out to be 15 minutes.
When she showed up, I was polite, welcoming and made pleasant conversation about the history of the City with special interest in Russian Hill and Lombard Street before it became a pop culture icon. But, inside I was quite frustrated that she knowingly used 15 minutes of my time with little more than a quick, “I hope you didn’t have to wait too long!”
When we arrived at her destination (only 12 blocks away — a 2 minute ride and a $5 fare) she gave me a $1.00 tip and then fished in her wallet for a quarter. A QUARTER! She placed the quarter in my hand as though it were a £2 coin.
I had a few thoughts run through my head after that interaction.
1. It appears difficult for humans, especially as they reach older ages, to fully grasp the effect of inflation on their currency. I have no doubt that in her mind she had full confidence that adding 25¢ to my pay that day had significant meaning.
2. I ‘lost’ money on that transaction. It was a busy day in the City. There were plenty of other radio calls on Russian and Nob Hills. Most any other fare would have surely paid more and would have been completed before she even popped out of the apartment.
3. She did not value my time properly. In fact, for those 15 minutes she valued my time at the least zero, at the most $1.25 — the value of the tip. My average hourly revenue ranges from $20 to $40, so 15 minutes is between $5-10. Ignoring the valuation of my time while driving a cab, she didn’t seem to value my time as a human, and that is the most frustrating part of this whole escapade.
- This got me thinking. What is the difference that makes the fares with drunk Mexican guys consistently positive? Why was this experience with the older Russian Hill lady so negative?
Here’s the best answer I can muster: the Mexican guys expressed that they valued me as a fellow human much more so than did the old lady.
The Mexican guys often work jobs where people frequently dehumanize them. When I ask what sorts of jobs they do it ranges from cook, to busser, bar-back, painter, plumber, carpenter, construction worker, and so on.
Like with these ‘silent’ background jobs, in my experience as a driver I notice that some people recognize my existence as a human, while others see me as a robot.
My gut says these Mexican guys are very aware of this dynamic and make a conscious effort to recognize me as a human. Whether it’s just a direct statement hello or a few simple questions like, “How are you, how is your night,” or if it’s a deeper sharing of a conversation with the entire group, the effort is genuine and present at all levels, from respecting my time to tipping well.
When the Russian Hill lady got in the cab and saw that I was American and spoke native English she opened up and we chatted about (her and) the history of the City. Before that moment, she didn’t view my time or me as something worth valuing.
Sorry to harp on that. Don’t take it too seriously, I just have too much time to ruminate while driving an 11 hour shift.
- Last year at this time I was an advertising executive. Well, not an executive. I was an advertising minion.
I performed tasks related to online advertising campaign planning and buying. As such, I went to ad:tech parties and shuffled around the conference floor one afternoon. I was bored out of my gourd at the displays of ad network after ad network, but the parties were nice since they flowed with free booze.
This year during ad:tech I drove people to the conference. On the whole, ad:tech conference goers were poor listeners but happily spoke at length about their product or service when prompted.
- As usual, Tuesday was the slowest of my three days of driving. I picked up an older couple from the Fish Wharf. They were heading back to their hotel before taking off for home later that day.
I took the most direct route — directly down Mason with a quick jog across to Powell down to their hotel on Union Square. I made sure to comfort them by explaining that this was the most direct route even though these weren’t busy main boulevards.
We had a great chat about their stay in the City, returning home to the midwest, whether or not they would ever like to live in a big city, my experience living here and jumping around from job to job. They were surprised when we arrived to the hotel so quickly via the back streets. The fare was $8.95 but the guy gave me a $20. That really made my day. Thanks, midwestern couple!
This spurred a few thoughts.
When I start feeling down about the job of driving a taxi and become reserved, I think that there is no reason to make an effort to converse with passengers. I think, most of them don’t really care to chat, we won’t cover anything meaningful, might as well just listen to NPR.
But, then I get a fare like this which reminds me that it’s nice that this job offers a financial incentive to have meaningful conversation. At the very least, even if the details of the conversation are not remembered by either party, the outcome of well-being is worth the effort. After all, humans laugh to signal shared positive emotions just as much as they do to react to humorous conversation.
The worst that can happen if I try to have conversations with passengers will be a neutral outcome — nothing really happens and neither party is worse off than before. But, the best case scenario is a moment of meaning between two strangers where both are left better off than before. And, a better tip for me.
When I put it in those terms, it is crazy to NOT try to make conversation with my passengers.
- (Cab numbers have been changed.)
I answered a radio call at Green and Laguna around 9 am Monday morning. I called a ‘bingo’ as I was at the intersection in question when the call was read aloud on the radio. I pulled up to the stop sign as I waited for the dispatcher to reveal the exact address, which would dictate which direction to turn at the intersection.
Suddenly, two other DeSoto cabs appeared in front of me, having just popped over the peak of the huge hill looming in front of me where Laguna climbs up to the height of Pacific Heights.
I couldn’t believe my eyes as in the next moment cab 2108 passed 1223 on a two-way street down a steep hill with poor visibility from just having popped over the crest of the hill. My jaw dropped, as surely did the other civilians’ jaws waiting at the intersection. Wow, 2108 really wanted that order.
I was frozen in disbelief as the dispatcher reconfirmed the order. “383, did you hear me? The address is XXXX Green.” “XXXX Green,” I mumbled back in confirmation.
2108 realized his defeat with my presence, but I was still scared to move forward into the intersection, given all the blue metal mass moving swiftly toward me down a steep hill. I finally turned right and headed toward the address. But, I didn’t turn into the driveway, instead stopping with my blinkers on across the street. My disbelief soon expanded as 1223, following closely behind, turned left into the driveway, effectively taking my order.
Wow. That’s some serious competition.
Honestly, it’s fun. I don’t take the dangerous risks that 2108 takes. I don’t steal orders to the degree that 1223 was willing to do so. But, I enjoy the game. And, there are plenty of other drivers that play nicely like me.
2108 got in an accident later that day.
- Early one morning I picked up a radio call from the St. Francis Hospital Emergency Room. It was a middle aged lady with few teeth holding a smorgasbord of half-finished sandwiches. Hmm.
Well, I thought, often patients from the hospital will have a taxi voucher to return home. Maybe this was the case with her.
We head toward a public housing shelter in the Tenderloin. I drop her off and she says, “I’ll run upstairs and grab some cash.” The fare was only $4.00. She nods to the doorman and he lets her in. She goes upstairs.
She doesn’t return.
Five minutes later I leave.
Could I have tracked her down and retrieved the money? Probably. I was sitting outside her frickin’ house. The doorman obviously knows her and would know where to find her. Was it worth my time to do so? Not at all. Even if I found her I couldn’t force her to pay more than $4. I had already wasted enough time waiting for her to return, there was no sense in spending any extra time finding her for $4. It was faster to find another fare, which I did.