This week on the streets…

The calendar said Spring, but Chicago’s lakefront was besieged by foggy days. We also had some sunshine, which made it perfect for the adventurous climbers at The Wit (see below pic). Visitors to Daley plaza playfully climbed the Picasso. Thankfully, convention season is underway- McCormick Pl. welcomed Microsoft, and other conventioneers were here as well.  Draft-town came down after much success hosting the NFL. Thanks to all my fares. Hope to see you on the streets. Cheers Chi-town! 

   
       

  

  

  

 

Afternoon Shift

Great interview. As a cabbie and Chicagoan, I can’t wait to explore your books. I blog about cab driving and enjoy the people and frequent theatre that happens in a Chicago cab. Cheers! Congrats on being Fresh Pressed!

Chicago Cab as Melting Pot

You could say that cabs are urban equalizers in the sense that at some point in time absolutely anyone may hail a cab. I drive everyone from people making their daily commute to/from work, to those in need of a ride home after spending the evening in a bar/pub, to business or leisure travellors. In my relatively brief time driving cab, I’ve had fares including an Archbishop from South Africa, an NFL quarterback who played in the superbowl, a local ABC news anchor, a former IL attorney general/one time gubernatorial candidate, a successful pop music song writer, a well-known Chicago luxury auto dealer, and an FBI agent here for a NATO conference. Further, I meet local Chicagoans, and businesspeople and leisure travelers from throughout the world. This access to others is always an honor and something I take seriously, e.g., always keeping my passengers’ experience at the forefront. I seek to make the service I provide a professional and courteous exchange where passengers’ preferences are respected – everything from following a fare’s instructions regarding a preferred route, to maintaining a comfortable interior temperature, to keeping conversation at an acceptable level for the fare. For example, some passengers seek out friendly conversation from their driver, discussing everything from current events, to the weather, to local restaurants and points of interest. While others are more reserved and desire to keep social exchanges brief and utilitarian. Anyway, I see passengers I serve in the cab as a fairly representative slice of this society. Further, I believe that the customer is almost always right, and maintaining this outlook serves me well as I proceed through my day. Thanks for reading.

THE SCAM

A ‘surprise fare’ ends with a 911 call. Let me explain. It was very late, about 3:15am, and I was falling asleep. I was parked and awaiting a bar-closing, end-of-shift kind of fare. Before I continue – some context. Despite what you may have heard, Chicago isn’t a 24-hour city. Midwest sensibilities still rule here, and the latest of the late-night bars close at 4:00am – long before sunrise. This provides ample opportunity for cab fares (i.e., many fares in a short time period). Though sometimes rapid-fire, late night fares can seem like ‘easy’ money, the situation demands that you stay on top of your game and keep yourself safe. Even drivers seemingly accustomed to the night shift sometimes fall victim to that ever so powerful ‘wave of fatigue,’ and the seductive pleasure of a nap. An intended 15-minute nap can so easily end up being 30-60 minutes of lost working hours. Further, make no mistake, whether driving or parked, being fatigued and anything less than fully alert in a cab is risky at best, and dangerous at worst. Given all of that, late night cab driving often offers good money and customers in a good mood after having had fun in their favorite night spot. Or I get lucky and transport fares working in the service industry – consistently my most generously tipping customers.

Anyway, I should return to the intended story line. While parked and waiting for a fare, that was slow to materialize, I was falling in and out of sleep. Realizing I was drifting, I decided to do the reasonable thing and go home for the night. I put the car in drive and began to slowly pull away from my parking spot. I quickly glanced at the rear-view mirror and, to my surprise, SOMEONE WAS SITTING IN THE BACK SEAT! Thankfully I didn’t scream. I immediately pulled the car over and said, “I do apologize maam. Where can I take you?”. The ‘surprise’ passenger, a middle-aged woman, said, “No problem, if you could just give me my $40 I’ll be on my way.” Next, an annoyingly long and ridiculous interchange/argument ensued. I’ll spare you the details other than to say that I repeatedly informed the fare that I didn’t have any of her money. And she kept saying that she had given me 2 twenty-dollar bills. Two of her male friends, one in his 20’s and one apparently in his mid to late 50’s, walked up to the car and began insisting that I give their friend her money back. I told them that I didn’t have her money and suggested that they ask her to leave my car since I was about to call the police. Then, out of the blue, the woman said she was pregnant and bleeding, and she wanted me to take her to a hospital. She appeared to be at least my age, 50, so the possibility that I was witness to such a medical rarety (pregnant at 50) seemed unlikely. I then said I wasn’t going to take any chances with her health and I would just call her an ambulance. She then quickly responded that an ambulance wasn’t needed.
At that point, I threatened to call the police to resolve the situation. Undeterred by my threat of police involvement, she stuck to her story that I had her money. So, I called the police, who arrived in about three minutes. As soon as the officer walked up to the cab, I told him what was happening. He then asked her to step out of the cab, which she did. The officer then stepped to the side and briefly spoke to the woman. He then walked back to my cab and said I should drive away, which, after thanking him, I glady did.
First I want to thank the Chicago Police Department for helping me out of this situation. I certainly learned that rather than losing almost 30 minutes of work time I has should’ve just asked for the help I needed immediately. With the clarity of hindsight I see this was another in a long list of life situations where my pride and refusal to ask for help was self-defeating. To my readers, if you are a driver, I hope this post helps you see such a problem coming, rather than falling victim to this type of scam. If you don’t drive the public for pay, I hope this post made for an interesting look into the life of an urban cabbie. Thanks for reading, and “Cheers” to you all!

Payment drama & other odd behavior

Maybe it’s a male thing to think you can say you’ve seen it all – actually, you haven’t (nor have I). Driving cab in Chicago, often at night, I’ve learned that, especially in cabs, all manner of bizarre things can happen. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, and the following are recent fares that I thought might be worth sharing. I hope you enjoy reading about these fares as much as I did being part of these scenarios. I plan to follow this blog post with an entry which consists of what I consider noteworthy observations of the behavior of cab drivers, myself included. We cabbies are human too, with our own strengths, weaknesses, and eccentricities. Laughter is truly the best medicine, and I think it’s especially curative when we laugh at ourselves. I hope this post brings a smile to your day, and please share your own thoughts/experiences in cabs.
#1 “Do you accept driver’s licenses?”
This title refers to a recent fare who tried to pay for his ride in a most usual way (with his IL driver’s license). When we reached the destination, I announced the amount that was due, and the fare said he would pay with a credit card. “I know you don’t like cards, but that’s how I’m paying,” he said. I said I’d be happy to take his card in payment. He then proceeded to repeatedly force his ‘card’ through the credit card reader mounted by the right rear door, all the while cursing in frustration. The fare then said, “These (expletive) things never work in cabs.” I said the stripe on the card needs to be on the left, and I asked if I could see his card. I turned on the interior light and immediately saw that he was holding his drivers’ license, not a credit card. I then said, “I do apologize sir but that’s not a credit card, that’s your drivers’ license.”. At that point the fare became angry and stated, “Don’t tell me what to do cabbie, you just want my cash.” He continued to repeatedly force his drivers’ license through the card reader. Despite his organ donor status, he was unable to process a credit payment with his driver’s license. The fare finally gave up his efforts and threw cash to me through the window opening of the barrier. Thankfully, despite his frustration, he still managed to leave a tip.
#2. “But that’s not my house.”
Very late, one recent night, a woman entered my cab outside a popular local bar. Her unsteady gait made it apparent that she may have had a few too many cocktails. Believe me, I don’t judge others for over-imbibing at times. After all, it increases my business, and who among us hasn’t over-indulged on occasion. She immediately gave her destination – an address in Oak Park. Oak Park is a picturesque, tree-lined Chicago suburb sprinkled with Frank Lloyd Wright homes. I took her there, about a 30-minute ride, and upon arrival I informed her we were at the destination. She had slumped down low in the seat, and when I said we were at her address, she sat up and peered out the window. She then said, “Where are we?” I repeated the address she had provided, to which she responded, “But that’s not my house.” After a couple ackward attempts on her part, where she threw out some streets to try, she thankfully gave me another residential address in Oak Park. When we arrived at the new address, she insisted this was indeed her correct destination. Amazingly, this uncertainty about one’s place of residence is not at all unusual in the taxi-driving industry. Another, more unusual scenario of this type follows. Outside a 24-hour restaurant, shortly after sunrise, a man flagged me down. He got in and thanked me for stopping, and said he really needed a ride home. I said, “No problem sir. Where can I take you?” At that point the man became silent and simply looked out the window. I again asked where to take him, and he again was silent. The fair then said he was so glad I picked him up, and he again asked if I could take him home. This purposeless exchange went on for several minutes, finally ending with the fare apologetically exiting the cab. I hope he made it home.
#3 ‘Illicit’ Fast Food.
For some reason I often find myself being given various take-out or drive-through items on fast food restaurant menus. Fares leaving bars/nightclubs often ask to go to drive-through windows for food to satisfy their late night appetites. At such times, fares often seem offended if I refuse their well-meaning offers of fried, fat-laden delicasies. Now I admit to having an appetite for greasy food which can be anonymously passed through a car window. However, I am no longer 18 with a flat stomach (and I never had ripped abs). Fast food tends to sit on my middle-aged gut, certainly hardening my arteries and doing a variety of damage to my less-than-fit body. Thus, I seek to minimize my self-destructive behaviors, and I avoid eating food with minimal nutritional value and maximum health risk. My recent solution to this conundrum has been to accept the burger, fries, taco, etc. After the fare exits the cab, I then give the fast food away to a nearby panhandler (unfortunately, there are usually homeless people nearby). Even though I avoid eating fast food, believe me, I do appreciate the generous gestures of others.
#4 The ‘mysterious’ cab light.
Cab lights are meant to readily inform others whether a cab is available to accept fares. However, on a daily basis, potential fares are frustrated when they mistakenly think an unavailable cab is “for hire.” Let me explain. The cab I drive is topped with an advertising banner, which is continually illuminated, spanning the entire length of the vehicle’s roof. Printed on each end of the banner are the cab’s medallion numbers. When the numbers are lit up, this indicates the cab is available. On many occasions, while I am stopped in traffic or at a light, people have walked up to the already-occupied cab and tried to enter. Sometimes, mainly on holidays when there are large numbers of intoxicated people on the streets, I go to the embarassing length of locking the doors to ensure my passengers do not have to deal with drunken strangers invading their personal space. However, the most annoying cab light-related scenario is when, as I drive by, pedestrians point and shout, “Turn off your light.” This occurs with a fare in the vehicle, when the light is already off. I guess many times people have ‘selective vision,’ meaning they see what they want to see.
As a cab driver I remain committed to helping fares in various states of intoxication safely reach their destinations. And as the song goes, when the bar closes, ‘You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.’ Therein lies my business opportunity. Finally, if by some odd happenstance you see yourself depicted in any of the above entries please do not be offended. I mean no harm. I simply intend to share observations of human behavior in hopefully an entertaining and enlightening way. Please join me in my upcoming blog post where I poke fun at myself and other cabdrivers. Thanks for reading.