Saturday, February 03, 2007

Worst. Taxi ride. Ever.

I touch down in a new city, tired from my several hours of travel, and walk out to the taxi stand. The first driver in the line is driving a van. When I ask if he's a regular taxi or a hotel shuttle, he grunts and opens the door. I get in, surprised by his brusqueness.

He is listening to what I imagine is a conservative radio show. The host is railing about the mayor of San Francisco, who has apparently slept with the wife of one of his friends (and employees). The employee has resigned, but has made some sort of statement - perhaps it is his resignation letter that has been made public - of support for the work he did with the mayor.

My driver scoffs. "What kind of a man would do that? If he'd slept with my wife, I'd'a killed him. And then her! What kinda man resigns and writes a supportive letter?!"

"One who wants to salvage his career?" I suggest.

He nearly spits out the words. "Career! Who gives a shit about a career! The man slept with his wife! He should hunt him down and shoot him like a dog!"

I'm surprised. I'm not used to having such opinionated taxi drivers. He seems a little off, and the tirade that follows is unsettling. I consider asking him to let me off at a corner, but I have no idea where I am or if I'd be able to find another cab. He continues to spew forth venom for some time, and my pointed silence is no deterrant at all.

Finally, a lull.

"How long have you lived here?" I ask, hoping to change the subject and to learn something about the city in which I will be interviewing.

"Ten years," he says.

"You must like it here?" I ask.

"I hate it," he says, before launching into another tirade about various community leaders who are, he says, "queers" and "child molestors." I bite my tongue, take a deep breath, and say, "what?" "They might as well be," he says, and complains about some program that would reduce child abductions but that the city did not want, and then goes on about there being too many "queers" in town. He complains as well about the road repairs, which have resulted in "squiggles" of patching on the pavement. "Tacky!" he says, and when I do not respond, he insists, "don't you think it's tacky?"

"I suppose I'm used to it," I say. "It's the same way at home." I'm hoping he'll take the hint and shut up rather than offend me.

"Guess they're tacky there, too," he says, not the least bit concerned about my feelings.

I hear a bit more about child abductions, which, to hear him speak, you'd think were the major problem in this city (though none of the many parents I will speak with over the next two days will mention this topic at all).

I am anxious to get out of the cab. I'm also preparing a lecture in my head - something about "being a queer, I really don't appreciate your tone." But then he says,

"I guess no one realizes until they have a child taken."

Something in his tone pulls me up short. Carefully, I ask, "Did you have a child taken? This seems very personal for you."

He has. His girlfriend took his then infant daughter (now grown) away and has prevented him, with the help of a boyfriend and a gun, from seeing her.

I find myself wondering which came first: did his behavior result from or cause the child's abduction?

"That's just awful," I say, with real feeling.

And I step out of the cab.

And the tip?

What would you have done?


Anonymous said...

I guess I probably would have tipped him.. out of guilt though.. Ugh.. is that ethical? I mean, he shouldn't have started the whole rant on the first place... wow how akward!

Anonymous said...

How interesting. I think if he had told me that he'd had a child taken at the start of the journey rather than at the end I'd have been wondering how I could "make him feel better." Like with a tip. But at the same time, I only tip if I have good service and his service was miserable. I might have tipped him if his overall attitude had been different...

You simply never know, do you? It's unusual to have a surly cab driver - usually they are cheerful and chatty when I don't feel like talking...he must have upset a lot of fares with that attitude and of course it would be everyone else's fault.

I know it's his life story and all, and it is sad. But he shouldn't visit his bitterness on his unsuspecting passengers. They deserve polite respectful service - since after all they are paying for it.

Plain(s)feminist said...

Exactly (to both of you)!

I did end up giving him a good tip, mostly because I felt bad for him, and also because of the reasons I usually try to tip cab drivers well (driving a cab is a job that takes a physical toll, and generally the cabbies have to pay the company for the luxury of driving for them). I do think good service is important, but at the same time, I have trouble taking it out on people in the form of their payment when they have to work so hard for their money. I'd rather tell them that I was unhappy and still give a decent tip. In this case, though, I was a bit intimidated - and also, I just wanted to get away from him and not have to talk with him any longer.

Sigh. He probably thinks that means it's just fine to be an asshole to his customers.