Saturday, July 11, 2009

Alleged Tipping

"Alleged tipping" was the phrase used by Desoto Cab President Jane Bolig to put down an accusation by Mark Gruberg of the UTW that cab drivers were forced to tip company dispatchers ten dollars day.

I thought I might be able to shine light on this debate by relating my own experiences at Desoto before Jane became president.

One day I started doing the math and realized that tipping FIVE in and FIVE out ($5 to both start and end a shift) was costing me about $2,500 a year - way too much. I thought TWO each way was fair enough but, out of the generosity of my soul, I'd make it THREE.

At the time, Desoto had a dispatcher named Big Bob who was arithmetically challenged. Corruption doesn't always breed quality. They'd taken Bob off the night shift because he had trouble focusing on numbers larger than 50 and would sometimes spend as many as 15 minutes counting the gates for each driver. The FIVE in was just about all he could handle.

The first time I gave him THREE, Bob looked down at the bills that I'd slide through the opening under the bullet-proof glass then looked back up at me with confusion. The second time, he looked hurt. The third time, he angrily tossed the money back under the window and snarled:

"That's not a tip!"

I decided to show Bob what a tip really wasn't. After less spectacular but similar incidents with the other dispatchers, I pretty much stopped tipping altogether. The only exception was a night dispatcher named Tessie who looked like a battle-ax but had a bit of a crush on me. She'd hold up my three dollars splayed out in her hand and give me an ironic smile but she'd accept the money without complaint.

My schedule was supposed go from 7 am to 5 pm but the dispatchers began shorting my cab (giving it to another driver for a few hours) so that I didn't start working until around 9:30. This cost me $40 or $50 a day. Common sense should have inspired me to give in and pay the clowns the extra TWO but, if I had common sense, I would never have driven cab in the first place. Besides, I was single and had a $450 a month studio. Thanks to Tessie, I was also able to keep the cab out late in the afternoons so that I could recoup some of the money that I lost in the mornings.

When cheating me out of my time didn't work, the dispatchers took away my regular cab and started giving me the worst spares they could find. The brakes would be shot or the tires would go flat. I would often get cars that would start to vibrate at 40 miles per hour. Once a long pipe with a flange on the end (I'm not a mechanic. I can't name the part.) fell from the bottom of the taxi onto Union Street, stopping the car dead in its tracks.

Of course my cabs would break down with great regularity and I often had to wait up to three or four hours for a tow. After five or six times, it dawned on me - duh - that the dispatchers had been waiting a couple of hours before calling the tow company.

On one especially busy Friday afternoon, the brakes on my cab went completely out. I mean there was nothing. When I dropped at the airport, I needed to gear down and use the hand brake to stop the cab. I decided that I wasn't going to lose four hours on that day, so I drove the car back without any brakes.

I thought I'd be okay as long as I was on the freeway. The problem would come when I got off. I planned to use the 7th Street exit off 101 because Desoto was on Geary Street at that time and, once I left the freeway, I would be able to drive uphill all the way. But I had to get lucky. If the light on 7th and Harrison was red, I could have been in big trouble. It turned green just as I rounded the corner off the freeway ramp and I flowed all the way back to the garage without having to stop.

The mechanic who looked at the brakes told me that he belonged to a union so he made good money but that I should start tipping the dispatchers because they were only paid minimum wage and, if guys like me didn't tip, they wouldn't be able to pay their rent. This from a union guy. My lenghty and detailed reply is not printable in a family blog.

I have to confess that I'm a perverse character with a strange sense of humor. Seeing the dispatchers glowering at me, their faces twisted with impotent hatred, when I came to work every morning made it all worth while. Think about it - these people in effect were willing to kill me over a $5 bill ... that most of them would put up their noses anyway. When I saw those expressions, it was all I could do to keep from laughing. The human comedy in all its glory.

I was eventually fired - although I'm not certain that it had anything to do with my refusal to tip.

I picked up an aging couple at a hospital and took them home. On the way, they had a spat. When we arrived, I walked around the car and opened the door to help the man out. He said that he didn't want any help. His wife insisted that I help. He insisted that he could do it himself. He wife demanded that I help him. It looked to me as if she wanted to use me to humiliate him. He insisted once again that he could get out by himself. His wife screamed at me. I ignored her and stood by ready to help him if he needed any. He managed to get out fine all by himself.

The wife called Desoto and complained that I had refused to help her sick husband out of a taxicab. I told my side of the story to the manager, Eric Shaffer. He told me that I should have helped the man out of the taxi. I told him the story again. He said that I should not only have helped the man out but I should apologize to the woman. I refused and he fired me, saying that all my shifts were cancelled.

I told him that I'd signed a contract where it said that he had to give two weeks notice before canceling my lease.

"What contract?" he asked. But, that's another story.

Anyway I'm glad to hear from Jane that the barbaric practice of tipping has become an alleged thing of the past.


  1. You know you could always be a dispatcher or a cashier to learn the other side of the equation??

  2. I refused two opportunities to become a dispatcher because I'm not going earn a living by extorting money from other people.

  3. Her name is Tassie not Tessie.

  4. I think Desoto should be go out of business!