Monday, August 3, 2009

Seeing It Coming

When I say to other cab drivers that I've worked nights for 20 years and never been robbed, they either don't believe me or tell me I'm lucky. But, I'm telling the truth. I haven't been held up and I owe it all to Officer Paul Makaveckas.

Makaveckas trained us and during orientation told us that we had to pick up anybody and everybody who wanted a cab.

"But, isn't that dangerous?" I asked, "I mean, you can tell when people are trouble just by the way they move, they way they look, their gestures, they way they look at you. "

"You can't tell nuthin!" Makaveckas yelled, getting in my face like a Marine Corps drill sergeant.

"But sometimes you can see it com -"

"You can't see nuthing," Makaveckas bellowed. "You don't pick em up, it's refusal to convey!"

The reason I owe my perfect record to Makaveckas is that he started me thinking seriously about how dangerous the job could be so I decided to ignore what he told us.

I can see the point of the law. It's a product of the 60s and it's aimed at racial profiling. And, of course, you can't convict somebody of a crime because of the way they move or look. But only a fool would ignore the warning signs of an aggressive body language or a sadistic stare. There is a difference between punishing somebody and protecting yourself. Maybe such distinctions are too subtle for the law.

Racial profiling has hardly been a practice for me. I've never turned anybody down because of their race and, in fact, I've been told by innumerable large, black men that I was only cab driver who would pick them up. Contrary to stereotype, I've usually been tipped very, very well by these people.

The reason I raised my questions to the Officer in the first place was that I'd been mugged by two white junkies a couple of years before I started driving a taxi. The thing is that I saw them: I saw what they were: I knew they were dangerous: I could even see them targeting me. But I ignored the signs. Why? Because it was a lovely Sunday afternoon on Hyde Street on Russian Hill with people wandering about and I was coming home from a laundromat.

It never entered my head that I could be mugged at such a time in such a place. If it had, they never would've gotten close enough to corner me with a butcher knife. They got $6. It was well worth the price for the lessons they gave me: 1. Always be aware of your surroundings. 2. Trust your perceptions.

I have driven by people that I know have robbed other drivers. When I was working for City, the dispatcher called an order on Cortland for three guys at 2 am. I took one look at the men, drove by them and called the dispatcher, telling him not to call the order again. He called it anyway. The three guys robbed the next cab driver that came along. The dispatcher later claimed that I'd never talked to him. But, of course, the company would have been in a delicate situation whether I had or not. They might either be busted by Makaveckas for refusing to take an order or sued by the driver for putting him in harm's way.

And I guess that writing this post puts me in delicate situation. No doubt there will soon be a plethora of undercover minority cops flagging me down.

Nonetheless, always be aware of your surroundings and trust your perceptions. Your intuition is smarter than you are and swifter than the law.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Cab Stories: 1

He was 22, thin, good looking, medium height and hip. He'd always been hip. He'd been class treasurer in high school and helped edit the yearbook. He usually obtained the booze and milder drugs for his college frat parties and got laid at every other one. While his clothes - faded jeans with a hole in one knee, green turtle-neck, white jean-jacket - were a tad retro, they were hip because he wore them.

En route we had a hip conversation about Miles. He contended that Kind of Blue, which I was playing, was Davis's greatest album. I held the less conventional view of preferring Sketches of Spain. "I like the melodies," I told him. He grudgingly accepted that as a legitimate position - although an inferior one.

When we arrived at his destination, he climbed out of the back seat and came around to my window to pay. He started to hand me a ten dollar bill, then paused and said, "you know if you could really write what cab driving's like - I mean if you could really capture the experience - it would be literature."

"Well," I hesitantly started to say, "I've made a few notes here and -"

"No! - No!" he interrupted, waving his bill in front of me as to erase my words. "No - if you could really just get it down - you could create a work of genius."

He stood staring at some point over my head. If only he had the time ... if only he chose to dedicate himself to the task ... Yes! Cabbie would be his first best seller, the next avaunt on the non-fiction novel ...

"That was $7.60," I said.

"Oh, yeah - yeah," he said, remembering me. "Make it eight."

"Thanks," I said, handing back his two bills.

En raptured in his vision, he missed my mild sarcasm. "I wasn't just a documentarian," he would tell Charlie Rose, "I was one of them." His success would give him the time he needed to write his true landmark work, Ulysses as a Young Narcissist and Other Tales.

He turned and wandered across the crowed boulevard, floating through the braking cars, honking horns and screamed obscenities on the soft velvet warmth of his dreams.

(for more cab stories check out