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.

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