Sunday, September 15, 2013

Favorite Customers

The photo is of my Mandarin teacher, travelling companion, and spiritual advisor, Jeanette, celebrating the 28th anniversary of her friendship with me. We met when she was a passenger in my Desoto Cab in September 1985. (For a fictionalized version of the meeting see My Best Taxi Ride.)

While this was my most spectacular cab encounter, it was by no means the only one. In fact, I make friendships with my customers almost every night I drive – it's just that the experiences usually only last 5 or 10 minutes instead of a lifetime. Brief or not, they are marvelous.

I'm writing this post as both a change of pace and an answer to the relentless negative stereotypes from the TNC media machine and the local press for whom trashing cab drivers appears both a sport and a way to fame and fortune. We're supposedly stupid, greedy, incompetent and rude. Well ... if I was as incompetent as many local reporters (you know who you are) I'd starve to death. And, I've never been greedy enough to put somebody in a cab that wasn't insured.

Enough. This is a post on people I like. My passengers. Unlike one of those fraudulent car-share drivers, I don't force my customers do a ghetto hand-shake that stopped being hip circa 2008. Nor do I splash them with contrived conviviality. What I always am is polite and friendly.

 I do the basics. I ask about my customer's health and their day. I may make a witty comment or two depending upon the way they talk to me. Sometimes this leads somewhere, sometimes not. If they want to ride in silence or continue a conversation with each other that's fine with me. But 3 or 4 times every shift I form a wonderful connection of some kind or another with a customer or customers.

One of the things that works for me is music. I usually carry 5 or 6 CD's that range from old-school rock, through Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Patsy Cline, country or classical. I sometimes ask my passengers what kind of music they want to hear and this makes them happy. But I find that it has a much greater effect if I guess their taste in music and put it on for them. Image if you're, say, a fan of tango and modern classical, and you step into a cab and hear Astor Piazzolla playing Oblivion; or if you like Latin Jazz and hear Tito Puente; or, if you love classical violin and hear a piece that's rarely played like the Schumann Violin Concerto.

Let me tell that this can be a mind blowing experiences for the passenger. From the practical standpoint I've been routinely tipped $10 or $20 for rides when I picked the right tune. But that is secondary. More important is the sudden opening up of one person to another, the sense of friendship or bonding it can establish, that can be all the more intense because it's temporary.

Last night, I had a conversation with a guy who had bartended in North Beach when I used to hang out there two decades ago. It was a "decline of culture" rant. We praised the days when you could walk into Vesuvios, sit down next to almost anybody, and have intelligent conversation about Sartre, Braudel, Anais Nin, Chopin, Leo Kottke, or Rembrandt. He says it's now a sports bar and the only place left that combines alcoholism with higher culture, that links to the Beat and Hippie eras, is Spec's.

I later had a great conversation with a group from England that included a 96 year old aunt with the mind of a 30 year old. We engaged in witty repartee. I told them that I liked good wine and I liked swimming but I tried not to do them both at the same time. The aunt found this very amusing and invited me to visit next time I was in London. I said I would.

I also picked up two couples who flagged me down at 27th and Noe at 1:00 am. Maybe they were just delirious over getting a taxi out there at that time of night but we never stopped joking and laughing. I have no recollection of what we talked or laughed about.

Below are some pics of people I connected with for a time. I don't remember some of the details of some of the people but I wouldn't have photograph them unless I liked them.

The woman is showing me the first photo that I'd seen taken on a I-Phone. I use it for my blog.

A lovely couple from Wisconsin, or, was it Philadelphia?

 Marissa & Catlin who are going to L.A and will be famous actresses someday.

A happy couple photographing me photographing them.

The woman below started out like a classic bitch and I responded with my classic smart-ass cabbie act. Or, maybe it was the other way around. Anyway, she ended the ride by saying (in a voice dripping with sarcasm), "I sure hope we see you again real soon." "Not if I see you first," I countered.

I picked them up across town later that night. We broke out laughing when we saw each other and had a delightful time as I drove them home.

I'm going to end this post with three stories that run counter to the "cabbie" stereotype: A Lovely Drunk,  The Argentinian or Virtue Rewarded and That Little Miracle.

The End


  1. That was a good change up Ed, that was the artistic side of you..Yea sometimes driving a cab can be fun , deep and spiritual ..

  2. Great stuff, Ed... Thanks for sharing it... I really did love cab driving, all 28 years, and you touched on most of the reasons why...

  3. Thanks, Ed, that was an enjoyable read. Our experience approximates one another's, except you seem more open-minded about music selections than I am.

  4. Yes – I did not think my experience was unique. Glad I expressed this side of the job for some other people.


    Hmmm – You don't like Jimmy Hendrix? As for country, I listed 1/3 rd the singers I can tolerate with Patsy Cline. The other two are Hank Williams and Willie. But you're right. I could've used Bela Bartok's piece for solo violin or a quartet by Eliot Carter. Hearing that in a cab would really have blown the mind of an afficionado ... unless, of course, it was your cab. You don't like Piazzola?