Friday, November 7, 2008

How to minimize your chances of getting a ticket

When you get pulled over, stop as soon as possible. If you're in the left lane, you might want to stop right there in the middle of the road. If the cop wants you to move, he'll tell you. Put your drivers license between the first 2 fingers of your left hand and raise that left hand as far as possible out of the window. Put your right hand on top of the steering wheel. Now wait.

If the cop asks you to incriminate yourself, don't do it. If he asks you how fast you were going, say something to the tune of, you're not quite sure, but apparently you were going fast enough to get his attention, you'll watch it closer in the future, and not repeat the mistake. If you say, well I was going 45, and the speed limit is 25, you'll get a ticket for 45. He might only have you for 34 on his radar. Never lie. I'm not sure, is a perfectly reasonable answer, after all you're supposed to be looking at the road, not staring at the speedometer.

On the other hand, don't ever be a wise ass. I recall one night in the drivers room when the Sidewalk Commando came in and was bitching about getting a ticket. He said he got pulled over at Owen and the Point, and the guy came up to him and said, "How fast were we going?"

A simple I'm not sure, sorry about that, would have done the trick. His reply was pretty bad. He said he came back with, "I don't know, how fast were we going?" Which was obviously taken as smarting off to a police officer, and resulted in a ticket. I told him he'd smarted off to that cop too. The Commando wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box. I haven't seen him in a long time, after he got canned, he drove a yellow taxi for years, perhaps he still does.

How did the Commando get canned? Well, he'd been going for calls and getting beat for 15 or 20 minutes. It happens, even when it's busy. Many years back, they modified State street so you can't get from State street to either block of Francis, cul de sac's on each side. The Commando pulled the cab over the sidewalk, either to get from State to Francis or the other way around. That wasn't bad enough. Then he went and bragged about it in the drivers room. Like I said, not the sharpest crayon in the box.

Why do you do the exact things I described in the first paragraph? Well, it works like this, they all wear body armor, right? He can pull you over anyplace he wants to. He wants to see your hands. Once you're pulled over, he can yell at you and let you go, if that's all he wants to do. Don't push it. He can only write so many tickets in a day. Sit at any intersection for 30 minutes, how many tickets can you spot, 10? It would be impossible to write 10 tickets an hour, so you have to do something special to become one of the perhaps 2 people an hour he can actually spend quality time with. You'd be surprised at how many times, in your own car, or a cab, if you make him comfortable, he'll simply yell at you for screwing up and tell you not to do it again.

How many tickets have I ever gotten in a cab? 1.

I was all set to offer the details of that event, but on second thought, I think I want legal advice before I start accusing someone of intentionally causing an accident, which is what happened. So, it might be in the book, and it might not. How many accidents? A few. Why? Almost always it's someone else doing something that isn't consistent with what you'd expect in a given situation. Someone who stops on an on ramp for the freeway would be a good example, though that specifically has never happened to me.

I guess I will describe the guy who hit me head on in Middleton sometime. Yeah, I should put in a few accidents, it's part of the business. God it's a dangerous business. Ever have passengers in and have a drunk driver coming head on at you, on the wrong side of the road? What would you do? I'll put that one in too some time. Wow, it's 2:10. Time to piddle the dog and get my bootie over to Fast Eddies, before I miss my ride to work.


When he started, he was a frat boy from Acacia. 2 of them started together, he and Chris. Chris graduated and found himself a real job. Hammer hung around like so many of us and drove cab. Like a number of people, he wanted to be one of the office types, he wanted that real bad. It's easy to see why people want to be dispatchers, there aren't enough good days to compensate for the bad days, compounded by the common American inability to save and manage money. This is probably why, when Bobby trained me, he said that in general people who couldn't drive became dispatchers. Hammer the driver, was pretty bland.

I remember his first ever shift dispatching. He screwed up a Friday rush hour worse than any I've ever seen before or since. He was working with T-fuss, and Big T is a pretty easy going guy, so what probably happened was he announced that he was going to take the radio from 3 until 7, and T let him. He of course knew how he was going to change the system. He'd already picked out his own nickname. He was Hammer, and he was going to hammer out those calls. What did he do? He put all the calls out on an oldest first basis. He wouldn't give out any fresh calls until the old ones were gone. It was a fall day, and it was spitting snow, and he was giving out runs of passenger calls that were all 45 minutes old. If you didn't take them, and try to load them, you got nothing. From 3:30 until 5:00 I did nothing but drive around, wait for 5 minutes, get no passenger, drive to the next one, and so on.

Back then, I was even a highly cooperative driver. I pretty much did what a dispatcher wanted. Try striking out for 90 minutes straight when it's insanely busy, and you know theres one simple reason for the problem, the dispatcher. If you think about it, it's bad for business too. The people who'd called an hour ago didn't get service, nobody got service, and none of the drivers made any money. I finally keyed the mike and told him he was the worst dispatcher I'd ever heard, and it was the truth, on that afternoon he was the worst, in his own league. This started a problem between me and him that lasted for over 10 years.

My thinking has long been that everyone gets treated the same. Rich passengers, poor passengers, flags, and people who called on the phone, all want to go somewhere and pay me for taking them there. The people in the office frequently don't see it that way. People who called on the phone are our customers, they deserve rides, and only if there's nothing else to do does anybody else deserve a ride.

The height of the rift between Hammer and I happeened around bar time one terribly busy weekend night, back before Hammer got married. I heard the call on the board before I saw him, it was State and Gilman going to 800 S. Brooks. I was working flags as I usually did, and I just couldn't resist, stopping and saying hi. I rolled up to him in the intersection, and he said, "You better be here to take my call."

I said, "I'd like to help you but I can't because you called for a ride over the phone." Then I drove a car lenght or 2 away and loaded up with flags, and was off on my way. The driver who did take him home said that he was pretty agitated all the way home, saying he was going to screw me over for the rest of my life. He was already doing that anyway, so I didn't see it making any difference.

This went on for a few years and then they made him the general manager of the company, answering only to Roy Boy and the owner. I was sure he'd get rid of me, Roy always said he wouldn't, and he did mellow with age finally. I was actually sorry to see him leave in 2006 when he wangled himself a pretty nice position with a large public agency. He came back and did a cameo appearance, dispatching for the Penn State game a few weeks ago. He hadn't been on the air for 2 minutes and he was yelling at people, I keyed the mike and said, "It's good to hear your voice Hammer. I've missed you." With that, I loaded up with flags and drove them home.

I can't go home smelling like this.

The first time I ever met Duh, I was a wide eyed innocent rookie. It was at the foot of the hair pin by Helen White, and he flagged me down. He had a book bag, and gave me this bogus story about cab drivers giving other cab drivers free rides, just to be nice. The ride he wanted was about 3 blocks up Bascom Hill, and he did remember to say thank you.

The truth is, not only do cab drivers pay full fare, we're expected to tip generously.

The last time I saw Duh, I was asked to leave Mel and Tony's. The bartender was absolutely sure he was going to break a pool cue over my head. I told the bartender there was no way Duh could hit me with that pool cue. He assured me I could get hit with the pool cue. I tried to tell him, he just didn't understand, the pool cue was in Duh's hands. No way would I get hit with it. Ask any driver who knows both of us, they'd agree, Duh couldn't possibly hit R.C. with a pool cue. He asked me to leave anyhow, so I walked home.

Why was Duh threatening me with the pool cue? I'd been teasing him, and rubbing it pretty hard. The incident that I loved to rib him over happened one night in the drivers room after a weekend 3 pm - 3 am shift. There were probably 6 of us finishing our envelopes, so we could drop them and go home. Duh was really really worried. He said, "God, I can't go home smelling like this." What did he smell like? He got some strange in his back seat. It's an odd tip, but not unheard of. It was simply too good an opportunity to pass up, I had to tease him.

"You know, Duh, that Columbian wife of yours is going to smell that on you, sure as shit. You're apt to wake up tomorrow morning, your wife and kids gone, and your balls will be in that Bull Durham bag on the pillow next to you."

I'm sure what he was fishing for was for one of us, his friends, to offer him a shower and clean clothes to wear home. I wasn't even about to suggest to him that he go out to the truck stop and pay $5.00 for a shower. For the rest of his tenure as a Friday/Saturday night driver, I teased him about going home smelling like some woman other than his wife. After all, can you ever tease a guy enough, who'd gyp a rookie cab driver?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Hog

He's dead. He died last year. He was a dispatcher. His name was Aurther Phillip Penn III, Phil Penn. Pig Pen. Piggie. The school marm. We did not get along.

The drivers out there are probably saying to yourselves, well if you're a real cab driver why would you ever have an enemy among dispatchers? You just have to do it. There's a limit to the abuse you can take. Dispatchers handing out abuse? Nah, never happen. Yeah, and while we're telling lies, I just happen to own this swamp in Arizona I have for sale.

The Hog had a lot of tattos, and of course he had Piggie tattoed on his left arm.

We don't have forced dispatching. What that means is, if I don't want to do that ride, I don't have to. I can be empty, I can be right across the street from the ride, there can be no other cab within 30 minutes of that call, and there's nothing the dispatcher can do about it, if I don't want to do that ride. This is the issue the Hog and I parted ways over. When he sat down he figgured he was god. If he said you had to do a ride, that was it, you had to do it. In the long run, it probably cost me thousands of dollars to refuse to do a few dozen rides, but learning how to get along with dispatchers is part of the game. To any aspiring driver, NEVER antagonize a dispatcher. They all know me, so I couldn't take my own advice even if I wanted to, at this point in my career.

Around 10:55 pm on Saturday nights, Curly would always say, "And now, here's the kinder, gentler, School Marm", and the gravely voice would begin reading off the board. Curly really looked up to Piggie, and used him as a role model. Curley was the artistic inspiration for the movie character, Jaba the Hut, he used to say he wanted to eat until he exploded, and his face looked like a pepperoni pizza. I'll do a post about Curley some time.

School Marm? He had a degree in education. He was qualified to be a French teacher, but never worked in that capacity. It might have been his other exploits in life that made him unqualified to teach. Cab driving has always been a place where people with a prison record or dishonorable discharge could still find a job. He liked to play pool. His memoriam was a Piggie Penn Memorial Pool Tournament at Blue Chalk. I did not attend. He also liked bending the rules (cheating in a business of cheating). Years ago, we had an account with ChiNor, which were almost all $100+ rides. It turns out that one of his pals at the pool hall was a ChiNor employee who'd tip him off on the up coming rides which he camped on when he was driving. He was pretty proud of his inside info, and flaunted it.

Now that he's gone, dispatching has changed, it's gotten more impartial, more honest. It needed to happen. It took way to many years to happen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The questions passengers ask.

Over the weekend, a lady asked me if I've had everything happen to me, I went down a list of extremes, and she said she figgured I've had everything happen to me. I thought of a small list of things that I haven't had happen since then, but they're all thank god kind of things.

A common question is, "Do cab drivers carry guns?" I wouldn't, but a few have.

Another is, "Will you spin the cab on the fresh snow?" When I first started, one of my night drivers used to brag of doing that, and break torquing to 'light up the tires'. His nickname was Mario, and passengers did like him. Beating on the cab has always been a good way to get fired, as has been driving like a moron on fresh snow. I also do not run red lights or exceed the speed limit because I'm asked to do so.

"What's the funniest thing that's ever happened in your cab?" I have a rather verbose story that I have always told, but I'm now leaning on this short version. Well, one day I had a retarded dwarf crap her pants in my cab. Short, simple, always gets a laugh. And of course, the old myth is, you're not a real cab driver until somebody craps their pants in your cab. So on that day, as I cleaned the seat in an absolute smoking rage, I was finally a real cab driver.

"What's the most people you've ever had in the cab?" Ah, no comment, if you're ever in Madison and you're riding in my cab, I'll tell you. In recent years the company has gotten real serious about only letting as many people ride as there are seat belts for, which in a Crown Vic is 4.

"How/why did I become a cab driver?" I forgot to leave town when I graduated, a serious mistake.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thank god, October is over.

October is a rough month. Home Big Ten games, Halloween, the start of cold days, it all adds up to more shifts. Sure, that means more money. More money, but you earn every penny.

I had a memorable passenger Saturday. I don't think I've ever had a more obnoxious kid in my cab. He started out by asking me to do a Tokyo Drift. A what? You know, slide the cab sideways around a corner, he said. Ah, no. Yes, it's happened before, but I don't do that kind of stuff to amuse passengers and it's never happened on purpose. Then he goes on to tell me he's out run the cops 6 times in high speed chases. He's basicly as full of bull shit as a Christmas goose.

Then when we hit some gridlock, he really lets his hair down. He starts talking about President McCain. Right. A kid who brags of running the cops while high on cocaine, who is a Rush Limbaugh level republican. Every time this kids lips move, it's like somebody dragging their nails down a chalk board. He has every answer, he slides back and forth, into and out of lies very gracefully. He doesn't want somebody giving his hard earned money away. I seriously doubt he's ever actually earned a cent. "Son, do you mean to tell me that if giving the lady in the red costume 10 bucks would put 50 bucks in your pocket, you in your self centered self interest wouldn't want to?" Nope, he wouldn't. I told him he was in for a rude awakening.

The Halloween people in general were the most obnoxious bunch I can ever remember. For some reason, people in this town really glory in directing traffic. There's a reason why only cops direct traffic as a rule. The frequency of traffic directing college students wearing costumes was about 6 an hour, no I'm not kidding. Imagine this at around 2 am when most of the cars on the road are being driven by drunks. And then there are the people who think that if they can dive into you cab, you have to take them, and no locking the doors until they tell you where they want to go does not work. Why? You have to open the doors to let passengers out, and that's a good time to dive in that cab before somebody else gets it, only the cab driver needs to go pick up some people who called for a cab over the phone. Then you get the 5 minute arguement over why that they expect to win out of persistance.

There was the bozo on Dayton street who was going to stop my cab! I try to go around him to the right, he moves to the right, I try to the left, he moves to the left, and finally, there he is with his hand on the hood. I did in fact have to stop. At that point he's racing to jump in the front seat, that door is locked. I throw open my door and start to stand up to tell him to get away from the cab, and I'm nose to nose with his 4 or 5 friends who are going to dive into the cab. The problem with this is, I've got 3 guys in the back seat, who are riding on a dispatched call. They couldn't understand why I was ordering them to get away from the cab.

And, biggest jerk of the night was the was the guy in the orange jumpsuit who was trying to flag me down in the 600 W. Johnson. I had to slow down to about 20, and I wondered if he'd do the stand in front of the cab routine, but Johnson is 4 lanes wide, and that could be pretty dangerous for him, somebody else might hit him. When it was plain that I wasn't going to stop, he ran up to the cab and kicked it. Yes I did stop, and he ran into the night.