Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Act of God?

When I first started driving taxi many of my customers - especially the San Francisco locals - were unfriendly or overtly hostile. They would say things like "great route" or "you're the best cabbie in the world" in sarcastic tones of voice. Many of them stiffed me.

I got tired of this and used sarcasm myself when I told a yuppie who'd given me $6 for $5.80 ride,

    "Thanks for the tip!"

    "You've already given yourself a tip!" He snapped back.

I was what my father would've called "flummoxed." I was trying to do a good job and couldn't understand why people were so nasty.

After about a month, I picked up an old-time, hippie cab driver. White hair down to his shoulders. We'd gone two blocks when he suddenly raised his gravelly voice in excitement,

    "Hey man - you got yourself a hot one!"

    "You mean, my girl? How'd you know about her?"

He laughed.

    "Right! I mean that hot chick on your dashboard!"

    "What are you talking about?"

    "Boy are you good! That's great, man, you never know who might be a cop."

    "Are you stoned?"

    "Of course I'm stoned. I've been stoned all my life. Except'in the year I spend as a Tantric Buddhist in Tibet. But that amounted to the same thing - what's your point, man?"

    "Man, what's your point? I don't know what you're talking about."

    "O.K. We'll play it your way," he said laughing. "Your meter is hot."

    "You mean, it's fast?

He broke out laughing and couldn't stop for a long time.

    "No," he finally said, "it's not fast - it's a fuck'in world class sprinter."

    "How fast?"

    "Hmmm ... 35%, 40% - you really didn't know?"

    "I just started driving. It's my first cab."

    "Well, you hit the mother-load."

    "Really? I'll have to get it fixed after the shift."

    "Man, you are good!" 

He stared laughing again. Then he suddenly turned serious, leaned forward, grabbed me by the arm and fervently wheezed,

    "You don't fix nothing! I might drive this as a spare. You wanna squeeze these cheap fuckers for every cent you can get!"

Now that was just the kind of attitude I didn't want to be associated with - the stereotype of the greedy, grasping, cheating cabbie.

When I finished my shift I filled out a form to fix the meter, stuck it on my windshield and went over to tell the gasman about it.

He was standing, talking and laughing with a mechanic and a couple of other drivers. I walked up to them and said,

     "This one's got a hot meter. Can you make sure they fix it in the morning?"

The men fell silent and stared at me then at each other and back at me. After awhile, the gasman said,


I'd walked about five steps when they burst out laughing behind me.

The next shift, my day driver Bob was waiting for me when I came to pick up the taxi. He looked me over intensely as I walked toward him. 

     "I see you wrote up the meter?" He said nervously.

     "Yeah - did they take care of it?"

     "No, there was something I wanted to ask you first."

     "Sure - ask away."

     "Are you insane?" He passionately ejaculated.

     "No, I don't think so," I said, startled. "I just want to earn my living honestly."

     "Did you fix the meter so it runs hot?"


     "Did I fix the meter so it's hot? No!"

     "That's not the point. It's -"

     "If you didn't fix the meter," he interrupted, "and I didn't fix the meter who did?"

     "I haven't the faintest -"

     "It's an act of God!" Bob declaimed. 

I was speechless.

Bob leaned forward and grabbed my by the arms.

    "Listen!" He said. "I've been doing this for three years. Three years of eating shit. Three years of watching the owners steal all my money. You're new. you don't understand. Who are you to interfere with the will of God?"

I didn't really have an answer to that so I left the meter the way it was. I started telling my customers that I usually didn't driver this cab and that the meter seemed hot so they should pay whatever they thought was fair. Much of the hostility disappeared (the public is the public and it never completely goes away), the sarcasm went down and my tips went up.

A couple of weeks later, Bob was hit by a red-light runner who totaled the meter along with the car.

Did Karma trump God?