Thursday, June 23, 2011
Follow the Crowd
The best things about having driven a taxi in New York City are 1) street cred and 2) the stories. The stories, because if you drive long enough in a big city and pick up an average of 30 passengers per work shift, eventually you will have experiences worth telling. Such is the fodder that prompted the award winning HBO TV documentary series, Taxicab Confessions, which originated in New York City.
As regular readers here already know, I did a stint of about one and a half years as a taxi driver in the early 1970s, a very rough time in the city. Picking up the severely drunk passengers was one big problematic scenario. It can have entertainment value, but most likely, the ugly side of drunkenness will reveal its head sooner or later - typically not later than the end of the ride.
Often friends will stuff a drunk friend in a taxi, thereby transferring responsibility and care taking to a taxi diver, with a sigh of relief, I am sure.
As one reader pointed out in my story, Flailing and Hailing, there are downsides to taxi travel outside Manhattan. A rider should know how to get to their destination. Many drivers are severely deficient in their knowledge of the boroughs, don't carry maps or use GPS. Taxis are expensive and you don't want a driver to be learning NYC geography at your expense.
However, there is risk to the driver too. Although the passenger is paying for distance traveled, the most money is not made by wandering aimlessly in hopes that the passenger will at last remember how to get home or where they live. More money is earned in a given time period by getting passengers to their destination as quickly as possible, not crawling around unknown neighborhoods.
On one night, I picked up a passenger who was visibly inebriated. He did not have an address, but assured me that he could navigate to his home. As we approached the first fork in a roadway and I asked "left or right?", he responded "follow the crowd." This became the refrain at every juncture, where conveniently it appeared that our destination was in the direction of the greater traffic flow.
Until there was no crowd.
I realized I was in trouble when at one junction with no cars in front of us, I was again told to follow the crowd. This was time to turn around completely and interrogate. Did he or did he not know where he was going? I was in the middle of nowhere, no people around, no clear address, and only his assurance that he could direct me to his home.
I don't recall where I left him, only that I ordered him out of my taxi right there, which took some doing. At this point in my life, I would do more. Perhaps drive to a populated area and look for a police car or ask for a police station to drop him off. But I was young, intolerant, frustrated and broke. Time is money for the taxi driver. You need to know where you are going, not heed the directions of a drunk man whose directions consist solely of "follow the crowd." :)
Related Posts: Leave the Driving to Us, Nice Move, Kid, The Point of Impact, Flailing and Hailing, Sittin' on Top of the World, What numba Kissena?