This part talks a bit of the darker side of driving, part 4 will be a little more upbeat!
Like every other job out there, problems crop up, sometimes with really bad outcomes, sometimes they were just messed up situations or passengers that could be either by intent or ignorance more difficult than they needed to be. I used to have a regular rider name Mitch every morning around four a.m. Mitch would call a cab for a short trip into the city to a twenty-four liquor store where you would drop him off so he could catch a bus going to work after he picked up a little something to help him make it through the day. Generally, Mitch wasn’t considered a particularly good fare by the guys because he never tipped. The place where he was going was in a rough section of the city and there would always be people milling around the liquor store and when they saw a cab pulling up they would throw empty beer bottles and the like at the cab and taunt the drivers by screaming and behaving aggressively towards them so a lot of the guys were also scared to go there, causing Mitch to have to wait until some driver would finally take him. When he did finally get a ride most of the guys would drop him a half a block from the store to avoid the angry mob in front of it.
I ended up with him as a regular rider after I came to realize a couple of things that made the whole experience tolerable and even at times somewhat humorous. The one thing that Mitch had going for him was he was always ready, would come out to the cab practically running. The drivers that would drop him diagonally across the street or down the block from the liquor store he paid straight meter, he would only tip if you dropped him right out front of the store. He would also make sure that no one jumped in the cab and would wait until you pulled off before he would go inside. Or at least for me he would, I didn’t care about the group milling around in front of the store, so I would pull right into the middle of them driver’s window down, would even banter back and forth with them. At the time I had one of the “new” redesigned Chevrolet Impalas that were nicknamed bubble-cars because of their shape the company only had two and at the time I was assigned to one of them and the rum-dums in front of the store quickly learned to move out of my way or risked getting hit when I was coming in. I wouldn’t actually have hit them but they didn’t know that by the way I’d swing right into the middle of them usually sending more than just a few of them scurrying out-of-the-way. I also didn’t realize how much of an impression I was truly leaving on them. Mitch always tipped me because I’d pull right in front of the store and not make him walk the half block to the store so as far as I was concerned it was all good. It wasn’t until I had taken a night off and one of the other assigned drivers took my car out that I found out just how much of an impression on the stragglers in front of the store I had made. The next day when I came back to work I saw the driver who had my car the night before. He came up to me and asked; “What are you doing to the guys at Cicero and Lake? It was like parting the Red Sea as soon as they saw me coming in your car.” Laughingly I told him; “I always pull up in the middle of them and don’t put up with any shit from them, I always keep the driver’s side window open and Mitch keeps any of them from jumping in after he leaves.” “They never throw anything at the car or really hassle me in any way. They do shout and posture but I shout back at them!” The other driver laughed and said “I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t been there to see it.”
One time during the winter while dropping a person off at one of the local hospitals I was approached by a guy wearing a suit with his arm in a sling, looking for a ride to one of the far south Chicago suburbs, he had just been released from the E.R. after being stabbed by someone who robbed him, he had no money but there was someone at the destination who would pay for the ride. I told him to go back into the E.R. and call for a cab, something wasn’t right with him but I couldn’t figure out what. Sometimes telling people to call the company filters out some of the idiots, I also told him to talk to the staff in the E.R. they will give people a voucher to pay for their cab ride especially given his circumstances. He had a copy of his police report regarding the stabbing on him to prove his situation. So off he went back inside and I headed off for my next call. It wasn’t too long before his order popped up on the cabs computer and the dispatcher was hawking it as going far but no money on person. Something just kept gnawing at me that the call was going to go south once he got to his destination so I didn’t volunteer for the trip and refused it a couple of times the computer offered it, choosing to stay local while there were plenty of other calls to be answered. So this guy ended up waiting until things got slow before I finally decided to accept the trip. There were plenty of other people working that night but no one wanted to risk a long ride with a passenger that had no money, so in spite of my trepidations about taking this guy I decided to risk it.
Before leaving I stopped by the cab company which was down the street from the hospital and talked to the dispatcher about the trip. I said to him, the guy seems OK but there was something that keeps telling me the ride was going to be a no pay. I also took a second and locked up my extra cash in the locker I was using at the company just in case. When I got back to the E.R. the guy came right out and got in the back of the cab, he made a comment about having to wait over two hours for a car before he realized I was the guy he talked to earlier. I apologized for the wait telling him we were busy and his call was taken in the order in which it was received (sound familiar?). He was going to Calumet City a fifty dollar minimum ride. As I pulled away from the hospital I thought to myself: “Well, let’s just see what happens.” like many of the drivers I carried a few items for self-defense should the need arise, there are no hard or fast rules regarding what the driver might be carrying but in my case I carried a large can of mace. Sabre is what was called and still is my preferred style of pepper spray. It’s a combination of standard pepper spray and tear gas that is delivered in both a stream (for distance) and a cloud for indirect or group effect. There was a spot on the door where the container could sit without bouncing around the car and still be easily accessible in case of trouble. I also had my Maglite flashlight and a boot-knife that I set to make it easy to draw from sitting position. The ride progressed normally, at first small talk about what happened to him and that he was from New York had worked there as a cop. Though he definitely sounded like a New Yorker I wasn’t completely convinced of his cop claim, he was extremely well-mannered and even pleasant in conversation but I still wasn’t convinced that this was going to be a trouble-free ride, as I mentally drilled myself on the position and location of emergency equipment should I need it. I also noted on the computer when it indicated I was out of radio range of the cab company, which happened just as we started drawing close to Calumet.
The computer let out an audible beep when we lost signal, prompting the passenger to ask if everything was OK as I glanced at the computer. “Yeah, everything is fine here” I told him: “One of the other cabs tripped his cab alarm, telling the dispatch and other cabs he’s in trouble and needs assistance.” “Really?” My customer replied: “you guys know where each other are?” I explained that with the computers in the car the company can tell how long we’ve had the meter on and they have an idea where the destination is and there are routes drivers routinely take to get around so anyone who’s seen him may have a better idea where he is, or he’s on the radio with the dispatchers giving his location. The passenger in the car may have no idea that an alarm has been tripped at this point in the car the dispatcher might have initiated contact request location and time to destination under the guise of a waiting rider as a way of ascertaining the cab’s position so he can notify local police to stop the car and find out why the driver tripped the alarm. After my explanation the passenger got real quiet in the backseat, apparently my choice to b.s. had given him time to pause and think about what I said. Not that the car didn’t have an alarm system built-in it, it did, and worked reasonably well with a good dispatcher at the desk. The uncomfortably silent pause after I finished my tale was beginning to cause me some concern when he finally said “Wow your company is on the cutting edge of technology.” I said to him: “Yes, we currently have the distinction of being the smallest cab company in the U.S. using this cab dispatch system.” This was true at the time; things like gps and auto navigation were in their infancy or didn’t exist at all.
As we entered Calumet I discovered that the city wasn’t too quick to plow it’s streets, the snow was deep and made the driving tricky as we weaved through slippery the city streets getting to his destination. The neighborhood seemed reasonably safe there were nice homes and apartments and no signs of people milling about as he directed me to an apartment in the middle of the block. There was no street parking because it was a snow route, which in most cases means that they’ll plow the street although here I think they just wanted to leave the streets open so the snow could migrate freely from the town under its own power. So when we pulled up to his address he got out while I waited with the car since we finally saw plows down street a few blocks away working towards our location and I didn’t want the cab ticketed or buried. He stepped out of the cab in front of a six unit building stating he’s be right back he was just going to ring the bell so the person could bring down the money. He stepped into the small well-lit foyer and pressed a button. From my vantage point I could see him talking to someone, presumably over the intercom. He appeared to press the button again, by this point the plows were a block down as he stepped back out and walked back to the car. “They must be asleep he said I can’t get anyone to wake up and answer the door” I knew there was going to be something screwy with this ride, “Is there any way I can mail you the money?” I looked at him and said; “you had me give you a sixty dollar ride and now you can’t pay. It sure looked to me like you were talking to someone in there! This is what I’m going to do, I’m going back to the Hospital in Oak Park where I picked you up and having the police meet me there and I’m filing a complaint, if the money isn’t at the company by 5 p.m. tomorrow there will be a warrant for your arrest. I assure you, I will not miss a single court date regarding this.” with that I gave him the address and phone number to the company with my cab number I pull-off headed back to Oak Park and I did exactly that. The next day no money and true to form the complaint was filed, as far as I know there is still warrant floating around today for this guy. I know this sounds like a rather banal ending to this guys story, but some times driving a cab you get those feelings that things aren’t right when everything seems OK and I suppose that thankfully I got out with only the loss of the fare. I had him in the cab for over an hour and the thoughts that the ride was going to end badly were playing in my head the whole time.
Another time I got a call for a pick up at an apartment building in Oak Park near Washington and Oak Park Ave. a guy comes out gets into the back of the cab and wants to go to the bank before going home. So we swing into a nearby cash station and he goes in a couple of minutes later he comes back out gets in and wants to go to Mannheim Rd. in Franklin Park so off we go. He was silent in the back seat, most people say something, mostly small talk but not this guy after stating his destination he shut up, which told me there might be trouble, although at the time everything seemed normal enough.
When we got to Mannheim we traveled northbound until we came to what appeared to be an old motel that had been converted into small apartments. His fare was about sixteen dollars, he moved liked he was digging in his pocket for the money. My left hand was on the mace in case he didn’t have cash in his hand when it came out. His distraction worked I didn’t notice he had grabbed the door handle with his other hand and with a quick twist of his body he was out of the car and running as fast as he could to get away. I turned back around threw the car in drive and punched it as he dashed across the parking lot toward a brick wall at the border of it. With me in cab in hot pursuit he scaled the wall and was in alley on other side. I screeched to halt look for the closest way out nearest to where he had gone over and raced to it. Whiling leaving the lot I hit the cab alarm so the desk was signaling me to go to voice which I did as I executed a quick turn into the alley. I could see him about a half a block down still running through the alley. He must have glanced back and saw me because he suddenly ran in someone’s backyard and at that point I lost tract of him.
I informed dispatch about what happened; they contacted Franklin Park who had a couple of squads there in about minute, though at the time it seemed much longer. I gave a description of the guy and the last place I saw him. One officer stayed and checked the immediate area and the other squad did a drive around to see if they could find someone matching his description in the area. After several minutes of searching and no results the cop who was with me took my name and information in case they located someone matching the customers description later, with that they and I parted company and is was back to work for me. To my knowledge they never did find him and it didn’t surprise me. People who run out on cabs are not a high priority for police and they did look for him, and had found someone matching the description they probably would have called. But Franklin Park is a busy place they and they had more important things to do.
There were a few more such incidents while driving but I was fortunate enough to come through the experience without ever being actually robbed. Most drivers though at some point do get someone with a knife, a gun, or the threat of either and end up surrendering their hard earn cash to some desperate individual who is usually supporting a drug habit or is maybe just an habitual criminal. After I left driving I had purchased the franchise agreement on a White Hen Pantry (a convenience store like 7 11) I almost went back to driving after the deal fell through (a story for another time).
I had set up an agreement with someone who was a subcontractor with company I had worked for to drive for him. It would have meant a cheaper rate per day and a better car. I was supposed to take over for a driver who was retiring, he had been driving for years and it was finally his time to relax and take life a little easier. While dropping a passenger off at Cicero Ave and West End in the city someone jumped into the car after the passenger left the vehicle robbed the driver and shot him in the head. Much to the credit of the passenger he stayed with the driver until police and the ambulance arrived and explained what happened. Sadly this happened just a few days before he was to retire. He was killed instantly and the cab was impounded as evidence. The criminal that shot him maybe got a hundred dollars from him. To my knowledge they never caught the guy. Even sadder is that things like this still happen, drivers still die for the pennies they carry and ultimately life goes on…
In the interim I found another job and although this was my only attempt to date to go back to driving a cab it is not the end of this story…..