There are few relationships so pure as that between a cabbie and his fare. You begin the relationship as total strangers, and you leave the same way. In between, though, you are in an relationship of instant trust and loyalty. It doesn’t matter if it’s a yellow cab, a gypsy cab, or Uber – there’s an unspoken code of conduct.
Once upon a time, cabs didn’t have walls between passenger and driver. They didn’t have seatbelts, either. You could cram up to 8 people into a checker cab – 4 on the seat, 2 on the flip-down jump seats, and 2 on the floor. Safety? It was all in the hands of your driver.
And you trusted that driver. He was your pilot, your guide, your mentor during your ride. Oh sure, sometimes he was the evil genius who ripped you off by taking you to JFK via Bay Ridge, but after a short time living in New York, you learned what to say and how to act so HE knew that YOU knew that HE knew that YOU knew what time of day it was. You were a savvy New Yorker, and he could try overcharging you at his peril.
Once this basic understanding was established, conversation was the next item to settle. In those days, there were no iPads telling you to buckle up, no bulletproof glass windows, nothing to get in between you and your driver. However, there was protocol. There were unspoken rules about things like conversation topics and what was on the radio: in both cases, it was always the driver’s call. You were in his workplace, so his rules obtained. Sometimes, his decoration skills obtained as well. There were (and are) legendary cabbies who have such an amazing shtick that they are routinely profiled by junior reporters in local media. (See candy cab and disco cab)
Music? There were cabbies who asked what kind of music you liked, and then proceeded to accommodate your tastes. That was rare. Mostly, you got what they were listening to: top pop, live sports, all-news-all-the-time, music from the driver’s homeland, religious talk radio, opera, funeral dirges, anything. This was your chance to experience something new.
After you got used to the music, conversation went like this. You’d open.
“Can you believe this weather?” This signaled to the driver that a topic of general interest would be appreciated.
Or, “How ’bout those Mets?” Baseball would be fair game, but you’d better know what you were talking about.
“Oh my god, look at that Jersey driver!” You are now commiserating with your cabbie about other drivers.
In any case, sympathy has been developed, and the conversation can flow in many directions. Disaster prep, hurricanes, local customs, the advantages of summer heat over winter snow and ice, and of course whether or not we should be taking the FDR right now.
You had bonded with your driver.
It’s a brief bond, and it dissolves the minute you pay and step out of the cab, but while you are in the cab, nothing is more sacred.
In recent years, I’ve been saddened as those interactions tailed off due to bullet-proof glass and cell phone conversations. But I’m happy to see that Uber has revived the cabbie/fare relationship. Technology has restored the sacred trust. No bullet proof glass is needed, since both you and the driver know there is no anonymity: the police can find you both easily, if necessary, by contacting Uber. Also, since no one has to pay half-a-mil for a “medallion” (which is what you need to bribe the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission to drive a yellow cab), and you get a delightful variety of drivers. The bond is strong again.
Just today, I was struck again by how strong that bond can be, due to a minor incident involving my Uber driver and someone I can only assume was Ryan Lochte’s uglier cousin:
steroid-puff-face, big black shiny SUV with cutting-edge sound system, and an ability to tap his brakes in time to the beat. At first, I was amused as Muscle Boy pulled along side us on Riverside Drive.
It was my turn to open the conversation, anyway.
“Wow, that guy is having his own little party over there.”
I was puzzled, as my driver did not respond. This is contrary to protocol. Instead, he cranked up his window, and then tuned his I-Heart-Radio to some kind of Country channel. Songs about small-town girls in pickups on Saturday night. That’s odd, I thought.
Next traffic light, though, my driver did a spectacular move. I realized that Muscle Boy was cutting people off, swerving in and out of traffic, and being a general douche bag. My Uber guy deftly swerved in front of him, and boxed him in between us and a Subaru filled with screaming children. Muscle Boy was not happy. He honked a lot, then pulled up to yell at my driver.
Well. That’s unacceptable behavior.
My driver, clearly a nice young man from a good family, responded by rolling down HIS window and replying in kind.
Muscle Boy opened the exchange by saying…anyway, you can just try this audio of Maine’s governor LePage leaving a message for a colleague to get the general flavor. Imagine it twice as loud, with more profanity and less vocabulary.
Uber Guy responded. “You are an ASS. I saw the way you drive. You cannot drive this way! Party boy! I am WORKING here!”
Except, Uber Guy felt obliged to intersperse apologies to me, his passenger, for his behavior, even as he delivered verbal salvos in Muscle Boy’s direction. So, it actually came out like this:
Uber Guy: “(I’m so sorry ma’am) You are an ASS. (very very sorry Miss) I saw the way you drive. (sorry sorry) You cannot drive this way! (really so sorry) Party boy! (apologies to you Ma’am) I am WORKING here! (I do regret this)”
At every apology, I was obliged to murmur a fitting reply. Therefore, the whole montage was more like this:
“(I’m so sorry ma’am) (not at all!) You are an ASS (very very sorry Miss) (no, he deserves this) I saw the way you drive. (sorry sorry) (don’t mention it) You cannot drive this way! (really so sorry) (think nothing of it) Party boy! (apologies to you Ma’am) (no, I quite agree with you) I am WORKING here! (I do regret this) (no, no, it has to be done)”
Muscle Boy was so overcome by steroids-and-bad-white-rap-fueled road rage that he cut off the Subaru as soon as the light changed to pull around to the driver’s side so I could see him too. I considered this to be a bridge too far.
As my driver continued to admonish him, I took a stab at a supporting role.
“Listen, jerk-nuts” (note: jerk-nuts is not actually a real insult) “I’ll see you in COURT where I will stand in front of the JUDGE and testify that YOU are a JERK! That’s right, I’m backing up Uber Guy because YOU are a MORON who needs to be LOCKED UP, and then YOU’LL be playing a different tune in JAIL!”
At that moment, my youngest daughter called my cell.
Me: “Hi Sweetie! Hold on a minute, Mommy’s yelling at an idiot.”
Daughter: “Can I go to the movies?”
Muscle Boy: “WHY DON’T YOU GET OUT OF YOUR CAR! LET’S GO, RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW”
Uber Guy (simultaneously with me): “I would be HAPPY TO GET OUT OF THE CAR AND PUNCH YOUR NASTY FACE”
Me (simultaneously with Uber Guy): “SCREW YOU SEE YOU IN COURT …no, not you honey, you can go to the movies if you get home by 9.”
Uber Guy: “(I am so sorry for such strong language, ma’am) YOU AREN’T WORTH IT YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF…”
Me: “(not at all, indeed he is a horrible person), GO AHEAD GET OUT BLOCK TRAFFIC MAYBE SOMEONE WILL STEAL YOUR STUPID DISCO CAR DICKHEAD. OK sweetie. See you later.”
After I’d had enough of this bracing dialogue, I finally directed my driver to ignore the idiot and proceed uptown, which he did. He then explained how the sight of Muscle Boy weaving and cutting people off had filled him with righteous indignation even before I’d made my remark, which is why he didn’t want his passenger to even look at or speak about such a societal menace.
All was now explained. The social contract was still in place.
Five stars to Uber Guy!