Thursday, April 17, 2008

Military Sealift Command

I drove somebody stationed on the Guadalupe, a vessel of the Merchant Marine. The formal name of this service is Military Seaflift Command. I told him he should be in HR for the cause -- he made a convincing case for joining. The pay, with overtime, is fairly good, plus you get to travel the world on a large ship. Similar to the Navy, room and board is included, which has allowed my customer to save a considerable sum of money. It's not so good for people with families and mortgages, but for someone like me, it sounds interesting.

I've driven a lot of people from these supply ships over the last few years. I've driven people from the Guadalupe, the Kaiser, and a few others. I ask each what they think of their jobs. To a person, all said they love it.

Update on Ana

I still haven't had my meeting with the cab company owner to try to fix Ana's evil ways. It should happen next week. As a point of curiosity, complaining formally about another driver has to be handled delicately. If a driver complains about each small infraction he sees, other drivers could turn on him. I've been angry at Ana for months now, and so have other drivers. I also tested the waters by mentioning my plans to several drivers, and I have their support. The last thing I would want is to cure Ana just to find I was losing all my calls to vengeful drivers who think I'm a snitch. People are so angry about Ana that this won't be a problem.

Even though I'm known as "the normal one", an honest cabbie, the other drivers know I don't care what kind of games they play as long as it doesn't cost me money. In other words, it's the Wild West until money gets stolen from me, and everyone is okay with that attitude.

As Mark's World Turns

We have a regular customer who goes from his apartment to one of two restaurants -- he's employed as a waiter at each -- or to a few different bars. All drivers know him, his name's Mark, and even though the rides are short, we enjoy driving him because he's a nice guy. Also, he tips fairly, which is normal for a fellow citizen who relies on tips.

We've gotten to know Mark well, including his trials and tribulations with other people in our taxi zone, as well as his love life. Mark's life is so much like a soap opera that we call bells to his apartment "As Mark's World Turns".

He has a live-in ex-girlfriend, and I've been driving him (and her) since they were together. I followed the breakup, and got to hear the details about how difficult it is to live with her even though Mark had caught her cheating with a bartender from one of the bars they frequent. I also know that bartender, as he's a regular customer. Before the breakup, I noticed Mark and the girl arguing a lot -- then the split. Then it was the bartender and the girl, and now they're arguing, too.

I predict the girl will be single again soon. Will Mark take her back when it happens? We'll have to start a pool on that.

I drove Mark last night, and he was in a good mood. He went from one of his jobs to his apartment. I asked him what kind of tips he gets from Reed, who eats on Wednesday nights at the one of the places Mark works. "He tips well," he said. Reed doesn't tip cabbies anything, and he often tries to pay less than the meter amount. What a bastard.

Reed is not Rainman

I drove Reed tonight, and finally decided to ask him if the rumors about him are true. Is he the Rainman? Several drivers have said he used to work at the Navy as a cryptanalyst. Since he's dimwitted, the assumption is he's some kind of idiot savant. A previous post about Reed is here.

Me: You used to work for the Navy, right?

Him: For 25 years.

Me: You worked on computers? I'm just curious.

Him: Yeah, I was a data processor.

Me: Were you a cryptanalyst? A codebreaker?

Him: No, I was a computer operator.

Damn. I was hoping to take him to Vegas to count cards. I would even take Amtrak! Wapner at 7.

The bad part of driving Reed, which I've complained about before, is that he pretends he can't walk without "assistance." I've seen him walk just fine. It's a ploy for attention. I've been trying to get him to buy a cane for a long time, and while he's "thinking about it," he never actually gets one. Maybe he'll get one for Christmas -- we talked about taking up a collection among drivers last time around. They only cost $20.

Last night on the way to one of his three regular restaurants, he said he would need to stop at an ATM. This is a problem. I had already "assisted" him from his door into the cab, and made an excuse for him to sit in the back -- he's one of the weird ones who wants to sit in the front. He smells like urine, so in the back he went, complaint or no complaint. Also, his yellow fingernails are really long, and when he grabs my arm for "assistance," they dig into my skin. It's revolting. To make a long story short, I couldn't go through that four times -- into the car at his house, x2 for the ATM, and then out of the car and into the restaurant.

Also, I actually do take credit cards now, including ATM cards, but I didn't want his stench in the car any longer than necessary -- it takes a couple of minutes to hand write the credit card slip.

Me: You know, Reed, I've been driving you for years now. You're a good customer. This one's on me. We can skip the ATM.

Him: Thank you very much. That's very kind of you.

Me: Don't mention it.

Another receipt problem

Some time after the Russian idiot (see post below), I drove a "normal" person -- a businessman. He went from a nice hotel to the Marriott Coronado. The fare was $19, and he asked for a receipt written for $33. I wrote out the receipt, with the amount blank, as he placed $30 on the arm rest. I handed him the receipt.

Him: I need you to fill in the amount, $33.

Me: You only gave me $30.

Him: The receipt is for work. (He's going to defraud his employer.)

Me: Do you want change back?

Him: Yes, $10.

Me: You're going to give me $1 extra, while you get $13 extra? Why don't we each take $7?

Him, agitated: Just put in $33.

I put in $5, with a line before and after the numeral. I gave him $11 back (no tip), and he got out in a huff. What a dumbass. If I'm going to join a conspiracy, even a small one, I need to get something out of it.

Still fighting the Cold War?

Monday night I drove an idiot from Russia. Each time I was certain I'd seen the depths of the man's idiocy, he sank to new levels. It was a flag at a bus stop, which is always a bad sign. There's nothing wrong with bus riders, but somebody who intended to take a cab from the outset is always better. People who ride buses are pinching pennies, and that usually extends to the tip.

He was waving me down on a busy street, with heavy traffic, and red curbs all around. I waved back in acknowledgement, then took the next turn and waited just around the corner. I was about to give up when he appeared and jumped in the back.

"Why didn't you stop right away!?" he said. He was a small, skinny guy with a heavy Russian accent. I didn't answer the question. I don't answer toddlers when they ask why the sky is blue, either.

He wanted a ride about two miles away. Within a quarter mile he was complaining abuot my choice of routes. He normally takes the main street, he told me. I guess he didn't realize that during rush hour the main thoroughfare in that part of town is bumpber to bumper traffic, with a light on every single block.

Since it was so busy, I needed to take him by the fastest route so I could pick up my next fare, so I chose a side street that paralled the main one, but with no lights and no traffic. I explained all this to him, but he didn't quite grasp it. His English was perfect, so it was an IQ issue, not a language barrier. I finally said: "I'm too busy to take a long, slow route, so we're going this way."

The next complaint was about the bus system. He asked if I knew the schedule for bus 20 or 28, and whether they ran to his destination, which was a small park. I said I didn't know anything about buses. He went on and on, and I had to repeat two more times I don't know anything about bus schedules or routing.

When we arrived at the park the fare was $6.40. He asked for a receipt because he was "going to take it to the MTS and demand they pay" since the bus had never shown up. I made the mistake of saying I doubt they'll reimburse. After a bit of back and forth, I finally said, "I wish you luck on that," with a tone of finality.

He gave me $7 and said to keep the change -- the $.60 tip being true to form for a bus rider. I handed him a blank receipt, which is how 99.99999999999% of people want them. "You need to fill it out," he said. "Why?" I asked, having lost all patience. I could hear one great ride after another being called in on the 2-way radio. I had to get the idiot out of the car. "I could write anything on it," he said. There was no response to that. I adjusted the mirror and stared at him.

When he made another demand for me to hand write the ticket, I simply said: "Not for $.60." He got out of the car and I sped away. In the mirror I could see the characteristic bewildered look on his face.

Okay, maybe Vlad wasn't an idiot. He was probably so far out of his comfort zone he didn't know how to handle it -- a bus system that failed him, and riding in a cab. Still, if you're paralyzed with doubt and mistrust, you sort of have to go with the flow, and not fight every step of the way.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Inside story on Scooter

Scooter is a regular customer; all of us drivers know him and like him, and not just because he gives $20 for a $7 fare. He's a hardcore alcoholic, and he's an entertaining drunk. Also, he drinks on the job (see this post).

Two days ago I got belled to the lawn and patio store where Scooter works, and picked up his co-worker, who I've driven before, but only a few times. Not surprisingly, he was drunk. They must have an employee bar at that place. For obvious reasons I'm not going to name the store.

Anyhow, the guy said his name was Tony, who is Scooter's friend and co-worker (and fellow boozehound). As I brought him to a hotel where he said his mother was staying, I asked Tony about something Scooter told me the last time I drove him -- he claimed he's a great golfer.

"Oh, yeah," said Tony, "he's excellent. If it wasn't for his arthritis, he might be a pro." Hmmm. Maybe it's true, and maybe not. What he said next had me laughing hysterically.

Tony: Scooter is Phase III right now.

Me: Phase III?

Tony: He's wasted, but he can still speak.

Me: That's 'Phase III'?

Tony: Phase V is when you get him at 2 (bar close time). He only gives $20 when he's Phase V.

Me: Phase IV is something in between?

They actually have a naming system for their level of drunkenness. Too funny. Also, Scooter has a favorite "last bar", and we drivers often learn that he's in there near bar close. If I pick up at that bar (which I'd like to remain anonymous), I might ask the customer if Scooter is inside. If he is, I'll try arrange it so I'm first on the cab stand near that bar, or parked in front, around 2 a.m. I like to get that $20. I could take a chance on a random stand, or make a play for the near-certain $20.

Two 'races'

In the last week I've raced two cabbies, with two losses! I don't actually race, but within the limits of the law (technically), it's advantageous to arrive back in our zone before the other guy -- it lets you get in line faster to get another ride (obviously).

1. Two-cab call to a hotel in our zone, going to 5th & E in the Gaslamp Quarter. I cleared just before Sunshine, who was the 2nd cab on the call. I pulled out and drove my best route to the freeway, then back to our zone. I never saw Sunshine again, and assumed I was ahead of him. Before I got to our taxi zone I heard him call on the radio that he had arrived back. I don't know how the hell he did it! I looked at a map after I got onto a cab stand, and can't think of a route faster than mine. I had gone up 5th Ave to the freeway entrance just north of Cedar, then cruised on the freeway. Sunshine, being a psychotic, won't speak with anyone, so I can't ask him. It pains me that I'll never know how the S.O.B. beat me.

2. The other "race" was with Mike, car 105. It was another 2-cab call, this time to a residential address, and then to the Westgate hotel off Broadway in downtown San Diego. Again, I was first, but we both pulled off the curb at the same time, both going north for freeway entrances. The best, from the Westgate, is to get over onto 1st Ave, then go north to I-5.

After two blocks, I made a right, went a few blocks to first, then turned north. Mike turned right earlier. A block later (Ash St?), sitting at a red light, I adjusted my mirror to the day setting to get a good look behind, and I saw Mike waiting at a red, one block behind. At this point, drivers of good will give up the fight and acknowledge they lost, then just follow the leader back to our zone. It's a gentleman's agreement.

Not Mike, the son of a bitch.

In heavy, night-time traffic he zig-zagged through traffic until he was on my bumper with a half block before the freeway entrance. I had him boxed in, having watched his antics in the mirrors. I got very close to the car in front of me so he couldn't try anything adventurous, and kept close to the curb on the right so he couldn't try to squeeze through.

Just before we got to the freeway entrance, he jumped into the middle lane, zoomed up on my left, and then cut in front of me onto the entrance ramp. I honked and flashed my light, and keyed my mic a few times (it will make a clicking sound in his car). Unfortunately for me, he got so close that the only way to stop him from coming in would have been to collide. So he got in front of me! I expected him to back off and let me pass him on the freeway, now that he had had his fun, but he went *extraordinarily* fast all the way back to our zone. What an ass.

About two hours after the incident, we were on a cab stand together, standing outside the cars, smoking and talking like nothing had happened. But something did happen, and I'm going to repay him, plus interest, at the earliest opportunity.

Bringing down Ana

Our worst ride thief, a female driver named Ana, a Serb, has made all the other drivers angry. I mentioned her before. We've never seen anything like her. Once we had a four-cab call at an upscale hotel, with me being No. 3 and Ana being No. 4. The people were taking a long time to come out, so we lined up in the order we were belled, except that Ana arrived last, went straight to the front of the line and took the first people to come out. As it turned out, that was a flag, and our 4-cab bell was a cancellation. Ana got the only people to come out, and the rest got nothing. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

I finally got so mad I called the cab company owner to complain. I asked him to speak with her. He said we'll set up a meeting with the owner, myself, and Ana. What a hassle! I just want him to put the fear of God into her. Now I have to schedule a time to go to HQ, which will invariably be during the day, when I'm usually asleep. I'm going to follow through, because somebody has to stop Ana.

One thing I didn't tell the owner, and don't plan to: the meeting will be Ana's last chance. She either straightens up or the drivers will force her to quit. They'll steal every bell, and interfere with all of her radio transmissions. I've already spoken to her personally, and most of the other drivers have complained to her on the radio at various times, to no avail. The formal meeting will be her last chance and then it's curtains for the bitch!

Cool taxi toon

Cartoon submitted by Octav Ungureanu, who does the Smoking Cool Cat blog from Bucharest. Thanks, Octav!

Drunk drama

I was called to a liquor store to find two drunk guys arguing. One walked away in a huff, and the other came to my car. "Take good care of my friend, okay? Here's $20, will that get him downtown?" Yes, I told him. The guy lived in a condo tower downtown, and it would be about $16, so $20 would be fine.

Then the guy went after the one who walked away and talked him into the cab. Apparently he thought he was okay to drive, but he clearly wasn't. He could hardly walk. Eventually I got the go-head to leave and instead of making for the freeway entrance (5 north), he told me to head deeper into the residential area. He got out and made for a 1990s Jeep. I was debating whether to get out and talk him out of driving when the other drunk guy drove up in an old VW bus.

Major drama ensued. There was yelling, cursing, and a debate about how to determine when a person is too drunk to drive. Meanwhile, I dropped the car into Drive and slowly idled away into the night -- with $20 for my troubles.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fuel for half price

I had the ball joints replaced on the taxi two days ago. When I picked it up I gave the assistant mechanic, who had worked on the car, a $10 tip. He pointed to the gas gauge, which showed just under full. He said he only drove 10 miles on the inspection ride after the work. It made me think of other drivers who have picked up their cars with half a tank missing, then they have to fight with the owner of the cab company over who is going to pay. Sure enough, the assistant mechanic said that Fred usually siphons off gas and then calls his friends to drop by the garage to buy it at half price. I knew he was selling batteries and car parts, but our gasoline?