Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Another attempt at a short story. I met a Sri Lankan trio while in Toronto, who were driving cabs for a living. Very nice people. This is inspired by their stories. Characters are partly fictional :)

A city transforms itself after the sun goes down. While most of the world sleeps, dreaming a million fantasies, a few are starting their lives. In these big cities, life doesn’t come to a standstill just because the sun is not there. When the day shift goes home, the night shift takes over.  It’s a never ending cycle to make sure that the cogs of the city are kept well oiled.

I am just another small cog in this machine, working during the night to keep the city alive. You see, I earn my living by driving a taxi. Well, it’s not exactly a job. Driving a taxi in this city is more of a self-employment opportunity. I own the car, but I rent out a taxi plate and run with it. You could say it is my own business. There are no bosses to answer to or kiss up to, and what you earn is yours, as long as you pay the rent for the taxi plate. Everything else goes into my pocket.  Best of all, if you don’t feel like working, then you don’t have to. That’s what got me interested about this business in the first place. I have worked for people and sometimes people have worked for me, but the freedom this brings is refreshing. It’s hard work mind you, but it’s easier on the mind. Plus, the money is good, especially during the night shift.

Whenever people ask me why I chose to drive at night, the easiest answer I give is that the money is good, and that I’m free during the daytime to take care of other things in my life. Truth be told, the money is not the only thing why I like it. I’m a creature of the night. I have always loved the night time, when the world shuts down. There is an eerie sense of peace when the darkness settles. Also, there is a feeling of excitement that comes from knowing what is happening in the world while it sleeps. I’m naturally curious about people, and this gives me a chance to observe them in a different kind of setting. No, I’m not some creepy stalker, it’s just I’m fascinated by why some people behave the way they do. It’s an amateur form of anthropology and psychology rolled into one.

During these past four years, I have observed and met many people from all walks of life. I can fill a book with all the stories I have. The good, the bad, and the ugly, I have seen them all.

Monday to Thursday is light work usually. Most customers are people going home after a late night at the office. Not much of a haul for me on those days. The best nights are Fridays and Saturdays. That’s when people wind down after a hard work week. They hit the bars and clubs and party till early morning. I can make more money on those two days than the other four days combined.

A lot of people in this city live by the motto work hard, and play hard. Well I can’t vouch whether they work hard or not, but I do know that they play hard. You just have to wait outside one of the hundreds of clubs and bars in the city to see the endless stream of people who patronize them. Their enjoyment is paramount and they will throw away any amount of money to achieve it.

I remember one time when I picked up this young couple in front of a club early morning, heading home after a night of partying. It was a short trip, twenty five dollars in charge. However, as soon I stopped the car at the destination, they just jumped out and ran without paying the fare. I wasn’t going to let some punks stiff me for the ride, so I ran after them. They tried hard to give me the slip by cutting across neighbouring yards, but I don’t give up that easily. Finally they ducked inside a basement apartment when they thought they had given me the slip. I took down the apartment number and called the police, and within a few minutes an officer showed up. He went straight to the address I gave and started banging on the door, but no matter how hard he knocked, there wasn’t a peep coming from the apartment. Finally the officer kicked down the door and went inside, and even then the couple had locked themselves inside their bedroom and were quiet as mice. After sometime the guy from upstairs, the guy who owns the house, came down to see what the commotion was. His reaction was to dismiss the incident by saying that twenty five dollars was a small amount nothing to cause a commotion over. Surprisingly the officer was the one to straighten him out by saying that twenty five dollars maybe small amount to him, but that I earn my living by accumulating those small amounts. That shut up the landlord. Finally the landlord paid me out of his own pocket. I guess he was worried about the damage the cop would do if the issue wasn’t settled. I’m pretty sure that young couple got evicted the next day. If I was the landlord I would definitely kick them out. 

As someone who is very careful about managing money, this sort of behaviour is difficult for me to understand. People spend hundreds and thousands a night on clubs and bars getting drunk, but they don’t give a thought about how they are getting back home. Otherwise they would have had money to pay for a taxi ride. They live for the moment without a second thought about the consequences.

One winter season I was making the rounds in the club district looking for a fare when a cop stopped me. Then he shoved a girl into the back of the cab and told me to take her home. She was so drunk and barely conscious. Apparently she had been trying to get a cab, freezing herself wearing nothing but a skimpy party dress. I don’t think even she knew whether she had a coat or not. We cabbies don’t like to pick up fares who are too drunk that they can’t even sit up straight. That’s why the cop had to intervene and get her a cab. In principle we can’t refuse to take them, especially since the authorities encourage people to not to drink and drive. Then again they are not going to clean up the cab if they throw up inside. That would ruin the rest of the night for us and we won’t be able to make some money. Thanks to the cop I had no choice but to take her home. Luckily she didn’t throw up and slept all through the ride.

Incidents like these are quite normal and can be considered merely as nuisances. But the real danger is thieves. Cabbies are easy pickings if we are not vigilant. When we start out in the business we are given a list of pointers to help us scrutinize customers and identify potential thieves.  The most common ploy is to get in and give directions without giving a specific address. Then they guide the cab into some deserted alley way and take off with the loot.

I fell for it once in the early days. The guy was wearing a hoodie that kept his face hidden. He gave me an address on the other end of the city, but halfway through he changed the destination, saying that he had decided to spend the night at a friend’s place. He told me to take some roads through the seedy part of town and finally stopped in front of a rundown building. It was then that the guy put a chain around my neck tightening it against my seat, and demanded my money. I wasn’t going to get myself killed over a few hundred dollars, so I gave it to him and he disappeared into the night. The way I see it, the best thing to do in a situation like that is to keep calm and give them what they want. After all it’s just money and you can earn it again, but you can’t bring back your life once it’s gone. You have to think about the big picture, not about your pride, especially if you have a family. I know of some cabbies that have tried to fight back their assailants and gotten hurt as a result.

This job has taught me a lot about people and society. These are not lessons you can learn by sitting in a classroom on any campus. These are life lessons learnt through experience. One of the most important lessons for me is that one should never judge people without understanding them.

There is this old gentleman who has been a regular customer of mine for some time. He is a director of a large company and quite rich, but he knows how to deal with people in all levels.  It doesn’t matter to him that I’m just a cabbie, and he talks to me like an equal. I’ve seen him share his cigarettes with a homeless man, talking with him over a cup of coffee.  One time I pointed to a working girl and said something about her. I can’t even remember what I said, but to this day I remember his reply. He said that it is not our place to judge why she is doing it. We don’t know what circumstances led her into this life. Maybe she had a choice or maybe she didn’t. Don’t form opinions about others and pass judgement on them based on just what you see on the outside. Wait till you get to know the inside.  Your opinions affect the way you treat people. You should treat everyone with respect, not matter who they are or what they do. All people deserve to be treated with respect.

What he spoke that night really made an impression on me and now I try hard never to judge people on first sight, and to treat everyone with respect. People like that gentleman are a rare species, but they do exist. It gives me hope about people, in a world where humanity has taken a backseat in favour of money and power.

The sun is going down and another day is coming to an end for the rest of the world. My day is just beginning. It’s time to take the taxi out and hit the streets again. 

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