Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Code

"I'm going to give you a simple choice: Either you shut the hell up, or walk the rest of the way home."

My boss is a decent fellow. The rule of thumb is, play straight by him and he'll play straight by you. He is a good guy, and while I don't always enjoy working, I do enjoy that its him I'm working for. I do. Let that be a disclaimer, because at times, it becomes very clear that he hasn't been behind the wheel for a long time.

After a shift where I had thrown out and called the cops on two separate fares (a story I will share at a later date), he took me aside to check up on me, and berate me. I told him my side of things, and he grudgingly approved. But then he said:

"Crabby, I've been in this business for years. Not once have I thrown someone out or denied someone service."

"I find that hard to believe."

"No, seriously. If it comes to actually throwing somebody out of the car, you should consider that a failure."

I consider it a victory, I thought. Then I said: "Isn't that my right? To deny service if I see fit?"

"Yes, that is your right, but it should be a last resort, like if you're actually under threat."

"So I can't throw someone out for being an asshole?"

"You can, but you shouldn't. If you do your job right, they won't be assholes. And even if they are, all you have to do is grin and bear it until they pay you."

"... You're saying I have to grovel, in order to get paid."

"I'm saying that you've got principles, and I respect that. I do too. But when you're wearing that uniform, those principles have to take a back-seat. You've worked for me for two years now. By know you should know that you can't avoid shitty people. As a cabbie, you can't afford principles."

I raised an eyebrow. "Can't afford principles?"

"Look, I've driven people who I would've knocked right the fuck out in my free time. But behind the wheel, its not my place. My place is to take them to their destination, take their money and forget about them. unless they actually threaten me or try to hinder me in my work. I mean, hell, twice you've refused to drive Mickey (one of our VIP customers), handing the fare over to someone else."

"Mickey is scum. That's my opinion. I'd also rather avoid servicing him and people like him if I can."

"But see, that's the thing. You can't refuse service because you don't like someone."

"And I don't. I only refuse service if I can help it, which I most often can't. If he ends up in my cab, its not as if I will throw him out, or try to pick a fight with him. But that doesn't mean I am prepared to smile and bow to him either."

"Driving a cab is like running a hospital. You can't refuse service because someone is acting like an idiot, or is homeless, or whatever."

"I get that, boss. And as long as the person doesn't mess with me or anyone else in the cab, I don't have an issue. But if I know the customer and I know what that person is capable of, and we have a sour history, wouldn't it be better for everyone involved if he ended up with a cabbie who hasn't flipped him off?"

"You flipped him off???"

"Figure of speech, boss."

I conceded finally. Not just for the sake of peace, but also because he has a point. A great amount of my customers are awful people, and if I refused them all, I'd be well below the poverty line. But I also pointed out that though I'm a sucker for principle, my principles have been stretched and modified extensively since I started working as a cabbie. Today, I will turn a blind eye to shit if it doens't concern me or anyone else in the car directly, whereas back in the day I would leap at any chance of righteousness. Its a survival strategy.

However, I do have a code. Put simply is this:
Do not attempt to humiliate me.
Do not attempt to humiliate anybody else.
Do not touch any of my instruments, or otherwise interfere with my work.

All of these offenses will be met with a warning, or getting thrown out of the cab. If I'm feeling charitable, I might drop you off at the nearest bus stop.

Back in the day, the code was simply: "do not be an asshole toward me," and everything else I let fly. The third rule was instituted after I got sick of people playing with the heating and the stereo (a topic that will get its own entry).

The second rule is one of my most important ones. Following it allows me to look myself in the mirror after the shift is over. And it was instituted when I was about nine months into my cabbing career.

I was in place called Isthmus, on the outskirts of town. Isthmus is one of the rural-area-turned-to-suburb places full of fancy buildings and affluent people. Kinda like the Hollywood Hills. Here I hit the jackpot. A fare from Isthmus to King's Hill, a neighbouring town. Easily 450 sek, maybe more. So I arrived at the address and awaited my customer.

It was in the summer and they had been to a barbecue. I saw them, a man and a woman in their late thirties, both handsome and stylish. Successful, career driven people. If they had kids, it was recently. I watched them hug their friends goodbye and get into the cab.

"Grand Street, King's Hill please."

"Right you are, sir."

They didn't seem to be the chatty type of customers, and I wasn't really in a sociable mood so I decided to just keep my mouth shut and drive, content to simply listen to their conversation.

"That was a great party, wasn't it honey?" he said with that gregarious, energetic voice I associate with anyone who views the world in terms of business.

"Mhm," she responded, sounding thoughtful. "It was lovely. But I don't really like what you said back there..."

"What? What's the problem?"

I can't remember what she said. Something about a joke he had made had bothered her, but she had kept silent in order to not ruin the mood. The conversation got progressively darker. Sensing where this was heading, she tried to back out, but he wouldn't have it. He grew increasingly aggressive until the whole thing just exploded.

"Shut up! I don't want to hear another word out of you, you stupid fucking cunt!"

This is not where the abuse began or ended. It only sums up the content of it. For the rest of the trip, she was weeping, trying to keep quiet, while he kept growling and grunting, occasionally throwing in an insult or a cruel word, maybe just to get a rise out of her, settling back into grumbling to himself when she didn't do anything but try to keep her tears under control.


But I said nothing. And the remaining twenty minutes of the ride stretched into eternity. Him grumbling, her crying, me self-loathing.

After I dropped them off, I heard him say: "Wipe those tears. Don't let the kids see what a mess you are."

I sat silently for a long time, boiling with fury and shame. By the time I returned to the city, I had resolved to never let shit like that fly in my cab again. Bullies would be given no quarter if I could help it. And so, my code expanded. If you humiliate or otherwise make anyone else in my car feel like shit, you will hear it.

For all I know, she was an awful person. A terrible wife, who made his life a living hell, and what I saw was the culmination of months of frustration. I doubt it, but its possible. Even so, the moment you humiliate someone before a stranger, the moment you invite a stranger to pass judgment over that person, YOU are the bad guy. If you are not strong enough to stand on your own, but need an audience so you can shame someone, you are an asshole.

I can't save the men and women who get routinely bullied by their spouses and friends. But I'll be damned if I will tolerate being party to it. And I'll be damned if I will ever accept their money.

Bullies can only bully others as long as they get away with it.
In my cab, they don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment