Sunday, 2 February 2014

Under threat.

"It must be scary, being a cabbie."
"How so?"
"Well, I'd be terrified of being mugged. Aren't you?"
"Statistically speaking, we're far more likely to skid off the road and crash. Since I don't fear that, why should I worry about muggings?"

There's an old story about the burden of power. In short, even if you have all the power in the world, it comes at the expense of being surrounded by threats. Since I'm in a pseudo-intellectual mood this evening, I dare to suggest that the themes of the story describe cabbing perfectly.

See, as a cabbie, you have a lot of power. You can decide whether or not someone will arrive on time (or at all, to some extent). You know roads and routes undreamed by all, but a few customers. Your behaviour can, to an extent, decide the mood of the rest of the evening. The only thing protecting the customer from this power is the cabbie's own innate sense of decency / good business. Some of us abuse this power, ranging from the petty (ripping off customers), to the horrific (sexual assault). Most of us don't, or if we do, we stay on the petty scale of things. It takes a certain kind of person, from certain kinds of circumstances, to deliberately commit outright cruel acts on their fellow human beings.

So. With great power, etc etc.

All right, Crabby. We get it. All hail the all-powerful cabbie. But this entry started with a pompous literary reference. If you're the king of your vehicle, where's the sword?

The sword is this: no matter how petty, power-mad, mean-spirited or malicious you are, sooner or later you will pick up someone worse than you.

As a cabbie, you're exposed. Especially in my neck of the woods. Unlike the yellow cabs of New York, or the Black Cabs of London, there is no divider between cabbie and customer in Sweden. It is basically a regular car, modified with a meter, a sign and (sometimes) a computer. But beyond that, its like any car. And anyone can ride shotgun with you.

So, the smart cabbie learns quickly to read his customers and the situation. The few precious moments between spotting your customer and that turning on the meter are important (if not critical). Granted, it's rare that anything bad happens before you've turned on the meter, but when it happens, it's as spectacular as it is awful (and almost always horribly petty).

I've called the police on several fares. And while I've never been mugged, I've been threatened with beatings and murder, as well as having the smartphone we use to keep track on fares stolen.

I will talk about all those incidents, but tonight I'm going to focus on the first time it happened. And as they say, the first time is always the best.

All right. So. The first time I got threatened in my cab, happened at the end of a long, awful shift. On average, maybe 20% of my fares are awful people, out of which 10% piss me off to the point where I throw them out. There are worse people, but they are statistically insignificant (though completely significant to this entry).

During one week, I might encounter a single unit of that 30%, sometimes two or three. But during this particular shift, I had gotten my total monthly share of awful people all in one night. There had been screaming, yelling, racism, sexism, and a lot of missed income due to me throwing them out. And now dawn was approaching, and I was sick and tired of humanity. Despite all this, it had still been a profitable evening and I was only a single fare away from reaching my minimum income quota.

 So I vowed to myself that my final customers, no matter how shitty, would get their trip. They could scream, they could shout, they could say any racist slur they wanted. I would meet them with polite silence, get my money, and head home.

It seemed like such a perfect plan at the time.

So there I was, down at Barracks Square, waiting for my customers to come out of the main music venue. Our version of  Whiskey-A-Go-Go; a place where signed bands play for money, and unsigned bands for the publicity. I took a deep breath, sank deep inside myself, switched on the auto-pilot, and encased myself in a protective coccoon of indifference. Then my customers arrived.

Two girls and a guy. The girls were just that; your typical clubbers, looking for the heart of saturday night. Makeup, high heels, and etravagantly simple hairstyles. The guy was a typical vain gym rat; core muscles ignored, aestetically significant muscles defined to the point of nausea, coated in the sickly orange of spray-tan, and wearing a v-neck three sizes too small. But his face...

No, I'm getting ahead of myself. At the time I didn't notice his face. I rarely do. My job is to keep my eyes on the road; rarely do I bother to study people's faces.

All right. So Gymrat and Clubbergirl-1 (CG1) sat in the back, while Clubbergirl-2 (CG2) sat next to me. They gave me the address, and I turned on the meter.

They seemed more interested in talking to each other than to me, which suited me just fine. Aside from CG2 asking me very politely to turn up the heat (which I did), I had zero interaction with them. A minute passed, and CG2 asked, still very politce, if I could turn up the music (which was a lovely surprise, as when it comes to the matter of the stereo, politeness is rarely, if ever involved). I did as she asked and went back to dreaming of the hot shower I would take once I got home.

It was a lovely dream. Particularly lovely, because it only lasted for about thirty seconds. I noticed in the corner of my eye that CG2 was squirming in her seat, fretting and fussing, muttering beneath her breath "this doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel right at all..."

In my head, I roared to the heavens, cursing the God of Professional Transportation for the fate which He had cast upon me. Great. Fucking great. Not only had I been forced to spend the night dealing with people so primitive that chimps would look down their stubby noses at them, now some drunken clubby was having a freakout. No doubt she had taken a hit of something psychedelic and was now seeing green spiders or some shit crawling out of the glove compartment. So, while silently screaming in unholy rage, I asked her:

"Are you all right?"

She froze, and glared at me (Not that I saw it. But believe me, I felt it).

"I'm not going to fucking throw up!"

"That's not what I-"

"For your information, I never throw up."

"That's not what I asked," I said, trying and failing to keep the edge out of my voice. "I asked if you were all right."

"No, I'm not fucking all right."

"Well," I said, trying to be diplomatic. "If you need it, I can stop the cab for a moment-"

"I'M NOT GOING TO FUCKING THROW UP!" she howled. If looks could kill, the one she was giving me would've defintely given me a concussion. "If I throw up, I'll fucking do it on you!"

There was a single, pure milisecond of shocked silence in my head. "... what the hell did you just say?"

Now, during these kinds of incidents where one customer is being an ass, the others will quickly swoop in for damage control, apologizing and generally trying to put a lid on things. And that's what kept me from screeching to a halt and literally throwing her out the windshield; that brief glimpse of Gymrat and CG1 springing into action behind me.

But instead of smiling at me, Lady Luck decided to give me the finger and kick me in the balls.

"Shut your goddamn mouth!" screamed Gymrat.

"You're the worst cabbie we've ever met!" cried CG1.

"Yeah!" howled CG2. "If you hate your pointless life so fucking much, get another job!"

No quota was worth this. They could've given me a million for this ride, and I would've still felt cheated. The only way they'd be able to pay for this ride would be in blood. So, bracing myself against the rising tide of  undiluted murderous rage, I forced a hideous smile.

"You know, guys," I said, pulling over. "You're right. I'm not going force you to ride in my car."

There came a collective scream, along the lines of "What the fuck are you doing? Keep driving, asshole!"
or some such.

"I'm stopping the car," I said, as a beautiful, cleansing cold came over me. "I'm not going to drive you any further. Get lost."

Gymrat leaned in, every lovingly crafted muscle bulging. "There's no way in hell you're getting paid."

"I don't want your money," I snapped my head around, meeting his eyes. "I want you the fuck out of my car!"

Then I saw his face

He had the face of a little boy. I mean, this guy would've made any awkward thirteen-year-old look like a paragon of manliness. It didn't help that his hair was buzzed close to a downright bulbous head. If I were a more shallow, vicious person, I'd suggest that he looked like a baby suffering from a horrifically specific case of elephantisis.

"I'm gonna kick your ass, shithead!" cried Gymrat.

I barked a single, surprised laugh. "Did you just fucking threaten me?"

"To hell with this asshole!" said CG1. "Look at his ID!"

CG2 leaned in and examined my license (which we have to display for legal reasons).

"Crabby Cabbie, ID number 42-22-19."

At this point, I felt utterly detached from the situation. It was as if I was watching some nature show about inbred primates, the only thing keeping me from changing the channel being a morbid desire to see just how stupid these apes really were.

Gymrat had left the car and stood by the open front door. "We know your face and we know your name. From now on, you better watch your back."

"Shit, man," I said, grinning at him. "You got me shaking in my boots. Stick around, and I might piss myself."

He slammed the door and they stormed off. I sat very still for a very long time. Then I started the engine and started to drive very slowly. A cyclone of fury raged inside me, twisting faster and faster until it exploded out of me in a wordless, primal roar, growing louder and louder until I ran out of breath. With a painfully raw throat, I called the police and reported the incident.

"Do you wish to press charges?"

"Damn straight I do."

I don't think the police ever got around to dealing with this. I couldn't give them anything to go by, except a detailed (if undramatic) description of Gymrat, and the first name of one of the Clubbergirls. And this is where I discovered that Taxi M doesn't store the numbers of the fares that call them, not even for security reasons. To my further frustration, I suddenly realized that the local police station was only a block away. I could've easily driven them there and let justice have its course in a very hands-on manner.

Once I had calmed down, I was struck by how petty it had all been. Because I wasn't being my usual, jolly self, Clubbergirl-1 had taken umbrage. Because I didn't engage with the customers, they decided that not only was I rude, I was also deeply unhappy with my life. What perplexes me to this day is not the event itself, but how utterly insignificant and petty the reasons behind it were.

I know human pettiness. I understand that it exists, that it drives people to do horrible things. I understand that it is a common enough that it can't be considered strange. But I can't for the life of me understand how anyone can justify it in their own heads. I've got a fairly good sense of empathy otherwise, but this is one aspect of human behaviour that just doesn't make sense in my head at all.

That was the first time I called the cops on a fare. It wouldn't be the last time, or even the most dramatic.

But that's a story for another night.

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