(Story after the jump)I've made no secret about the fact that I regularly drive beasts around town. Some of the creatures that end up in my cab are slavering, savage animals whose only motivation is the satisfaction of instinctual needs, marking territory, and angrily snarling at anyone who would dare to question their dominance. In that way, there is no practical difference between certain homo sapiens and other animals. However, unlike wolves, tigers, buffalo or pigs, all homo sapiens who make use of a taxi have disposable income. Thus they end up in my cab, and I have to do my best to keep from being eaten.
"I want a fixed rate."
On occasion, the more conventional beasts (IE. the ones who don't have money) end up in my cab. These are usually pets. Dogs and cats, and most are well behaved. Some of my colleagues refuse to transport pets, usually for the same reason some of us refuse to transport the very drunk; we don't want to clean up the mess if an accident would happen.
As for me, I don't care. If your dog is small, it can sit on the floor by your feet. If it's big, it can sit in the trunk. In fact, even if a puppy won't pay its way in cash, it can definitely get some mileage out of just being freaking adorable.
However, sometimes it becomes very clear why some of my colleagues only drive human animals. This is a story I've been meaning to tell for a long time (in fact, I thought I already had). I'm going to tell it tonight, because frankly, the only other stories I have off the top of my head are stories about toxic relationships and abused women. While their stories are worth telling, and will be told, tonight I really feel like we need something light-hearted.
Story: Only Crabby found Grace in the eyes of the Lord.
Back when I was still doing this full time, I received a call from dispatch. I was needed at Oakland Street. Dispatch also told me that the fare had a dog with them.
Some people don't inform dispatch that they have animals with them. This is kinda rude: as stated earlier, some cabbies aren't comfortable with driving zero-income beasts. This one had done us the courtesy.
Not that I thought of it at the time. To me, it was just another fare.
On the screen was a name and address. There was also the special blue tab that appears whenever there's extra information the cabby should know. I clicked it and read:
Cat and Bird.
It seemed a little weird, but I concluded that the guy was probably waiting at a pet store of that name (we're not very good with titles in Sweden). So I arrived at the address and saw a man in his early forties. He was dressed in shoddy jeans and a leather jacket. His face was haggard and his hair a mess. He had a haunted, nervous look about him. Next to him was a huge suitcase and a creature that I can only assume was the result of breeding a dog with a horse.
What I didn't see was a pet store called Cat and Bird.
The man came up to my cab.
"Are you my ride to Major Street?"
"I am, sir," I smiled and got out of the cab. "Is the dog OK with riding in the trunk?"
"Oh sure," said the man, glancing this way and that. I opened the trunk and the great lumbering mass of fur and limbs hauled itself in and sat down, looking very zen and collected about the whole situation. I took the suitcase and placed it next to the dog.
"All right," I said and got in the driver's seat. "Let's go."
"No, wait," said the man. "I gotta get the cat."
"All right..." I said, and a terrible suspicion began to form in the back of my head.
The man disappeared and came back with a pet carrier. Inside was a tabby cat that didn't look particularly pleased at all. He placed the cat in the back seat. Once more, I climbed into the cab.
"All right, let's go-"
"No, wait!" the man cried. "I gotta get the bird."
The man disappeared again. The suspicion in the back of my head began to grow into a nagging worry. The man came out, carrying an absolutely gigantic birdcage, more than half the size of him. A three year old child could've sat comfortably in it. Sitting in the cage was a gigantic parrot, who regarded me with silent curiosity. Our nervous tried to push the cage into the back seat, almost upending the whole thing in the process.
The cage was filthy. Every bar was covered in ratty old feathers and grime; its floor was filled with guano, with little bits of newspaper peeking out between the turds. The worry turned into horror and disgust. I threw myself out of the cab.
"No, wait, not there," I said, biting back a snarled "you idiot". "put it in the shotgun seat seat. It's roomier."
Now... if this had happened today, I would've denied him the moment he brought the cage out. Hell, if this were now, I would've turned on the meter the moment I saw him. But I was a young cabby then, and I had an idea that the fare begins when the car is rolling. I also hadn't yet realized when denial of service is warranted. These days, I know that the fare begins the moment you make contact with the customer. I also know that filthy bird cages filled with shit do not belong in a taxi.
"And just where do we belong, asshole?"
So we managed to wrestle the bird cage into the car. The parrot was not amused and started angrily screeching some avian complaint about the quality of the service I offered. Filthy old feathers and a few grains of grime fell onto the seat and the floor. With grim resignation, I figured I could wipe it off quickly once the trip was over.
"All right... We off then?" I asked the man, secretly dreading the answer. The man was halfway to the door again.
"No, I gotta get the guinea pigs."
I looked up to the sky, idly wondering if God was planning on sending another deluge and had mistaken my cab for an ark.
"Of course, sir.." I said and sat down in the seat for the third time. This time I didn't get out again. I did, however, turn on the meter. The man appeared with a plastic travel cage, with three guinea pigs. It kinda looked like a breadbox, with an open top. Its floor was filled with wood shavings, and (as my nostrils made it very clear) guinea pig piss. He stood there, looking confused as to what to do with it. I told him to place it on the floor in front of the shotgun seat.
"OK," I said through gritted teeth, barely containing my annoyance. "Are there any more animals you need to get?"
"I gotta get my mom too."
"Of course, sir. I'm not going anywhere."
The man hurried back inside. I looked at the menagerie that had assembled in my cab and I realized I was trapped. And I wasn't alone. None of the animals were happy about this. The parrot was nervously polishing its feathers and raised its crest whenever it caught my eye. The cat was wailing and the guinea pigs shuffled about in their gross wood shavings. The only passenger who seemed cool with the whole situation was the dog, who looked at me with friendly eyes over the back seat.
I was tempted to unload the car and drive off, but pity (and the risk of a reprimand from my boss) stayed my hand. Plus, where the hell would I put the dog? There wasn't a lamppost I could tie it to.
"Your owner is an idiot," I told it, and it gave a patient grunt.
Finally the door opened, and out came our nervous friend and and his mother, a tiny old lady who blinked confusedly at the outside world. They climbed into the back seat.
"All right," I said, turning on my most cheerful voice in order not to upset the old lady. "Let's go!"
Halfway up Oakland Street, the guy said: "So how much is going to cost?"
"Major Street is in Linnaeus, so I'm guessing two hundred at most."
"Oh but I only have 150."
You son of a bitch. You god damn flaky Beastmaster piece of shit. I will take this car, drive it out in the woods and feed your liver to these god damn animals, is exactly what I didn't say. What I did say was this:
"All right... Then I need to inform you that its considered very rude among cabbies to hail us and then tell us you can't afford the trip once we're on the road. I can think of several of my colleagues who would've easily thrown you out for wasting their time-"
"-however, I will take your 150. But keep that in mind the next time you call a cab, all right?"
"Oh, but I have a debit card!" said his mother cheerfully. "Maybe I can help."
I smiled. Finally! Someone taking some responsibility around here. "OK, so you'll pay for the trip?"
"No, but I can add my money to my son's."
Again, that dark suspicion. "And how much money would that be..?"
"20!" she seemed pleased as punch about this. I smiled and congratulated myself on not driving the cab straight into a building right then and there.
The trip continued on in silence. Well, mostly silence. The animals were having their say about the situation, and they found it just as annoying as I did. The parrot squawked, the can yowled, the guinea pigs squeaked. Only the dog remained calm, occasionally smiling in the rear-view, as if to say It's all good, bro.
Finally we arrived. The proverbial dove had returned with an olive branch and it was time to unload the animals and leave the ark. First the guy opened the trunk to get the suitcase. The dog lumbered out, shook out its fur, and began trotting about idly on Major street. Its owner seemed utterly unconcerned about the fact that his dog was walking around unbound in a residential area. When it came by me, I grabbed its leash and led it to a nearby lamp post and tied it. It waved its tail happily and watched the rest of the idiocy unfold.
Next came his mother, carrying the cat. She stood by, watching me and her idiot son unloading the rest of the animals. Her idiot son opened the door to the shot gun seat, and lifted the guinea pig cage. Or rather, he lifted the top of it. The floor came loose, spilling wood shavings, guinea piss and confused rodents all over the cab floor.
"Oh come on!" I cried out, as Doctor Doolittle's idiot brother frantically put the cage back together and collected the guinea pigs (who seemed oddly calm about the whole ordeal. I suspect this wasn't their first rodeo). I stared at the mess he had made.
"I'm sorry!" he said. "I'm so sorry!"
I groaned. "Is there a broom and a dustpan up in that apartment?"
"Yes, yes there is. Do you want me to get it?"
"Please do," I sighed.
All the while, the mother stood by with the dog and the cat, looking at us happily. "You're so nice." she said. I smiled thinly and ignored her. I decided she was senile, or that idiocy ran in her family. Either way, I decided not to hold her responsible for any of this. I proceeded to get the bird cage out of the cab, all the while the parrot was angrily flapping its wings, squawking and adding more shit to its already impressive collection. Filthy feathers and grime fell onto the seat. I idly wondered what parrot tasted like.
Finally Doofus Doolittle returned, with a small broom and a dustpan. For the first time since I met him, he actually used his brain cells and went straight for the mess he had made. However, I suspect that his brain had just used up its daily allowance of bandwidth, because all he did was to ineffectively push the crap around, managing to get very little onto the dust pan.
I realized I didn't have time for this. I had been patient. I had accepted each and every bizarre piece of cargo he had brought. I had even, out of the kindness of my heart, accepted that he'd be underpaying me. But this was just too much and I wanted to go.
"All right, stop," I said.
"I'm so sorry, so sorry-"
"Yeah yeah, stop. That's enough, OK? I don't have time for this. This was a ten minute trip that has taken over thirty minutes of my time. I get paid by the fare, so I literally can't afford to stand here while you 'clean' my cab."
"So what happens now?"
"Now you pay me."
His eyes brightened and he reached for his money.
"After that, I'm going to the gas station to vacuum the cab. Going there and doing this will take me about twenty minutes. So that will be almost a full hour of my time that you have wasted. So I'm going to have to ask that you compensate me."
"But I don't have any money."
"That's perfectly all right," I said coldly. "This is how it'll work. I could easily demand 500 for this whole mess and it wouldn't be unjustified. But I'll settle for two hundred, because you've obviously got money troubles and I really don't want to make this shit difficult. We'll exchange numbers and you will give me something of yours as a bond. Something valuable. This can be your ID or anything like that. Once you have money, give me a call and we'll make the exchange and put this behind us."
"What about my mother's debit card?"
"Doesn't she need it?"
"She doesn't know how to use it, and there won't be any money on it until the end of the month."
I felt nothing but contempt for him. Not only had he stiffed out of my fare; he had made a mess of my cab, wasted my time and now he was about to pawn off his mother's debit card.
His mother approached us. "That sounds like a great idea!"
She gave me her card. I looked at her. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, of course!"
If I had been less infuriated, I may have refused, and simply left. But I took the card, gave the guy my number, and got the hell out.
Over the next week, I called him up to check in on the situation. He said he had the money, but any time I suggested we meet up and get this shit done with, he said he didn't have the time. One night, his mother called me, angrily saying that I had stolen her card and that she was going to report me to the police because I refused to give it to her son. I told her that I'd been in touch with him several times, and that he had always refused. I would give her her card back, but I'd appreciate it if she spoke to him about it.
The next day, he called me. We met up, made the exchange. He was thanking me and apologizing profusely. I told him politely that I was happy this thing was over and that he was now blacklisted from Taxi M.
The last part was a blatant lie. And lying is wrong. But at the time, it felt so right.