Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The sheriff round these here parts.

"Just run the red light. We're cool with you going straight through."
"You might be, but the cops might not."
"We are cops. And you have our permission."
"Nice try, officers. But you're not getting me this time."

Before I got into this business, I had made an emergency call only once. As a cabbie, I've found that calling emergency services is not only an option, it is a necessity. Whether it be a customer that threatens you or somebody who needs help, it is a good thing to know that there's a whole slew of people getting paid to take care of that shit. So far, I've called the cops around seven or ten times. Sometimes because of awful people in my cab, sometimes in order to help people outside my cab. And every time, they've done their job. 

Now, before I launch into tonight's discussion, I want to make a few things clear.

The police are citizens whom society has given the right to commit violent acts upon their fellow citizens, provided it is in the name of upholding the code of conduct that allows thousands (even millions!) of strangers to co-exist peacefully in a limited area. In a perfect society, they wouldn't be necessary, because people wouldn't be assholes to one another. I do not believe the police are by definition heroes, nor do I believe them to be the extended arm of an oppressive system. They are, first and foremost, people tasked with a job that is difficult as hell, both practically and morally. People who raise them to the heavens as paragons of humanity are just as deluded as those who dismiss them as mere oppressors. For choosing their profession, they deserve our respect. But this is also a democratic society: power comes from the consent of the governed. Thus, my attitude toward cops is that they are to be treated with respect, but they must also be kept on a tight leash.

The job of the police is to uphold the law. But the law is not absolute. Most of the most horrible things ever done in the world were (and are!) perfectly legal. So while cops are necessary, do not for  a moment think that their uniform by definition makes them right. They are human, prone to the same faults and virtues. But if we want to live in a civilized society, we need them. And if we want to live in a just society, we must scrutinize them.

I'm telling you this, because tonight I want to talk about how the cops impact my work. Cabbies and cops have a rather, shall we say, complicated relationship. On the one hand, they are on hand to help us out when we inevitably suffer our various work hazards. On the other hand, they're also there to pull us over and slap us around whenever we interpret the traffic laws a little too liberally. And we do, frequently and often (as anyone who's ever seen cabbies in action in pretty much any country can attest).

As shown in this excellent documentary.

Cops will stop us for all kinds of reasons. They will check if we've been drinking, if we've filled out the proper paper work, if we've been driving people off the meter... We are a shady bunch of people, and as I've said before, many of us are cheats and swindlers. The cops have every reason to keep an eye on us. In particular because of the way most of us relate to the laws that govern traffic. Or rather, how we don't relate to it at all.

All right. So why do cabbies have their own interpretation of traffic laws? Well, it comes down to how the work is structured.

I've spoken of the challenges of working on commission. A cabbie can only have a rough idea of how much he'll be getting by the end of the month; he can set some goals, sure. He can stick it out an hour or two extra for that extra handful of gold, but in the end we can never be sure of how much we'll be paid at any given time. All we can be sure of is this: the more fares per hour, the more money we get. So it is in our interest to cram as many fares as possible in any given hour. This doesn't mean we actually do, but the incentive is there. And in the way of that incentive are traffic laws. 

Now, let me make this perfectly clear: I do not advocate breaking traffic laws. Cars are big, hard and irresistible. Human bodies are small, squishy and very, very fragile. Those laws are there to maximize the survival and well-being of everyone who partakes in traffic. That being said, if breaking the traffic laws were a sin in the eyes of God, nobody with a driver's license would ever be able to cast the first stone. We've all driven a little too fast, accidentally run a red light, made a wrong turn, gotten distracted, rubbernecked, etc etc. We're chimps who every day reach velocities our bodies never evolved to truly deal with. Frankly, its a miracle Henry Ford didn't kill us all.

We're all sinners, and cabbies more than most. The job often demands it. I myself have had several brushes with the law, and I always feel anxious whenever I see a police cruiser driving toward or near me. It's kinda like swimming with sharks. Provided you don't look too tasty, and they're not hungry, you're probably fine. Probably.

Some of my colleagues have nothing but contempt for the cops. If they get hit with a speeding ticket, they will pull every trick in the book to get out of trouble. They've also given me several earfuls about "the fucking pigs" and "fascists" and "fucking assholes who need to push people around in order to get it up". This is, in my view, fucking stupid.

While there certainly are cops (far more than there should be) who are bullies, I can't help but roll my eyes at people who break the rules then whine about getting caught. At the risk of sounding flippant, 'thems the rules'. If you choose to break the rules and it doesn't hurt anyone, more power to you. The law is not absolute, and I am a firm believer in following the spirit of the law rather than the letter. However, if you do break the rules knowingly, you know the consequences if you're caught. To whine about it is ridiculous.

I have fought the law, and the law has usually been a good sport about winning. At these times, I've come to identify three types of cops.

1. The Buddy: This is usually an older member of the force. He's been around, seen his share of crimes and usually doesn't care unless you've done something serious. Will likely joke about whatever it is you did and let you off with a friendly warning. While I've never complained about this kind of treatment, I'd say that

2. The Power tripper: More often than not a young man. He is no mere cop; he is the law personified. His job is not only to catch you in the act, but to make you feel bad about it. He gets off on power and feeds on the delicious tears of his traumatized prey.

 I remember a meeting with one of them in Thor's Landing This was, for once an honest mistake. I was careful to keep the cab at 80 km/h, so that the blue and white car behind me wouldn't have a reason to start flashing those blue lights at me. As it turned out, it was a 70-road. Now, this isn't a major thing. It is very, very rare to get fined for going 10 over the limit. However, the lights started flashing and I pulled over. Within minutes, this young fellow in blue, with a gun on his hip, a full beard and a man-bun was yelling at me, questioning my sanity and calling me an idiot for daring to commit such a dastardly deed. When I pointed out that I acted in good faith, particularly because I didn't want to give him a reason to pull me over, he once again called me an idiot and lectured me on the stupidity of breaking traffic laws as a cabbie.

"Keep this up, and you'll lose your license, and your income. Do you want that?"
"Are you going to fine me?"
"No, I'm not. Get your shit together and use your head." 

Officer Hipster then stormed off to his car, and took off with screeching tires. Funny. In the time he spent humiliating a cabbie for driving what amounts to jogging speed over the limit on the highway, he could've arrested ten, or fifteen people who at that very moment were speeding three or four times more over the limit in the inner city. But I suppose that if you're going to be a successful hypocrite, you got to prioritize.

3. The Professional: This is my kind of cop. Brisk, harsh, no nonsense. They're not there to give you a bad time, nor are they there to pat you on the back. They are there to do their job, which is to uphold the law. They deliver slaps on the wrist and shoot you with the same, cool, detached demeanor. They don't make it personal: they give you what they're supposed to give you. The cop that took my license away early in my cabbing career (I was a complete idiot then. These days, I've managed to upgrade to being a partial one) was one of these. He made it clear what I'd done wrong, and that he would've simply levied a hefty fine if I'd only been doing a little slower. As it was, he had to take my license away. It was a bitter pill, and I was without income for three months, but not for one moment did I feel as if I'd been mistreated, or given anything less than I deserved. He made me pay for breaking the law. No more, no less. This I respect. So I handed the license over to him and shook his hand. Since then, you better believe I've learned my lesson.
I find that most of the male cops I've encountered fall within the first two categories. Interestingly enough, every single female cop I've encountered falls into the third. For this reason, I heartily endorse more women on the force. I don't know what factors into it, but for some reason they seem to get that they have an official role to play, as an extension of society. They are not there to lord over you. They are there to do a job, and they do it excellently. They are the ones who are keeping society safe.


So what's the point of all this, you might ask.

I'm sure several of you are already sighing and wondering what kind of idiot I am. Again, I'm not trying to justify breaking rules or laws. The only time it can be justified, is when doing so prevents a greater wrong from being done. 90% of the time, I'm the very model of traffic safety. The other 10%, it is purely for my own (or my fare's) benefit. And even then, I mainly stretch the rules, rather than break them, and only if I can get away with it, and I'm guaranteed not to hurt or bother anyone. This severely limits my opportunity for criminal behaviour, though it does in no way justify it.

This entry was written, not as a justification, but merely an honest description. To summarize, my (and my peers') relationship to law enforcement is complicated. On the one hand, I use their services frequently to keep me and my fellows safe. On the other, they hold the power to make my evening miserable and make me effectively unemployed. The nature of my job (and my species) provides incentive to occasional take risks that sometimes are necessary (but often are not).

In a weird way, I view the whole thing as a game. And I am nothing, if not gracious in defeat. 

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