Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Vaguely Important People

"So how do I go about getting a VIP-card with you guys?"
"That depends. Do you consider yourself very important?"

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( There's a story underneath this wall of text. Jump to it, if you want to get straight to the action. )

I've mentioned before that I'm a firm believer in the equality between buyer and seller. Especially in a cab. After all, without your money I can't pay my bills and without my driving, you can't get home. We both have something that the other wants. Let's make a deal where we both go home happy.

Of course, not everyone shares this view. Anyone reading this who has ever worked in any part of the service industry knows this intimately well. Some people believe that the customer is a cut above the seller. And in a way, that's true. It is in the seller's interest to satisfy his customer, because they can take their business elsewhere. When it comes to the terms of that mutually beneficial deal, the customer does have a slight edge. That being said, some people feel that this slight edge entitles them. After all, the customer is always right, yes?

The company I work for services two kinds of customers. First and foremost, there's the mob. The peasants. The random strangers who call for a cab, or hail it on the street, travel to their destination, and pay. The other group are our VIP-customers.

I personally find the whole idea of VIP to be idiotic. Not, mind you, that you give certain customers special treatment. After all, not all customers are created equal when it comes to business and benefit, and so it might behoove a company to give a certain subset of them special treatment. The trouble I have with it is the phrasing. VIP. Very Important Person.

You all know my views of humanity; that I fundamentally (and mostly compassionately) view us as a bunch of frightened apes clinging to a messy pebble floating out in the cold vast nothingness of space. In the grand scheme of things, we mean absolutely nothing. So from that perspective, the very idea some of these terrified lonely chimps lost in the abyss would be more important than others is just ridiculous.

The VIP-system at Taxi M came about as a result of deals made between the company and various others, chiefly restaurants and bars. By giving their personnel VIP-status, we are guaranteed that when said customers need to get home after a long shift at work, the restaurants will call us.

As a VIP-customer at Taxi M, you get the following benefits:
1. A special phone number which allows you to skip ahead the other people waiting in line for dispatch to take your call (thus increasing your chances of getting a cab, theoretically at least)
2. No matter what time of day it is, or what time of year, you'll always ride on the cheapest tariff.

In return, you only have three obligations:
1. Provide us with consistent repeat business (less of an obligation and more of a decent thing to do)
2. Display your VIP card in the cab in order to reap the benefits of it.
3. Treat the driver with a certain amount of respect - after all, we know where you live.

Simple, right? Mutual benefit. But here's the nasty truth: Most of us don't really like driving VIP-customers. We make less money off of them, and many of them only take trips from one block to another, meaning that we (at least those of us on the night shift) make peanuts off of them. We have a professional expectation to drive them, and we have an economic incentive not to. Guess which one wins out when we're given a choice?

That being said, most VIPeople are like any other fare: pleasant enough. But then there are that small subset of people...

Gavrilo Princip: anarchist, assassin, 
and friend of cabbies everywhere.

The entitled assholes who think that the world was made for their benefit, only this is one step worse because now they have a card that actually confirms what they so desperately want other people to believe: that they are very important indeed.

A common problem I have with the VIPeople is when I ask them to show me their card. If they fail to produce it, I'm supposed to drive them on a regular tariff, rather than the cheapest one. The reason for this is simple:
1. Its part of the fucking deal.
2. It happens that some people give their friends the VIP phone number (or some enterprising people find out about it) in order to give them cheap cab rides. Displaying the card shows that you're a customer in good standing with us, and not some impostor. If you are the latter, that means you're a regular customer and are expected to pay the regular price.

Sounds simple, no?

Well some people don't think it is. Some people take umbrage when I ask them to display their card.
"But I've been a customer at Taxi M for fifteen years!"

And I've been driving full time for four years, and part time for three. That's a full ten years I've not driven your ass. You're not that fucking memorable, buddy!

Most people take it in stride. Others get a little huffy, but accept it. Especially after I politely tell them that if they're displeased, they should call HQ and ask them about it, and that I'm only doing what my boss told me to do.

For some people, that's not good enough. I usually kick them out and ask my boss to remove their VIP-status. That's usually the end of the story. But one man, one glorious man, with a level of self-righteous stubbornness that matches my own decided to buck the trend.

Let me tell you about him.
Story: Viciously Impotent Pighead

This tale is one I've waited  a year to tell. Every midsummer's eve, I bust my ass to make as much money as I can. The goal is 6000 sek, which amounts to double pay. And last year, I was on a roll. I had reached the quota and then some, and I was ready to turn in. Then came the call from dispatch:

"VIP fare from Hill Bay within twenty minutes..."

Within a microsecond, the mike was in my hand and I called out: "Car 3 in 17."
"Car 3, 17"
"Acknowledged, Car 3."

Hill Bay is half an hour outside of town center, so even if it was a VIP fare, I'd still be making a nice sum. I headed off. Spurred on by my own greed, I set off. Seventeen minutes later, I arrived. The sun was rising, and I took a moment to enjoy the view as my customer arrived. He was a big fellow; red from sunburn and booze, with a great big bushy beard. He kinda looked like Santa Claus somewhat less successful cousin.

"3456 Jack?" he asked, looking at me through bleary eyes.

I really, really hate it when they introduce themselves with their VIP number and name. A simple "hello" will get you a lot more with me. I nodded to him and he said he was going to get his wife and two friends. "We'll be dropping them off in Highhome, and then we're going to Linnaeus."


After a while, his wife and friends arrived. He got into the cab and I turned on the meter. I turned it to the cheapest tariff .

"May I see your VIP card, sir?"

"What? Why?" he was clearly surprised and a little put out.

"Standard procedure, sir."

"Can't you see I'm VIP on your screen."

"Of course, but I need to see the card in order to confirm it."

He sighed heavily and rolled his eyes.
"Fine!" he showed me his card and I nodded.

"Thank you sir."

Off we went. In the back seat, his wife and friends were chatting amiably about how lovely the evening had been. I asked Mr Claus about his night and if he'd had a nice Midsummer.

"Sure... But I don't get it. Why did I have to show the card? I never show the card."

"As I said sir, standard procedure."

"But I never have to show my card to other drivers."

"Most likely those drivers know you, or they don't care. I'm just doing my job, sir."

"It's still really weird," it was clear by his tone that by 'weird' he meant 'insulting to my ego'. I sighed. I was in no mood. So I said: "Sir, I'm just following the instructions my boss has given me. This is how I do my job. I'm sorry if you feel I've insulted you. If you want, I can ask if one of my colleagues can take you, if you'd rather not ride in this cab."

"No no, don't be silly. Of course I'll ride with you."

"Good," I said, confident that the conversation was over and we could get on with more pleasant topics.

Of course, Cousin Claus didn't agree.

"I still think it's weird. I've been a loyal customer for thirteen years, but you must be new. After all, I am VIP-"

At this point, I had been working for twelve hours. Twelve solid hours, wearing a big happy smile every inch of the way. I'd been playing the part of the happy servant all night, and it had borne fruit. In a flash, I realized that I had no reason, economic or otherwise, to treat this guy as anything less than he was. So I slammed on the breaks and turned on him.

"Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"What??" he stared at me like a deer in the headlight.

"You signed a deal with Taxi M. When you received your card, you also received a letter. In it, it says what the terms of the deal are. You know damn well what you're expected to do, and you step into my car and act like a spoiled little brat because I'm doing my fucking job? Get the fuck out of my cab, you entitled piece of shit."

"Is this any way to talk to VIP-customers?"

"You are one out of ten thousand. That goddamn card is more important than you."

His wife and friends now began hurling abuse over me. I don't blame them even slightly. They hadn't heard the exchange between us. For all they knew, I had flipped my lid out of nowhere. They called me things like "psycho" and "asshole", and again, I don't blame them.

"Fuck you," they said. "Come on, Jack, let's call a real cab company."

They stepped out. But Jack Claus was in no mood.

"No," he said and turned to me. "You're going to get on that radio, and get me another car."

"That's not going to happen, now get the hell out."

"Jack!" said his wife. "A car from Taxi G is on its way. Get out and let this idiot go away."

"No," he said, looking at me. "I'm staying until he gets me another cab. Until that happens, he's not making another cent."

I laughed. I laughed and laughed. "Buddy, I've made double salary this evening. I can afford to sit here literally all day."

This entry is long enough, so I won't give you the word for word conversation we had. Besides, this was a year ago. But he called dispatch and explained to them was a complete asshole I was. Dispatch called me and asked about the situation and I explained it to them and that he refused to leave the car. They took my side and called the police.

So. One of the girls in dispatch kept talking to him, telling him that they were looking for another car, while the other was assuring me that they wouldn't give him anything and that the cops were coming.

The cab from Taxi G arrived. I looked at him.

"Sir, how about you leave the cab? The cops are on their way and they will remove you. Stop wasting my time, stop wasting your wife's time and stop wasting the cops' time and just leave, hm?"

"No. Now it's a matter of fucking principle."

"Your loss, man. Let's just wait here."

His wife appeared by the door. "Come on Jack, let's go."

"No, I'm not leaving until he gets me another cab."

She got angry with him. "Fine, do that. But give me the keys."

He stared at her. "I thought you had them?"

So she had to take the Taxi G cab back to the party to pick up their keys. I heard her swearing all the way to the door.

"I suppose its just you and me, now," I said.
"Yeah?" he sneered. "But I know someone's going to be driving this car during the day shift. You sure you can keep him waiting?"

"If I tell him some stubborn asshole refused to leave the car, I'm sure he'll understand. You're not the first to ride with us, and you won't be the last."

"You're sick."

"And you're an idiot. Seems we're going to get along just fine."

It took the police almost an hour to get out there. It was a very long, very awkward hour. At one point he made jokes about my sex life, which amounted to explaining to me that there was no chance in hell I'd ever get laid. I pointed out that last night's activities suggested otherwise.

"I bet she was a fat fucking whale."

I looked at him. He was rather spherical and his wife had a similar shape. I decided not to point that out.

By the time the cops had arrived, I had cleaned the cab twice, and he had made damn near twenty calls to dispatch, angrily demanding another cab. Two stubborn idiots can only maintain steam for so long, however. A weirdly tense truce formed between us. By the end, I even offered him gum which he politely declined.

Finally the cops arrived, and I stepped out and met them. I asked them to kindly move him a foot or two away from my car, so I could leave, and to take him home to his waiting wife. They asked him to step out, and he began angrily telling them that I refused to drive them, to which they replied that unless he had paid in advance, I was under no obligation to him whatsoever.

I closed the doors and turned on the engine. I wrote down my ID number and gave it to him.

"Sir, call HQ tomorrow. Tell them it was Crabby Cabby who was really really mean to you. If you ask them nicely, I'm sure they'll fire me without a moment's hesitation."

Then I drove off, screaming with laughter all the way back to town.

He never did call HQ.

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