Thursday, 17 August 2017

The Fare's Survival Guide, part 2

"Shut up and drive."
"Shut up and walk."

Read Part 1 here.

Part Two: The customer is often wrong.

So you've finally managed to snare a cab, made sure that the price is right, the cabby is legal and so far he hasn't attempted to molest you. Pat yourself on your back for making sure that the cabby's end of the bargain is being held up. You should be proud of yourself. However, as with all deals, you have an end to hold up as well.

You as a customer have  a lot of legroom within in a cab. After all, if we denied service to every person who rubbed us the wrong way, we'd all starve (and some of us would have a lot less to write about). That being said, there's a whole bunch of behaviours that are just plain unacceptable. Not intolerable, mind you. We can tolerate a whole lot of things, but that doesn't mean we accept it.

The level of tolerance/acceptance varies between cabbies. Some of us meet everything with a patient shrug. Others will flip right the fuck out, and dump you in a neighbouring town, possibly without your shoes. But we all seem to be in agreement on what kind of behaviour we prefer in our cab and what kind of behaviour we despise.

This shit? Barely tolerable.

As you may well understand, this brings us to the third spot of trouble you might face while riding a cab, that being the consequences of you engaging in unacceptable and/or intolerable behaviour. The potential consequences, listed in no particular order, are the following:

Being denied service.
Being thrown out of the car.
Being smacked.
Getting chained to the rear bumper and dragged along the street behind the car.
Getting chained to the front bumper and get dragged along the street under the car.
Getting blacklisted by the cab company.
Getting told very politely that you're not being very nice.
Ending up as the subject of a self-aggrandizing entry in a cab-related blog.
Embarrassing your friends.
Ruining an already tough job for the cabby.

As we all can agree, none of these outcomes are particularly pleasant. So how does the discerning customer avoid this predicament? Don't worry, I'm here to help. I will list a couple of areas where the average fare may have trouble understanding the proper conduct, explain what they're about and how to best approach them.

Before we begin, however, let me make one thing perfectly clear: the cab is the cabby's office. It is their workspace. Their ship. It is to be respected. Can you think of any kind of behaviour you wouldn't engage in while talking to your banker? Trust me, that applies just as much to your cabby. Whatever rules the cabby has in his car are to be followed; they are there because that is how he keeps his workplace in order. If any of them don't suit you, there's no shortage of cabs in the world.

 Let's begin!

At its heart, taking a cab is a matter of exchange. Quid pro quo, as it were. The cabby has the means of transportation, and you have the means to pay for it. If the cabby wants to get paid, he will provide transportation. If the fare wants transportation, they will provide money. Simple, straightforward, and on top of it all, a matter of mutual understanding.

However, until money has changed hands, the cabby is under no obligation to drive you. Nor are we under any obligation to carry your bags, adjust your seat, rub your back or provide you with a tasty beverage. Our duty is to drive you safely and comfortably from A to B in a timely manner. That is the full extent of our duty. Anything beyond that we do out of the kindness of our hearts, a sense of decency, or in the hopes of increasing the chances of repeat business and/or tips. Or because we're simply nice people.

You are not entitled to anything. This means we may deny service at any point during the trip for any reason, provided it isn't illegal (racial, sexual and other kinds of illegal discrimination is for instance not a valid reason to deny someone service). Ironically, there is a legal obligation for you to pay for the trip up until the point you're thrown out. Legal, mind you. Unless there are cops nearby, there's no real way for the cabby to enforce this (except by sheer force of personality, and/or violence, which kinda defeats the point of enforcing a legal obligation anyway). So if you're thrown out and you refuse to pay, nobody can blame you. I've used the phrase "I don't want your money - only your absence" or variations thereof many, many times.

But what if you want something from the cabby that goes beyond their duty? Well, that brings us to our next area.

It is not uncommon for a customer to want the cabby to go above and beyond duty. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a customer to want any kind of service worker to go above and beyond duty. And conversely, it is not uncommon for the service worker to do just that. While there are no obligations, we as humans regularly go beyond our obligations in order to facilitate social interaction and satisfy our own sense of justice and decency. With this in mind, all cultures have developed various codes and methods to request things of their fellow human that they might not be entitled to. We call this "politeness". Some of you may be familiar with the concept. For those who aren't, consider the following example:

You want milk. You know someone has the means and the opportunity to get milk. There's two ways you can go about it.
You can shout "GET ME MILK!"
You can also say: "Would you mind picking up some milk for me, please?"
Both expressions serve the same purpose, namely getting you that delicious moo-juice. But which one do you think would be the more acceptable one?

Unless you were raised by wolves, I assume we can both agree that the second alternative is the proper one. And, believe it or not, that applies to cabs as well. The single most common ground for conflict in my cab tends to center around the stereo. A customer comes in, wants to listen to music. The customer will often demand that I turn on a particular radio station or that they get to hook up their phones to the stereo. Never once does it cross their minds that I might not be interested in their music, or that I might have a headache, or that perhaps I don't like being bossed around. When I deny them this, things get tense. Either they accept what I say, or (at worst) they'll literally start screaming like toddlers (I swear to God this happened once).

Making demands is bad enough. But fiddling with the car's settings (stereo or otherwise) is a mortal sin. Everything beyond the seat you're in is my business. You want anything changed or done, ASK. Nine times out of ten, I guarantee, the cabbie will agree. And if he doesn't, he will respond to your politeness in kind.

In essence: If you want something from the cabbie beyond a smooth ride from A to B, ask politely. It will get you far.

Backseat driving.
This is a minor one. Some customers are wary of cabbies. After all, they could be swindlers! And so, they will give directions during the trip. Many cabbies find this annoying. Some of us don't. I, in fact, like it. It allows me to turn off my brain completely and let the customer do my work for me. However, there's a fine line between giving directions and actively trying to control the car. We're driving this cab for a reason. If you want a certain route, speed, or other kind of mode of driving, again... ask for it. Am I going too fast? Ask me to slow down. Am I taking a road you're not used to? Ask. If there's a certain road you want me to take, show me.

But do not question my every move. Do not comment on what gear I'm in, do not tell me to check my blind spot. You wouldn't tell a  surgeon where to cut during an operation, nor would you tell a carpenter which tool he needs in order to hammer in a nail.

Despite being a carpenter, Jesus still refrained
from telling his crucifiers how to do their job. 

Even if you don't trust any cabby, please attempt to give them the benefit of the doubt. If you have any questions about the route or the price, phrase them politely. If it turns out that your cabby is a dishonest asshole, or an incompetent driver, at least you'll come out of it smelling like roses.

Party time
Many are the customers who begin the evening drinking with friends, getting into that party mood. Once the mood has risen sufficiently, they call a cab and go to town, potentially to paint it red. It is Friday night (or Saturday) after all! This is the great time, the time for parties! Fun times, fun day! But we can't let the party stop!

So let's get into the cab! Surely the cabby won't let the party stop! Hey Cabby! Help us keep the party going! Turn up the music! Sing with us! Let us take a selfie with you! No, let us film you! Lets make out violently! Because there ain't no party like a taxi party-

All right enough. This is the bane of all service workers around the weekends. Especially cabbies. I get it. The party must roll. But believe it or not, tonight is not my party night. Tonight is my work night. I'm here to work. To you it is Saturday. To me, it is any day but Saturday. Imagine, if you will, a bunch of rowdy people going into your place of work, screaming at the top of your lungs, demanding that you turn up the music, and getting really pissed off when you tell them not to swill booze where you are. That, my friends, is what I go through.

Mind you, I am aware that a part of my job is to drive party-goers from one party to another. But there are reasons why I don't allow the consumption of alcoholic beverages in my car. The same reason I don't allow smoking, doing drugs, or eating. See, I don't want to clean up the potential mess and I don't want to deal with the potential smell either. Its not YOU that I'm singling out. I'm sure YOU would never spill anything ever. But you are one out of two hundred people that I'll drive this week. If I allow consumption of food or alcohol in the car every time, sooner or later someone will spill it. And sooner or later, that will be you.

In short: If your party spirit is so weak that you need a cabby to help keep it going, perhaps you should consider just how good at partying you really are.

This fellow doesn't need a cabby to keep the party going
and neither should you.

There is a certain subset of people who make it their business to "dine and dash". A few years ago, a friend of mine described it as something some of her more hipstery friends enjoyed doing. Their rationale was the following: restaurant budgets have certain margins of loss. Thus, you haven't deprived the restaurant of any profit if you skip out on the check once in a while, since it doesn't put a dent in their budget.

And sure, economically this might well be the case. As for morality, well... We live in a society where the sweat of our brow is converted into currency. That currency flows to others, in order to convert the sweat of their brow. Etc, etc. I really shouldn't have to explain this.

Most people, however, don't even need that rationale. Most people who help themselves to free service (that is, stealing the sweat of the brow from other workers/businesses) are usually satisfied with the following rationale: "I want something, and I don't want to pay for it". Nobody is totally innocent of this, of course. Especially in this day and age, where data has become a commodity.

And I can even, on some level, understand the willingness to stick it to the man. To beat the system, as it were. And if you steal occasionally from a restaurant, fine. Its not as if it will affect its workers directly in the short run. It's still a shitty thing to do, of course. But the damage is not immediately huge.

Not so much with cabbies. We work on commission. I've spoken of this before, so I'll be brief. Every time you skip out on paying, don't have enough money, or try to haggle some kind of fixed rate, you are literally asking the cabby to pay you out of his pocket. True, some of us will drive you off the meter, which means that the only one losing money is the cab company. However, I do believe I covered why riding off the meter is a bad idea. There's also some really good reasons for cabby to stay legal too, but this is not a survival guide for them.

Point being: don't haggle. Don't skip on the check. Pay us what we're owed. And if you're not sure if you have enough money, inform us! Sometimes we might take pity on you, and accept a lower rate. Sometimes, some other kind of arrangement can be made. But don't tell us in the middle of the trip that you can't afford it. And if you know you don't have enough money, don't offer it to us and tell us to take it off the meter. We are workers. We sell our labour at a set price. If that isn't good enough for you, well... walking is free. We offer our labour at certain terms. Meet them, and we're going to get along just fine. When you're haggling or asking to be driven off the meter, you're either saying that your trip is worth more than getting paid, or you're implying that our greed is more important than our integrity.

I once drove a fellow. We made a great connection. He was the kind of customer I would happily go above and beyond for. Once the trip was over, he opened his wallet and looked at me seriously.

"Now," he said. "there's no tipping-culture in Sweden."
"Oh? I wasn't aware," I said.
"No. So I'm not going to tip you. But once that makes its way over here, you can bet I'll tip you every time."

This was deeply insulting. Not the fact that he wouldn't tip, mind you. In Sweden, we actually believe in giving people a living wage and it is illegal to structure work in such a way that the worker is reliant on gratuity to make ends meet. Thus gratuity becomes what it is supposed to be: a sign of appreciation for service beyond the line of duty.

Some cabbies get really bitter when they don't get tipped. They're idiots. Just like we don't owe anyone anything except what's in our job description, nor does the customer owe us anything beyond the set price. Anything I do beyond driving from A to B, I do out of the kindness of my heart. And anything the customer chooses to give me, they do for the same reason. Nothing owed, either way.

That being said, there's a few things you should keep in mind while tipping, if that is what you choose to do.

a) Do not use the tip as leverage. The moment someone tells me 'If you don't do X, there will be no tip for you', I will slam on the brakes, tell them I'm not a fucking dog begging for a bone and tell them to fuck right off. We do not dance for nickles, and nor do we hope that if we do the right trick, maybe Master will be nice enough to pat us on the head. We are labourers. We sell out labour at a price. Fuck you for thinking anything else.

b) Whatever amount you tip is fine. Be it the smallest coin or the largest bill. Again, you don't owe us anything. However, if you choose to give us small change, don't make a joke about 'every little helps', or 'so you can buy a cup of coffee'. This is the age of Starbucks. Coffee is expensive these days. Again, it is insulting. Give, or do not give. But don't joke about how little you give.

c) If you're the kind of person that never tips, that is fine! Again, and I can't overstate this, you do not owe it to us. But if you're happy with the service, please tell us! Trust me, a single happy customer can make up for an entire night of ungrateful idiots. Genuine gratitude from a customer is wonderful. Whether or not that comes with extra money isn't really that important.

Personal space.
You know how you don't like random strangers touching your face, stroking your hair, patting your stomach or rubbing your shoulders? Guess what: cabbies don't either. So don't. And if you do, and the cabby calls you out on it, don't spend the rest of the trip saying that you "just wanted to be friendly". Your intentions in this case is irrelevant. Don't fucking molest us.

A final word

Your cabby is a person. A human being. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they're having a rough day. Sometimes, there's a misunderstanding between you. When communicating with a cabby, try to keep in in mind the principle of charity. Despite the often unforgiving attitude I show in this blog, I do try to keep that in mind when dealing with my customers. Do not assume the worst to begin with. Take a moment to figure out whether or not your cabby truly is an asshole, or whether something went wrong down the line. Chances are that your cabby is just as scared of you, as you are of him.

Now, go forth bravely into the night. Call a cab, safe in the knowledge that you now know everything you need to survive your trip.

Safe travels!

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1 comment:

  1. Everybody who ever has taken a cab should read this!