I haven’t posted in a while because I have been tremendously busy… I moved at the end of April and been unpacking and relocating hearth and home, and I joined a new taxi company recently, which has kept me busier than ever. Actually, the new taxi company is the main reason I am posting now. But before I get to the meat of this post, let me tell you a little about the taxi business and how taxi companies operate.
Most people I talk to are surprised to learn that in my area, most taxi companies are not in the taxi business at all; they are actually in the car leasing business. They lease the car to the driver for a rate that ranges from 60 to 125 per day, and quite honestly, they really don’t give a rat’s ass if you are late to your doctor’s appointment or if you wait an hour to be picked up, or even if you are picked up at all. All they really care about is that the driver pays his daily or weekly lease, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be replaced soon enough.
The company I previously worked for had a different approach; instead of a daily or weekly lease, the driver gives the company a percentage of the meter. That way, if the driver has a slow night, so does the company. In a sense, that is more fair, but it sucks on a night like New Years Eve, when a skilled hack can make five or six hundred dollars in a shift and then has to give a large portion of his take to the company.
I have nothing but good things to say about my old company… They treated me a little shabbily on the way out, but I don’t hold that against them; I think they were just pissed about losing a good driver to a new, upstart taxi company that has already impacted their business. But while I was there, they treated me well, and I frequently told my passengers that if I quit this job tonight in a stuttering rage (a very distinct possibility on any given night), Jack’s Taxi would be the company I would call if I needed a cab. They are a family business, they hire good people, they keep the cars up, and they have the best dispatch system I am aware of, so they give really prompt service. Two or three times a week, I would have passengers tell me, “Wow, we called Acme Cab and waited an hour, then we called Jack’s and you were here in ten minutes.” And coming from a marketing background, I always marveled at the customer loyalty that Jack’s Taxi has built over the years.
The new company I work for was started by a few drivers from a variety of companies that were tired of being fucked over by the mercenary taxi leasing companies in this area. Their concept was to create a “drivers’ co-op” where good drivers can make a good living without working twelve or fourteen hour days and busting their humps just to pay their lease, only to go home with 100 bucks or less. We pay a modest weekly fee to cover our insurance and sundry administrative costs and operating expenses, and we work when we want, where we want, and we are truly independent businessmen. The downside is that we don’t have the traditional dispatch office and garage, and as owner-operators, we have to cover all the repairs and maintenance of our cars. Pros and cons….
I was recruited by a guy that used to work for Jack’s Taxi as well. Mike is a great guy… He worked for Jack’s for a few years before I did, then had to leave to attend to family business up north before I was hired by Jack’s. When he got back to Florida, I met him in the dispatch office on his first night back with the company. I said to one of the dispatchers, “We got a noobie, huh…? A new fish in the yard…?” They both chuckled, and the dispatcher told me that Mike was a three or four year veteran at Jack’s Taxi, just back from an extended personal leave. At the end of the night, I saw Mike in the office again turning in his paperwork and said, “How did it go, noob…?” Everybody laughed, and I told him if he needed any help or advice on how to deal with these surly whores and blackout binge drinkers, just come to me…
One night, a group of people flagged me down, and a pretty blonde with a good buzz and a loose, plunging top came up to the passenger window and asked me to take them a mile or two up the road. The problem was that they had one too many people for me to carry. The law in Florida is very clear; you can not carry more people than seatbelts. If you get in an accident while overloaded, it is a gigantic liability issue, for you and the company. And I spent a solid two or three minutes trying to explain this to her, while she bent over at the waist and her braless breasts were on full display. After several minutes of begging and cajoling me, she finally said, “What if I showed you my tits?”
I said, “You have been showing me your tits for the last three minutes. But your tits and your seven dollar fare are not worth my job. If you wait right here, I’ll send you another taxi within five minutes.” I took off and saw another one of our cars just two blocks away from where I left her, and driving the bigger car was Mike the Noob. I told him to go back two blocks and get the blonde and her group, and I added that if he asks, she’ll probably whip out the sweater puppies for him. After that ride, I think Mike liked me…
So anyway, Mike the Noob recruited me to join my new company, and I am really glad that I decided to make the jump. We got my wife a new car, I took her Nissan minivan (heretofore her work office, baby taxi, and family grocery-getter) to the paint shop for paint and lettering, got a meter installed, and in the span of a week, I am out on my own, working without any support system other than a few calls per night from the new company’s phone system, just some freshly printed business cards and my hack skills and instincts to survive upon. It kinda has a mercenary or pirate feel to it… Looking for targets of opportunity, hunting down passengers, beating other companies to their pickups and swiping their customers. But so many things that I hated about this job went away immediately once I took the leap and came on board. No more drug runs, no more going to the hood for sketchy passengers, no more getting shorted on gas or cleaning up cheese fries from the day driver, no more being forced to work slow Tuesdays when no one is out and fares are scarce. But as I said previously, there are pros and cons to working without a net.
On Saturday, April 13th, I dropped off two nice ladies in an older, moneyed neighborhood. I did my paperwork, noting that I cleared my passengers at 11:54 PM. I drove to the corner, took a right, and I saw bouncing headlights shining down a rough, potholed alley on my left. And instantly, a metallic orange Jeep Wrangler shot out of the alley at no less than 30 miles per hour… Not even time to think, “Oh, shit!”. The Jeep T-boned my car in the driver’s side passenger door, shattering windows and snapping my head into the window. The impact spun my car 90 degrees so we were facing each other, front wheel to front wheel.
The driver of the Jeep was a pretty blonde girl in her twenties, who looked positively stunned that a car might be passing in front of the alley she was charging down. A male passenger jumped out and said, “Hang on, dude, we are calling the insurance company.” The impact knocked my phone on the floor, and as I bent down to retrieve it, the guy got back in the Jeep and the blonde hit the gas and bolted down the alley. I hit the gas and tried to follow, but my car didn’t move. I stuck my head out of the window and saw that she had knocked my rear tire off my car. She was gone in seconds, without so much as a partial plate number.
So, best case scenario, she cost me a $7000 taxi, and a $8000 replacement. At this point, it looks like she got away with a felony hit-and-run. It is difficult to describe here, but given the geography of that particular neighborhood, she almost certainly lives right there, within a mile at most. No one that isn’t really local would use that alley, because it leads only to rough, narrow streets in an older, moneyed part of town, with no quick ways to go anywhere else. A guy in the neighborhood told me he knows that Jeep and has seen it many times before, but he hasn’t seen it since. But in spite of my entire fleet looking for this orange Jeep in that neighborhood for more than a month, we haven’t found her yet… She either got it fixed and painted immediately, or she has it garaged.
Pros and cons… but I guess I signed up for this shit. If I was still working with Jack’s Taxi, they would have put me in a new car immediately, without missing a beat. But as an owner-operator, this giant pile of bullshit lands squarely on my desk, and I get to pick up the tab for some stupid bitch’s irresponsible and thoughtless actions. She didn’t care if I was injured, didn’t care that I am trying to feed a baby, she didn’t care that she cost me thousands of dollars, she only cared about saving her own ass and (probably) failing a breathalyzer. Had the roles been reversed and I had been at fault, I know myself well enough to know that I would have sat right there and called the cops, and let my insurance company make it right for the girl… That’s what I pay for. I guess I am a vanishing breed… people of average to above-average integrity.
Still, I am glad to have made the jump to this new company. Let’s be clear: This job sucks. It sucks less when you are making good money. And since I came onboard, I’ve been making really good money, but now a considerable portion of that money goes to a car payment I shouldn’t have to pay.