Taxi drivers use the term “PC” to refer to a passenger that calls a driver directly when they need a ride. I don’t really know the origins of that term, but I have always assumed that it is short for personal customer or personal caller. I have noticed that drivers from the northeast like New York and Boston call them “specials”, and some drivers just call them “regulars”. But they all denote the same thing, a passenger that calls the driver directly rather than the company itself.
I was idling down the main drag downtown after 11 PM a couple nights ago when I saw a little girl, maybe five or six years old, standing on a corner. She spots me and starts jumping up and down and waving both arms over her head. I pulled into a parking spot next to her and she ran up to my window and said, “Hey, Mister Taxi Driver, can you give me a ride?”
This doesn’t feel right… what is a kindergartener doing on the sidewalk with all the usual nighttime drunks and whores? I asked her where her parents are, and she smiles broadly and says, “Toronto.”
Now alarm bells are ringing in my head… this situation is just wrong, in five or eight different ways. She doesn’t look to be in distress or anything, but what is a cute and innocent little girl from a foreign country, only a few thousand miles away doing here, on the street in front of a bar at almost midnight? Is she a runaway? Abandoned? Lost? Abducted? What the hell is this? I have already decided that I am going to load her and get her off the street, if only to get her to the police department. So I told her to get in, and she jumps up and down and yells, “Yeah!” Then she turns and runs away, and I hear her yelling excitedly, “Grandma! Grandpa! I got us a taxi! I got us a taxi!”
I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched this couple of seniors walking over from a bench about 30 or 40 feet away. I opened the door and the gentleman gave me the address of their home. “Annie” climbs in the far back and Grandma says, “No Florida vacation at Grandma’s is complete without a taxi ride…”
I said, “Oh, really? Why is that?”
Annie says, “Because taxis are COOL!”
I laughed and said, “I have been driving at taxi for three years, but ‘cool’ isn’t a word that I have ever used. But now that you mention it, I have a little girl that is just a little bit younger than you, and she loves it when I pick her up from school in my taxi. She even makes me run the meter.”
I looked at Grandpa and grinned and said, “But even though I run the meter, she never pays me…”
Grandpa chuckled and said, “Oh, but I bet she tips you well…”
I said, “Very true… she gives me great tips. She tips in hugs and kisses,” to which Grandpa smiled knowingly.
I was about to back out when Annie said, “Can I ride up front with you?”
I said, “Well, of course you can! Come on up here.”
Annie’s face lit up and she is already out of her seat, and Grandpa said that taxi drivers don’t like to have people in the front. I smiled at him and said, “Pipe down, Grandpa! Me and my Assistant Taxi Driver are trying to drive a taxi here!” and I helped Annie clamber over the center console and plopped her down in the seat next to me.
I said, “OK, the first thing we have to do is start the meter… push this button here…’
Annie looked at me wide-eyed… “Me???”
“Yes, you… you are the Assistant Taxi Driver! Let’s get this ride going! The first rule of driving a taxi is don’t waste time or gas… those are the only two things you have to sell. We need to get Grandma and Grandpa here home efficiently and expeditiously, and get on to the next passenger. So let’s go! Hit it!”
Annie scooted up to the edge of the seat, mashed the button for the meter drop, and she is beaming when she sees the meter engage. I said, “OK, next step, seat belts… so… we… can… be…”
Annie yells, “So we can be SAFE!” That’s from Dora The Explorer, for those readers without toddlers, but I somehow knew she would get the reference. Annie gets buckled in, and we are on the way.
I asked Annie what she was doing out so late, and she said that she is a big girl, and she always gets to stay up late when she visits Grandma and Grandpa. They just saw a movie, and now they are going back to Grandpa’s house. She has to get packed to fly back home to Toronto tomorrow. I asked her again why she likes taxis, and she gave me the same response… “Because taxis are COOL! I want to drive a taxi when I grow up!”
I said, “Well, I think you are really smart and should try to be a doctor or a veterinarian or a scientist or something like that, but being able to drive a taxi is actually a pretty good fallback plan. You can make good money driving a taxi. Let’s see if I can teach you the basics… you started the meter, so you are now my Assistant Taxi Driver, and you have to help me get these passengers safely home, OK?”
Annie looks positively enthralled and says, “OK,” and I glance at her grandparents, and they are grinning ear to ear.
I handed her my clipboard and said, “Here, hang onto my paperwork, and here is my flashlight. Don’t turn it on unless I ask you to, OK? That’s 160 lumens, so we need to be careful where we point that…”
Annie says, “OK” and holds my flashlight in her hand, at the ready. She is obviously taking this very seriously. She says, “Do you like driving a taxi?”
“No, not really,” I replied.
Annie said, “Why not?”
I said, “Well, most of my passengers are not as nice as you and Grandma and Grandpa.”
Annie said, “Well, if you don’t like driving a taxi, why did you buy one?”
Ahh, the innocence and lucid clarity of thought, possessed only by a child… I busted out laughing and said, “Sweetheart, I ask myself that question every single night.”
Annie says, “Well, I think taxis are cool, and I am going to be the best taxi driver in Toronto some day.”
I said, “OK, if you are going to be the best taxi driver in Toronto, the most important thing to know is that safety is the most important thing. Grandma and Grandpa back there are counting on us to get them home safely, so we have to be a better driver than everyone else. There’s a lot of really dumb people driving around out there, so we have to watch out for them so we don’t get in a crash.”
Annie looks very concerned… “Have you ever been in a crash?”
I said, “Yes, I have been in a crash… it was pretty bad. I was very lucky that I didn’t have passengers at the time, because they would have gotten hurt. A taxi driver has to stay sharp and always pay attention. You have to be able to predict what is going to happen on the road and what other people are going to do. Here’s a perfect example… see that green light up ahead? What does the green light mean?”
Annie says, “Green means we can GO!”
I said, “You are correct… BUT…” Annie looked at me intently.
“The light is green, but I have noticed that it has been green a long time. I think it will turn red before we get there. So instead of driving up to the light at full speed and having to stop really hard, we are going to ease off the gas and slow down, just a little bit… Grandma and Grandpa won’t even notice. But if the light does turn red, then we can stop gently and slowly, and not jostle our passengers.”
Sure enough, the light turns red and we slowly decelerate, and Annie is mesmerized. She says excitedly, “Grandpa! Did you see that? The taxi driver knew the light was going to turn red!”
Grandpa smiles and says, “I can tell he is a very good driver. I think we are safe with him.”
A few moments later I said, “OK, Assistant Taxi Driver, we need to change lanes and move over to the right… we are going to check all our mirrors… and look over our right shoulder… is the lane clear over there? Any cars next to us?”
Annie looks out her window and says that there are no cars over there, so I said, “OK… right turn signal on… and we safely execute the lane change. Well done, Assistant Taxi Driver Annie.”
And so it goes for the rest of the drive… we get to Grandpa’s house, and I said, “OK, we put the car in Park, so it doesn’t roll anywhere while we clear our passengers… get your seat belt unbuckled, and push this button here. That turns on the four-way flashers, so other cars will know that our passengers are getting out. Next, hit this button here to stop the meter.”
Annie dutifully follows my instructions. I asked, “What does the meter say?”
Annie says, “One one two five!”
“That’s right… or eleven dollars and twenty-five cents. Now, if you have some really nice passengers, you can give them a little discount, and believe me, they notice every time. So repeat after me…” I loudly and theatrically said, ” We have arrived, Sir. Your fare is ten dollars.”
Annie parrots me perfectly. “We have arrived, Sir! Your fare is ten dollars!”
Grandpa is chuckling and hands her a twenty. Annie hands me the bill as I pulled out my bank from my shirt pocket. I said loudly, “Any change on that, Sir?”
Again Annie mimics me… “Any change on that, Sir?”
Grandpa laughs and says, “No, you can keep the change…”
I said, “Did you see that? Grandpa’s fare was ten dollars, but he gave us twenty dollars. That extra money is called a tip, and that is how good taxi drivers make their money. Try to be friendly, treat people nice, be polite, and make sure they get home safely, and you will make good tips. And if you make good tips, you can take care of your family and make a good living.”
Annie is wide-eyed and soaking this in… I swear, she is internalizing this whole experience, and it is like a light bulb has switched on in her head. Grandma and Grandpa are grinning ear to ear and loving this little show I am putting on for Annie, and quite frankly, so am I. It was a busy night, but every moment spent with Annie is a moment not spent with the douchebags and drunks and idiots and whores and morons that are typically in my car this time of night.
I said, “OK, the next thing that is important for a taxi driver to remember is to always take care of the people that help you do your job. Everybody needs to make money, and everybody needs to get paid… the mechanics that work on your car, the girls at the gas station that give you coffee… and most importantly, your Assistant Taxi Driver…” And with that, I licked my thumb and dramatically peeled two dollars off my bank and handed them to Annie.
Annie was almost in shock. “For me???”
“Yes, for you… you did a great job as my Assistant Taxi Driver, and you deserve to get paid. Enjoy the rewards of honest work, well done. Have Grandpa take you out for some ice cream before you fly home, or better yet, have Grandpa take you to a book store and buy a book. Ice cream lasts five minutes, but what you learn from a book lasts forever. I bet he will help you out with a dollar or two if you are a little short.”
Annie is speechless, just staring at me.
“Now, one last thing… when you get a nice passenger that tips you really well, you want to drive that person every time they need a ride. You want them to call YOU personally, rather than the taxi company. Taxi drivers call those people personal customers, and the more personal customers you have, the more successful you will be. I would be very pleased if you would be MY personal customer, so take my business card, and call me the next time you visit Grandma and Grandpa. I would be very happy to drive with my Assistant Taxi Driver again.” And with that, I handed her three or four of my business cards.
Annie is beaming. She says excitedly, “Look, Grandpa! I have taxi cards!” I honestly think she was more excited about the cards than the two dollars.
“Now, when Grandpa takes you to the airport, does he drive you in his car?” Annie nods… I said, “Well, maybe next time he might want to take a taxi instead of driving. So give him a card, so he has my phone number, too. A good taxi driver always works on building his business and getting more personal customers.”
Annie gives a card to Grandpa, and to Grandma as well. I told Annie that her final duty was to see Grandma and Grandpa safely into the house, and that I would light the way up to the door with my powerful flashlight. Annie escorted her grandparents up to the door, and waved at me vigorously and excitedly from the porch as I rolled away, her face still split with a gigantic smile.
Man, that was nice… It is so rare that I have such a pleasurable and enjoyable passenger. I was actually emotionally and psychologically buoyed by driving Annie and her grandparents, and went back to work in a much better mood.
But back to grim reality… my next passengers were three drunks in their twenties, going to some yuppie apartments not far from downtown. I made one small mistake when I bought my van; the windows are tinted so dark that someone on the street can not see into my car to see if I have passengers. Sometimes I turn on the interior light so they can see my passengers, so they don’t think I am just driving past them.
But one thing I do like about my van is that the doors lock automatically when my speed exceeds ten or fifteen MPH, so no one can get in my car unless I let them in. I was about five blocks from the apartment building, sitting at a traffic light, when a vodka zombie on the corner started waving at me and lurching toward the passenger side of my car. He is yanking on the door handle as I flipped on the interior light to show him my passengers, and I rolled down the window about halfway and yelled, “Hey, dude, I got some people already…”
For reasons that still escape me, one of the drunken idiots in the back unlocked and opened the door and said, “Yeah, man… this our taxi… fuck off…”
I said, “Hey! What the hell are you doing? Close the fucking door!”
The zombie drew his fist back, and punched my dumbass passenger square in the face, a good, solid jab that snapped his head sideways… I’m really surprised it didn’t knock him out. The zombie ran off, and I hit the power door button, closed the door, and drove the drunks the last few blocks to their apartment building, while they razzed and jeered their friend about getting punched in the face by a random drunk standing on a streetcorner. But I want these liquored-up dipshits out of my car immediately… if they want to make a wasted police report about a hit-and-run zombie attack, they can do it without me. I put them out, and headed back towards downtown.
I wish Annie was my worst passenger ever… I wish they were ALL better than her.
But that just isn’t how this job goes…