Driving a hack is no life for a lady
But if a girl doesn’t mind dealing with drunks, crooks, oddballs and chiselers, and occasionally being slugged and robbed herself, it’s a lot more fun than working at a desk
By JANET ROBINSON as told to RAY GARDNER
FOR ELEVEN YEARS I’ve been driving taxi in Vancouver and. I discovered long ago, the only predictable and monotonous thing about my job is the tick of the meter and that, of course, is music to my ears.
It’s fascinating work because anything can happen in a taxi: I’ve had a man die in my cab (from a heart attack) and I've come close to having a child born there. No two days are ever cut to the same pattern. Once in my cab I'm in a world of my own — a world that is slightly oil its axis and whirling in a wonderfully eccentric orbit.
It’s the people who make it that way. I remember one day when my first fare was a dear little old lady, a visitor from Australia, who had heard there was a penitentiary nearby and wanted to be
driven by it. "I’ve always wanted to see one.” she explained. So I drove her twelve miles to the B. C. Penitentiary. All the while she was busily crocheting, but as we approached the pen she stopped, shuddered, and said. "My. it is properly grim, isn't it? I don't like it at all. Please drive faster.” That brief glimpse of our most unlikely tourist attraction cost her eleven dollars — and a set of crocheted doilies she later sent me as a tip.
My next passenger that day happened to be a man who is now' doing a ten-year stretch in that same institution—a key figure in Vancouver’s narcotics racket. At the time 1 picked him up he was limping from a bullet wound in the groin: a few days earlier, gunmen from a rival syndicate had taken him for a ride in Stanley Park and botched
the job. He became one of my regular customers, an association that ended only when he was clamped in the pen. He tipped well but he had a habit I found unnerving: he'd always lock the doors of my cab because, as he explained, he was afraid his enemies might catch us at a red light, jump in the car. and take him (and probably me) for that longest of all possible rides.
I've driven crooks of every description, including a couple of young hoods who even as I drove them were stalking their victim: me. They robbed me of my money — $11.85 — and my cab. I've driven maniacs, celebrities, drug addicts, call girls (though I refuse to be a go-between for them), and drunks by the carload. I've been slugged by one passenger — a drunken woman — and I once walloped a male passenger so hard I knocked him colder than a clam.
I've sent one deadbeat to jail for chiseling me out of my fare but lots of times I've helped people by paying the fare myself. I can boast of having driven one of the last of the big-time spenders, a logger who. at first, tried to pay his $1.85 fare with a thousand-dollar bill and then finally tossed me a hundred-dollar note and told me to keep the change. (I'd taken him to a liquor store where he bought a bottle of wine for $1.05.)
As chaulfeur to the multitude I drive seven thousand to nine thousand people a year—and often see them at their worst. The back scat of my hack has been the arena for countless domestic squabbles, including one battle royal that ended when the husband opened the door, when we were doing thirty, and tossed his wife out on the street. We went back for her, found her uninjured, and the husband slipped me ten dollars to forget about it.
Although women cab drivers are not a rarity (about twenty-live of -Vancouver's six hundred cabbies are women) many of my passengers still seem surprised to find a woman at the wheel of a taxi. The women especially are intrigued. "Isn't this a rough business for a woman? Aren't you afraid?" they ask.
"Well," I tell them, "this isn't exactly the cloistered life." and. "Yes. I sometimes am afraid, even terrified.”
What’s really on their mind is this: Do men make passes at women who drive taxis? Sometimes they do. but I can usually fix that simply by stopping the cab, climbing out, and standing up. I'm almost six feet tall and I look pretty capable. In fact, the one man I knocked cold when he persisted in making passes would probably tell you I am capable.
I've found that whether you're driving cab or walking down the street, even the brashest Romeo isn't likely to press his point unless he's encouraged. "Act like a lady, be treated like a lady” is my maxim — and it works.
I make it a rule never to go into a hotel room or a house to collect my fare from a man. Not long ago, in Vancouver, another woman cabbie w'as lured into a house by a man and. even though she herself was a judo expert, she was almost beaten to death. She eventually escaped and, later, the man was caught and sentenced to seven years.
My one moment of sheer terror came the night I was robbed. 1 picked up two young men at about 3 a.m. and they asked to be driven around Stanley Park. Now no cab driver in his right mind would swallow that bait, but they seemed such nice boys and the fare was so tempting 1 fell for it. We were deep in the park when one of them reached over and pulled the keys out of the ignition and. w'ith his other hand, grabbed my radio microphone so I couldn’t call for help.
"We want your money and we want your car,” one of them said. I gave them the money, carefully counting it out as though I were paying a bill, it came to exactly $11.85. They had pulled no gun on me, yet all the time I kept thinking about the two cab drivers who had been murdered in Vancouver in recent years — one of them by a gunman who got about the same amount of loot ($12) as I was then doling out. 1 must have been in a state of shock because, in spite of this, when the robbers
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Driving a hack is no life for a lady
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“A drunk paid me $120 for an $11 run. I took it, because I knew if I didn’t someone else would”
ordered me out of the cab I asked them not to leave me alone in the park. But they roared ofi into the night and suddenly it struck me how lucky I was to be rid of them. The five-mile walk I faced in the dark held no terrors for me after that. My cab was found within a few hours but the two hoods were never caught.
I drove the late night shift — from 9.30 p.m. to 6.30 a.m. — for two years, even for quite a while after the holdup. I loved it. People who ride cabs in the morning and afternoon are usually on prosaic errands and arc apt to behave prosaically. But the night people arc happy and gay. unpredictable and uninhibited, and some of this spirit rubs ofi on the cab driver. And, let's be honest, that prime quarry of every hack jockey — the Big Tipper — is a nocturnal creature.
Nevertheless, I began to get jumpy on the night shift. Whenever a lone man flagged my cab and asked to be driven into the suburbs I’d wonder whether I'd be paid off in money or with a couple of slugs in the back of the neck. At times, as I drove a silent stranger through the night, even the tick of the meter would rasp my nerves.
About the time I’d reached this stage three women taxi drivers were brutally attacked, one right after the other, and one cab company asked the city to prohibit women from driving taxi at night. The city refused this request, but I de-
cided to play it safe. I changed to the 12.30 to 9.30 p.m. shift, which provides me with at least a glimpse of the night people and their world.
As women's wages go, the earnings of a taxi driver are better than average. I work an eight-hour day, six days a week, and I'm paid five dollars a day or forty-three percent of my day’s take— whichever is the bigger amount. With tips I average about fifty dollars a week.
The first month I drove taxi I made fifteen hundred dollars and had visions of owning my own fleet of cabs—every cab a Rolls-Royce. I’d simply been lucky and struck it rich with a series of what we call live loads, although at the time I’d yet to hear the term.
A $220 tip from one fare
The liveliest load of all was an executive of a Siamese shipping line who came to Vancouver aboard one of his company’s ships. He hired my cab for six days, at twenty-four dollars a day, to make business calls and to sight - see. Every day he tipped me twenty dollars and, at the end of the week, gave me another hundred dollars and took me to a farewell party aboard ship. After the party I staggered down the gangplank loaded with gifts: a huge tapestry (later appraised at $400), two smaller tapestries, a music box, jewelry, and half a case of apricot brandy. He was not only generous — he was also, I can assure the
cynics, in every way a real gentleman.
Most of our live loads are loaded, with money and liquor. More often than not they’re loggers who, after being bushed for months, are out to paint the town, not red, but green.
One morning as I cruised on the Skidroad I was flagged by a man who looked so seedy I hesitated before picking him up. He was drunk and when he ordered me to drive to Port Moody, about thirteen miles from Vancouver, and back “just for the ride,” I said, “You’d better pay me something on account.” He pulled out a roll of bills and peeled off a twenty. During most of the trip he dozed, but several times he woke up and each time he peeled off another twenty. When he finally left my cab he slipped me one more twenty—the sixth—and asked, “Will that cover it?” The meter read eleven dollars and I’d been paid $ 120.
I took his money without a qualm because I knew if 1 didn’t someone else would. I never try to beat a fare for his money, but I do go on the theory that whenever a man starts throwing his money around there’ll always be someone there to field it — and it might as well be a hard-working cab driver as anyone else. I know that the logger who flashed a thousand-dollar bill at me was rolled for it a few hours later. I read about it in the papers.
If it appears my ethics are in need of a retread, blame the people who have
taken me. No one in this life, not excepting the poor defenseless widow, is set upon by so many deadbeats, grifters, chiselers, and small-time con-men as is the taxi driver.
In my rookie days I was an easy mark. Take the case of the young swindler who went looking for a job in style—in my cab. He told me to take him on the rounds of the logging agencies where men are hired to work in the woods. After a couple of calls, I asked him, "Can you afford this way of looking for work?” To prove he could, he showed me a twenty-dollar bill. I drove on and, inevitably, it happened: at the seventh agency he slipped out a back door and stuck me with $9.45 on the meter.
I’ve found it’s hardly worth while to holler copper on a deadbeat. I did it once to a man, who, at the end of a fivedollar trip, stepped out of my cab. said, “Charge it!” and disappeared into the street crowd. The police caught him (he apparently was well known to them for this trick) and the magistrate gave him thirty days, with the option of paying my fare or serving an extra ten days. He took the ten days — and I was out not only my fare but also half a day’s wages I'd lost by appearing in court.
A lot of people seem to regard cab drivers with suspicion. They might not tab us all as being downright dishonest, but, on the other hand, they don't have us all figured as Rover Scouts, either. And there is the impression, too, that
every cab driver has two lucrative sidelines: bootleg liquor and cal! girls.
Sure, cab drivers sometimes cut corners, but most of them are honest family men who have to work hard to make a living and who. quite apart from any moral considerations, wouldn't risk jail and disgrace, as w-ell as loss of their livelihood, just to make a fast buck.
The fact that seventy-five percent of the cabs in Vancouver are owned by the men w'ho drive them helps keep the business clean. A cab, with the license and goodwill that go with it, is worth about ten thousand dollars. A conviction for, say, bootlegging can cost a man his license—and wipe him out.
The cab business in Vancouver is strictly regulated by the police, the license department, and the Vehicles for Hire Board. Even the number of cabs is limited, to three hundred and sixty-three. Oar meters are scaled and have to be checked by the city twice a year.
Every cab driver has to be fingerprinted and must hold a permit issued by the chief constable. The chief has wade discretionary powers in granting, refusing, or canceling a permit. As a rule one is issued only if the applicant has not been convicted of a criminal or serious traffic offense during the preceding five years. A conviction of either type will lose a driver his permit—and his job.
Now and then the police give a reformed criminal a break and grant him a permit. This happened last summer when the chief approved a man who, in 1950, robbed a Vancouver bank and, in making his getaway, kidnapped a taxi driver. He was caught and convicted chiefly on the evidence of an elderly woman. He got five years— and she got a reward. While he was in jail she befriended him and, on his release, took
him into her home. When she became ill he, in turn, looked after her. And he finally won his taxi permit on the strength of her character evidence.
At the cost of being disloyal to my sex, 1 have to admit I prefer driving men to women. You’d be surprised how' many women like to sit regally in the back seat and lord it over me as though I were their personal chauffeur. Men are usually more down-to-earth although some of them w'ant to play the big shot, too.
1 have one regular customer w'ho has me cruise around until we’ve run the meter up to four or five dollars before we call on his girl friend. It’s his way of impressing her. High on my hate parade is another kind of showoff: the fake tipper. To impress his friends, he fumbles in his pocket as though he’s searching for a tip. but he doesn't even come up with a piece of lint.
I'm not easily impressed by anyone. When Guy Mitchell, the singer, left my cab after a recent trip, he said, "Well, now you can tell the girls you've driven Guy Mitchell." "Yes," I snapped back, "and you can tell the boys you were driven by Jan Robinson." He slammed the car door and stomped off in anger.
I’ll bet that in any given period I cart around more drunks than the paddywagon does—and the worst of them are women. A woman scorned can’t be half so hard to handle as a woman sloshed. For one thing, her language is often fouler than any man’s. I once was lambasted writh a purse when I objected to a woman’s profanity. It happened at three in the morning, away in the sticks, and I retaliated by tossing her on the street and letting her walk home.
One drunk I’ll never forget was a man I drove late one night to his home in a
snooty residential district. On the way, he nibbled on a bottle of coke, spiked, I think, with rum. When we got there, he stood on the lawn and hurled the bottle through the picture window of his house. Why, I don’t know. The cops came and hauled him off for disturbing the peace.
My worst knock against women is their tendency to haggle over the fare.
Some even ask me to turn the meter off while they skip into a store to shop. What’s more, women are lousy tippers. So, for that matter, are the wealthy and well-to-do. The best tippers are working men — and, like all men. they'll tip a woman driver more than they would a man. Old people who are on social assistance and sometimes are provided with a cab. to go to a clinic or a doctor's
“Once, when a man belted his wife in my cab, B played a one-woman UN; she teed off on me”
office, invariably manage a small tip, perhaps a dime. I believe it's a way they have of preserving their dignity.
In my ten years of driving cab I've been given enough stuff to stock a small store, sometimes by people who couldn’t pay their fare, hut often by travelers from abroad who send me gifts when they return home. One man paid his fare with a radio and two frayed shirts, a woman gave me a sixty-five-dollar watch for a two-dollar ride, and an old-age pensioner paid me with empty beer bottles. Last summer I drove some Australians who promised to ship me a kangaroo — a live kangaroo — when they got home. Even if ¡I arrives 1 won't top one driver I know who mentioned to a passenger that he was interested in Hying — and was given a small plane.
My cab is frequently the battleground for the war of the sexes. I’ve learned never to butt in. Once, when a man belted his wife. I did try to act like a one-woman UN—and who do you think teed oil on me? T he wife.
Once a man jumped into my cab and barked, “Follow that cab!" It was just like the movies. He explained that his wife and the Other Man were in the taxi ahead. I kept on the tail of that cab until it finally stopped. The Other Man got out, strode back to my car, opened the door, hauled my passenger out. walloped him. and told me to beat it. I did.
In the cab driver’s box of crackajack are three prizes he hopes he’ll never draw: the route-planner, the woman
who's racing the stork, and the man who’s on the verge of missing his plane or train.
The route-planner is that skeptic who directs the driver block by block and all but says, “Don’t take me on any merry-
go-round, Mac. I’m wise to that racket.” Hardly ever is this bird the homing pigeon he thinks he is. Usually his sense of direction is appalling.
I don’t want to go on record against Motherhood and I have no statistics to back this up. but it does seem to me that too many children are being born in taxicabs. One of the most nerve-shattering experiences I've ever had came when 1 rushed a woman in labor to hospital. It was a nip-and-tuck race but we won in a photo-finish. After it was over I slumped in my seat, lit a cigarette, and I didn’t even care that I hadn’t collected my fare.
No cab driver minds hurrying to help a man catch a plane or train, but we do resent the guy who, just because he’s late, expects us to make like Stirling Moss—and the tickets be damned. Early in my career I landed a passenger who promised to pay any fines if I got him to the airport in time to catch his plane. I made it hut on the way I picked up a twenty-five-dollar speeding ticket. He refused to pay — “That’s too high a fine for speeding,” he said — and, instead, gave me my fare and five dollars.
Over the years I’ve collected my share of tickets, including one for an offense that i. the prosecutor, and the magistrate had never heard of. I got it for smoking while driving a passenger, a violation of the Vancouver taxi bylaw. The magistrate. after determining there was such an offense, fined me a dollar.
The story of my illicit smoke, and my picture, appeared on the front page of the next day’s Vancouver Sun, which prompted a passenger to tip me a dollar and say, "I hope you’ll go straight from now on.”
I will, if