I lived in NYC for almost 6 years. I did not own a car. Which meant when I wasn’t subwaying around town, I was cabbing it. Since I always promise there will be no math, let’s couch the calculations and just say the number of taxis I took in those 6 or so years rounded up to a lot.
I never had a problem with a cabbie. Not once. Not until I moved to DC.
One morning on my way to work, I decided to grab a cab instead of trekking to the Metro. I flagged down a car and hopped in. I told the driver when I needed to go, and he tore off in that direction. He was chewing on the end of a pen, but I didn’t find anything unusual in his demeanor or any indication that something was about to go horribly wrong.
As we drove down 17th street, the cab driver started to hiss.
“I am J Edgar Hoover. I am with the CIA,” he snarled. I thought maybe he was rehearsing for a play.
“I am with the CIA,” he continued. “I am with the FBI. I am J Edgar Hoover. You will respect the black man. Especially if he is EDUCATED.”
On “EDUCATED,” he snarls out the window towards no one in particular. A passerby stares at him in horror and at me in sympathy. I can’t tell if he’s yelling at me or just venting. I do realize he is not rehearsing for anything. He’s insane.
Then it gets worse. The cab driver starts to speed up and his voice gets louder. He starts yelling.
“Fuck you. Faggot. Faggot,” he screams out the window – again at no one in particular. At this point, I am on my blackberry emailing a friend at work. I give her details of what’s going on, plus the cabbie’s license number and whatever information I can compile about the cab from where I’m hunched down in the back seat. Last thing I want is him launching at me.
The vulgarities continue. He’s got one hand on the wheel and another on the pen. It’s now out of his mouth, and he’s waving it around, making stabbing motions with every obscenity. At each intersection, people stop and stare. I’m afraid to move. I’m terrified to stay put. But my convoluted logic in the moment goes something like this: He’s driving towards where I need to go. I can get close, tell him to stop, toss him exact change, and bail. That procedure will most likely be least upsetting, and at this moment, all I want to do is keep the mentally unstable man driving the car actually driving the car and not paying attention to me.
Hissing, screaming, cursing, he pulls up close to work and stops the car. I toss him the fare plus an extra dollar – yes, I tipped the man – and watched him drive off. Blackberry in hand, I furiously typed out all the info I could get from the car as it sped away. Color, company, number. Then I walked into work and crumbled in the lobby.
Tears started streaming down my face. I was shaking and crying. It was like my body was processing what just happened irrespective of my mind. I walked towards the elevator bank and ran into a coworker who noticed something was wrong.
As I retold the story, I started to feel better. I also started to get mad. I wanted this guy off the road now. No one should have to be that terrified. No one else should be subjected to that ridiculous feeling of helplessness. How was this man driving a car, let alone a car that picked up random people?
Teeny sidenote here: Some of my coworkers were incredibly understanding and compassionate that morning. Others bled their true colors. Very telling little saga all around.
Anyway, my first call was to the cab company.
Me: “Hi. Is this Empire cab?”
Me: “Hi. Um, I just got out of one of your cabs, and I think the driver was insane. He was screaming and cursing and yelling horrible words out the window at no one in particular.”
Dispatcher: “Yeah. So?”
Me: “Well, I think there is something seriously wrong with this man, and you should get him off the street immediately. He is sick or something.”
Dispatcher: “Oh. Well, I’ll call him and talk to him.”
Dispatcher: “I’ll call him and talk to him.”
Me: “No, sir. I don’t think you understand. This was not rational behavior. You can’t call him and talk to him. You need to get him off the street. Call the cops. He is going to keep going if someone doesn’t stop him now.”
Dispatcher: “Ok, I’ll call him and talk to him. Thank you.” He hangs up.
Furious, frustrated, and terrified for the next possible passenger, I wasn’t comfortable leaving it there. TV networks have security, and since our man in charge was THE man, I figured he’d know where to start. He did. JD called the cops who referred him to the Taxi and Limo Commission. I’ll save you the tedious details of being shifted around and put on hold, but it turns out the cab driver was wanted – wanted – by authorities. As told to me, he’d been driving around without a license for a while. When he’d get caught, he would skip off and join up with another company. He was – in fact – a public hazard.
So why couldn’t the commission nab him? Well that, my friends, is the $64,000 question. They asked – via JD – if I would fill out a complaint. I said I would but only anonymously. The man was insane. He knew where he picked me up and where he dropped me off. My job put me in the public eye. I was easily found. No way I was facing off in court. Plus, I gave a detailed description of the incident plus the cab company name and the car number. If he was truly driving without a license, no one needed me to get him off the road. Last I checked, the cops were just fine handlng that kind of apprehension without my assistance.
I never found out what happened once I turned in that report, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out it was a whole lot of nothing. On this end, I won’t get into an Empire cab. Ever. Let’s say it’s pouring rain in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, and the only cab in sight for miles is a royal blue taxi with white lettering. I opt to walk. No joke. I’m also extremely particular when I step into any cab in this city now. I have little things I look for. Not that you can smell crazy or see insane on first glance, but it puts my mind at ease a little to linger at the outset.
Of course, sometimes you can’t sniff out a crook. And that will set the stage for Part II.