In Praise of Taxi Drivers, In Spite of all the Harrowing, Horrible Trips I've Taken

It is a very strange, urban thing to get in a car with a stranger.

Image
Reuters

When you ask someone if they have a "cab story," chances are, if you're in an urban, taxi-taking environment, the answer will be yes, and will be followed by any number of harrowing tales—the time I was locked in and he tried to drive away when my credit card didn't work; the time I was taken to the wrong location and he left me there; the time the driver didn't know where Canal Street was; the time it smelled; the time he got pulled over by a cop; the time we were in a traffic accident; the time or times I couldn't get a ride to Brooklyn. But sometimes cab drivers are great! And when they are, they should probably get credit for their greatness. 

The New York Times' Matt Flegenheimer has written one of those uplifting stories that reminds city dwellers that all is not simply asphalt jungle out there. There are kind people roaming the streets in yellow cars, and they might pick you up and drive you home, if you just wave your hand. And, yeah, you should pay them, and maybe even commend them, too.

Flegenheimer explains that the commendations do come; even "in a land unrivaled in its capacity to appear unimpressed, taxi passengers in New York have something nice to say about their cabbies," who have, he reports, confronted assailants, returned diamond rings, taken care of passengers who've been mugged, and given good convo or advice. Thank technology for the ease at getting such after-the-fact comments to the city and to the driver. Flegenheimer points out that though “Yellow Taxi Complaint” gets prominent placement on New York City's 311 Web site (under "top services"), the spot for compliment-giving is harder to find. People have found it, though, or called 311 to proffer praise: "881 taxi compliments were filed, primarily on the Web site or on the 311 hot line, from the beginning of 2012 through last month." That's far fewer than the 22,000-plus complaints received in that time period, but if you consider the fact that people are more likely to go to the trouble to complain rather than to praise (see: Yelp), those numbers make sense and don't really denote good versus bad drivers in any accurate numerical fashion. Along with the compliment, and/or any additional gifts or money the praiser might give, each driver gets a letter from the taxi commission. Service matters, even in these fast-paced, often anonymous times.  

As for the good, from this writer's perspective: Cab drivers have waited at the door for me to get inside. Cab drivers have dispensed advice (asked for or not, wise or bad-but-repeatable as a good story). Cab drivers have fit in an extra person when we were over the number of people who should be in a cab, and delivered us to our destination. Cab drivers have returned lost phones. Cab drivers have endured occasionally unruly, drunken passengers (or so I've heard). Cab drivers have helped me when my luggage was heavy or cumbersome, and have gotten me to the airport on time, even when that seemed impossible. Cab drivers have told me where to get the best bagels in Manhattan. Most of all, somehow, cab drivers have always gotten me home. There are times when I'm sure the cab driver has been the most gracious person in the vehicle.

It is a very strange, urban thing to get in a car with a stranger and ask that person to take you somewhere for money. It goes against all we've been taught as children, really. But it exists and it is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Imagine having to do all that driving yourself (when you don't even have a car), or having to cope with yourself as a passenger. Give your cab driver a hug, or a tip, today.

Top image: New York City yellow taxi cabs pass by the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in Times Square, New York. (Zoran Milich/Reuters)

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic Wire, an Atlantic partner site.

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