The life and times of a subburban cab driver

In August of 2010 I returned from a three year stay in Japan.  Since I wasn’t planning on returning to the country for a long time, I decided the smart thing to do was to spend the remainder of my savings of random shit.  I only partially regret this, but as a result, I came home broke as a joke.  Oh sure, I knew that people had told me that the job market was shit in America but what did they know anyways?

Apparently a lot…  First thing I did when I got home was move straight back into my boyhood home.  The only plus to this aside from being free rent, was that no one lives in it anymore so I could delude myself into thinking that I am not dependent on anyone.  I looked pretty desperately for a job when I got home.  I didn’t have a car, so I had to borrow one of my grandparent’s cars which I still drive to this day.  I would go to the library to use their internet since I didn’t couldn’t afford it.  I searched craigslist only at first but slowly broadened my searches.  I wanted to do something that was at least different from what I had done before since I figured any job I found would only be temporary (temporary turned out to be several months.  Still don’t have a real job…).  So I really only inquired to a taxi job in a ritsy suburban neighborhood in passing.  Turns out, apparently that’s all a degree will get you now a days because that was the only job that contacted me back.

I talked to the owner and set up and interview at his house, went the next day and bam.  I got into the cab driving industry.  Cab driving in the suburbs is much different than driving in a big urban city.  For one, its much much safer.  Two, its much much slower.  Most of your time is spent either driving around looking for people or sitting in a parking lot waiting for a train.  You can’t go into the city to pick up people, or other towns for that matter because you register your car for your area.  City cab drivers don’t have a problem with finding fares.  I drove through the city a couple of times after dropping people off there and I was constantly being hailed by other people.  I’ve heard stories that a lot of the full time cab workers can make six figures if they put the time in.  That isn’t so much the case as a suburb driver.  So on weekdays, your main income is dispatched airport runs.  That’s one thing that I need to make clear to  people that don’t know.  When you get into a taxi, you aren’t paying a taxi company, you are paying the driver.  A driver just rents a car from a company, or buys a car from a company.  A taxi company like American Taxi gets all its money from taxi drivers paying leases (mine was 400 bucks a week which is pretty average) on their cars.  The taxi driver is actually independently employed so all the fare money goes to them.  This might have you thinking. “Oh then I guess I don’t have to tip as much since all the money goes to them”  Wrong.  Let me say first, I wish tipping wasn’t necessary in America but it is.  There were days where I might have ONE ride to the airport and that was it.  A local airport run was about 42 dollars so tips were important to me.  I might have been sitting around for 10 hours just to get that one ride.

That was really one of my biggest problems with driving a taxi.  It was always hit or miss. You might have good weeks where you made decent money, but it could easily be followed by weeks where you made almost nothing.  This was particularly true when winter rolled around.  What didn’t change was the hours.  I was easily doing 70 hours a week working as a taxi driver.  One week I only had 300 dollars profit to show for it.  That was the same week I got my one and only speeding ticket.  It is heartbreaking as a taxi driver to get a speeding ticket because usually you are speeding for a reason.  You get hit with a big fine, plus you have to deal with a customer that is more than likely pissed at you.  Being a taxi driver really cuts into your social life.  You can’t take off Friday and Saturday nights because that’s when you will make the bulk of your money.

The other thing that really got to me in the end was my other main clientele.  The suburb I worked in (Naperville, IL) is kind of a college town.  Thus, every weekend I had the joy of driving obnoxious drunk assholes to and from bars.  This could be entertaining and in most cases it was.  I would say that the majority of the drunks I drove weren’t all that bad.  It was that small minority though that ruined everything, because inevitably I would have some angry drunk or rude drunk or sick drunk, every week.  It was like Russian roulette.

Ok so I have painted a terrible picture of taxi driving but it did have its… perks.  For one, if you are younger and just kinda good looking, you will have chicks hit on you regularly.  My first week I had milfy chicks making passes at me.  Actually my very first day, while I was training, I had these two young chicks invite me up to their hotel room to drink and smoke weed.  If I weren’t a faithful man, and I wasn’t training, with another cab driver, I would have totally done it.  Drinking at least.  That wasn’t the last time that would happen to me.  With hotter chicks even.  This happened to me semi-regularly and I am average looking at best.  If you like da ladies, I highly recommend taxi driving just for this reason alone.

As a taxi driver, you also get to see all walks of life and make connections with a wide variety of people.  I have lived around this area for a long time and I had no idea how much poverty, and drug use was going on all around me.  I saw people at their lowest and people at their highest.  There was one night, I noticed a young girl that had been waiting at the train station for what seemed like hours.  She walked up to me and my boss and asked us if one of us could take her to the police station because she had no where to go.  Her friend was supposed to come pick her up but never showed up and she couldn’t get a hold of him.  I said I would take her the police station lobby had closed.  So I offered her my house for the night.  Eventually she ended up finding a friend to come get her but I spent a long time with her.  It turned out she was pregnant with her second kid, although she was single and her mother had adopted her previous kid.  She told me a lot about her life.  She was a type of person that, until that point, I had had no interaction with.  It was fascinating how people will open up to you even though they barely know you.  Maybe it was because their lives were kinda in my hands.  If you just get the ball rolling, a lot of people are more than willing to talk to you.  That was another thing that I picked up from this job.  I really got to know people.  Maybe its just because you are locked in a small space with one person at a time, but you really get to learn how people tick.  You can see things that maybe you wouldn’t normally.

Speaking of interesting people, career cab drivers are really interesting people.  Not always in a good way.  Cab driving obviously doesn’t attract the best and brightest, but don’t write off your cab driver just yet.  Some of the cab drivers that I met actually were pretty damn intelligent, but because of either their destructive personalities or vices they couldn’t hold down a normal job.  Many cab drivers have substance abuse problems, at least the American ones do.  Usually its drinking or gambling that does in most of them.  I don’t know how many times I heard guys talking about how they didn’t have any money but I knew for a fact that they were making way more than me.  They just couldn’t keep it.  Some cab drivers were dangerous types.  I don’t know what it is but a lot of potentially schizophrenic guys are attracted to driving cabs.  Maybe its because they can be their own boss and work their own hours.  These kind of guys are the ones you need to watch out for when you are working as a cab driver.  They always suspect that you are going to stab them in the back so they will try to stab you in the back before that can happen.  There were at least two guys I can remember that honestly thought everyone was out to get them. Then we had our resident homeless taxi driver.  He lived in his leased taxi and the taxi companies would just pass him around because he was constantly getting fired.  It isn’t totally uncommon to find taxi drivers living in motels or their cabs.  All and all though, most taxi drivers were pretty friendly.  Even the schizos were friendly if you were polite and unimposing.  We would usually all stand next to our cars at the train station taxi line and shoot the shit.  They may not have been good role models, but they had interesting stories to tell.

So being a cab driver has its pluses and its minuses.  If you are an adventurous person who likes to meet all sorts of people and you don’t mind incredibly long hours and working nights, you should definitely give taxi driving a try.  I can almost assure you that if you live by a decently populated suburb that has a downtown strip with any night life, there will be local taxi companies that will hire you.  These companies are constantly looking for people since the turn over is so high.  They aren’t picky.  It’s best if you are at least 25 because they need to pay higher insurance on you if you are too young and they will most likely make you pay this difference.  Try to work for local companies and not chains because you will usually receive significantly better treatment.  I didn’t have my taxi license till about my last week of actually driving a taxi, so don’t let that discourage you.  Most of the taxi drivers out there, unless they are regulars, don’t have their licenses either!  Like I said, your main income comes from airport runs and drunks.  You need to put in long hours to make the dough.  If you are aggressive you can get way more business from those drunks than I did.  I kinda avoided them till the weekends which probably wasn’t helping my income.  It’s all about being at the right place at the right time.  There is a reason the taxi drivers called picking up random people from bars “fishing”.  I really think more young people ought to try this job just because they have way more potential to have fun.  HAPPY DRIVING!

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