The recent story of a Vancouver man who got taken on an unnecessarily lengthy taxi ride around his hometown got my attention because I have some experience riding in cabs, and, in fact, in this era of “ride sharing” services like Uber and Lyft, I can think of a few reasons I’d rather take a taxi, including being able to pay in cash and not having to download yet another stupid app to my phone, and there are a lot of decent hardworking cab drivers out there just trying to make a living. Anyway the Vancouver story is that a local guy told a cab driver he was a tourist from Wisconsin and what should have been a ten minute ride turned into forty-five minutes. The interesting thing is the cab company is suggesting it might not have happened. Being a company, and also Canadian, they’re very polite about it, with a Yellow Cab spokesperson noting that “that drivers want to take the correct and shortest routes, especially on busy nights.” And yet I know it happens, and it baffles me. Clearly there are arcane aspects to driving a taxi that I’m unfamiliar with because I can’t imagine how taking the time to fleece would-be tourists would benefit any cab driver, especially now with the prevalence of GPS tracking and route maps available to anyone with a smartphone, even without having to download yet another stupid app.
It also got me thinking about my time as a college student in Evansville, Indiana. Very few of my friends had cars, and the ones who did rarely wanted to lose their campus parking spots which were small in number, not to mention small in size and difficult to get into and out of, so most of the time when we wanted to go somewhere that was more than walking distance we took the bus. Or occasionally we splurged on a cab. And every cab ride was the same amount: five bucks. There were two malls in Evansville at the time. If we wanted to go to the Eastland Mall it was five bucks. If we wanted to go to Washington Square Mall it was five bucks. If we wanted to go downtown it was five bucks. Getting back from downtown was five bucks. All the cabs had meters than ran as we went along, but the price always came out to be the same.
At the time I thought this was just a funny coincidence, but, looking back, I realize how much sense it makes. Evansville is a small town. The two malls, and downtown for that matter, were all pretty much the same distance from the university campus.
Once when some friends and I got into a cab the driver asked where we were from. We were from all over, but when I said Nashville he perked up.
“I’ve been to Nashville,” he said, “lots of times.” At first I thought he meant Nashville, Indiana, which is a mistake only Hoosiers make–everywhere else in the world when I tell people I’m from Nashville they immediately say “You must be a country music fan!” and I don’t have the heart to tell ‘em I’m not, but that’s another story.
The cab driver did mean Nashville, Tennessee, though, and he told us that a wealthy Evansville widow used to pay him fifteen hundred dollars to drive her down to Nashville. He’d then idle along while she walked down the sidewalk going into one bar after another, getting steadily drunker. Then when she could barely stand up she’d get back in the cab and by the time he drove her home she’d be sober again, or at least sober enough to get into her house.
He hadn’t finished his story by the time we got to the mall where we were going but we all sat and listened to him until he was done, and it only cost us five bucks.