We're rude. We're slovenly. We barely speak English, or if we do, we never shut up. We have no idea where we're going. That, or we intentionally take a roundabout route in order to jack up the fare and rip you off. We drive like maniacs, endangering both pedestrians and other motorists. The cars we drive are dirty and cramped. We are ubiquitous except, of course, when you really need us, when, like cockroaches after you turn on the kitchen light, we disappear all at once. Like sewer rats or street bums, we are a part of the city--a necessary evil, and one of the things people most like to complain about. We are Boston's cabbies.
There are 1825 licensed cabs in Boston, and some 7,000 drivers to drive them. As professions go, we rank somewhere between garbageman and a fast-food server, yet every day thousands of people entrust their lives to us. For the most part, we get them to where they are going unscathed. In return, we get a brief glimpse into their lives. That plus $2.80 per mile and, perhaps, a tip. These little anonymous exchanges are the grist for this space.
I'm a newbie at driving a cab. As with most my hack colleagues, driving a cab is not my life's ambition. If asked, I tell people that driving is my job; writing is my career. Unfortunately, writing doesn't pay the bills. That's where driving comes in.
So, how does one become a cabbie?
Other than a lack of marketable skills and a valid driver's license, not much.
In Boston, getting behind the wheel requires one to:
1: Go to the Boston Police Headquarters. There you will submit to a criminal record check, a driving record check and a drug test. You'll then be given brief interview before being sent to...
2: Taxi school, a 3 day course at Roxbury Community College. Here you'll learn the finer points of driving for-hire in Boston, as well as get some handy tips to make your new career more profitable. Such as: "Shower every day" and "do not mumble." After passing the test, you...
3: Get a job. This entails asking around among the local taxi fleets, which generally lease a car at a rate of $700 per week. The car is shared among two drivers, who work 12-hour shifts, either 4 am to 4 pm, or 4 pm to 4 am. I work for one of the few outfits that allow to work part-time, driving two or three shifts a week, and splitting the fares with the owner on a 55 percent to 45 percent basis (I get 45 percent of the fares plus tips).
Most of the real learning, of course, happens on the job. This includes getting to know your way around town, learning what cab stands or streets to play and when, maximizing your time, dealing with passengers as well as other drivers, and protecting oneself (although in some cases the plexiglass barrier in cabs seems more designed to protect passengers from the driver rather than the other way around).
Driving isn't for everybody. It takes a certain temperment. But I for one, find it relaxing. For one thing, it gets me out of the house. Writing is very solitary and mentally strenuous. Driving allows me to socialize a bit and is relatively mindless. How long will I do it? Who knows, but as long as I do, I hope to keep up this space.