Friday, February 13, 2009

Cash 'n' Carry

I just finished putting together my taxes for the year--never a pleasant task any year--but a rather eye-opening one this, my first year driving a taxi. Being paid in cash, and walking away from each shift with a thick, gambler's roll of dough in my pocket, I deluded myself into thinking that I was actually making good money. What a knucklehead!


Sure, many days I almost felt like a millionaire at the end of a shift with cash stuff in my socks (one of my rather lame systems of organization and anti-theft--what robber would possibly take the time to check my socks for money?) and my pockets. But, first off, all of the bills were all small, nothing bigger than a twenty. Second, by the time I gave the owner his cut (55 percent) and deducted the gas I paid to fill the car's tank (another $40 or $50 bucks), not to mention health insurance, time and money spent getting to and from work, and little things like snacks and bottled water over the course of the shift, the total amount dwindled by about two-thirds. Lastly, after factoring in the total time spent driving (12-hour shifts), I figured that, on an hourly basis, I earned less than most kids at Taco Bell.


Welcome to the real world, bucko.


But my naivete really showed itself when I walked into the owner's office a couple of weeks ago and asked if he did any kind of income reporting to the IRS for his drivers. His normally somnolent disposition, like a bull frog sunning himself on a rock, turned instantly to one of almost wide-eyed rage, like I had suddenly told him I was an undercover agent for the feds. "NO!," he shouted. "You report whatever you want. But..." he said, wagging his finger at me for emphasis, "don't go talking about this with the other drivers"--the implication being that not only did he not want to know if his drivers filed proper returns, but that he suspected many of them didn't.


"It's only a matter of time before they crack down on the cab industry," one veteran cabbie told me. "I mean, how many businesses are left that deal mostly in cash?"


He has a point. Having been through the unpleasant experience of an IRS audit once in my life, I'll play it safe and file.

Cash, and the lure of easy cash, make cabbies excellent targets for robbers and thieves. We are, in a world dominated by credit and debit cards, relatively rare. Though I haven't been robbed, just stiffed a couple of times, one driver I know has been. He was the unluckey recipient of a radio call one night to some address, only when he got there, he was jumped by three young hoodlums. They took his bankroll, his wallet, his cellphone and backpack, the keys to the car and ripped the hand mike out of the radio. Then, just for good measure, they slugged him, leaving him stranded on the streets. He was one of three cabbies from different companies robbed by the same gang in one night. When I asked the owner about it, he pretended not to know anything, which was total bs, because not only were all the drivers talking about it, but the police came by to search the company's dispatch records in order to find out from what number the call came in. We never learned if they caught the bastards, but to everyone's surprise, the driver showed up the next night for work as if nothing ever happened. Surprising because not from his standpoint, but that his wife even let him. Hell, I couldn't even tell mine about the incident or she'd never allow me to drive again.

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