Monday, March 23, 2009

Lucky Numbers

Every shift begins the same. I'm handed the waybill. The waybill is a record of the work for each night. Regulations require every cabbie to keep a waybill for every fare they carry. In this case, it's an envelope. Inside are the car keys. Outside is printed a grid on which each fare is documented: where and when, the number of passengers, the total fare. On the opposite side are lines summarizing the work: the cab number, the odometer reading at the beginning of the shift and the end of the shift, the meter reading at the beginning of the shift and the end of the shift, and the total tally. When I finish my shift, the dispatcher adds up the numbers, tells me what I owe the company (I keep 45 percent plus tips). The money is stuffed back into the envelope for the owner to count later and a new waybill is written up for the next driver.

I turn the waybill over to check the cab number. Cab 77. Dammit.

"Cab 77?," asks Steve, who is cashing out at the end of his shift. "That's a good cab; a good number."

Who is he kidding? Cab 77 is a piece of shit. All these cars are pieces of shit, second-hand police cruisers driven into the ground and sold at auction. The mechanics do their best to put them into shape--after all, they have to pass inspection--but the cars are dogs to begin with and Boston streets and traffic only beat them up more. Rare is a cab that doesn't have something wrong with it: doors or windows that don't quite shut, a broken defroster or a heater that won't turn off, wipers that merely smear the windshield. In most cases, the defects are minor annoyances. In some cases--such as bad brakes or stearing alignment--it's a real problem.

In Cab 77's case, the horn doesn't work, and in Boston, I'd rather drive on four flat tires than not have my car's horn. Not an hour goes by that some idiot on a cell phone doesn't start drifting into my lane, or hesitates pulling into the intersection when the light turns green. When someone does something moronic like that, there's nothing like laying on a long, angry burst of the horn to get even. Without it, I feel powerless and vulnerable. It's a stress reliever, and after 12 hours of driving Cab 77, I'm so cranked up and irritable that it takes a six-pack to calm me down.

So Steve's comment about 77 being a good cab just ticks me off. But Steve, like a lot of cabbies, is superstitious. He believes that providence, not dumb luck or perseverence, is the secret to success. He's played the same lottery number for years after winning $500 with it once; he begins every shift by playing the same cab stand, swearing that it's his "lucky stand," no matter the time of day or how many cabs are backed up on the stand; and he never, absolutely never, will stop for a street hail for someone wearing a green overcoat. Why? Perhaps it's because Steve is Haitian. Maybe it's cultural, and has something to do with all that voodoo stuff. Who knows? Maybe it's just Steve.

I tend to take a more practical view of the job. Just sit down in the seat and drive.


  1. I'm really enjoying your blog! Boston is my favorite city- hope to move there next year. I have always had good and interesting cab rides while there.

    I wonder if you can refuse a particular cab, as in the #77 you dread?

  2. You could, but you would earn the ire of the owner, who could later refuse to give you a cab, any cab, when you wanted to work.

  3. This is great stuff. My dad was a Boston taxi driver in the 1980s and told stories very similar to yours -- not just of events inside the cab but also of the management, mechanical issues, and fellow drivers. It's funny (or, maybe, not funny) how little they've changed. Thanks.

  4. the horn is an essential component of a taxicab. no doubt about that.