Jimmy's hard to miss. A big, Boston-Irish guy, he stands more than six feet tall. His bald head is shaved so smooth that it shines like a peeled boiled egg. Usually he's wearing a big, mischievous grin--like he's pulled a fast one on you that you won't realize until after you've gotten home. I like Jimmy.
But right now, Jimmy's missing.
"Cab 175, where are you?"
The radios are a constant source of frustration. To hear anything you have to turn the volume way up, but the sound then is so distorted its nearly impossible to decipher what the dispatcher is saying. Buildings block the reception, so you'll be trying to answer a dispatch, trying to bid on a job, but the dispatcher won't hear you. I've lost a lot of work that way. When you're parked on a stand, you have to roll the car forward and back to find a spot where the reception is clear.
"Jeemy, answer da radio!"
But if you've got a long job to somewhere out in the 'burbs, transmissions will just be intermittent bursts of static. That's one reason we carry cellphones.
"Jeemy, you're not answering your phone. Turn on your phone!"
I just got on my shif, so I don't know how long this situation has been unfolding. But the dispatcher has an urgency in his voice that makes me think it's been going on a while.
"Jeemy, the other driver's waitin'. Gas it up and bring it in. NOW!"
A lot of drivers push it. They try to squeeze in one last airport run before the end of a shift, returning the car a half-hour late. It's not fair, and cheats the other driver, but some guys are like that. Jimmy, however, is now an hour late, and the dispatcher sounds frantic.
"Cab 175, Cab 175, Cab 175... Has anyone seen Cab 175? Jeemy, call in!"
I pull up alongside another driver and ask if he knows what's going on. He shrugs and shakes his head.
"Jeemy, call now if ya know what's good for ya."
The owner then takes the mike:
"Jimmy, c'mon. Call me and we'll talk about it. If not, I'll have to call in the cab as stolen."
I hear the dispatcher asking various cabbies when and where they last saw Cab 175. But the radio system is designed so that I only hear the dispatcher, so I don't know what the drivers said.
“Cab 175. You better bring it in, Jeemy. If ya don't I'm gonna have to make another call and believe me you're not gonna like it."
So Jimmy stole the cab? In what, a fit of anger, derangement? What is going on?
The owner's back on the radio. He's pleading, almost desperate.
"Jimmy, I'm trying to be reasonable. I don't want to call the police. I just want the cab back. Bring it in. We'll talk.
Another driver tells me this isn't the first time Jimmy has done this. The week before Jimmy left the car on a side-street. Took the waybill and the credit card machine and went home. He got ticked off or something and just left it there. Thing got towed and the owner had to pay $160 to get it back.
Why did he do that? I asked.
Dunno, the driver answers.
So why is Jimmy still driving?
Dunno, the driver says.
"Jeemy, I got a sergeant from the police department standing behind me. Bring it in now and MAYBE you won't face charges."
Jimmy never answered, never called in. Eventually, Cab 175 was spotted parked in front of a bar. The police found Jimmy inside, tanked to the gills. They took him away in handcuffs.
I asked the owner the next day what happened. Simple, he said, Jimmy stopped to get drunk. It was the same thing he did the week before.
After the first incident, Jimmy gave some sad story about his wife or his kid being sick, promised it would never happen again, and that he would turn in all his earnings from the next shift in compensation. The owner, who recently took over the business, took him at his word and gave him another shot.
The owner is new at the business. His family bought the company and over the past few months he's been learning the ropes.
Some lessons, especially in this business, can only be learned on the job.