Have you ever been in a cab where the driver doesn’t know where he’s going in a locale he’s lived in for eleven years?Despite what you may think, it’s possible depending on who is driving the cab. I arrived in Panama City Florida on a day when the plans to be picked up by a local cab service had been made long before.
“Spear’s the name,” I told the dispatcher, who told me that he, the owner of the company, would pick me up at the airport on time with a sign held high so I’d know it was he. My arrival in Panama Beach, Florida was on time, and just as planned the cabbie was waiting for me in the luggage claims central and we looked for my very common place suitcase together. The driver arrived before I left the back of the plane where I sat and when I made it to the bottom of the stairs; he happily called out “Rick’s my name,” with obvious confidence.
His badge, vetted by the police force of the town looked legitimate. That response to my need should have squelched my concerns, since most of the time, when I travel, I tend to worry that my luggage will not arrive on the same plane as I. It’s happened before…What should have stirred me up was that when I recognized my bag, I asked him to reach for it as it began to glide hastily down the carousel and yet he watched it pass him by. My best move that day was to reach across him and grab the suitcase before it went around the bend. Why did he stand there and watch it go by? I wasn’t looking for reasons; I just wanted to get to my location.
So I gave him the address that he already had and he told me to look forward to a smooth ride in a luxurious town car. Sounded good to me after a long, crowded plane ride.What I saw when we reached the parking lot was a jalopy that was still labeled a town car, but had seen too many years of dry hard scrabble roads attached to it. I should have known when I first spotted him holding my name up above his head and my simple last name which had been given to him was spelled wrong. He smiled as he spotted me—the last to debark because I was in the back of the plane—and I noted that there were no teeth on the back of either side of his mouth. There weren’t that many in the front either to make his pock marked face any more attractive. Nonetheless, he was there for me to take me to the location of choice. He had the address, I did not. He checked it out and I wondered how his teeth and their lack thereof got so bad. “Wannered if ya missed yur plane, Missy” he said to me as I met him.
“Nope. Just sitting in the back and there’s no way to be close to the exit that way.”Being from the north, I was a kind of shocked by his demeanor. He had obviously been born in the Deep South, but lacked that characteristic southern charm. This man needed a bath, soap razor and a tooth brush to handle the remaining few teeth in his disparate grin. I didn’t sit close enough to him to be aware of a malodorous smell.
Before we pulled out of the airport parking lot, he asked me to sit in the front with him to keep him company. Why? After hours on the plane, making small talk with the stranger who sat next to me, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But what do you say to a cabbie who promises you the absolute comfort of “his world?” I uneasily said yes.As we drove in the direction of the house in which I was to stay, the driver checked his notes, but asked ME if we were going in the right direction. Around the same juncture, he mentioned that he had lived in the area for over eleven years and wasn’t sure of where to find the house.
That’s when my stomach reached my throat in fear. I asked to take a look at his notes and try to make sense of where he was aiming. Trouble was, I couldn’t make sense of his writing. A plane flew over head. He grumbled that he didn’t know how something so heavy as an airplane could fly faster than a bird.Now I really felt nervous. Being a New Yorker, where people from all over the world know how to get to places, even if they don’t speak proper English made this poor guy seem developmentally disabled…and maybe he was. I remembered that he lived here for eleven years. How could he not know the thirty square miles in which my locale was to be found? Maybe he hadn’t been a cabbie for the whole eleven years. Maybe his police badge was a counterfeit.Then, I got a tourist tale of how many places he had lived beforehand, in his fifty-five years. Seems as though this lone bird, that could not fly in any place he lives had been from coast to coast with no family and apparently no relations. Why did he need to tell me all of this? The sun was setting and I decided to call my friend to get exact directions.
As I tried to evenly explain the fix I was in without disgracing my driver, I convinced her to get on the cell phone and tell him where to drop me off. I could tell that she was outraged by the situation, since she had personally arranged for this pickup by the owner of the cab company and her request was not met. Suffice to say that my ride, which should not have taken more than 20 minutes, took well over an hour and a half. Despite my friends concrete directions, the cabbie continually got lost and we made at least two or three more calls to my friend. By the time we got to the house, I was worn out and shaken. Four hours on the plane and then the back road tour of Panama City, Florida fraught with lakes full of crocodiles put me in a state of terror.
I paid the man his fee and tipped him well, but he never offered to help me with my luggage up the long set of front stairs that faced me there! I think he knew he’d get into trouble with his boss because as I learned, my friend with whom I was staying had already called the dispatcher and lodged her complaint about this screw up.I told my friend that I hadn’t wanted her to complain about the cabbie because I really did think he was simply a slow learner and no one should be blamed for that, but she said that she didn’t think his boss was a slow learner and from her point of view, in this situation, confrontation was key.Sad to think of the reaming out this developmentally disabled fellow would get from his boss, but knowing full well that the boss should have been there as promised.
Clearly, I didn’t call this company back to book my ride home. But therein lay the next problem….who could I trust to get me to the airport on time when I was ready to return? The only thing I could do was to check out Taxi services on the Internet to see who was rated well. But then, who does the rating?
Reluctantly, I chose one…the one who seemed to have the widest net of customers. Was this the way to do it? Would these people be any more reliable? The day before my scheduled return, I called the chosen service and found that the dispatcher named Gerald was pleasant, self-assured and willing to be my driver, as he told me he knew exactly where I was staying and where I was going. Clearly, this was more confidence building than the thought of roaming the northwest part of Florida panhandle all over again. And true to his word, the cabbie called the next morning just before he was ready to pick me up to tell me he was on his way. Packed, and ready to go, the cabbie pulled up on the stroke of 10 am. I was impressed. My friends helped me stow the suitcase while the cabbie opened the trunk, and I was on my way with confidence and satisfaction. This trip appeared to be going to be far better than the last, I told myself. Casually, I watched the flatland of North Florida pass before me as before, but this time,
Gerald the driver only told me part of his life story, and I got to sit in the back seat. We pulled up to the airport and Gerald deftly helped me out with my suitcase and I walked into the airport knowing that any fear I might have would be unjustified.That was until I walked up to the counter to get my boarding pass. The attendant looked at me in horror as she said, “You’re at the wrong airport, Ma’am.”What? Gerald didn’t drop me at the right airport? Fear flew down my inner core as I listened to the woman at the counter tell me how much more it would cost me to either call the cabbie to take me back to the right airport, or to fly out of the current one. Those that know me understand that I don’t lose my temper very often, but I do know how to communicate to make my point of view very clear.
Fortunately, I was able to explain how sorry Delta would be if they didn’t let me fly out of this airport to my connector flight in Atlanta, as I was a journalist who would make this foul up all their problem and it would be broadcast over the ‘net in hours. Without being willing to risk that effect, they Delta attendants gave me a boarding pass for what was a later flight, that ended up sitting on the tarmac too long to take off, for an additional forty five minutes and making me late enough to miss my plane home from Atlanta to New York. And it all started with Rick on the first day and Gerald on the last. In between was Nirvana.
When I arrived at Atlanta, there were no more cabbies to deal with. My husband was alerted to my later flight plan and I got home as exhausted as I did the first day, despite there were squalling babies on all flights.I’ve been in dozens of cabs throughout my life, and the ones in New York know their way around and know not to make conversation with us. And they never ask you to sit up front with them unless the cab is full.
As many complaints as I may have about New York City, cabbies, traffic in general, noise, smells and general effronteries, I don’t plan to hire a cab in Florida again. I’ll rent a car instead!