5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You

Being a cabby is a carousel of surreal comedy, harsh life lessons, and unwelcome nudity.
5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You

Driving a cab probably doesn't strike you as being the most difficult job in the world, and certainly not the most interesting. Well, I drive a cab in a medium-sized town in the Pacific Northwest, and in my experience, being a cabby is a carousel of surreal comedy, harsh life lessons, and unwelcome nudity.

Yes, People Have Weird Sex in My Cab

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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One dark, rainy night (I'm not trying to be dramatic; this is Washington State we're talking about), I got a pickup call for a bar known for over-serving its customers, which is not that uncommon in this town. I pulled up and found a spectacularly drunk couple making out. After confirming that they were the folks I was there to chauffeur, I managed to corral them into the car. A few minutes later, I arrived at their address with the sounds of heavy petting coming from the back seat. When I asked for the fare, the husband leaned forward, put his hand on my arm, and said, "Hey man, do you wanna, like, go on break, come upstairs, and let me watch you fuck my wife?" You may recognize this as the type of question that immediately makes you start looking around for hidden cameras.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Then, when I asked about the tip, they giggled for five straight minutes.

After a stunned silence, I gave a fake laugh, hoping he would understand this to mean, "No thank you, now we'll play this off as a joke, and you may salvage what's left of your dignity." But he was still looking at me, waiting for an answer. I had to think of an excuse with Olympic speed, so I told him my wife (I'm not married) would kill me, and besides, I had to go pick my (imaginary) kid up from the babysitter (at 3 a.m., apparently). What the hell my wife was doing in this fiction that prevented her from retrieving our hypothetical child is beyond me. Thankfully, the guy didn't ask.

The point is, sex is a bigger part of taxi driving than you think. I'm frequently asked to take someone to a "rub and tug" parlor, and I can't count how many times a guy's had me drive him to a bikini barista stand just so his wife won't see his car there.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Pictured: a bikini barista stand. Welcome to Washington!

One of the weirdest experiences I've had was with one couple that got into my cab wearing trenchcoats and nothing else (as I would soon learn). They told me to get on the highway "and just drive" while they proceeded to do nature's work in the backseat. When they were done, they thanked me, because I'd facilitated an experience they'd always wanted to try.

I know people have their fetishes, but taxi cabs are apparently way more erotic than I ever could have anticipated. I have seen lots of tits (mostly aimed in my direction to get the fare forgiven, but sorry, I can't pay my rent with boobs), tons of guys getting blown, and far more handjobs than I care to remember. I've even had a few guys start jacking off for no apparent reason, which I guess also qualifies as a handjob. Taxi cabs are the bathhouses of the modern age. Either that, or I've been vastly underestimating my own raw, sexual magnetism for my entire life.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"I'm only crossing the street, but damn, look at his jawline."

We're Regularly Complicit in Crimes

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Do you like drug dealers and prostitutes? Well too bad -- or good news, I guess, depending on how you answered that question. You wind up driving a lot of them around, is what I'm saying. Some of the best days I've ever had financially have been when one of those fine servants of the community was in the back seat.

"How do you know they're drug dealers?" you might be asking. Well, I'll pick people up sometimes, and they'll tell me they need to make a few stops on the way home to "drop off some presents" in the middle of March. Unless they're really into celebrating St. Patrick's Day, or a bunch of their friends all have the same birthday, this is suspicious. Then, after walking into a house to drop off one of those alleged presents, they'll come out counting money. Since I doubt anyone is charging their loved ones for small bags of "rock candy," it doesn't exactly take an astrophysicist to figure out what's going on.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"I had no idea delivering cookies to orphans paid so well."

Sometimes they don't even try to hide it. Once, a guy in the back offered another passenger some cocaine, and when that passenger motioned towards me with a "hey, remember that guy exists" look, the dealer said something like, "Oh, don't worry about it, he's just a cab driver. He won't call the cops." And I wouldn't, because else could I do? Call the cops on my meal ticket, and make a potentially crazy person swear a blood vendetta against me?

Other times, I'll get a young woman in the back seat, and she'll have me drive her to a motel -- where she'll ask me to wait outside, with the meter running. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, she'll come out, and it's off to another motel, apartment, or house. After an hour of this, with her coming back out each time sweaty and disheveled (and, on more than one occasion, with a condom stuck to her coat), I start feeling like the most under-dressed pimp in history. At the end of the day, as long as it doesn't seem like anyone's getting hurt, I'm happy to drive anyone around as long as the meter's running.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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One day I might splurge for the pimp hat.

There are other odd jobs you find yourself doing that are more aboveboard. I once transported a woman to the hospital after she had a seizure, because she refused the ambulance ride (which would have been several hundred dollars, as compared to 20 bucks or so for the cab). When we got to the hospital, the woman told me that her husband was overseas and she was scared to be alone. She asked, "Would you be willing to leave the meter running and come in with me?" Needless to say, this isn't normally part of my cab-driverly duties, but the ER isn't exactly a comforting place, and she seemed a bit freaked out already. So she left her credit card info with me, and we went inside, and I spent the next three hours talking to her in the ER.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"You know, strangely enough, I haven't seen Taxi Driver."

You didn't think that story was going to end with us having sex, right?

We Can Charge People for Being an Asshole (and Sometimes, They Don't Mind)

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Some people have lots of pent-up anger, and feel like the best way to vent all that frustration is to harass the nearest living thing. Look, I get it. I'm in the service industry, where on the whole you get treated more like a Roomba than a person, so I developed a thick skin after only a few short weeks on the job. That said, there is a line clearly demarking the limit of shit that your cab driver is willing to take from you. But when you cross it, you won't necessarily get kicked out onto the curb. We might just charge you for it.

Once, a "gentleman" hopped into my back seat, told me where he was headed, and almost as soon as we got rolling, started with the insults. "Hurry the fuck up!" he shouted. "You can't drive for shit!" At this point I gave him a polite warning, but that only riled him up more, and he asked me if I was "some fuckin' Jew," because that apparently had something to do with our interaction.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"I'm not. But don't worry, all religions equally think you're an asshole. You've united us."

Now, the rates posted on the door say there is an additional $2.50 charge per passenger when more than two people get in, but the meter can't count who's in the cab. It's up to the driver to hit the "extra passenger" button -- or, as I sometimes call it, the "acting like an asshole" button. I gave the guy his warning, but once the antisemitism started, I pounded the "asshole" button like Matthew McConaughey playing bongos in a hotel lobby. It's easier to avoid getting pissed or offended when each slur makes you $2.50 richer. And he was throwing every shitty racist thing in the book my way, even when it didn't make any sense (for example, he called me a n****r, and I'm as white as a snow storm). He went on and on, and I kept pressing that button each time.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"No, please, I'd love to hear more about how single Muslim mothers are ruining America."

By the time we got to his trailer ten minutes later, he'd racked up an extra $25 -- that's one hateful insult per minute. However, to my honest amazement, he got out, handed over the full fare, plus the additional $25 asshole charge ... and a $10 tip. Wait, had I accidentally stumbled across a new fetish?

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You

Your Safety Comes out of My Paycheck

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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It probably won't surprise you to hear that most new cabs are actually used cars. The company simply paints them, installs the meter, lights, and lettering, and then puts them out on the road for 24 hours a day. But what might surprise you is that it's the driver's financial responsibility to make sure the cabs keep running, because we're usually leasing our cabs from the company. Since our profits are razor thin, your relative safety level in any given cab is directly related to how much your driver likes eating ramen in an unfurnished apartment.

The first cab I drove was a 2001 Crown Vic with over 500,000 miles on it, which is kind of like putting a saddle on an old refrigerator. The engine was tired, I could barely get up to highway speeds, and the transmission was slipping. In another cab I drove, the power steering box was all but falling apart, which resulted in loads of play in the steering wheel -- turning a corner at anything more than 5-10 mph was a hero's trial. Yet another car had brakes so worn out that the stopping distance on a dry road was about half a block.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Don't even get me started on the issues this one had.

Most of these problems are easy enough to fix if you have the time, but that's another problem: even if you have enough money to fix whatever is wrong with your cab, you still can't really do anything about it, since the owners don't want any cars off the road for more than an hour or so. So to cut costs, you learn to fix the problems yourself -- and to minimize down time, you learn to cut corners. I fixed the brakes on my cab in about 15 minutes in a Walmart parking lot, which isn't exactly the type of thing that's going to win you any safety awards.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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And to think I was going to spit that gum out.

I'm not saying that every cab you've gotten into is a death trap; cab companies in bigger cities have their own service departments. But if you're in a small town, it's possible that the only thing between a safe ride home and spinning wildly through an intersection like a roman candle glued to a hockey puck is how much time and money your cab driver was willing to spend making sure the tires are bolted on.

It's Not Hard to Keep Taxi Drivers Happy

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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Driving a cab can be a very stressful job. In fact, Business News Daily named it the #10 most stressful job in America, right up there with being policemen, firefighters, and soldiers. Just look at that movie Collateral.

Most of the stress comes from how we're treated by our passengers. Not everyone talks to us like the angry turbo racist from earlier, but I think a lot of people wind up offending their cab driver without even realizing it. Sometimes we work 12-hour shifts and bring home $21 in profit, so there are nights when we understandably have little patience for any bullshit, no matter how marginal. Luckily, it's super easy to be nice to cab drivers. Here's a quick rundown on how to keep your driver from snapping and turning into The Bone Collector:

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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"Oh look, that detour is taking us to the old abandoned slaughterhouse."

For one thing, it's insanely important that you don't keep us waiting after calling for a ride. We work our asses off to be on time to pick passengers up, but I can't tell you how many times I've shown up right on time and had to wait 15, 20, or 25 more minutes before the passenger finally came outside. I'm not getting paid for any of that time, and because I've been dispatched to collect that specific passenger, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it. I just have to sit there, wasting minutes that I could use earning money. Keeping us waiting outside is every bit as infuriating as being made late for work because you're on hold with Comcast, so give us a time when you know you'll be ready to leave. Please.

Also, let me know if you feel like puking. I'm not gonna be offended or laugh at you; I'll happily pull over and let you shout the contents of your stomach out all over the side of the road. If you try to hold it in and wind up puking in my car, it's going to suck for us both -- I have to charge you a $200 sanitation fee (sucks for you), and then I have to clean it up (sucks for me), because I can't do my job with a cab reeking of salty cheese.

5 Bizarre Things Taxi Drivers Know About You
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I can at least clean the outside of the car by speeding through a rainstorm.

Something most people don't think about when they're calling a cab is how far away the cab depot is from where they live. I often have to drive 25 miles to some backwater town to pick up a passenger, and I'm not getting paid for that part of the trip (even though I am expected to pay for the gas it takes to get out there). Sometimes I start my meter running on the way there. I'm not supposed to, but if I don't, I'm basically running a charity. It may seem shifty, but I have to pay rent.

This may seem obvious to some of you, but don't try to haggle over the fare. Where I live, the cab drivers are mostly friendly with each other, so while we're in between calls, we all tend to hang out in the parking lot of a local restaurant. While we're all hanging out, someone will occasionally come up between us and try to pull us into a bidding war over the privilege of driving them around to get the cheapest ride they can. Yeah, don't do that. All you're doing is making yourself into that weird kid on the playground whom nobody wants to talk to. If you really want some kind of break, simply act polite -- I've occasionally given discounts to people who went out of their way to make the ride pleasant. Don't count on every cab driver in the world to do that, but hey, acting like a decent person doesn't cost you anything. Might as well give it a shot.

For more insider perspectives, check out 5 Nightmares You Live Working for America's Worst Company. And then check out If Mundane Jobs Got the Indiana Jones Treatment.

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