I consider taxis a necessary evil. They take me where public transportation doesn't go, sometimes more quickly than a bus. Often a taxi is the only transportation from an airport to a hotel, especially in a foreign country. Language barriers, greed and cynicism, however, have often combined to make the experience unpleasant; I have been cheated out of money or taken to a different hotel from the one I asked for, usually owned by the driver's cousin or other relative. In Singapore, a taxi driver left me in a place far from where I asked him to go because he couldn’t figure out how to find the address; I didn't speak the language and had no idea where I was. In New York City, one time, my taxi driver deliberately bumped and dented the fender of a car in front to get him to move. After listening to the drivers yell at each other for ten minutes, I got out and walked to the nearest subway. I left enough money on the driver’s seat to cover the fare on the meter; I still wonder how long it took for him to realize I was gone. I expected it to be different in my home town, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There aren't many taxi cab companies here, and in such a small city, it would seem like competition would drive the quality of service (pardon the pun). Not so.
The train was due to leave at 11:30 a.m., so at 9:00 a.m. I called Yellow Cab of Lancaster and arranged to be picked up in front of my house at 10:30 a.m. This would give me plenty of time to get to the station, get my ticket, and find the right track, while allowing a little leeway if the taxi was a few minutes late. “A taxi will be there,” the dispatcher said after taking my address. “No problem.”
At 10:40 a.m. there was still no taxi. I called again and asked where my taxi was. “I’m sorry, we’re very busy,” the dispatcher said. “Someone is on the way right now.” I waited. At 10:50 a.m., I called again. “A taxi is on the way. The driver didn’t call you? It will be there soon. It’s very close. I can’t make the distance any shorter.” I got crankier. Finally, a few minutes before 11:00 a.m., the taxi pulled up. I was furious.
“You were supposed to pick me up at 10:30,” I said to her.
“I’m sorry,” the driver said as she got out of the car. She looked like she was in her early forties. She was wearing faded jeans and a plain, white t-shirt. Her thin arms were covered with dark blue tattoos, vivid against her pale skin. “Dispatch didn’t tell me we had a pick-up. I came as soon as I could get here.” She picked up my suitcase. “Let me put this in the trunk.” She was short and thin, and it felt wrong watching her struggle with the suitcase.
“I can do that,” I said, reaching for it.
“I’ve got it,” she said. She searched for the latch on the trunk. “First I have to figure out how to open it,” she said. She struggled with the latch for several minutes while I looked on in disbelief. It finally popped open, and she heaved the suitcase in; I got in the back of the taxi, knocking my head on the top of the door frame as I climbed in, and we drove away.
“ ' You okay?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, pressing my hand against the side of my head. It hurt. “But I’m worried now that I’m going to be late. I called two hours ago and made an appointment to be picked up. What happened?” That probably sounds more polite in writing than it did when I said it.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get there in time. I promise. The ticket counter’s right as you go in, so you should be able to get your ticket fast.”
“I hope so,” I said. I was thinking, “Yeah, right.”
“I’m really sorry for the wait,” she said. “Dispatch does this to us all the time. They forget to write down a pick-up, and then we’re the ones who have to deal with the angry customers. If it makes you feel better, I’m having a bad day today, too. My husband left me this morning, and I got a $200 speeding ticket.”
I sat in silence for a minute. “I don’t know what to say to that,” I said. I thought, “What the hell? Is that supposed to make me feel better or just guilty for being mad?”
She looked at me in the rear-view mirror for a few seconds. “And my son dropped my iPad and broke the glass on the front.” She reached over to the passenger seat and picked up the iPad to show me. The front glass was, indeed, covered with cracks and nicks in the glass. “I told my husband not to give it to him, but, of course, he doesn’t listen. That’s something else I get to thank him for.”
“Do you have a warranty or insurance on it?”
“No. I didn’t have the extra money. Now I’m going to have pay for another one. He’s gone and doesn’t have to deal with it.” She tossed the iPad back onto the passenger seat. I looked out the window to see how close we were to the train station. “Where are you taking the train to?”
“I love Atlantic City! I like to go and play Baccarat. The house doesn’t have the advantage the way it does in Black Jack. Last Mother’s Day I treated myself to a hotel room there. I stayed in the room the whole time; I just enjoyed being by myself.”
“There are cheaper places to go to do that,” I said, immediately regretting it. Tact isn’t one of my skill sets. She just looked at me in the rear view mirror. “I had a good time,” she said.
I tried to change the subject and explained that I was visiting my family in a town near Atlantic City and grew up on that island. “We locals tend to ignore Atlantic City. It’s crowded and unpleasant.” She nodded her head.
“I lived on Hawaii for awhile. We ignored the tourist sites, too.”
“Why did you leave Hawaii?” I asked. It just seemed odd someone would leave Hawaii to live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, though I’m sure I must know people who swear this place is the most wonderful home in the world.
“I had no choice,” she said. “I did everything I could to not get on that plane. I even told them I had a bomb in my bag, but they still made me get on the plane.” She didn’t say who ‘they’ were; I assumed she was joking though she wasn’t smiling. “My husband got everything after the divorce, including our big house with a pool and a fountain, boat, everything.” I guessed this was a different husband from the one who left her this morning. “Here’s the train station,” she said. It was 11:10 a.m. “See, plenty of time to catch your train! I’m going to take off $5.00 from the fare for our screw-up,” she said, stopping the meter. “Hope you have a good trip.” She got out of the taxi, opened the trunk smoothly, and pulled out my suitcase, dropping it heavily onto the sidewalk next to the cab.
I hesitated. I was sure she was just manipulating me to tip her despite the long delay in getting me. I tipped her well anyway. I like a good story. I liked her chutzpah if it was all B.S., and if it was all true, well, then she deserved a break.
I had just enough time to get my ticket and a cup of coffee, then sit by the tracks for about five minutes, waiting for the train. It was on time with plenty of empty seats to choose from; I was on my way to a weekend at the beach with family, while retrieving my car. Life was good for me, at least.