Sunday, May 10, 2015

When is a fare not really fair? A late night cab ride

David Tuffs (photo from DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser) 
In April of this year, the Chicago media outlet DNAInfo reported that David Tuffs had won the "2014 Taxicab Driver Excellence Award" and a free taxi medallion. The award was presented by Chicago's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Agency. The award is presented annually to a driver of a wheel chair accessible taxi.  Less than three percent of Chicago's Taxi Fleet is wheelchair accessible. On paper, that's a dismal percentage. If you are a wheelchair user trying to flag down a cab, the reality is even more dismal. It's most likely next to impossible to find an  accessible cab unless one is reserved prior to the trip.

I've ridden in a taxi with Tuffs just once before.  I don't use a wheelchair. It's typically fairly simple for me to flag down a cab.  But I wish I had scheduled a ride with Tuffs last month. On Sunday, April 26, I flew from Phoenix, Arizona, into Chicago's Midway Airport.  I was on my way back from a Little People of America event in Mesa.  My flight was a little late, arriving just past one in the morning.  Usually, I take public transportation home from the airport.  The Orange Line is only about a 25 minute trip.  Because the train stops running at 1 a.m., I needed to catch a cab.

Outside the terminal, there was a line of cabs waiting and there were no other customers.  I went to the first cab, the driver loaded my bag in the trunk, and I got in the back seat and told the driver where I wanted to go.  I don't know exactly, but I'm guessing it's seven to nine miles between the airport and where I live.  Before pulling away from the curb, the driver turned to me and asked if I would tell his dispatcher that my fare was only a short trip.  This happened to me before. Once, from O'Hare, I needed to go to a hotel within a mile of the airport.  Because the trip was short, after dropping me off, the driver was given permission to return to the front of the taxi line back at the airport.  "Tell the dispatcher you are not going very far," the driver asked me.

"Okay," I said. "I'll tell him that I'm going downtown."  From Midway, I live on the near side of downtown.

"No," the driver said. "Tell him that I am taking you to Archer and Pulaski, (an intersection not far from the airport).

Perhaps I should have done it. There may have been no harm.  I know taxi drivers have to work very hard to make a living.  If I had lied, and been found out, I'm sure no harm would come to me.  But I didn't feel comfortable.  It was late.  I just wanted to go home. I told the driver I wouldn't do it.

He wasn't happy.  I didn't want to make the driver mad.  "If you don't want to go downtown, that's fine," I said. "I'll get a ride from another driver."  That way, he could stay at the front of the line and wait for a better ride.

I don't remember exactly what he said, but he told me to stay in the cab.  In a few moments, the car lurched away from the curb and we sped out of the airport.  Because the streets were empty, and because the driver drove very fast, it was a quick trip. That was a good thing.  I didn't feel good in the backseat of the cab. I typically don't talk much to taxi drivers, but on the ride home from Midway Airport, the silence was very awkward and uncomfortable.

By the time we got to my neighborhood, I didn't want the driver to see where I lived. I hadn't given an address, just an intersection. I asked him to pull up to the corner opposite the building in which I live.  He stopped, rang up the fare, and popped the trunk with an automatic button.  I paid with a card, said thank you, and stepped out of the cab. Even though the trunk was open, I was a little worried he might drive away with my bag.  But he didn't. I grabbed my luggage, then looked at the open door of the trunk. It was out of my reach.  I approached the driver's window.  He looked at me but didn't roll down the window.

"I can't reach the trunk," I said.  He stared back a me.  The look on his face was either confusion, or "I don't care," or "get the fuck away my cab you cheap asshole."  I couldn't tell.  Whatever it was, I'm guessing he didn't want clarification because he still didn't role down the window.  Again, I tried to tell him that I couldn't close the door of his trunk.  What I said either still didn't register or was ignored. I stepped away from the cab and started across the street with my bag.  The driver turned away from me and pulled away from the curb, driving through the intersection. On my side of the street, I turned toward the cab, watching the open door of the trunk bounce up and down as the car sped deeper downtown.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Small Medium, at large

Yesterday, Sunday, April 26, I was in the Phoenix airport, checking the Southwest Airlines Departures Board. A woman walked up to me. She was middle-aged, probably five to ten years older than me. She started to talk to me. I don't remember exactly what she said. It was something like, "There is a midget....little person in Phoenix.  He is a psychic." Though she seemed to correct herself mid-sentence, as if she knew the word midget might be offensive, I interrupted her. 

"I don't like the word midget," I said. 

The woman stopped talking, registered what I said, and started to talk again. "There is a little person in Phoenix. He is a psychic.  He committed a crime."  At that point, I knew the woman hadn't approached to ask if I knew a little person from Phoenix.  

There are two little people jokes that get repeated more than any other I know. The first one always uses the m-word. The punchline is, "That's like getting the award for the world's tallest midget."  People use the joke as a tool to discredit the recipient of praise.  Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks Basketball Team, repeated the joke over Twitter, referring to Starbucks' Via Coffee being named the best instant coffee.  Matt Damon, during the interview on the Today Show, used the joke to disparage himself when the hosts announced that he had won an award, something like the "World's Sexiest Family Man." The actual meaning of the joke is troubling enough because it reveals an inherent bias against short stature. Throw in the m-word, the joke provokes tired exasperation. 

The second joke is the one the woman in the airport started to tell.  It involves a little person who is a psychic or an astrologer.  He or she is arrested, but manages to escape. The punchline is, ".....a small medium, at large." For some, a cute play on words. But if the joke includes the m-word, it only inspires more eye rolling. 

In the airport, I thought the woman was going to ask me about a real little person who lived in Phoenix.  I guessed she was going to ask if I knew the person. But it didn't take long for me to figure out that she had approached a stranger, who happened to be a dwarf, in the middle of an airport, in order to tell him a little person joke. Realizing she was leading up to the standard punchline, I stopped the woman a second time.

"I know this joke," I said. I used a monotone.  She paused, focused her eyes a bit more than they were already, gave a slight nod, then started in on the punchline. "A small...." she stopped, waiting for me to finish the joke.  I don't know if she stopped because she wanted me to prove I really knew the joke or to allow me to share in the joy of the punchline.  

In another monotone voice, I said "medium, at-large." She chimed in for the last bit. We said "at-large" in unison. 

With a somewhat satisfied look on her face, the woman squeezed my shoulder, said, "you are a good boy," then walked off.