Driving a cab in South Central
I got laid off my job as an apprentice pipe fitter. I was working in Castaic. This was past Magic Mountain and College of the Canyons. Up around that way. I was doing erosion control along the Castaic River. I didn't mind getting laid off as I hated this job with a passion.
The union didn't have anything else for me, and rather than wait around I decided to become a cab driver. I saw an ad in the paper for Yellow Cab in LA.
They had a cabbie school. They explained the rules and regulations and the ins and outs; how to be safe, this kind of thing. They told you that if someone want's the cab -- give it to them. It isn't worth your life. They explained how airport days worked and the airport day was a weekly chance to make three or four hundred dollars.
The big thing to learn was how to read and use a Thomas Guide map book. Which I already knew how from using the guides when I was driving around serving papers.
Cab school was a week long and then we went to the Department of Transport and took the test. I passed.
The cab company gave you a break to get you started. I think the lease was 68 bucks a day for the first two weeks and then it went up to 88. You are not expected to make any money at first. Until you learn the ropes. Sounds like fun right? Do you enjoy driving? But driving a taxi is a hard dollar.
I was living in Tarzana, in the Valley, but Yellow Cab wasn't licensed for the Valley. I could pick up there if I got a phone call but I couldn't take passengers off the street.
The instructor said that they had a chronic shortage of drivers in South Central. Well, the streets are like grid work, and I decided okay I would work that area. New drivers couldn't work there at night. You needed six months for that because it is a danger zone.
Okay. The lease is 68 bucks. For 24 hours. After you are established, after six months you can share a cab. That way you don't have down time. You're splitting the lease with another driver.
Gas; gas then, was like twenty bucks over a twelve hour period. Essentially the first eight hours is all them before you even start to make money except on airport days.
I'm driving around South Central. All black folks. The area is deceptive. It's not a slum; it's these little bungalows and houses and neat little yards. There is all this gang stuff there, though. I don't even have to explain this. Just the name: South Central.
I drove around there for three days. I was making my lease and gas money and a little bit more, which wasn't too bad. Because I'm running into the other guys, I went to school with, running into them at the depot and they ain't making it.
I drove a big Crown Victoria. That's what these were; Chevy’s, Fords, ex-police cars. Once they were rolling it you stepped on the gas the acceleration would snap your head back. They were very powerful cars. The cars had sophisticated onboard computers. And you could talk through a radio as well. But the computer was the main thing. It would offer you a call. You check the zone. If you accepted the call, you had 15 minutes to get there. The computer says Happy trails.
If you were late, they would send you messages. Where are you??
So...pressure. I took a call once, and I was half lost and decided to make a U-turn real quick. And I did. Right through a crosswalk and there was a lady with a stroller with an infant and all these people screaming, "Look out! He's crazy!" All black people. I felt like Adolf Hitler and I ducked down in my seat and drove out of there in a hurry.
I cut some black guy off, and he was mad, a young man. "Don't you watch where you are driving?" I apologized. I didn't argue. My passenger said I did the right thing. The guy might have had a gun. Who knows?
On the fourth day, I got up early and headed to Hawthorne. I wanted to get started early.
It was about seven am. I'm coming up on an intersection, on a stale yellow light. Just then the light on my computer starts flashing. I’ve got a message coming through.
I decide to blow through and I T - bone a brown Hyundai. When the dust settles, I'm off to the side of the road and the car I hit also settled on the side of the road. A black lady comes over to my window and says: "You gonna pay! You gonna pay! You gonna pay!" I was agreeing with her, I'm nodding my head,"Yeah, we're gonna pay!" She showed me her license: 5'6" and 250 lbs; this woman was a school bus driver. She drove a brand new Hyundai. A school bus came by, and a black woman leans out, "I saw it! It was his fault!"
I was apologizing to this lady. The woman I hit. Her car was smashed, and my car had a slight dent in the front bumper.
When the inspector for the cab company came, he told me that I should not admit to any wrongdoing. He had just come from a wreck. A driver, who went too long, fell asleep and drove into a telephone pole. He totaled the cab. That's what guys do; push. 12 hours is just average.
All the while this was going on I truly wished I was dead. Because I know what kind of driver I am and I don't know why I ever thought, I could do this job. Also, I was wondering how I was going to come up with the 2000 dollar deductible I had signed for.
Well, in the end, they wouldn't let me drive anymore because the insurance company refused to insure me. But they let me go on the deductible. The supervisor told me that they would have let me drive if I could have been insured. I think they liked me because I was willing to drive South Central and I was making my lease.
The real takeaway is that I am a lousy driver and I should have remembered that. It's not like I didn't know. You don't ever blow through a stale yellow light because when I hit the Hyundai the light was red. I was driving too fast and at the moment that I hit the light my computer started flashing and I looked down. Bad news altogether. I'm lucky I didn't hurt anyone.
And get this, if you even TOUCHED another car or object with your vehicle, even if there was no damage, you had to report it, write it up.