Flagging, in two parts

“Flagging” in our company is a term for pedestrians on the street waving their arms around frantically in the hopes that a cab will stop for them.  Often our drivers will say something like “I picked up a flag,” and if you’re a passenger in the cab when they say this to the dispatcher on the radio, you might be put off by the objectification of the phrase.  Don’t worry, it’s just to save airtime, which is a precious commodity during the bar rush.  It doesn’t reflect your worth to us, I swear.

If we seem distant in the cab when you get in and you hear us calling you a “flag” to the dispatcher, it’s because there’s a giant chasm of difference between our mood and yours.  You’re in partytime mode, we’re in “omg we need to get all these people home quick before they start driving themselves and putting us all in danger” mode.

Lately I’ve been so entrenched in working that I’ve started incorporating my taxi lingo into “normal” life.  When friends tell or text me information that I need like, “Hey I’m going to be 10 minutes late,” I reply with “10-4.”  It throws a lot of people off the first few times.  I’m not doing it to sound cool or anything, I’m doing it out of habit and to be as short and succinct as possible.  10-4 means “understood”, or “I got it.”  It also takes a lot less keystrokes on a smartphone (less worry about typos with my fat thumb typing), and most of the time I’m socializing with other taxi drivers.  I forget which is which when I’m in a hurry.

Let me tell you two surprising stories of terrible passengers.  Both were late-twenties white men with what looked like money.  They had money to spend, they were coming from college functions attending as alumni, and they were dropped off at very nice homes (but not well-established homes).  These rides were both during football season, probably 6-8 years apart.

Part 1.

Saturday night.

I rarely get thrown into a real rage.  It takes a LOT to drive me to that place where I forget all reason, as I assume it does with everyone.  Consider, though, that I deal with people misbehaving on a very regular basis and have fallen into bored conveyor belt of picking up and dropping off of problem children.  I know what to say to pacify aggressors.  I know deflection, charm, and exactly who needs to walk-their-fucking-selves home.

I picked up a very drunk couple at Madhatters.  They were put into the cab by their friend who handed me a $20 while the large dude stumbled and settled himself into the far back seat.  I was in a minivan tonight.  He was in the “wayback” seat.  Before I accepted the $20 I asked the girl handing me the money, “Are they too drunk to ride?”  The dude fumbling around yells out “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO DRUNK TO RIDE!”  The girl with the money replies, “don’t worry, he won’t get sick.”  Another few volleys of words revealed where “exactly” they were going and that they were leaving the bar because the dude was starting fights.

I knew this was going to be a hard ride.  I was trying to figure out if it was worth taking this guy home.  It was a longer ride, but it was going to be almost exactly $20, so I was going to get no tip.  I wasn’t really in an argumentative mood, though.  I wanted as little problem as possible and it seemed like it would take more effort to kick them out at the pick up than get them out at the end (having already been paid).

The beginning of the ride started with the dude yelling from the back that he wanted to turn the car around and “fuck those guys up and beat the shit out of them.”  Let me just say now that ALL of his words came out at high volume so I don’t have to repeat that he was yelling later in the story.  After about 5 minutes of the macho bullshit about beating dudes up and his girlfriend saying it was a bad idea, I piped up with “Hey, can you cool it?  You are making me anxious and you should probably just settle down.”

I should have known better.  He just turned his focus on me.  Big dude in the Badger jersey sitting in the “wayback” of the minivan decided that I was his next target because I was a naysayer.  He proceeded to tell me how anyone could do my job, I had no skill or brain, and I couldn’t even come up with a good comeback for anything he was saying.  I actually could and did sass him pretty well, but whenever I started talking he would interrupt with his loud voice “SHUT UP!” or “JUST SAY IT!” or “YOU ARE DUMB.”

Normally it doesn’t bother me.  There’s a lot of dudes like this, and a lot of dudes in MY CAB like this.  But this was a 20 minute ride of non-stop abuse.  I think the thing that got under my skin the most was his constant asking of questions, and then the constant interruption of anything I tried to say.  I’m unsure if he was on speed or coke, but this man would not keep his trap shut and everything that came out was vitriol.  Most of the way to their house (which was nowhere near the cross street they told me) I gave up with interaction and just didn’t respond.  At this point he just repeated “justsayit justsayit justsayit justsayit justssayit” for two solid minutes.  I’m still trying to figure out what he was fishing for me to say.  If someone is coherent and has a bad opinion, they’ll still listen to what you say if you speak loud enough.  This guy was just a loudspeaker of abuse without ears and it drove me nuts.  He wanted me to reply purely so he could just interrupt again.  I wanted to poke my fingers in his eyes… but I was maintaining my zen.

It needs to be said that during the course of this whole ride the girlfriend kept repeating how embarrassed she was by her fiance’s behavior and how sorry she was.  “Don’t worry, I’m going to give you, like, a billion dollars tip when we get there.”  I gave her a tip: “Dump this guy, it’ll only get worse.”

When we got to their intersection the meter rolled over to $20 exactly and I felt that the meter was a filthy liar.  It felt like an hour had gone by, that the meter should have read $120, and at the same time I was elated that it was TIME TO GET OUT.  I turned around.  “Okay everyone out!’  Both passengers were despondent.  I couldn’t figure it out.  They had enough energy to yell at me and at each other, but not to pull on the door handle.  I was not going to waste anymore time on this bullshit.  It was time for the whole situation to be DONE.

I got out of the cab, leaving my door wide open.  I walked around to the passenger side and opened that door for the lady, then came back around to the driver’s side and opened that sliding door for the “gentleman”.  The girlfriend got out and wandered 30 feet away.  The dude got into the middle seats with his credit card in hand.  “I’m going to pay you.”

“I’ve already been paid get-the-fuck-out.”
“Get the fuck out.”
“Hit me.”
“Hit me.” (rinse, repeat 3 times).

Instead of hitting him (which is legal if they ask for it- I know this from a taxi experience, too) I grabbed the shoulders of his jersey and yanked his 250 pound mass halfway out.  He was holding onto an interior handle, so he maintained “dominance” of the interior of my taxi. This is when I completely lost it.  I just started screaming.  A car passed and I tried to wave it down, but it didn’t stop.  I yelled and screamed at him, slugged my fist into his collar bone (which didn’t do anything and made me more angry).  I considered slamming my knee into his groin but I think he figured that out and angled so I didn’t try.  I threatened to call the cops but had been so blind with rage that I completely blanked where I had placed my phone and radio.  Those two things do not change position in my set up from day to day so it is EASY to remember where they are in situations like these.

I went to the passenger side of the cab and closed the sliding passenger door.  When I came back around I was willing to close the passenger sliding door on his arm, but instead he had gotten completely out.  I slid the driver side sliding door closed and HE closed my driver’s door, imposing himself between me and my closed cab which contained all my money, my phone, my radio, and all links to help.  Danger.

This is when I truly learned the capacity of the word “livid”.  My throat hurt an hour later from the screaming I did, in which he kept replying “hit me again.”  At the next opportunity, probably 30 seconds later, I “flagged” down another passing car.  This one stopped.  It was a nice SUV and the driver rolled down the window and asked if I was alright.  I turned my back on the drunk-asshole passenger (against my instinct, it was screaming that he was going to take off with my cab) and said thank you to the driver.  The passenger wandered away, embarrassed and no longer wanting to converse.

“Thank you so much, that guy wouldn’t let me back in my cab and you stopping right now made him go away,” I think I said.  I was so hyped up with adrenaline that I just turned around without hearing any reply from the driver.  I wanted in my cab and the doors locked.  Around the corner I pulled into a parking lot for two minutes to wait for my hands to stop shaking.  I had another call assigned to me waiting for pick up, so I refocused and moved on.

On the way to that pick up I had several weird reactions.  The first was an overwhelming desire for a cigarette and beer.  I stopped smoking a few years ago, but after every stressful situation I cave in and bum one from a friend.  I really need to break that coping mechanism.  Several minutes later I felt a strong desire to go running and burn off the rage.  I started the Couch-2-5K program 10 weeks ago… I’m on week 6 after several repeated weeks, but am feeling good about my runs.  I like this urge way better than the cigarette, but I hear my subconscious is piping up with “what are you running from?”  The last urge was to cry.  I felt my chin quiver, but stamped it down.  I hate this, because the whole situation is worthless and doesn’t need me feeling anything about it other than distain.

I moved on and the next several passengers were pleasant and enjoyable, defusing my mood.

Part 2.

Saturday night, 6-8 years ago.

I picked up two late-twenties alumni from the football craziness.  They were going to the West side, to a middle-class neighborhood.  I hadn’t realized it when I picked them up, but they both had dips in their mouths.  Ick.

I don’t remember much about the actual journey, but it probably had some things in there that pissed me off.  What I DO remember is when the passengers went up to their condo they had left their spit-out dip all over the back seat.

All the taxi companies in Madison have a $50 “clean up” fee registered with the city.  This fee applies to any mess in the cab where the driver needs to spend time cleaning it up.  I generally use it for “anything involving body fluids”, but friends have used it for mashed up pizza and other food (where passengers drop and then step and smoosh the food into the carpet of a cab).  With body fluids we need to return to the office and use bio-hazard cleaning supplies to disinfect the cab.  This will carve about an hour and a half out of our money making, which the $50 is supposed to compensate for.  Honestly, though, if I wanted to spend my time cleaning puke instead of DRIVING I would have chosen a different profession.  Gross.

AND GROSS DIP.  This is one of three stories why I refuse to let people in my cab if they have a dip and/or a container for their dip-spit juice.  Is there a more disgusting habit?  Ugh.

Anyway.  I find this mess in my cab and go and knock the shit out of their front door.  “You need to clean this mess up or pay me $50.”
“Oh!  Okay, I’ll be out in a minute with my bucket and a rag!”  Says dude.

I should have known, but how could I?  I was standing outside of my cab, the only cab door open was the back passenger side door.  He came running out of his condo completely nude.  He didn’t even have shoes on.  I was in shock until he b-lined for me.  I think the only reason I didn’t stand my ground and punch him in the face was the weird-ecstatic smile on his face.  It transformed him into a 3-year-old and made me feel a little less threatened.

He chased me three times around my cab, and finally when a car started driving down the street, I stood in the middle of the street and flagged it down.  Dude hid in a bush while I persuaded the driver to come to a complete stop and roll down her window.  “Please, can you please call the cops for me?”
“I don’t want to get involved…”  said the woman in her nice Lincoln town car.
“Please, can you just stay here for a moment and make sure that guy doesn’t come at me?”
“I don’t want to get involved… there’s a taxi here, can’t you ask the driver for help?”
“I AM the driver!!”

I gave up and just got into my cab, seeing as the dude was not coming out again because of embarrassment.  I was furious with the whole mess and wanted out.  I ended up not bothering with getting a clean up fee, cleaned it myself, and was frustrated with humanity because of the “help” the woman in her car gave me.


I’m learning a very slow lesson.  I have a hot spot for entitled rich men who cannot see or hear beyond their own bubble.  However, their mortal weakness is public shame and embarrassment.

I stop for flags when I can.  If someone is flagging YOU down, won’t you please stop and help?  Just the act of stopping your car (with doors locked) can completely change a situation for the better.

About yellowandblackmail

I pick people up and take them where they want to go.
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1 Response to Flagging, in two parts

  1. Yeah, I have the same thing but with all genders. Upper class entitlement will piss me off every time. Even when it shouldn’t. In these cases, the people were clearly pricks regardless of class and gender. At least they didn’t insist you take your left over fish home….

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