Every night one or two passengers, on the average, will tell me they're in a BIG rush. The implication (or direct message) being that I need to get them there FAST!
Nothing wrong with that. I don't fault anyone for telling me what the situation is. But there's just one problem - it doesn't motivate me to do anything extraordinary to help them solve something that is their problem. I will just acknowledge what they said and drive them to their destination in the same way I would have driven if they hadn't said anything at all. But I won't run red lights, make illegal turns, or drive ten or fifteen or twenty miles per hour faster than I would normally drive.
What they have failed to do is to tell me specifically what's in it for me.
Now, some passengers will make the infamous statement that they will "take care of me" or will "make it worth my while". This promise is most often heard when five people are trying to squeeze into the cab (the rules say we can only take four and the driver could get a ticket if it's seen by an unsympathetic cop). Experience shows conclusively that what follows this ride is an average or below-average tip.
Thus a seasoned cabbie translates "I will take care of you" as "Hey, stupid fuck-head, I want you to go ahead and risk a fine and in exchange you will get nothing special." It's an insult.
All of which leads me into what was last night's "fare of the night". It was the rare - and I do mean rare - person who understands that the best way for me to solve his problem is to tell me why it's in my own best interest to make it my problem. Here's what happened...
A twenty-something guy jumped in the cab at Grove Street and 7th Avenue South in Greenwich Village at exactly 11:51 PM. His destination was Fulton and Gold in the Financial District, a short ride that required knowledge of lower Manhattan's geography. I pulled out onto 7th Avenue South, quickly figured out the route in my mind, and told him how I intended to go. This was meant as a passing comment, not really requiring discussion, but it turned out my passenger was quite concerned about getting there as soon as possible and wondered if another route might be better. I told him the way I wanted to go was the best way (which it was), and then he said the magic words...
"My fiancee's birthday is at midnight and if you can get me there before then, I'll give you ten dollars over the meter."
Bingo! His problem became my problem.
I immediately turned into a NASCAR racer, zig-zagging my way around the Holland Tunnel traffic, making the difficult and crucial green light at Canal Street, flying down West Broadway to Duane Street, catching the greens on Church and Broadway, circling around City Hall Park and somehow making the light at Beekman, and finally delivering my passenger to Gold and Fulton at 11:58.
The fare was $7.80. He gave me a twenty and happily told me to keep it. But not before I acknowledged his brilliance by sharing with him this bit of information which I will share with you now.
It took me nine years of taxi driving before I noticed how rare it was for someone to offer me a specific reward for doing something special for them. Once I became aware of this, I started to count the number of times it would happen and have kept this tally in my mind. That was twenty years ago. Counting last night, the number of times this has happened is... (drum roll, please)... EIGHT!
That is correct. Eight times. Thousands and thousands of people have told me they are in a big rush and eight have had the wisdom to offer me a specific reward if I can solve their dilemma for them.
I believe there is a huge life lesson to be learned here.
Let's call it the wisdom of the carrot.