Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Wisdom of the Carrot

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.


Mike S said...

GS, I wonder if I was ever in your cab as this was always standard practice for me when I was in a hurry. I learned it overseas actually. I also found that when travelling in any place where it's hard to get a cab, a hundred dollar bill will get VIP treatment, especially after you explain that it's in addition to the meter. Many's the time a cabbie's just turned off the meter & stated a flat rate for the rest of the day, which was always VERY reasonable. One case in which you generally do get what ya pay for. Seems it's the universal language. When on an expense account doing the bidding of others, it's a legitimate expense for prompt conclusion of your business & everyone parts smiling.

MJ06 said...

4 people does that mean that they all have to squeez in the back or does one person get to ride up front?

I would guess that 4 seat belts 4 people but I don't know if the Taxi and Limozine Commision lets people ride in the front seat? Or if that's your call also does New York city and New York State have a seat belt enforcement ruel? Here in Ohio every one has to wear a seat belt or else they can be ticketed.

G.S. said...

Mike - good for you, you're a memeber of a rare breed.
MJ - it's 3 in the back and one in the front. Passengers are encouraged but not required by law to wear their seat belts. Neither is the driver, and the great majority of cabbies in NYC do not fasten their seat belts. I always put mine on when I leave Manhattan or go on a highway, however.

Ashiq said...

I liked the story. Kinda romantic really.
And I totally agree with you. People should offer commission for the mission.

Anonymous said...

aren't you allowed to put 5 people in a checker taxi?

John said...

You must be the Colombo of taxi drivers. The guy gets in promises the sun moon and stars, then laughs and probably leaves no tip.This bulleten is an insperational piece of work.
Happy 2007. Feb 14 will be a good weekend.

John said...

Thats quite a bit of deep thinking logic there. You are so right. Make it worth you while! Greetings.

John said...

That was a very clever observation..I will lock after you.
Happy new year