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Taxicab Confessions
The bumpy road of driving a small-town cab

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About the cover


D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    March 2008

Taxicab Confessions

The diary of a substitute small-town cab driver, who learns the hard way it's a bumpy road out there.

By Larry Lightner

Before I decided to try this occupation of being a taxi driver, I held many illusions. For one, I believed that it would be a laid-back, relaxing diversion in my life of early retirement. Ha!

The author and his taxi.

I also expected that I'd see a lot of my old acquaintances and we'd casually chat about this and that as we drove merrily to and fro while they gave me big fat tips before they exited my auto. Other folks using my services would be businessmen and -women, all on fat expense accounts and also giving me fat tips. Double and triple ha!

I am now into my fourth week behind the wheel as I pen this and I have yet to carry even one remote acquaintance in my conveyance. And all of those visiting business people? I've taken just one to Grant County Airport (an explanation will follow later), and even though I gave him service far and beyond the call of duty, he never gave me an extra nickel for my efforts. Oh, well.

What I got instead was a goodly dose of reality smothered in several layers of stress and distress. As a taxi driver, I've met the poor, the downtrodden, the very old and a smattering of "normal" folk. Virtually all of my clients don't own a car, can't own a car, or their car (or truck) is broken down.

My career as a cabbie begins innocently enough, when James Koons, owner of Gopher Taxi Service in Silver City and my friend, calls to ask a favor: His "main" driver is having a hip operation and could I please fill in for the guy? It could be anywhere from six weeks to six months depending on how fast the guy heals.

James further explains that it is nigh onto impossible to find reliable, honest help. Potential drivers either are on drugs or alcohol and can't pass a urine test, don't or won't come to work regularly, won't work all day, are untrustworthy with cash, or are just plain undependable.

So I say, "Yeah, I'll do it." Besides, it sounds like fun and I'm bored anyway, what with this chronic back problem that has kept me low. How hard can driving a taxi in a small burg like Silver City be, anyway?

Two weeks later, on training day, I meet Gary, the guy I will be replacing, to go on a run to show me the ropes. We drive off and he explains the meter and car to me. Then he informs me that he has to stop at his doctor and it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes; in the meantime, I can drive around and, if I have to, pick up a pre-scheduled customer and drop her off. It will be easy, he says.

I drive off and 20 minutes later, I pick up the customer. As we head for her destination, however, two more calls come in for a taxi ride, both wanting to be picked up NOW! I drop off the first customer as the phone rings. It's yet another guy who needs to go to Deming as soon as possible. What do I do?

Gary didn't have time to tell me how to use this cell phone of which I have no knowledge whatsoever, and I'm having trouble with it. An hour has now gone by since I left Gary; I've picked up and delivered the next two customers.

Uh-oh! The gas gauge is showing empty and I have no money or credit card and no time to stop! Would-be fares are backing up and calling a second time to see where I am. My stress level is rocketing. And I'm doing today's training drive voluntarily, to boot — no pay!

Ninety minutes have passed. James' wife Joanna calls and needs me to pick up someone; I explain my dilemma and frustration. James gets on the phone. "Where's Gary?" he demands.

I explain as calmly as I can muster and he tells me to get back to the office right away; he will take over driving. Whew! I'm on my way when Gary calls and tells me to come get him, which I do, and I also explain that the boss is none too happy.

Talk about trial by fire! But at least I now have a forewarning about what might lie ahead. We get to the office and I go right home, utterly discombobulated.

Day One: In the initial excitement and confusion of starting this first day really on the job, I forget to look at the appointment book and I completely miss the first customer. What appointment book?

A man calls from Lordsburg. He's passing through from out of state, his truck is broken down and he needs to get to Deming — can I come get him? I explain that I can't do it because I'm booked solid with other fares, and that his only choice is the Greyhound bus. He explodes in angry expletives and obscene language and threatens to come up to Silver City and yank me out of the cab. (Lucky for me his truck is broken down, I guess.) He also declares New Mexico to be the worst state in the country and slams the phone down in my ear.

I get 14 calls in 12 hours and make them all. I have a severe headache and haven't had the time to eat or drink, and barely time to pee.

My last customer wants a delivery from Sonic. By the time I fetch it, it is dark out and his trailer has no identifying number. I wait at the end of the trailer court and call twice; he refuses to come and I don't know what to do. Finally, his mom comes to me and apologizes and pays me. No tip. In fact, in the entire 12-hour day I make only three bucks in gratuities.

Day Two: A woman calls and frantically declares she needs a taxi now! She has fallen and needs to go to the hospital. I explain that I already have a booked fare waiting to call me for a pickup, but she pleads with me.

I get to the woman's home and as she hobbles out, her husband declares that we must drop off flat tires on the way to the hospital. He tries jamming four of them plus a battery into the open trunk of the taxi. They don't fit and he slams one, breaking the trunk molding. I protest but he is livid.

He's cussing and shouting and going berserk in my cab and his wife is apologizing. The tires are hanging out of the open trunk and I'm afraid they will fall out or I'll get a ticket. We pass a state policeman and the husband flips the "bird" at him, cussing lustily.

We stop at the first garage and they refuse service — more cussing and flipping the bird at all and everyone. At the second garage, the husband unloads the cargo before asking, then hops back in and we drive off — but not to the hospital, rather to the Gospel Mission. I deliver the couple as quickly as the speed limit allows.

I've got a tremendous headache.

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