Tips are the difference between drowning and scraping by. As a driver you lease the vehicle and part of that lease involves topping off the tank at the end of your shift. At the end of a 12 hour shift you have burned anywhere from a half a tank to more than three quarters of a tank. There was a time when I was driving that gas was over $4 a gallon.
My personal goal in tips was to have the tips cover the gas for the day. If I did that I was happy. If I exceeded that, I was ecstatic. On the weekends because of special events, weddings, concerts and the bar crowd I would do as much as 20% in tips. On the weeknights it was usually closer to 6-8%.
You don't expect tips, you don't demand them, but you sure hope for them because you need them to eat and take care of your kid. As I said, it is the difference between drowning and treading water.
I was having a slow night one night and the weather was cold, so when I was sitting I would have to burn fuel to keep the heat on in the vehicle. Chicago winters can be like that. After bar close and before the wary morning commute you are pretty quiet on a weeknight. It is a good time to read, nap, talk to the other drivers, get a coffee or a meal in, etc.
I was sitting in a donut shop somewhere in the three AM hour drinking a small coffee and eating a donut. It had been a slow night so that was pretty much all I ate during that 12 hour stretch. My dispatch pager went off. It was an airport run from one of the hotels. Often you just get the passenger's first name. When I saw the name it did not register as anyone special, but it was one of the nicer hotels so I assumed it was a businessman of some sort.
I got into my cab and told dispatch my ETA to the Hampton and I was on my way. Usually people call in advance for airports and the page will show you that it is a time call. This one did not have a time on it so I called dispatch to be sure.
"Car 6 to dispatch." I said.
"Go ahead, six."
"Dispatch, is this a time call?"
"No, he just called. He'll be in the lobby when you pull up."
The hotel is only 5 miles from the donut shop and I had green lights the entire time. I was there in less than ten minutes. I pulled up to the front and unlocked the doors. The man came out and I was elated when I recognized him. He was a minister/author/speaker that I follow. I have read his books, they helped formulate my ministry and we have met and spoken briefly at two conventions. We have a mutual friend. He speaks of social justice and emergent and helped create much of the progressive and emerging christianity that inspired me as a minister and as a human being.
I exited the vehicle and asked him his name, he acknowledged his first name. I asked him if he needed the trunk open for luggage. He said no. We got into the vehicle and I looked at him as I always do for safety purposes and rapport building.
"Hi, I'm Patrick, you are going to O'Hare airport, correct?"
"Okay. Will you be paying by cash or credit today?" I asked.
"What difference does that make?"
"Credit cards take longer to process and Chicago PD likes to keep things moving. If you're paying by card, it'll go more smoothly if we handle the payment here."
"How long does it take to swipe the thing?" He asked irritated.
"I'm sorry. We don't process credit cards that way, we have to radio it in to dispatch. It only takes a minute."
"You gotta be kidding me,"he sighed as he reached into his wallet and handed me his credit card.
"I'm sorry, sir." I said.
I took his card and processed it as swiftly as I could. The dispatcher asked, as is the procedure,"Would he like to add a tip?"
I looked at him and he half snorted as he said,"No!"
"That won't be necessary, dispatch."
I had him sign, gave him his receipt and we were on our way.
"I can't believe you don't have cabs parked outside the hotels. How do you expect to run a business if you don't have cabs lined up at the hotel? I had to wait 15 minutes for a taxi."
"I'm sorry, you had to wait that long," I said. I was maintaining my composure. Perhaps he had a rough day. You never know what is going on in someone's life. Besides, you hear a lot worse from a lot of people. He's in a hurry for a morning flight. Besides, someone with as high a profile as him, should he say something bad about us on social media, it would go to tens of thousands of people. I was not going to risk that.
"Don't be sorry. Answer the question." He said.
"To be honest, there just would not be that much business out of the hotels at this time of night or morning. We have 30 cabs."
"What about the other companies? They must want to make money."
"Our main competitor has 6. There is another outfit with 3 and there are two one car operations in town. There are 2 casinos, a gentleman's club, 40 hotels and the train station."
"Not much to eat here, either." He remarked.
I decided to change the topic a little.
"I'm sorry to hear that you didn't like the restaurants. So where are you flying to?"
"Look, I already know what you do. Pretending to care what I do is not going to change the tip. I had to wait for almost 20 minutes to start this ride. Just get me there on time. Do you even know where you are going? I don't see your GPS on."
"I only use it if I don't know where I am going. I know where we are going."
"Your parents must be so proud of your achievement." He remarked. He then grabbed his smart phone and disappeared into it.
Did he just say that? He could not have just said that. This is not happening. Not him. Not the one who preaches a better gospel. Not a person who inspired me to change the way I approached not only church, but the manner in which I handled my faith at the time.
I just got on to driving while he typed away on his phone.
At one point he looked up from his phone and asked,"Can you move it a little bit?" I was doing 5 over the limit. I was with the flow of the beginning morning airport traffic.
"I'll have you there in plenty of time."
A few minutes later he looked up and asked,"You don't happen to have a phone charger in this thing, do you?"
"Yes I do. It has a long cord to reach the back seat. My 13 year old thought it would be a good idea for my customers." I replied cheerily. I was not hoping for a tip anymore. That ship sailed, but a little namaste would be nice right about now.
"Well, someone in the family has business sense. I'm sure she'll do well in community college."
What the fuck! Is he real? No. No. This is not happening.
A few minutes later we arrived at his terminal. I pulled up to the drop off area as close as I could to the curb. He unplugged his phone and started to leave without a word. I decided to take one moment.
"I really appreciated your last book. It spoke to me." I said it. I wanted him to know in as gentle a manner as possible I knew him. Our eyes locked for just a moment. He still did not recognize me. I could tell. He turned, closed my door and went in to the airport.
I radioed that I was clear and left the airport. On the way back the coffee had kicked in and I had to use the restroom. I pulled in to an oasis. While there, I took a moment to check my phone. He had been on his cell phone the entire ride with a few tweets saying social justice, gospel related stuff.
I gassed up, did my paperwork and made my drop. I looked at my take for the day. Barely $40. Some nights are like that, but when it ends this way. It is just frustrating. Heartbreaking.
This was now my day off. I drove to my ex wife's house, woke up my child, made some breakfast and got the little one off to school.
I went home, brewed some tea and logged on. I went to the Emergent Village website. This was where my friends were at back then. It was a community. We shared stuff that mattered. Without naming him, without giving details. I said how hurt and frustrated I was that I had a hero in my cab and he was rude and did not tip. Everyone knew things were rough financially for me. They knew that I was driving a taxi. I spoke of my hurt feelings. I called him no names. I was sharing my heart.
Within a few moments I got responses to my post in a private room.
-Maybe he didn't know cab drivers get tipped. I don't know who to tip.
(He travels the nation often. The person who made this comment was married to someone who wrote a book about social justice though what we buy.)
That was the first salvo. After that, there was what I can best describe as victim shaming.
-How many fares did you have that day?
-Not every server deserves a tip.
-Was your cab clean?
-You smoke, does your cab smell of smoke?
Though what I experienced was in NO WAY the same league as what a rape victim goes through, I could see this same group of people asking.
-How many men did you talk to that night?
-What were you wearing?
-Maybe he did not know it was rape. I don't know who not to fuck?
In other words. What did you do to deserve being treated less than human? What did you do to not receive kindness from someone who speaks of kindness, writes of kindness and tweeted justice gospel stuff while dehumanizing another person?
Not a few weeks earlier some of these people were posting and liking memes that insulted a minister who not only did not tip a waitress at a restaurant, but left her a nasty note that said something like,"Why should I give you 15% and only give God 10%?"
It was not long after that event, I left the group. Why? It got worse. Something else happened in relation to my child's sexuality that I could no longer stand with these people and call them friend. This time, some victim shamed a minor who had a bad experience with a minister. They put the ownice on a child. My child. Nope. I was done. Later I would find other victims from the same circle of authors who went through far worse than I could ever imagine.
The night is more honest than tweets. The night is more profound than novels. The night has the priesthood of humanity. The night also has homeless people, battered wives, prostitutes and a precious fifth grader who tip.
Gratuity. In gratuity we are both grateful and we have namaste. I also get to feed my kid. I don't expect it, but I am grateful when it happens and genuinely appreciate every precious soul who helps me in that manner.
He may not have given me a tip, but he gave me the truth.
Note: I wish I could tell you it was out of respect that I do not name the author. It is out of fear because I have seen what happens to those who make them cross.