Column: 1989 Taxi-Cab Driver in Boston

by Haley Gardner

The year was 1989 and Michael John Gardner had a girlfriend, an apartment and a night job as a bouncer/waiter/bartender and needed additional income during the day to pay the bills. He was crossing a street and was almost runover by a passing cab which had an advertisement for … driving a cab. He applied for the position.

His interview was held at the “barn” where all the cabs started and ended their shifts.

“If you had a driver’s license and were not intoxicated at the time of the interview you started right away.”

At the time training for this position was nonexistent.

His first day he said, “I had no idea of where to go or even how to work the CB microphone. I drove around and waited for people to flag me down for a ride. At the same time you had to listen to the CB radio for your cab number. Never any names. The dispatcher
would call out numbers and give addresses and once in awhile ask everyone if anyone was in a certain vicinity. For the first week I never heard my number called and made very little money.”

There was definitely a pecking order according to Michael, the longer you have been employed at the cab company the better cab you were assigned. He leaned that if you got in early you have a better chance of getting the better of the bad choices to drive.

“When you returned you always told the ‘mechanic’ what was wrong with the cab. You always had something. Depending on the severity of the problem the car either went back out right away or went back out almost right away.”

After the first week on the job he realized how to make money driving a cab. The trick was to bribe the dispatcher. The way the system was supposed to work was that there was a rotation. People would call the cab company and the dispatcher would cycle through the available cabs in order, giving everyone a fair and equal opportunity to get business. “Fair and Equal” only applied to those who cheated the system.

“I learned to give my bribe every day before my shift started. Immediately my number was called on the radio and just like that I was making money.” Michael said.

When driving a cab it was more important to know where not to drive than where to drive.

” One area that I avoided was what was called in the 1980’s (and before but now does not exist) the ‘Combat Zone.’ If you Google it the description is: The Combat Zone was the name given in the 1960s to the adult entertainment district in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. Centered on Washington Street between Boylston Street and Kneeland Street, the area was once the site of many strip clubs, peep shows, X-rated movie theaters, and adult bookstores.”

Michael realized that potential revenue did not equal the level of risk of driving to or from this area.

“However one evening this man got into the cab and then asked me to take him to the combat zone. I said “not for me … not going that way – you are going to have to find another ride.” The guy begged. Said that nobody else would take him. He promised a huge tip for the effort. When we arrived I got two tips.

First – follow your instincts and don’t go where you don’t belong. Second – a total tip of one dollar. That’s right – just one. ”

Driving a cab in Boston was an experience he was glad that he had. He became more aware of the environment, the landscape and the different people of the city. It was a view of society that not many people got to experience.

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