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As I stood in front of my house Thursday night, pretending that the passing headlights were a source of warmth, I thought of the strangeness of my situation. I was waiting for a cab, but with no particular destination in mind. I had never been in this situation before and was still acquainting myself with the novelty of it, when a dark blue car slowed to a stop just a few feet beyond my doorstep. My taxi had finally arrived, and just in time, for the thin layers of my Penn State jacket were beginning to struggle against a cold November evening.
Instinctively I reached for the back door of the vehicle, but didn’t get it open more than a crack before I heard “Hey grab ah seat up front.” Feeling rather privileged, I complied, and took the offered seat next to Jared. Since we had previously met, formal introductions were skipped. Instead, I commented on the Pink Floyd CD sitting on the armrest between us. “Yeah the damn thing skips, so I don’t even listen anymore” Jared said. Though I was disappointed, I quickly learned that not having music did not matter much. Between the steady conversation and the constant interruptions from the dispatch radio attached to the dashboard, there was very little time for rock n’ roll CD’s.
Jared, who appeared to be in his early thirties, was dressed causally in a gray, hoodless sweatshirt and blue jeans. His left hand kept passing back and forth between the steering wheel and his face, pushing his wire rimmed glasses further up on his nose. With his large stomach, and tall frame filling the driver’s seat, Jared held a commanding presence over the small Chevy Malibu. He drove quickly around the block, and managed to talk to me and into the handset of the radio at the same time. “87. I’ve got the reporter.” I laughed to myself when I heard my new title. Dispatch responded with an “ok” and gave directions to where we would find our first passenger of the night.
When we arrived at the State College bus station, an old man greeted us with thanks and surprise at our quickness. Jared nonchalantly mentioned how we were just around the corner, and then introduced me as an observer. I gave a quick hello, and then quieted down out of respect for Jared. I was unsure if it was appropriate to talk with the passengers.


Slowly, the old man took his place in the back seat of the car, and then quickly managed to strike up conversation. He had traveled all the way from Florida by bus, and this taxi ride was the final leg of his journey. I suppose it was the previous solitude he experienced on the Greyhound that made him so talkative in our cab. “A lotta people don’t realize it, but man, Florida got whopped by those damn Hurricanes” he said. From then on the conversation between him and Jared focused on the weather, both in Florida and in State College, and the effect that it was having upon each of their lives. The old man talked about the Hurricane’s destruction of all the mature trees down south, and Jared empathetically responded with a similar story about the Elm trees in State College, and their threat of destruction by a virus. Jared went on to mention how the unseasonably nice weather in State College had hurt business the week before. It occurred to me then how important it is for a taxi driver to stay informed of current events. Sports, politics, weather, or business, I imagine that a successful taxi driver would be familiar with all of these, and able to offer some interesting insight, as Jared did with the weather, and this old man from Florida.
On our way back to town, Jared and I talked about the rules set forth by Handy Delivery. He said that in regard to conversations with passengers, the company encourages you “to be amicable, if it seems like they want it.” He himself prefers talkative customers because it helps to pass the time, and also improves the tips. Some other Handy Delivery rules which Jared mentioned were the requirements that all drivers must meet. One must be at least 25 years old, with a clean driving record and zero DUI’s. Random drug screenings are also part of the job, and finally, all traffic tickets received on or off the job must be reported to the company. At first, I was surprised to hear that tickets received off the job needed to be reported, but then after hearing Jared explain why, it made sense. If a driver had received a number of tickets outside of work, and then got pulled over during work and found that he could no longer drive because of those tickets, his job performance would suffer. I realized how important it is for taxi drivers to make intelligent decisions both on and off the job. Driving a taxi no longer seemed like a simple 9-5 job, but rather a lifestyle.
A few minutes after arriving back in town, Jared decided to “drive a loop” from College Avenue, left onto Atherton Street., followed by an immediate left onto Beaver Avenue and then another left down one of the connecting cross streets. He chose Allen Street. Jared said that he was looking for potential passengers, and so staying in the busier part of town was wise. Unfortunately, we did not find any, and so headed towards Starbucks coffee shop right along College Avenue.
As we sat in the car parked outside Starbucks, we talked about the risk of being robbed while on the job, and the differences between New York City taxi drivers and Handy Delivery drivers. “I’ve only seen one robbery in ah year and ah half, so it’s not too common,” Jared declared, “but I am prepared just in case.” He told me of money management techniques such as separating large and small bills, and then hiding the larger bills somewhere in the car. “Just gotta make sure you don’t forget about ‘em” he laughed. Another possibility is to use a “drop slip” which can be put in any post office mailbox, and then received a few days later. Very few drivers use “drop slips.” Jared explained that while it is important for a driver to manage his money, safety is the first concern. Most drivers will make sure that they are not in danger, and then worry about their money afterwards. Because of this, it is easy to see the benefit of taking precautions.


“87. Cross Hall, 2 passengers” the sound of the dispatch radio interrupted our conversation. Jared replied “10-4,” and we immediately headed towards campus. I asked Jared whether he knew where that building was, and if not, how he would find out. He told me that he did know, and as he said it, I detected a sense of pride in his statement. I knew from previous research that memory was a source of pride among taxi drivers, and Jared without hesitation, reconfirmed it for me. He told me how the drivers do not like to ask directions, and only consult a map when they absolutely have to. “New guy at work syndrome” was how he described it. “Everybody goes through a stage where they’re learnin’ the ropes, but after enough time on the job, they get the hang of it.” I once again was impressed by the knowledge that taxi drivers had.


Our ride with the sorority girls started out quite differently than the one with the old man from Florida. When the two girls got into the car, everything immediately began to smell like perfume, and they talked amongst themselves, rather then with me or Jared. Once again though, I was introduced as “an observer.” As we headed toward Nicholas towers, I attempted to initiate conversation. I asked the girls what they thought of the Handy Delivery taxi service, and if they could find out anything about the company, what would it be. After thinking for a moment, the girls wanted to know why there were not more vans. Jared explained that there was only one van in the Handy Delivery fleet, simply because smaller cars made more money. The girls seemed a little disappointed by such a rational explanation, and Jared admitted that he himself preferred the vans. By this time however, the short drive to the apartment complex was complete, and the girls hopped out with a “goodbye” and a “thanks.” The smell of their perfume hung around for a little while longer.


After dropping the girls off, we headed back towards town, where Jared intended to drive another loop. I was interested in what he had said about the business end of things, and soon found out that he knew quite a bit more than I expected. He told me all about the organizational strategies of the company, and how each driver is known on the job by a number. I correctly guessed that Jared was 87. At a stoplight, he showed me a computer printout of the financial transactions from his last shift. It specified how much he had paid to rent the taxi from Handy Delivery, and how much money he had made in fares that night. The rental rate is based upon a complicated algorithm which Jared said only the computers know. “We plug the numbers in, and shhhooop, out they come on the other side.” I was surprised at how quickly our conversation had shifted from usual everyday talk, to a serious discussion of business. It allowed me another insight into the taxi driving profession. I got to see how seriously the drivers of Handy Delivery take their job.


Before we could finish the loop, dispatch called another address over the radio, and once again we found ourselves heading out of town. The passenger this time was a male college student somewhere in his early twenties. He was on his way to work at the PA pizza shop, and was running a little late. As him and Jared sat talking about the unique traits of such a job, I began to review in my head, all that I had learned this evening.
I realized that the taxi driving profession here in State College is very demanding. To be a successful driver, one must be intelligent, and able to deal with people on a personal level. Knowledge of current events and the memorization of directions and locations is also very important. Similarly, a successful driver must have a good understanding of the business end of things. Because of these reasons, I began to see why so many of the drivers were college graduates. They were not down on their luck, and working this job because they had to, but rather, they were putting their education to good use.
We dropped the pizza guy off at work, and then headed back towards West College Avenue where my final stop would be. As we pulled in front of my house, Jared finished telling his story about the time a passenger brought a python into the cab and he nearly jumped out of his seat. “Holy Jesus Christ!!!!” he yelled. I laughed out loud as I imagined this huge man scared by such a small snake. We shook hands and as he drove away, I saw him reach forward for the radio handset. “87. I’ve dropped the reporter, ready for another pickup.” At least that is what I imagined he said.




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