Thursday, November 18, 2010

No Tipper

And then the next tuesday, which was the tuesday before last, yes I hold grudges. It was 8 in the morning and I remembered that at this time if I came to 35th street at the FDR drive service road, I'd get a boat load of ferry passengers who needed cabs. It was a precarious pick-up location. I was intending to turn off the service road and wait at the corner for the arriving ferry, but the boat had already arrived, and the parade of professionals were already crossing at the red light. The first hailer I saw was this woman with big black sunglasses. She stood practically next to my cab and stuck her hand in the air, and yet there was no place to pull over per-sé. Under high demand times, I often pass these people right by to teach them about concern for the safe and efficient flow of traffic. It is obnoxious that they assume a taxi should stop in the middle of traffic. I found that there were two ramp cut-outs in the sidewalk, so I pulled up on them so that she could safely enter without me hindering traffic. Of course things didn't exactly work that way. She may have been a little frightened by this maneuver, but also all the traffic had no idea what I was doing and was too skittish to drive around my car, so I might as well have stopped traffic as it would've been easier, but hey, you never know how experienced the drivers are with city driving behind you.

Anyway, she gets in and tells me her address, 570 Broadway, "It's in SoHo," Says she.

These addresses always bring to mind a marker in my mind, 770 Broadway, which is the old Wannamaker Building. My middle school was trying to get the second floor of this building to use it for the school, and also when I was just a little boy, smaller than I am even today, my parents would use the bank and I'd sit with little patience in the large bank and stare at the organ player, yes they hired a man to play an organ for the patrons, wow oh wow how banks have changed. They didn't have any bullet-proof glass either. Now of course the bank is gone and in its place is an Ann Taylor Loft. Long story short the address 770 Broadway holds significance in my mind and so I think I can use it as a North Star of sorts to figure how close or far other Broadway addresses are. This method doesn't work very well, it is a mere starting point.

But I suggested to my fare that 570 Broadway may be in NoHo, but I figured she was right. Sure enough I looked up the address in my pages of address references in the taxi drivers hand guide. There is also a mathematical code for addresses for each avenue, but with all of the codes to remember on top of the math that needs to be done, looking the address up in my book is far easier. Crosstown streets are easy to figure out, but streets that go north and south are too miscellaneous. I digress, low and behold her address most likely lay between Houston and Prince, or Prince and Spring. And I hoped beyond all hopes that it would be a big bold address number, large enough to read in a moving vehicle. Usually when a passenger announces a street address at 8 in the morning on a weekday, it is one of these large font, bold numbers announcing to the world that a significant number of people work here. But amongst these larger numbers, are thousands of buildings that only a postal employee can find. All these thoughts danced in my mind as I proceeded up 35th Street and down Park Avenue. And as I proceeded I condemned myself for making the turn to 35th street when I could have taken the highway to Houston and then across. But again who knows which is better, and what is better in who's mind? the highway may be faster, or it may not, and it takes more distance, as the island of Manhattan pulls eastward to accommodate the alphabet of Avenues A through D. So the highway would've pulled us 4 long blocks east making us drive 8 long blocks further on badly timed traffic lights. She says nothing of my inclination to go street all the way, so I figure she isn't bothered. I merely sit on this thought due to her lack of tipping. When we get near the address and I slow down to frustrating speed and she seems to be doing nothing to help me, she then tells me to change the location and drive straight to the Starbucks "Down the street."

Ugh, down the damn street, my how very specific she was. And I remembered being at the Starbucks on Broadway in SoHo. I remembered being at this Starbucks more than once, with my friend who lives just a block a way, but which streets was this Starbucks in between, surely it can't be far, it must be just two or three buildings a way, as she wouldn't want to be late for work. I think, virtually pounding my head for answers, where was it?? near which stores?? they all come and go so fast. The whole neighborhood's rate of rotation for business locations is confounding. "Ohhh it must be on the right side!!" I say

"Yes, it is." short answer without enough tone to judge her disposition. And I slow down to even more confounding slowness. there is much frustration here as it is after 7am, and only the left lane is legal to drive in. The right lane is for busses only. The only vehicles in that lane are busses, police vehicles searching for law-breakers, and cars from out of town who think they found a secret lane until they get ticketed. So in my head now, I have to contemplate how this woman who wasn't even so easy to pick up, is now not even so easy to drop off, I have to spot out this Starbucks 'just down the street' on the right side, as I drive on the left side, which must be rather complicated and stupid to her, then I'd have to cross over the bus lane to safely pull to the side of the street just in front of the Starbucks I eventually did it.

"There IT IS!" I proclaim with great pride. I hit the time off button in advance as usual and the fare comes to a perfect even 11 dollars. I also hold great pride in trying to get riders there in the lowest priced fare they've ever had. Low and behold I receive exactly 11 dollars. Not only did she say nothing to me upon exiting the cab, not even listening to my standard "You have a good one" line that I give each customer, I have no idea what one I am referring to so the phrase fits for all, holidays, days, nights, weeks, but she also was working in SoHo, coming from New Jersey, and wearing big sunglasses, oh yeah and she was buying an overpriced coffee with an over-inflated sense of self. I pondered what I should do to have had bettered the situation. You see I was taught in taxi school, yes we have a taxi school, that we should never talk about, ask for, or demand a tip. It is highly un-professional, and so even when foreign tourists ask what is the right amount to tip, I tell them they can pay whatever they wish. You have to dig deep in a conversation with me to get me to actually come clean with you about what I would like as a tip. Well, if you are a customer that is, I wouldn't dare start or even instigate a conversation revolving around tipping behavior. But for this type of passenger, well, I think the fairest thing to do would to ask her just as she is leaving if there is anything I could've done better, and if she looked at me quizzically I might be as bold as to ask if there was anything I did wrong.Hopefully that would put forward an inkling of understanding in her mind.


Star said...

Tipping...hmmm...obviously it's a sore point for taxi drivers and clients...reading your posts has been very helpful for me to come to turns with 'having' to tip...I don't get tipped for my job, and I, too, work my fingers to the bone and more...and my pay is peanuts (this, to head off a completely justifiable 'low pay-high expenses' reply). In a perfectly non confrontational way, I just wanted to add that, from the point-of-view of someone coming from a country where tipping is completely different, the 15-20% (!!!) 'expected' tip is enough to stop a heart. Here, the practice for taxis is to round-up to avoid coins, a bother both for the taxi driver and the client. That is, if the rounding up isn't a really ridiculously low amount, then about fifty CENTS is added beyond the rounded amount, and that is considered normal and acceptable. I just wanted to add this because your foreign clients just may not know, at all, what they should do, so if the tip is smaller than the taxi driver might expect, just keep in mind that the foreign clients may be silently congratulating themselves for being so generous!

NYC taxi photo said...

well yeah, that's kind of the reason I posted this here. I can't tell you officially in my cab about tipping, it is to your taste, 5% tip is low, 10 percent was the old normal at a restaurant, and it is still quite nice for cab drivers, 15 to 20 % is the new norm for restaurants. did you know that when you go to a bar here, standard tipping is a dollar per order from the bar tender, and if they're really good 2 dollars. haircuts i give 3 dollars, to 5 dollars. but if they're horrible i give nothing.

this is the way things are in america, it is what we do to make up for our terrible pay, and our lack of health care. they say that in europe tip doesn't count, because the pay is high enough there. it isn't like that here. but still tipping is optional and you have every right not to be harrased for not tipping at all.

honestly it is all very tricky and i wish we just had a less complicated way of living.

NYC taxi photo said...

oh more on tips, we also might tip the room service at the end of a stay at a hotel by leaving 2 to 5 dollars in an envelope marked for them, but i don't know the ways of this. of course the doorman expects a tip, even the cab dispatcher in your taxi lines at the train station expects a tip when it is difficult to get a cab.

we sometimes tip our own dispatchers in order to receive a clean cab quickly, and always tip the gas guy at the end of the day, and the money collector. i tip a dollar at the coffee shops. if the super in my building fixes something in my apartment i give him a tip, 5 dollars to 20 dollars. if he installs something nice for me, he may request payment despite it being included free. deliveries of furniture will sometimes accept tips and i'd give 5 bucks a person, unless they did a terrible job, and generally they do a terrible job, but it is hard work. some people give christmas bonus money to their doorman, their super, and their mailman. It is hard to know sometimes when to tip. I have had trouble with tipping at karaoke places as I didn't see the reason they deserved more, but they told me it was mandatory, which was a load of crap cause it didn't say so on the bill, so i only added 4 dollars to a 120 dollar check, but looking back on it, if you order drinks you throw in a percentage on the drinks and food ordered i'd say, but not a percentage added on to the cost of the karaoke itself. it's all very complicated i know, but hey if you visit america you just have to look up the customary tipping in a guide book and see.

Ray K. said...

In Japan for example you give no tip, because it would offend the driver. Round-up to avoid coins is also usally in Germany (but here a taxi is very expensive). In german travel guides about NYC you often can read that it is usual to give approx. 15% tip.
So for tourists it is really hard to give the right tip, because it's so different.

But since I read your blog I think more and more that 15% tip is everything but usual.

Star said...

Oh, how interesting, there are tipping guides, I'll have to look for that the next time I (can afford to) go to the States, or abroad anywhere.
P.S., the pay in Italy for us normal folk is definitely NOT high...having years long experience in the States, I can say that--at least then, two decades ago--U.S. pay was MUCH MUCH higher (commensurate work here could pay even HALF as much!), and prices in the States, except for good table wine and olive oil, were MUCH MUCH LOWER for everything (at least 30%), from house and car gas and electricity to grocery store and restaurant food and not-designer clothes (oh how I miss the outlets...the phenomenon has arrived, here, but in completely misunderstood, hence unhelpful, form). In thinking about these differences, the prices were lower in the U.S. perhaps in part because of the larger pool of more esigent consumers, while the pay was higher in part because of the lower taxes in the U.S. (no national health service for one thing--without which I don't know how we would get along--though possibly a job benefit in the U.S., if not, the costs also can about $300, or more, A MONTH, for normal coverage, or so I hear). The world economic crisis has changed everything, I know, but as a foreign visitor, I truly would appreciate a highly visible and legible sign indicating a typical range of taxi tips for certain general situations. I know you said you feel uncomfortable saying what the tip should be, so this might be a good compromise for both you and your clients.
Thanks, again, for today's and for Friday the 19th's insightful posts.