Cabbies once were institutional knowledge machines for their regions. Now, they've surrendered to the machine.
bf blog cab ride
SCHAUMBERG, Ill.--Every science fiction writer who ever said the devices would
become our master is smiling right now at my Chicago cabbie.
I came off a
flight into O'Hare Sunday night to start the Drive for Innovation and
promptly grabbed my bags and hailed a cab. You don't really a hail a
cab these days at an airport as much as you stand in an endless queue
of unhappy people either sweating and swearing about their lot in life
or shivering and swearing about their lot in life, depending on the
time of year. (Me? I was just happy it was hot and humid and not
foggy and cold; I'm simple that way).
My cabbie seemed instantly suspicious and agitated as we drove off and I gave him my
hotel's address. He drove 20 yards and immediately veered back to the
curb.There was something about zones and 150% rate charges. It was hard
to understand and I was embarassed to ask him to repeat himself. And he
didn't seem to understand where we going. Amazingly he pulled out A
PIECE OF PAPER that was some kind of cabbie map. Schaumberg, Illinois.
How difficult can that be? It's not Snoozeville, IL. It's huge.
Frustrated, he started jabbing at his smart phone, tethered to his
dashboard. They seemed to have a contentious relationship, these two.
The phone wasn't cooperating, and he stabbed at it harder, as if
spanking an unruly child. He might have escalated things (no more ice
cream for you, little man!) but eventually something happened: he
managed to get the address into the system.
This all would have made more immediate sense to me, but English was
not the cabbie's primary language, and he richocheted back and forth
between English and his native tongue. Soon we rolled onto an
expressway and headed into the warm night at high speed. He drove like
the feds were after him. I sat in the back and breathed rhythmically.
He had turned off the sound of his phone's GPS system, but he followed
its glowing graphical advice to the letter, pulling off the expressway
at one point and off to the side of the road. At this point he fairly
started screaming at the phone that it was giving him the wrong route
to our destination, as if the phone should know better. He started to
talk to the phone as if it was a child who wouldn't follow
instructions. At this point, he navigated us back onto the expressway,
where the feds resumed their phantom chase and he kept arguing with his
cell phone (as if to say, "you never listen to me. I know where I'm
During this marital spat, we were nearly sideswiped by an SUV.
As you can see there are a lot of glowing objects in his cockpit.
We eventually found the hotel and he proceeded to lecture me about how
arrogant his cell phone could be. It was as if he telling me I should be the boss of my phone. It was a head-scratcher.
I thought this was just an amusing one-off until the next day. I hailed
another cab to get to a Public Storage unit where the Chevy Volt was
secured. The cabbie was from Krakow, Poland, and we talked about how the
high cost of living in Poland that is no match for the country's low
wages. We talked a lot about this as he repeatedly pulled to the side
of the road to punch buttons on his GPS, as if urging it to get the
directions right. "It's taking us in a stupid way," he blurted out at
one point. To be sure, he knew where he was going (he pointed out
several strip clubs along the way, as if that was the purpose of my
trip to the Midwest).
But for some strange reason he kept wanting the device to validate him and his knowledge,
and it wouldn't. He pulled over again and said derisively "this is
where you should be but the machine is wrong. The place is back there."
He said if as if the phone needed to hear that. He was showing up his phone.
Cabbies once were institutional knowledge machines for their regions.
They knew how to get anywhere, how to get there fastest at various
times of day and what the history of each block was. They recommended
restaurants and sights to see, told you about the best local bargains.
Now, they've surrendered to the machine, which does all that for you
and more. But they're not going down without an argument.
Excellent story. Hilarious. Done that.
Your last comments was right. "Cabbies once were institutional knowledge machines..." And if they weren't, they'd pick up the Motorola 2-way and the dispatcher would direct them.
Nowadays, cabbies act like I'm responsible to know where this place is, or if it's by the river. Heaven forbid you say, "is there a good place to eat Italian around here?" Last time I practically had to steer the car to guide the guy to a place 3 miles from the SJC airport. And they talk loudly on the phone in some odd language, hands supplementing the conversation on the phone, all while I'm paying them not to hit that car or run that light, let alone get where we're going in a straight line. Argue with your brother-in-law while you’re waiting for a fare, buddy.
I once went into the hotel and brought out the door man to get the cab fare multiplier back where in was supposed to be.
As for GPS, I'm not sure how great they are. I already have a wife who tells me to slow down, there’s a better way to go on the freeway, and I should have turned back there. Putting a GPS map on a phone? Why not use the phone as a phone and call Home Depot and say, "hey, where are you?" Arguing with the phone/GPS? About as useful as arguing with the wife.
Very well written.
My smart-phone GPS has been dubbed "Lorelei," after the Siren of mythology... "Turn left-- into the rocks-- now-- boys..." Still, it never hurts to have that old stand-by paper map in the car for those days when your battery dies, when Lorelei spasms, or when you need to see the "big picture."
Its amazing to see how much dependant these cabbies are on their GPS, if you are lucky the cab driver can find out route if the GPS doesnt work else you better know the route or be ready to pay some extra bucks.
I have had several such instances with GPS in my own driving. However, a few years ago it found the remains of a 19th century mining camp in the desert 30 miles or so from Tuscon, AZ. Cities are constantly evolving, whereas the desert has not changed much in the past few centuries.
The address is just not sufficient to inform the cab. We need to collect prior information like nearest popular location,distance from airport, direction of travel from airport and all the extra information from the destination point. I do this extra work during my travel plan because i feel safe.
The video is a nice touch Brian :)
Your story also reminds me of the new Geico commercial that asks, "Do people use smartphones to do dumb things?" and then proceeds to show us some guys in an office doing about the dumbest things you can do with a smartphone!