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.