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Tips from management

Taxi Driver

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Cab drivers, like employees in many occupations, are exhorted by managers to take on various tasks and techniques of self-improvement and efficiency to increase company profits and, allegedly, personal earnings. Any questions from drivers or suggestions for reforming business practices to achieve these results are, for the moment, conveniently set aside. The worker must bear all (and then some).

In the taxi industry, the guru of cab driver betterment and inspiration, the unchallenged spokesman for these prescribed techniques and tasks, is a man named Joseph M. Rubino. A one-time taxi driver and company manager, Mr. Rubino speaks to his industry constituents with confidence, optimism and a detached authority. Thus his Taxicab 101, the Business of Taxicab Driving is presented to drivers as a standard text on succeeding in a demanding and difficult profession. Companies photocopy sections from Rubino's book and lay the sheets out in a somewhat desultory, take-it-or-leave-it manner for drivers to find.

Mr. Rubino's counsellings perhaps explain such a delivery. From four of these two-page disbursements given over a one-month period, a driver prototype emerges from Rubino that is beyond idealized and fantastically conceived. No. 47 of Rubino's "Taxi Tips," subtitled "All in the Family," gives the details.

He invents a driver named Gerardo, a married father of three. Without the least reluctance, fear of mishap, or fatigue, Gerardo drives his vehicle more than 80 hours a week indefinitely. "Big dreams often take big sacrifices," Rubino posits, and Gerardo's ambition for "a bigger home in a newer part of town" is the motive. Neighborhood homeowners will of course welcome Gerardo and take pride in his taxi parked in the driveway, Rubino supposes, as a picturesque enhancement to established property values.

His wife Maria works all day as a nurse, then apparently shops for and prepares all the meals, fulfills all housekeeping duties, and makes possible Gerardo's 45-minute nap between shifts. He is on the streets from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., then from 7 to 10 p.m., six days a week. Maria also does all of Gerardo's paperwork as his "company accountant," and business for Gerardo is supposedly steady enough for Maria to leap to the task with pleasure. Gas and maintenance prices do not suddenly rise, and neither do the weekly payments Gerardo must make to the cab company from which he leases.

Maria is not alone. "Like NASCAR pit crew members," Gerardo's sons vacuum, scrub and polish the chariot, while he snores away. "They know they only have a certain amount of time after dinner ends to get their dad's cab ready." Salvatore, 15, "barks orders to his younger brother," 12-year-old Christopher, who "just nods his head and works to finish the job."

With all this help and ready initiative, does Gerardo succeed and move into his dream house? Rubino never says. All praise and goodwill toward the Gerardos out there, wherever they may be, though I have as yet to encounter one. However, in major cities across the U.S., drivers are organizing and protesting against the long hours that are not, as in Gerardo's case, desired, but required. And no one hopes or expects to move in next to the Kardashians.

Rubino speaks to drivers, like other consultants-at-large, with both feet firmly planted on management turf. He is, and they are, to borrow a metaphor from a previous column, lion-tamers, in a parable that goes as follows.

Everyone knows that the lion can overpower and kill the lion-tamer, at any moment; the task for the lion-tamer, therefore, is to keep the lion from knowing it. Cab drivers, and workers generally, are increasingly becoming the "lions," as they were in 19th- and 20th-century labor movements.

How long, we wonder, given Rubino's imaginings, can or will drivers or workers at the Broadmoor, at Denny's, at Colorado Springs Airport or anywhere else, remain blind to the improbabilities thrust upon them?

Tread cautiously, Mr. Rubino. Like the lion, we can only take so much before lunging back. And when we say "Stop," it stops.

tgibson@csindy.com

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