Recruits to the cab profession in Colorado Springs are sought and instructed each Tuesday, as frustrated, disgusted or disillusioned drivers give up after a few weeks (or days) and move on.
Tuesdays are also lease-payment or vehicle-inspection days for experienced drivers, so recruits get a chance to mingle and seek advice from them. A small lounge area with coin-operated candy and coffee machines facilitates the hellos, welcomes and warnings.
As New Year's 2015 approached, a big night in the cab industry, one young man came forward during a break from instruction with a question he was too nervous to ask in class. He'd heard taxis are considered "mobile ATM machines" by armed delinquents, and asked if the rumor was true.
I had to confirm that it was. New Year's Eve is especially inviting for hold-ups, I added, as drivers are (wrongfully) assumed to be carrying much cash. If necessary, we make periodic bank deposits during busy shifts like New Year's to keep the on-hand cash at a minimum.
But I noted that armed robberies are relatively infrequent. And to further calm and encourage, I assured him robbery perpetrators often have blatant moves that give themselves away, so a driver has time to elude them, even if at the very last minute.
Here's how one scenario plays out.
As playmaker, a young woman will call for a cab at roughly 7 p.m. and ask to be driven to a popular restaurant. She'll emerge from between apartment buildings in a short leather skirt and unbuttoned jacket and sidle into the passenger seat.
A peculiar conversation will then take place. She'll seem particularly curious and impressed with you, and the range of interests that make you so fascinating, whether along the lines of Beethoven or bowling. Since she has similar interests and experiences, the two of you will form an unexpected conversational bond.
On arrival at the popular nightspot, she'll divulge that she "knows the owner," which you don't doubt, and expects to remain there till closing, and could you please pick her up at say 2:30 or 3 a.m.?
Sure, sure, absolutely, you say eagerly. You give her your cell-phone number to call whenever she's ready to head for home.
The long night wears on, and you think and dream about the attractive young woman in the leather skirt. You find yourself thinking there are some perks to the cab driver occupation — that there is an Easter Bunny! — and you're starting to like the job in an unexpected way.
Three o'clock rolls around, and the cell phone rings right on cue.
"Remember me?" she asks innocently, giving her name. Of course you do, though strictly as a fellow lover of bowling or Beethoven, and is she ready to be driven home?
"Yes, please," she says softly. But she has a small request. Could you drive her friend home, too? "Your friend?" "Yes, please. And since the restaurant is closed, could you pull around to the alley in back and wait for us there?"
The alley is dark with patchy, bare-bulb lighting. It's cold and cluttered with the usual combination of Dumpsters and sloppily assembled wooden stairs. Instinct and training tell you keep your foot on the brake and the transmission in "Drive" instead of "Park."
Through the screen door opening onto the stairs come two guys in hooded sweatshirts with their hands in the front pouch. With their heads down and faces hidden, you've got about four seconds to make up your mind about their status. They appear choreographed and nervous, and you feel that the scene is starting to feel like a TV episode.
Twenty feet from the cab they divide, one crossing around back to the passenger side, the other delaying briefly, wiping his nose on his sleeve, till the first is getting into the cab. The first will sit directly behind you, put a gun to your neck, and demand that you hand the cash out the window to the nose-wiper.
But before the action starts, you spot a flash of metal in the side mirror as the first guy approaches — he's removed the gun from the sweatshirt too soon — and you hit the accelerator and speed away unharmed. It's all happened so fast that it's over before you know it.
Congratulations. You're now an experienced cab driver, a certified member of the proud and fearless Colorado Springs fleet.