Connections: Taxi Driver

More diligent oversight is indeed overdue

   Things were certainly simpler back in the days when it was good old Eames Taxi or bust. My husband and I had an experience on the weekend with a cabbie who acted like he was auditioning for the Robert De Niro part in “Taxi Driver.”
    There are so many cab companies in town these days that I don’t even know which one was involved. If I had paid attention to the service’s name or phone number, I might have complained, but I hadn’t and I didn’t. Instead, I thought, “I’ll write a column!”
    We were coming home from the city on Sunday night, post-blizzard. The Jitney had made good time, even though the bus had to use the Sunrise Highway a good part of the way, what with the Long Island Expressway still being littered with snowbound vehicles, and indeed being closed east of Exit 57. We pulled in smoothly at the Huntting Inn, five minutes before the scheduled arrival time. (Jitney drivers, in my book, generally deserve nothing but praise.)
    Normally, we would walk the extremely short distance from the Jitney stop to our house, but we were coming off four days in the city where my husband had recuperated from outpatient surgery. Each of us carried a tote bag, and I was dragging our bulky, heavy suitcase, in which we had consolidated our belongings. Our car, left in the Reutershan parking lot, was buried under a mountain of snow. Even though it’s only a five-minute stroll to our front door under normal circumstances, on this dark and icy night we had no choice but to get into a cab.
    If you keep up with the news in these parts, you know that the East Hampton Town Board has been trying to come up with an effective law for licensing taxis. After Sunday night’s misadventure, I am convinced some sort of more diligent oversight is indeed overdue.
    When someone approached us to offer his services as we stepped off the bus, I gladly said yes. He picked up my heavy suitcase and forged swiftly up Main Street to his vehicle, which was quite far away. I chased after him, maneuvering the patchy snow and ice, as Chris waited at the stop for us to come back and pick him up.
    The taxi driver was already in his seat when I made it to the van, and he didn’t look up as I awkwardly navigated my way up and around snow banks and struggled to pull open the heavy sliding door. When I said I couldn’t get the door closed again, he was forced to turn around and acknowledge my presence. We went to fetch Chris, who just managed to make it from the snowy curb to the car. As he opened the front passenger door, the driver told him to get in back.
    The driver knew where Edwards Lane was, but for whatever reason was reluctant to leave us in front of our house, instead wanting to go around to the back, which would have meant a considerably longer trudge through the mounds of snow. When we asked how much the fare was, he answered, “Eight dollars,” then quickly recanted, saying, “No, twelve.”
    Chris climbed out of the car first, and as I got out, the driver started to pull away. “The suitcase!” I shouted, banging on a window. So he got out, carried it around to where I was standing, and dumped it unceremoniously into about eight inches of snow.
    After pushing open the partially frozen front door and getting inside, we felt like we had been attacking the summit of K2 — on the back of an abused and resentful sherpa — not paying a premium for a short taxi ride.
    The morose, strange, and indeed even hostile behavior of the taxi driver toward two — let’s just say it — senior citizens on an slippery winter’s night was inexplicable. Unless, I thought, he was stoned. Or jonesing for a fix. Or possibly just too simpleminded to notice the struggles of others. (There is, of course, a third explanation: That the driver had simply had a long, hard weekend ferrying people through the storm, and he was overtired.)
    Whatever the case, I’m glad I’m not among those trying to decide how to write a local law to make sure that fees are fair and predictable, that taxi drivers are competent, and that they aren’t climbing behind the wheel while under the influence of some substance or other.
    But if I see that taxi driver again on a dark night, he should watch out, or I might go De Niro on him.
    You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?