Taxi drivers are a group of storytellers that often go unacknowledged in this city.
In my experience, you’re able to hear a driver’s life story, learn a few of their dreams and get to the train station for about $15.
The taxicab is a place where we hear stories they never would reveal in the grocery store line-up, let alone any other public space, but why?
It may be something about the space of a taxi cab itself. It’s a temporary human connection that’s over in a matter of minutes. There’s a freedom in knowing that you’ll never see that person again.
Starting in the mid-1990s, there was an HBO show called Taxicab Confessions that filmed passengers in New York cabs.
The show managed to go on for 11 seasons, owing to the sheer amount of stories people told in the average taxi cab.
Whatever influenced the passengers of Taxicab Confessions to share their most intimate stories with cab drivers influences the drivers here in Kingston, as well.
Over the last four years, I’ve met a variety of drivers, all of whom were different — except in their willingness to talk.
The longer I stayed in Kingston, the more stories I started to gather. Others experienced them too. When we started sharing these stories both horrifying and life-affirming tales came out.
My most notable experience with an honest cab driver was during a ride to the VIA Rail station in my second year.
The cab ride started off great. We had a friendly conversation about how happy he was to get all these Thanksgiving fares and I talked about my dog. That’s when I asked him what his craziest experience as a cab driver was.
The driver smiled, looked me in the eyes and told me he’d been cheating on his wife in the cab for the past three years.
I wouldn’t believe what some people did to pay off their fares, he added.
I was floored. My eyes went wide and I took a deep breath, not sure how to react.
He saw the worry in my eyes as he went on to reassure me that what his wife didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt her.
I told him I didn’t think that was true.
He just smiled and reminded me that he’s older, so he would know.
Laughing to himself as we pulled up to the train station, he wished me a good day and gave a wave as he drove off.
I was rattled. I just asked for a cool story, I wasn’t expecting a stranger to reveal their deepest secrets and character flaws.
I went on my way and told the story at Thanksgiving supper, much to my parents’ horror.
This isn’t an irregular occurrence, either. Evan Lepp recalled a story just this month when he was getting a taxi back from laser tag.
“The conversation started so innocently. The driver asked where our residence was, we told him and we were talking about the weather,” Lepp, ConEd’18, said. “But then it all changed when the driver started telling us a story about how a student tried to stab him.”
The cab driver described in detail the way he got excited to be able to defend himself.
“The man said that he was a security guard before becoming a driver so he used all of his skills when defending himself,” Lepp said.
“He told us he broke the man’s jaw, his nose and was punching him for 20 minutes before calling the police.”
To finish his story, the man played it off as a joke.
“The driver then told us that the cops were confused when they arrived.
They wanted to know where the knife was if the student was trying to stab him.
The driver told the cops, ‘I took the knife and stabbed him back! You’ll find it in his leg.’”
Lepp said the driver started laughing a lot at this point, but still continued his story.
“The driver admitted to us that the cops convicted him with an excessive use of force.
“But he laughed as he told us about his conviction and kept looking at us to laugh with him,” Lepp said.
“We were looking at each other with wide eyes, laughing out of fear.”
Stories like Lepp’s may serve as warnings against chatting with your taxi drivers, but there’s an equally positive side to this Kingston brand of honesty too.
I once had a driver who was full of knowledge of Kingston.
My girlfriend at the time and I spent a 20-minute cab ride learning the stories behind every sign and road within the University District from this well-informed man.
Near the end of our trip, the man revealed why he told us all of these facts.
Plain and simple, he loves Kingston’s history. For that reason, he said he tries to share it with each student that enters his cab. Drew Sauve remembers another positive experience of a driver who told him about how she saved her current dog.
“She went into detail about how she saved her baby husky from being drowned by a farmer. She took it home and raised it,” Sauve, ArtSci ’15, said.
“I will never forget how sweet that story was.”
Cab drivers have overheard their fair share of stories from students as well.
John Copus has only been driving with Amey’s for a mere six months, yet he already has a collection of stories under his belt.
He claims the most interesting experience that took place in his cab was a squabbling couple.
“I’ve had a couple have a fight in the back seat, over another woman,” Copus said. “That would have to be the most dramatic thing that’s happened.”
He’s even considered writing about all the stories he’s heard from clients.
“To be honest with you, I thought about writing a book on the most interesting thing people have done in their lives every time they get in a cab.
“I’ve been debating about whether to do that, to ask people what’s the most interesting thing they’ve done in their lives,” he said.
“It’d be amazing. You get people from all over the world, who have been all over the world, been in all sorts of different occupations.” Rose Walker works with City Taxi and in the close to 30 years she’s been driving, she’s heard an innumerable amount of awkwardly personal stories.
“Because I’m older,” she said. “I think that does help in a lot of cases … maybe because they relate to the mother, the grandmother.” Joan Sutherland, another Kingston driver, remembered a particular connection she unexpectedly had with a group of students.
“[T]here were three girls, women, that I drove to the police station because they needed to get a police check for the work that they were doing and somebody had forgotten something, so we drove back and then we had to go back out again and then I dropped them,” Sutherland said.
“[S]o it was a long time and we discovered that a couple of them and I had been to the same high school in Toronto and we chatted about that for a bit.” Before we parted ways, Sutherland left me with one last thing to consider.
“For 40 years I was a violinist in the symphony orchestra, so my career was not taxi driving.
Most … taxi drivers have a background in something else that involved their passions, their skills.”
Her comment was a welcome reminder that taxi drivers can’t be understood entirely by the service they provide.
Perhaps the reason drivers want to talk is that they have something valuable to share about themselves.
For better or for worse, I’ve found that you’ll gain a new perspective with every ride.
— With files from Chloë Grande and Kate Meagher
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