True Story: I Was A Lady Cab Driver

This is one of many True Story interviews, in which we talk to people who have done interesting/amazing/challenging things. This is the story of Mara and her summer driving cab in Massachusetts.

What made you want to be a cab driver?
Somewhere along the way, driving a cab became a little bit of a family business. My sister started driving when she was 18, about four years ago, and the other sister followed in suit. I started driving, so that I could spend more time with them during the summer months when time is short on Cape Cod, because everyone is so busy working all the time! I figured, if we worked together, we would get to see each other more often.

Also, the company that I used to cab for is run and operated by all of my childhood friends, more of a family than a business, and the camaraderie was so infectious. You are driving at all hours of the day and night, so you really start to value and depend on the people you are working with. Mercedes Cab is essentially a rag-tag group of crazy kids who work 12-18 hours a day and love one another unconditionally.

How did you go about applying for the job? Was the application/interview process any different than that of other jobs?
I was basically gifted the job, based on the fact that my sisters are awesome and they had proven to be kick-ass cab drivers. The only real application process was applying for my cab license – which in Provincetown, MA requires a yearly check-up to make sure you are fit to drive, filling out the application, paying the fee, and appearing in front of the town’s licensing board. It is difficult to get a license if you have prior driving infractions, a criminal record, or (since it’s a very small town) a bad reputation. Going in front of the board was a little scary for me, but mostly they just ask you to locate a street in town and make sure you haven’t done anything that would count against you. Baby sister and I went together to appear in front of the board, and all was squared away quickly, allowing me to be merrily on my way with a cab license in hand.

Which city were you driving in? Did you know the city really well before you started driving?
I was driving in Provincetown, MA, with occasional trips up the Cape or to Boston. Learning my way around the “city” – 3 mile/3 mile town, should have been easy as I grew up here, but there are so many secret little roads that you have to learn! I kept a sneaky little map that I could refer to on my own, so as not to sound like a moron, but you also have a dispatch office that you can consult when you’re lost. I hated radioing in when I didn’t know where I was going, but had to do it on more than a million occasions, particularly when you are looking for a little hotel/guest house.

How much money did you usually make in a day?
This really depended, but mostly, driving a cab was good money because your shifts were so long. Obviously, it was better on holidays or busy weekends or when it was raining – customarily though I made about $150-200 a shift. HOWEVER, I was on the bottom rung for shifts, and the better shifts, such as Friday or Saturday nights were better money. Unfortunately, a good indicator of the fact that this wasn’t a good job for me was that I hated working all the “good” shifts as they interfered with the nights that I liked to go out dancing! Priorities, priorities.

What were you co-workers like? how did they react to you?
Cab driving is a fairly male dominated occupation, though the cab company that I worked for had quite a few girls driving for it. Since we are in a small town, it is a relatively safe job, which I think is the fear for many about women driving cabs in big cities or really rural areas. There were occasions that I felt unsafe, but you just have to dig deep, feel tough, and act like nothing scares you.

Most of my co-workers were kids ages 18-26, though there were a few adults who worked for the company. The people who reacted the most strongly to my both being young (24 at the time) and female were my fares, who frequently commented about how young and girly I was. They didn’t want me to lift up their suitcases or expected me not to know how to drive a car (ludicrous) because I was a woman. One time I went to pick up a rather intoxicated man who wouldn’t get in the car with me because I was a girl.

Can you tell us about some of your most noteworthy riders
Well, there are many noteworthy fares throughout the course of the summer, but the people who you most often remember are the ones who either tip you a lot or treat you really badly. I had my fair share of drunk boys who would try to reach their hands around the seats and touch you while you are driving them home. I would ordinarily laugh it off, but if it got really out of hand I would threaten to kick them out 🙂 Never came to that though.

The biggest tipper I had that summer was one such case, where I was driving these three really, really drunk boys home at 2:30 in the morning, and were COMPLETELY out of hand. Whenever they did something atrocious, the most sober of the friends would hand me another twenty. I ended up making $120 on a $60 fare – totally worth it for all of the shenanigans. The most famous person that I drove was Jennifer Coolidge [Stifler’s mom in American Pie], but it was a very brief interaction.

What are the tricks of the trade?
I would say that the tricks of the trade are: if you don’t have a fare, STAY PUT – people will come to you as long as you make yourself visible. Moving around and looking for the best fare just ends up biting you in the end. Always have change, you don’t want to loose part of your fare just because you can’t make change. Don’t text and drive – it’s dangerous and your fares don’t like it. Bring healthy snacks, otherwise you end up eating pizza and milkshakes all day long. Bring a book and don’t waste your money on magazines. Be efficient, move quickly, but remember that you are in a moving vehicle and you must drive safely. Keep a map on hand so that you can keep stupid questions to a dull roar.

Are you still driving?
I’m not driving anymore, because it doesn’t fit into my schedule this summer as the shifts were too long to work doubles, ie. if you know that you are going to be at work the next morning, working until 2 or 3 AM is painful and exhausting. Also, I learned a valuable lesson about myself while I was driving cab – I am not the kind of person that is good at work/playing. Cab driving is all about half working and half socializing. I’ve learned that I am much happier when I go to work and work hard for a shorter period of time, and THEN socialize. However, it was a really fun job, and perhaps I will pick it back up at some point.

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in becoming a cabbie?
Pay attention to your intuition, if a situation feels strange, or you don’t want to pick someone up – don’t. That is probably the most important piece of advice. Also, work for a team that you can trust and who will have your back if something bad happens. You want to have a solid crew of people around that you can depend on. Don’t just look at the money, you have to remember to be safe. When you are driving cab, the promise of more and more cash can be alluring, BUT you have to stop and rest so that you can ensure that you are driving safely and responsibly.

Have any of you ever driven cab? Any questions for Mara?

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  1. Rebekah

    "Pay attention to your intuition, if a situation feels strange, or you don't want to pick someone up – don't."

    That's great advice for LIFE, not just cabbies. Trust those instincts.

    Neat interview!

  2. Laura

    Mara, you're a rock star! Being a female cabbie does sound like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing your story.

    My question is: what do you do for a living now?

  3. mara

    Ha. Now I do a myriad of things. Mostly I blog at Medicinal Marzipan and freelance online, but also I sell hula hoops. I'm in my first year of social work school – aspiring to become and art therapist. And yes, it was wicked fun.

    • Anonymous

      Mara as a man I would tell you it is not a safe job for a women what if the guy refuses pay and just gets out if you get out and try to get the money if he drunk he would maybe just laugh you off worst he might beat yo

  4. Bere Parra

    I support female cab drivers BIG TIME. Here in Mexico it's still very unusal to see a woman driving a cab, but in Mexico city the government recently launched a "pink taxi" program, designed to give female passengers a safer environment at certain times of day. This story is fun and inspiring, I bet Mara has a lot of great stories to tell!

  5. stace

    Is there a typo in the title?

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