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Orange County

OC Cabbie: How It Works

by RhodesTer on January 5, 2010

in NOT Humor/Satire

A few years ago I barely made a living as a taxi driver in Huntington Beach California, and I decided to blog about it at the time. The blog is long gone, but I’ve resurrected a handful of the posts that I’m republishing here in a week-long series called OC CABBIE.

Missed the beginning? Start here if you’d like.

from early 2007..

OC Cabbie: How It Works

San Francisco Taxicab Number 347 by Thomas Hawk

It’s Saturday and in a few scant hours I’ll be cruising the Huntington Beach area with the other guys on “the crew” – the aforementioned cast of characters who provide transportation services to those downtrodden individuals of society who suffer from sobriety impairment and/or driver’s license deficiency.

I didn’t ask to be initiated into this gang, nor did I sit down for an interview or fill out an application – I simply leased a taxi from the taxi company and while I was sitting in front of Max’s Sports Pub on Beach Boulevard one evening waiting for a call, ACE, who is the official “godfather of transportation for hire” much in the same way that James Brown was the “godfather of soul,” pulled up alongside me in his spiffy black Lincoln Town Car and asked what I was doing.

“Sitting in front of Max’s, waiting for a call,” said I.

We talked for a while, mostly about taxi driving, and I told him of the few years experience I had gleaned by driving a taxi in Oregon, which pales significantly to his 30+ years of driving in Huntington Beach, but I must have said something right because he asked me if I’d be open to taking a few “personal calls,” meaning that he’d ring me up on my cell phone and hand off anything that he was too busy to take care of himself. I readily agreed, but I initially (and mistakenly) thought that I’d be picking up a few calls here and there between dispatch calls given by the taxi company – boy, was I in for an awakening.

When one leases a taxi from a taxi company, (depending on what the lease agreement states) one can go out and provide taxi services to people in a number of different areas and by different means. With our company, we can cover any area in Orange County except for the city of Anaheim (aka “Disney Resort”) and John Wayne Airport (yes, we have an airport named after a movie cowboy, because if anything comes to mind when talking about the beaches of southern California, it’s cowboys.)

Drivers need special permits for these places because otherwise every driver in Orange county would work at either of them and none would work elsewhere. A driver can take calls given to him/her by the taxi company through the dispatch service, wait in a taxi line with other taxis at a hotel or shopping mall, pull over to pick up people who “flag” a taxi, or take personal calls from people who know him/her and call directly. The latter method is how Ace and the crew operate, and on weekends the calls come in fast and furious.

I had a few “personals” while driving for the cab company in Oregon, but this was more than several years ago, before all drivers had cell phones and the dispatcher detested taking personal calls for drivers – he’d rather have assigned a driver to a call, because (I guess) he felt like a personal secretary if he had to stoop so low as to simply pass out messages to drivers over the 2-way radio. It was in a driver’s best interest to refrain from pissing off the dispatcher at that time and since personal calls pissed off the dispatcher, I didn’t make it a practice.

It’s a different story here in Orange County, given that I don’t even know who our dispatcher is. It’s a much larger operation and 2-way radios are a thing of the past. Each car is equipped with a computer terminal and each driver is required by county regulations to have a cell phone. When calls come from dispatch, they arrive as “instant messages” on the computer terminal and either get accepted or rejected by the driver, using the appropriate keys – not a word is exchanged between the dispatch service and the driver.

On top of that, a driver needs to “post” on the computer terminal when he wants to take calls from the company dispatch but according to the lease agreement, the dispatch is provided only as a service and the driver needn’t use it at all, so posting is optional. If a driver never posts he can still take his taxi out and run calls by some other method and there are no hard feelings. Ace claims not to have posted on the computer for 2 years. Tiny, in his white stretch limo, doesn’t even have a computer. Both of them make a living from the personal calls they have built up over the years. The handful of other drivers in the group, such as myself, post on the computer and take dispatch calls during the slower hours but on weekend evenings it’s generally unnecessary.

I should explain that Tiny was a taxi driver for many years, but he isn’t anymore – he’s a limo driver. It’s a different licensing system for him, but it’s perfectly legal. He simply hires out his limo for a trip much in the same that you’d rent a limo for an evening. You’d pay something like $400.00 to the limo company to get a vehicle and driver for a 4 hour stint on a Saturday evening, and you’d pay about ten bucks to get in Tiny’s limo and have him take you from Surf City Saloon on Beach to downtown. There’s no meter, you’re just renting a limo for about 15 minutes. The only limitation he has is that he can’t take flags or walk ups; the person wanting to hire him must call and request him. The rest of us have meters and lease from one of the slew of taxi companies in Orange County. Ace and I, along with several other drivers, are with the same company whereas Kurt leases from a competitor and only on weekends.

We don’t generally run the meters for regular personals though – trips between certain areas of Huntington Beach and to outlying areas such as John Wayne Airport, Disney Resort and Los Angeles are “flat rated,” meaning that the driver quotes a certain fare before starting out and the passenger agrees to it. It’s a good idea to run the meter on a first time passenger, but the regular locals balk at it. On a run that’s made often, the passenger just hands me a 5, 10 or 20 dollar bill before jumping out and the fare hasn’t even been mentioned during the trip – it’s just what they always pay and will continue to pay as long as that particular trip is made.

I should point out on this very public BLOG that it’s illegal in Orange County, California for a taxi driver to charge over what the meter would read out for any given trip, so if a regular pays over that amount the balance is always considered to be a gratuity. The regulars know this, but I’m always careful to run the meter on a first timer so that they know they aren’t being overcharged. If Joe always goes from point A to point B in the city and always pays a ten-dollar bill but that trip meters out to seven bucks on average, Joe is always tipping three bucks, which he knows. There’s no jacking up the meter by “taking the long way” or inflating flat rates with this group – passengers are commonly referred to as customers and treated accordingly, with fairness and good service.

There’s no competition between us either, because we look out for each other and pass calls off to each other in a manner to ensure that everyone makes a living and that the customers are taken care of without having to wait too long. If I get a personal call while I’m on a rather long jaunt, I’ll call another driver in the group to see if he can handle it so that my customer won’t have to wait very long.

That’s the idea of the whole thing, and I think that’s the ideology that Ace must have picked up on when he first spoke with me in front of Max’s. It’s a rare ideology among taxi drivers, but it’s one that works and ensures repeat business again and again and again..

It’s the Zen of taxi driving.


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I don’t know if it’s a sign of a prolific writer that he can lose an entire blog and forget about it, but that’s exactly what I did.


While recently looking at some things I had published a few years ago on Google’s BLOGGER platform, I came across OC CABBIE, a short-lived blog I was writing to chronicle my adventures as a cab driver in California’s Orange County.

The blog was short-lived because my cab driving career was. I ended up owing the cab company $750.00 in back lease after only a few months in service, so when I finally gave up and gave back my shiny 2002 Crown Victoria, I swore I’d never again get into another cab unless I was a passenger.

So far I’ve managed to avoid even that.

I enjoyed certain aspects of driving a cab, but weighed against the things I didn’t enjoy – the abusive drunks, the long hours, the constant fear of being robbed – it didn’t come out in the end. I don’t miss it one itty bit, but it did make for some interesting stories.

That’s why I started up OC CABBIE.. to impart the adventures I had behind the wheel and also to answer those questions that everyone seemed to ask when they got into the back seat of my cab.. “Do you make much money? How does the fare work? Ever been robbed?”


I deleted the blog, but only after first importing the handful of posts that were languishing in obscurity. To start off our new year I’ve resurrected them here in a week-long series that I’m calling, appropriately, OC CABBIE.

from early 2007..

OC Cabbie: Fear And Loathing In Huntington Beach

Taxi by Al FedCall a particular phone number in Huntington Beach, California in the evening to request a taxi and you might just get a limousine instead. It’s an older model that’s seen better days just like its driver, but both have a certain class and charisma that the locals find charming. The driver is a great teddy bear of a man who goes by the absurdly inaccurate moniker of “Tiny.” With a long, white beard accentuating his shiny bald head and jolly frame, he’s endlessly compared to a southern California beach version of Santa Claus due to a mirthful laugh and mischievous grin. The ladies adore this ebullient elf, often taking to his lap when arriving at their destination so as to place a big kiss on his cheek; a gift to thank him for a safe and enjoyable ride home from the bar, club or house party where he had initially picked them up.

Call that same number and you may not get Tiny and his limo at all – you just might get “Ace” instead, who will arrive in an elegant black Town Car complete with XM Satellite Radio so that he can dial up the music of your choice as you glide along to your destination in fashionable comfort. No need to give this ZZ TOP look-alike any directions, he’s only been driving a taxi in Huntington Beach for about 30 years, so he knows the way downtown if you’re “just looking for some tush.” It’s possible that he hasn’t shaved in that long either judging by the bushy beard, which facilitates the personae that the baseball cap, ponytail and Levi jacket have started.

If your mood leans a bit to the wilder side, you can pray to the gods of rock and roll that “Kruzin Kurt” will show up with one of the few taxis where smoking is allowed and solemnity is banned. Kurt will crank up Zeppelin when they blare from the radio, but not so that you can’t hear him excitedly impart his account of the previous passenger, who either stiffed him on the fare, doubled the tip, tossed their cookies in his cab or decided to ride topless, depending on whether or not it’s a full moon that particular evening. Under a wicked lion’s mane of white hair, Kurt is our very own “Reverend Jim,” who seems as though he might have once lived in Haight-Ashbury (I don’t think he ever did, he just seems like he did.) Straight-arrows and corporate types might want to wait for the bus.

There are a handful of other drivers, all of them characters straight out of a Hunter S. Thompson novel, and I’m the newest of them – my name is Dave. You can either call me that or one of the nicks that the boys have given me, “DJ DAVE” or “WRONG WAY DAVE,” the latter of which I earned by going south when the destination lay to the north, and vice-versa.

I told you I was new at this, and they knew it too, but STILL decided to saddle me with this dreadful name that I halfheartedly agreed to let ACE print on the calling cards that he made up for me to hand out to customers.. at least for now. The “DJ DAVE” nick seemed the obvious first choice after I had informed them about my stellar career as a disc jockey in radio, which didn’t work out very well as evidenced by the fact that I now drive a yellow Crown Victoria with a roof light on top, in which I give people rides in exchange for money. My radio days are long behind me (I was actually replaced by automation.. grrr.. ) and so are my days as an actor, mime, audio producer and film/TV extra. I’ve had a few various careers in my time, but I must honestly say that driving a taxi, especially in Huntington Beach, is one of the most entertaining and challenging endeavors that I’ve ever tackled.

One thing that I like to do besides drive, is write. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not I’m any good at it, but I’ve liked writing for many years and I find it to be relaxing and therapeutic. Despite the fact that taxi driving can be so darned entertaining at times it can be stressful too, with long hours and difficult customers, so I hope that keeping a BLOG about my adventures will be a welcome outlet to blow off steam while amusing my readers and possibly even inviting a lawsuit or two.

So, welcome to OC CABBIE. Fasten your seat belts and ignore the meter, it will only distract you from the scenery as we head south.. er, uh.. I mean NORTH.


TECHNICAL NOTE: Ace, Tiny and Kurt had been at taxi driving for so long, they didn’t take calls from dispatch. Some companies don’t allow drivers to live off of personal calls alone or take them directly, but that’s what those guys did. They’d compiled hundreds, maybe even thousands, of personal customers who’d call them directly on their mobile phones when a ride was needed.

Kurt only turned on his dispatch computer when business was slow, Ace never turned his on at all, and Tiny didn’t even have one in his old limo since he wasn’t operating a licensed taxi. He’d quote a “limo fare” to a customer at the beginning of a ride and he didn’t run a meter – they’d pay what was agreed upon when they started out. It was legal because he had a limo-operating permit.. the same kind a limo company has to charge you $500.00 for 4 hours out on the town, only Tiny would charge ten dollars from Bar A to Bar B, and then someone else ten dollars to go to Bar C, which all added up at the end of the night.

I got in on the action when Ace approached me about taking some of his personal calls for him on weekends when it got busy. When business was slammed and he had several other drivers helping him with calls, he was basically running his own little taxi dispatch service.


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