Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Cab Ride Disaster: Seeing through another’s Eyes: A True Story

It had been a long grueling day at a conference. I was happy to see taxis waiting just outside and rushed to grab one. But I was also a Chicago gal, and I feared getting stung on an unknown rate. I always ask cabbies what they charge before I get into their car. I marched up to the first cabbie.

He mumbled, “I’m not sure, it’s a meter.”

Nope. I wasn’t going to do that. I walked down the row to the next cab. He was asking too much money. I moved to the next cab. His fare sounded reasonable but as I moved to get into the car, he moved slowly forward to follow the line of cabs. I followed him. Finally, a ride toward home!

As I approached the car door, a large union worker barked at me.

“There’s a line here! You need to get in line!”

Was it my great fatigue, or was it anger at the accusation? I wasn’t the type to cut in line. I hadn’t noticed any line. My voice was strong and fierce.

“I’ve been here! I was here before the others!”

I moved to the cab again.

“You need to get in line!”

I wasn’t going to fight with the burly union worker. There was one woman waiting for a cab. I stood behind her.

“Go ahead,” she said kindly.

Again, I moved to the cab.

“You need to—“ The union worker was yelling now.

“She told me to take this cab!” I was almost pleading. What was going on?

“How should I know that?” He bellowed and continued to complain to himself and others.

Finally, I got into the cab.

I told the driver my destination. He repeated it, using a slightly different name. I confirmed. We drove in silence.

I’ve always been nervous taking cabs. I prefer to walk if I can. Now we were driving in an unknown part of town. I repeated my destination.

“I know where I’m going,” he said, “just let me drive!”

I was shocked by his angry tone. Chicago cabbies could be tough but this seemed extreme. We continued through unknown streets. He wanted me to be quiet but I wasn’t going to risk a misunderstanding and an unwanted destination.

“I’m sorry,” I started, “but I want to make sure we’re going to Union Station. I don’t recognize where we’re going.”

“I know where we are going. This is the route I always take. If you want to get out of the cab now, I can stop now. Don’t tell me how to drive.”

What could I do? I was driving with an enraged cabbie in a dodgy, unfamiliar neighborhood. Still, I had learned to be strong in the city and not let myself be a victim. Also, my taxi ride that morning had taken me to the wrong spot.

“I just want to make sure that---“

“Listen lady, just because you’re having a hard day and you’re screaming at everyone else, doesn’t mean that you get to scream at me. I won’t take it. I won’t. You don’t get to throw your garbage at me.”

I sat stunned. This was a bad dream. Yelled at by the union worker, and now this cabbie. Even though my tone had been soft and civil, he assumed I was a raving witch. How had I seemed to him earlier, as I struggled outside his cab?

I kept quiet. The cabbie continued to berate me, and then also grew quiet. I saw we were nearing Union Station. I gathered my bags.

“Have a good day, lady.” He said. Was he feeling sorry for his tirade or just sorry for the angry woman with a bad attitude?

I hesitated. I had a choice: create more anger or seek peace?

I took a deep breath. “You have a good day too.”

We see all events through a prism of our history, our current mood, and our beliefs. I saw myself as a tired commuter, unaware of the taxi line protocol. To the cabbie, I was a pushy woman who abused his friend, the union enforcer. Our communication was further complicated by my fears of taxi rides and (probably) the cabbie’s own challenging day.

My cab “disaster” was a vivid lesson showing me how all interactions are a complex mix of conscious and unconscious attitudes and assumptions. Even though I felt mistreated by the cabbie and the enforcer, I suddenly realized that they were only trying to do their jobs and each saw me as a rule-breaker.

I doubt that I’ll ever see either Chicagoan again. But the event helps me remember that we each see the world differently. Keeping this in mind can help me communicate with more compassion and help bring more harmony to my tiny corner of world.

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