Beware scary taxi adventures
Tuesday Voice on Friday
Last Friday, my friend Mary Anne had her 19th birthday. To celebrate, her friends and I decided to leave the pleasures of the South Dining Hall behind and eat dinner with her in a restaurant where klutzes bearing trays less frequently appear.
Overjoyed by the prospect of having dinner without first having a gauntlet for food, we utilized the mode of off-campus transportation most readily available to freshmen: a cab. At 7:00 p.m., the familiar yellow mini-vans arrived. I piled into the first one with seven of my friends. Our friendly, but mathematically-challenged driver, insisted that he could transport nine of our group, despite the conspicuous presence of only seven seats. As other members of our group expressed their desire not to sit on their friends' laps while noting the presence of two more vans, our driver grew visibly annoyed. I thought that he might physically grasp at the two dollars walking away in the form of Mary Anne's roommate, Angela.
As our driver confirmed our T.G.I. Friday destination, he placed his foot on the gas and sped down Notre Dame Avenue. I clutched the back seat. My knuckles turned white. My heart jumped as he barely avoided rear-ending another car. Obviously annoyed that his speedometer read only 40 miles per hour, he lamented the grandpa-like pace of the Buick in front of us but seized the opportunity to impart the wisdom of taxi drivers.
"Have you ever been to New York?" he asked with his head fully facing the back of the van. A few of us softly replied affirmatively. "Well, you know those cabbies there drive crazy."
As we turned left onto Angela Avenue, we left the slow Buick behind. Inspired by an apparent subconscious wish to be Mario Andretti, our driver slammed on the gas pedal and flew through the light at Juniper. That light must have been orange or pink, I thought, as we raced along Edison. Beth, who sat directly in front of me, turned around wide-eyed and pale-faced.
"Let's see if I can get in front of these people," our driver exclaimed as he crossed two lanes of traffic and left four enraged drivers in his wake. Has he no fear? I thought. Hasn't he ever watched "20/20"? Road rage is real today.
Refuge, disguised as T.G.I. Friday's, appeared on our right. At the door to the restaurant, we each paid our two-dollar fee and vowed to call another company for the ride back to campus. Dinner passed enjoyably, but uneventfully, compared to our adventurous journey there. After paying the bill, we searched the phone book for another taxi company, called in our request and waited outside. A half-hour later, an eerily similar van appeared. We climbed in. Our new driver greeted us and asked our destination. "McGlinn Hall," Beth answered.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, he forgot that Americans drive on the right side of the road and proceeded to guide the van along the left side of the avenue between Meijer and the restaurants. Those of us in the cab were unable to speak during the terrifying 15-yard drive to the light at Grape Road. Our driver recognized his error as we turned left onto Grape. He redeemed himself by returning us safely to campus with his eyes and his cab on the right side of the road.
My Friday night experience may have marked an extreme encounter with the incompetence of the local cab companies. But travel in taxis usually leaves me with an increased pulse and a greater appreciation for the green mini-van that I drove at home. It may not have had air-conditioning or properly working windshield wipers, but at least I controlled it, for better or worse.
However, the generally dangerous, reckless driving of the local taxi drivers, as illustrated by our recent experience, should concern the University and inspire strong support within the administration for the success of an improved and expanded SafeRide program. Student drivers, not motivated by profit, have fewer reasons to speed or to drive carelessly. The driving tactics of some cab drivers in pursuit of the greatest volume of passengers possible may result in tragedies as terrible as those caused by inebriated students behind the wheel.
Responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the students to demand safe transportation. Piling 10, 11 or 15 people into a mini-van may afford an adrenaline rush to some on a Friday or Saturday night, but this abets the irresponsible conduct of some taxi drivers.
The crazy ones are not confined to New York.
Joanna Mikulski is a freshman from McGlinn Hall. Her column appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Friday, March 3, 2000