The Customer is Always Disposable

(Or Three Things Not to Expect from your VI Taxi Drivers)

Prefer to avoid disappointment on vacation? Then might I suggest you do not expect VI taxi drivers to exhibit the following qualities. With this in mind, you may actually experience pleasant surprises when encountering the few cab drivers who meet your stateside standards.

1. They’ll take you wherever you’d like to go.

This is especially true on St. John. Want to take a taxi across the island from Cruz Bay to Coral Bay? Sorry, not gon’ do it. Need to get to your villa in Fish Bay? They’ll take you to the Westin, and you can hitch it from there. Even though taxi rates do exist for places all over the island, the likelihood that a driver will take you from the ferry dock to Skinny Legs— even if you’re willing to pay the premium— is slim. Most go as far as they deem convenient.

2. They will share the road with courtesy and professionalism.

A few weeks ago on the busiest day of the year, a taxi driver threw a tantrum outside the condos I manage. I was in my office, vainly trying to make progress on a growing pile of paperwork, when a guest entered and told me, “You have an angry taxi driver up there.”

“That’s nothing new,” I said, not bothering to look up from the computer. This was no day for bullshit.

Then his wife came in and said, “Is that your little silver car parked on the side of the road? Because that’s one of the things he’s complaining about.”

I let out a deep, dramatic sigh, rubbing my forehead in the universal gesture of managerial stress.

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Or not…

“I am not feeling diplomatic today,” I said flatly. It was one of those days when smiling, something usually quite natural to me, was impossible without valiant effort.

I walked up the stairs to the parking lot and found a safari bus stopped in the 1.5 lane road behind our buildings, thereby blocking traffic in both directions. I gathered that his vexation was due to my little Corolla, and a larger SUV parked on the side of the road. They kept him from passing, the driver claimed.

Of the many problems on my docket, this was certainly not one of them. My patience was running on fumes.

About a dozen guests who’d been on island to participate in a week-long meditation retreat were checking out that morning.  A couple of them were peacefully trying to reason with the taxi driver, who probably could have passed by pulling in his mirror. My car wasn’t the problem, this being my regular parking space. The SUV might have been in the way, but it wasn’t a rental car, judging from the dents, scratches, and Positive is How I Live bumper sticker. It didn’t belong to any of my guests and was therefore not my responsibility.

“I don’t know whose car that is. It looks local to me so it doesn’t belong to any of my guests,” I said to the taxi driver, “Can you just go the other way around the loop?” I’ve taken this four minute detour on several occasions when the road had been blocked.

“I ain’t movin’. My home up da hill, jus right d’eh. I no move.” He shook his head violently.

“Okay. Well, then… Can I get you something to drink while you wait?” I asked in the fake pleasant tone that comes out when I’m seething inside. It generally fools no one, the rage in my eyes belying the exaggerated smile.

“No, Miss. I close to my home now. I live jus up da hill.” He said, his voice now bordering on plaintive.

By this time cars waited in both directions for him to move.

“Okay, enjoy your wait then!” I said, heading back down to the office.

Fortunately for the neighborhood, a couple of blissed-out meditators managed to convince him to back into the neighbor’s driveway so the waiting cars could pass. I guess he figured that after backing up, he was halfway to turning around, so he did, indeed, head the other direction, presumably the short detour that would take him home.

Of course, if he’d taken the detour in the first place, he’d have been there already.

A couple days later, I was at the bustling ferry dock picking up a massive collection of luggage from our most loyal guests. This was a two person job, and my friend had already filled his jeep. I needed to get my Corolla over to the loading space for the rest of their bags, which were far too heavy and numerous to roll and carry down the block to my car. There was little time to waste.

Except that there was.

Because a cab driver— the only one on island, in fact, who has his very own parking space in Cruz Bay— decided that before departing with his full load of passengers, he must wash his windshield.

His private parking spot is apparently not the windshield-washing place, because that place belonged to the bit of roadway directly behind my legally-parked car. Double-parking is common downtown. Most people usually come running when they see me waiting to get out. Not this guy.

He saw me walk briskly to my car, get in, turn on the engine, and swivel my head expectently, waiting for him to move so I could reverse. I could tell he knew I was there, but acknowledge me, he did not.

So I did something I rarely do. I honked.

He glanced briefly in my direction, holding up his hand to let me know I could wait. When the windshield was spotless, rather than taking the paper towels with him, he did something I rarely see locals do. He sauntered twenty paces over to the dumpster and threw them away. The walk back to his safari was a leisurely one.

It’s okay. It’s not like I was doing anything all that important, anyway.

3. They will transport you to your final destination, as agreed upon when entering the vehicle.

One unfortunate evening a couple years ago when living on St. Thomas, I managed to lose my keys at an outdoor restaurant. I had a spare car key at my home du jour about a 20 minute drive away. The loser accompanying me (the person who actually lost the keys) called a cab. Someone he’d used before. This, I suppose, should have been an indication that more trouble lie ahead.

A large van arrived. I told the driver where I was headed and we agreed to a fare of $15. On the way, he received a few phone calls. Allow me to remind you that talking on your phone while driving is expressly prohibited in the VI. You are, in fact, far more likely to get pulled over for talking on your phone behind the wheel than for taking a swig from your Heineken at a red light. No matter for this driver, he answered the phone each time, chatting briefly. This didn’t bother me so much.

What bothered me was that three quarters of the way to my destination, he decided to pick up his girlfriend from work, which required abandoning me. She, evidently, was the one calling. The matter was non-negotiable. He intended to drop me, the paying customer, at a location other than my final destination to keep his girlfriend from waiting.

And where did he choose to drop this white girl at 9pm on a Thursday evening? Why, at Market Square, of course! A historical plaza in the heart of downtown Charlotte Amalie, it used to be the site for slave auctions. It now serves as a gathering spot where even most grown (law-abiding) men make a point of avoiding after sundown.

He couldn’t have been in a bigger hurry to discard me. He’d actually started up Solberg hill, just minutes from my home, when he did a quick u-turn, and took me back downtown.

“Don’t worry,” he told me, “My frien’ take you res’ da way. I not gon charge you.”

“Oh, how kind, thank you,” I said.

He pointed at a guy leaning against a brown beater.

“Hey! Take de gyal up da hill fah me!”

The guy jumped into action, ushering me toward his obviously unlicensed gypsy cab.

Too bewildered and mildly amused to be frightened, I got into the backseat, told him where I was going, and up the hill we went. It took 5 minutes to get there, and he charged me the full $15 I’d negotiated with the first driver.

But I got home in one piece. And the first driver got his piece too.

If I’ve learned anything in the VI, it’s that the needs and desires of your taxi driver far outweigh your own. Paying customer or not.

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