FOUNTAIN: I’m still America’s taxi boogeyman, but now I can get a lift
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
I stand on Michigan Avenue in the warm sun, needing a lift up north. For once, I am oblivious to the swirl and buzz of afternoon taxis.
With Android in hand, I open my app and let my fingers input my destination to digitally hail a ride.
I used to lift my right hand while attempting to summon a taxi in a kind of bourgeois flick intended to signal that I am a “safe” fare.
Back then, even with a dapper suit, white shirt and tie and spit-shined shoes — sometimes even raising my reporter’s notebook — hailing a taxi in my hometown and every other urban American center where I lived was a game of cat and mouse.
The anxiety of the experience, the embarrassment of being passed up for lighter skin — as in white skin — made me sometimes walk to my destination in sweltering summer heat or winter frost.
Those walks seldom quelled my anger or pain over being America’s taxi boogeyman.
As a writer, I once chronicled this travail known to many a black man — our taxi cross to bear. A sobering slap in the face, it reminds us that no matter how high our socioeconomic climb, the color of our skin is still a potential barrier to securing something as infinitesimal as a cab ride. A symbol of our eternal consignment as America’s Negro.
Our eyes have seen a taxi’s taillights glaring in the distance. Our souls have known the splash from tires spinning in a puddle while left standing curbside with arm lifted.
Within seconds this afternoon, a white Toyota Prius appears on bustling Monroe Street. It swerves to the curb to scoop me. A smiling driver greets me. I climb into the back passenger side and sink into the seat in a cloud of euphoria over the ability — thanks to technology and innovation — to bypass my taxi-hailing trepidation.
I say as much to my Lyft driver with an almost childish glee. He laughs aloud as we roll north and I unpack the anguish of decades.
I tell him about the time a black taxi driver some years ago did stop for me. How I told that driver, who was African, about my dilemma and how he explained: “It is hard for me, even as a taxi driver, to get a taxi myself…”
I fired back. “But I have on a suit and I’m downtown. I am not a robber…”
“Dat meeeans nuh-ting,” I recall in my best accent of the African taxi driver’s response to me at the time. “Robbers wear suits too… Whenever a taxi driver is shot or robbed, it is always a black man…”
Truth is: The taxi driver passing me up many days was a black man.
My Lyft driver laughs some more. I laugh too. I tell him about the time when I lived in Midtown Manhattan and tried to catch a cab one sunny summer Sunday morning to church in Harlem with my wife and two young daughters.
Our concierge — witnessing my difficulty — flagged a taxi for me. I leaned in to tell the driver where we were going. He saw my black face. His face twisted in disapproval.
I don’t remember what I said exactly. But it wasn’t something you could write in a family newspaper.
My wife and eldest daughter caught the drift, however, as the driver sped off, signaling with his index finger circling the side of his noggin that he thought I was loco.
Nope. Just tired.
Nowadays I’m just happy to know that a brother can get a lift, even if there’s still a long way to go.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org.