My Iron Lady

(Warning: there’s a lot of cussing in this one.)

Even before Tuesday, I hated taxi cabs in this city.

Being sans-automobile means relying on others for your transportation, be it the kindness of friends, the bus, or … ugh … taxi.

My reasons for not owning a car are purely economic.  I live downtown so about 90% of the places I want to go are accessible by foot. Many of the places in the remaining 10% are accessible by Ottawa’s bus system. It’s not perfect, but for a $3.25 cash fare it’s as good I need for my occasional trips to B’Orleans, Farrhaven, or the Dirty South Keys.

Sometimes the bus schedule is rather inconvenient, like when I’m taking an early morning flight. Its overcrowding was one of the factors that lead to me going on my weight loss journey. Non-Transitway destinations often take far longer than driving directly. One more drink at a friend’s party may mean missing the last run of the bus for the night. That’s when I’ll call a cab.

In almost any city I’ve been to in Canada, the United States, and Europe, the cabbies have been unofficial tour guides. They know the city like the back of their hands and can offer you advice on where are the best places to go. If getting from point A to point B means going through a sketchy part of town, they’ll go around for no extra charge. The unwritten contract, of course, is that you tip accordingly. They want to show you best of their city. It’s their home and they’re proud.

Ottawa has been the exception. I’ve rarely had a cab ride I’ve enjoyed in this city. The best ones take my destination, punch it into their GPS, and follow the shortest route. I show my appreciation with a generous tip.

These seem to be the exception, though. The cabs are filthy. Despite a city bylaw prohibiting smoking in the cabs, I’ve been in a few that smelled like ashtrays and even caught some cabbies smoking in their cabs. This is complicated by the fact that most cabs have cloth seats, not leather, which holds in dirt and odour. I was once in one so dusty, I sneezed the entire trip. Most cabbies in this town only half pay attention to their jobs. They’re continuously yacking on their cell phones, often in their native language, and paying little attention to their customers. The second question I often get after “Where would you like to go today?” is “How do we get there?”

If I knew, I wouldn’t be paying you to get me there. You know your city has a problem when the cabbies, often the first point of contact for visitors, don’t know the city their driving in.

The cabbie for my last trip to my friends on Briston Private thought he heard “Preston St.” and didn’t bother entering it in the GPS until we half way there. Even then, I had to show him the address from the Facebook invite into the party so he could enter it while we were driving.

Even the return driver wanted to take the long way because it had a higher speed limit, and was therefore quicker. Still pissed from the experience of getting there, I asked if he was going to charge us the price of the shorter distance. That, apparently would have been cabbie heresy. Take the short way, jackass. Sure, you can talk to your second-cousin-once-removed. I’m only interested in the ginger sitting next to me.

I wish this story was an isolated incident. It wasn’t the first time a cabbie screwed up going to Briston. Vicky and I were in one that got lost on the way twice last February, and would only knock $3 off the fare. I’d take the bus, but it takes OC Transpo an hour to do what a car can do in 20 minutes.

My general contempt for the cabbies in this city crystallized into full blown Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction righteous fury this week.

At 2:37 pm on Tuesday, I received the following text message from Kalin: “Ummm…. Don’t freak. But I’m en route to hosp. I got hit by a car. Am okay.”

Of course, I immediately freaked the fuck out. When your girlfriend tells you she’s been hit by a car, how do you not freak out?  In the flurry of text messages that followed I learned that she was crossing Wellington St. on a walk light and a taxi cab made a left off of Bank St. and hit her. She bounced off the hood, leaving an arse-sized dent, and landed on her side. If there was any intersection to get struck in in Ottawa, I’m so glad it was this one. It’s right in front of the parliamentary precinct. The RCMP on duty heard the accident and immediately rendered assistance until paramedics and City of Ottawa police arrive. I will be forever grateful to them and the bystanders who stopped to help. There are some good people in this city, after all.

My immediate instinct was to go to the hospital and be with her. I looked at the OC Transpo schedule and it was going to take me an hour to get there and it was only in Alta Vista. Since she couldn’t yet tell me what cab company hit her, there was no way on God’s green earth I was going to call one for fear of inadvertently rewarding the company that just assaulted my girlfriend. Not since I watched a plane fly into the World Trade Center on CNN had I felt so impotent. I remembered she was supposed to go to dinner with her Aunt Mary while I was doing my running clinic and suggested she call her, if only to postpone dinner. Mary and her Uncle Terry rushed to her side and were there far quicker than carless me could get there.

After a couple of hours, she was discharged. A few cuts and bruises, possibly some deep tissue injuries, but nothing broken. She probably won’t be running for a little while, either.  We hope to get her back in form for the Race Weekend 5K. The reasons for this seeming miracle is her history of physical fitness. While cancer may have forced her to the sidelines for the last couple of years, prior to her diagnosis she was involved in dance, volleyball, running, and even surfing. She knows how to fall. Most breaks in such accidents aren’t from the strike but from sticking an arm or leg out to break your fall. She did as she would had her dance partner dropped her and went limp. She’s been pretty stiff the last couple of days, but time and physiotherapy heals all wounds.

Here sense of humour came back quickly. When I asked her the next morning how she felt, she said, “Like I’ve been hit by a car.”

As we sat at my breakfast table the next morning, she recounted what happened as she filled out her police report and what the police told her the cabbie said. He didn’t see her.

Now for the Angry Boyfriend rant:

How the fuck do you not see a 5 foot 9 inch red head? For Christ’s sake, she’s taller than Joan Halloway! She’s glows in the daylight, more or less the dark. So you obviously failed in the basics of “look where you are going” in cabbie school but they gave you a license, anyway.

Before becoming a cabbie, were you Ron White’s mechanic at Sears who missed lug nut day at tire college?

For almost killing my girlfriend, what does this asshole get: a ticket for failing to yield for a pedestrian which carries a meagre $150 fine and a three point deduction from his license. The saving grace is the conviction will invariably cause his cabbie license to be revoked and this guy will be fired.

Oh, wait.

Because the conviction will result in the loss of a job, the cabbie union will likely be sending a lawyer to appeal the ticket. Yes, there’s a cabbie union in Ottawa. Hell, I’ve even protests by a so-called panhandler’s union. That’s why they suck so badly, no fear of termination.

I have nothing against unions, per se. My grandfather, Donald MacEachern, was an active member of the carpenter’s union in Cape Breton and even served as it’s president. My uncle Brian Gardner, was a steelworker at Sydney Steel. The Reads came to from Wiggan, England, a town so awful that George Orwell wrote a book about it. They were going to North Carolina to work the coal mines. When their steamship stopped in Sydney harbour to take on supplies, they discovered BESCO’s mines were recruiting right on the docks. My great-grandfather convinced the family that they didn’t have to go all the way to North Carolina to make a new life for themselves. The price he would pay for this was his brother, who would die in a collapse.

These were people who built my community and my country. They laboured under life-threatening conditions. The unions were originally formed not to make rich men out of the workers, but to fight wage cuts by the employer. They didn’t even campaign to hold wages steady, just to keep the cuts reasonable. A far cry from today’s movement which seems to be about protecting incompetence instead of promoting excellence. The result is, at best, mediocrity.

That’s okay, union man. We’ll be there, too. You will not be getting this cheery look:

This is who your client hit, asshole.

No, the sharpness you feel in between your shoulders will be the daggers glared by this man:

Yeah, I'm looking at you.

You’re just doing your job, you say? That’s okay. So am I.

Ottawa friends, we’ve put up with this horseshit for too long. It’s time to stop accepting mediocrity and demand better. Demand:

  1. The cabbie use the GPS and enter the destination before departing.
  2. They not talk on their cell phones while they are transporting you.
  3. The cab be reasonably clean and not smell like an ashtray.

Is that too much to ask? It’s not like I’m asking the city to amend its bylaws and increase its standards.


We’re a national capital. We deserve world class service from our cab services and drivers. Most cabs in this city are an embarrassment.

I’m so thankful Kalin is on the mend. Of the many things that could have happened Tuesday, a few cuts, bruises and deep tissue injuries are the best one could hope for.  She made cancer her bitch, now she’s going make one cabbie rue the day he didn’t look where he was going.

Who needs Baroness Thatcher when you have Kalin McCluskey in your life?



6 responses

  1. Mike-
    I didn’t realize that Kalin was hit by a cab, and will dash over to her page to express my happiness that she’ll (once again) be okay.
    But I have to weigh in about the cab situation in Ottawa.
    Over the past couple of years, I have travelled extensively by cab in U.S. cities: Washington DC, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and more. In almost every instance I felt safe and enjoyed a clean, smoke-free trip. I’ve had terrific chats about everything from the driver’s take on local politics to bedbug-sniffing dogs (who knew?) to health care reform, etc.
    In Toronto, however, not so good. On one day alone, I was yelled at by a cab driver (too bad, because generally I appreciate them and tip WELL) and in another instance my seat in the cab/van was not anchored to the floor, so it flipped back at a 45-degree angle + every time the surly driver stared to move.
    But my Ottawa cab nightmare took the cake. After a less-than stellar drive into the city, my driver actually FELL ASLEEP at the red light near the NEC! As in, he was snoring and I had to wake him up! I’m not lying!
    Gah. Maybe you can lobby for whatever Washington has done. It amazes me how consistently great the DC drivers are.
    Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Heather. I’ll make sure Kalin sees your comments. No matter what city you visit, there’s always the danger of getting a bad cabbie. Outside of Ottawa, though, these seem to be the exception, not the rule. Washington, DC, has some fairly strict regulations on its taxi industry, including mandating leather seats. Thankfully, the zone system fare structure has been done away with in favour of meters. The main thing in Washington is, though, they enforce the rules. I’ve never heard of bylaw enforcement doing spot checks. There is a city complaint number listed in the cab, but since most passengers aren’t staying around town long enough to file a compliant I doubt it gets used often enough to make a difference.

  2. […] want to start by thanking everyone for their kind wishes for Kalin and her recovery. Frankly, it’s been frustrating for her. It seems like whenever she makes progress at getting […]

  3. […] was Kalin’s first run since the accident. She was looking forward to it. She was only able to complete one 10 minute interval before her […]

  4. […] we carb up. Tomorrow, Kalin runs her 5K, which she’s going to rock despite her setbacks. She’s going to make me […]

  5. […] Unlike a certain Quebecois cab driver, I can spot a 5’9″ ginger in broad daylight. Bling! […]

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