I didn’t normally take taxis home over the course of the ten years I lived in New York City. I’d often make my way to the train and wait a sweltering 45 minutes in the underground summertime heat at 4 a.m., regardless of if I'd had anything to drink or not, regardless of how exhausted I was. A penny saved is a penny earned, right?
But when I got a side gig as a promotional model (for Coors Light, if you’re wondering, because you take what you can get when you’re young and scrambling to make NYC rent), I started taking taxis a little more frequently.
I wasn’t allowed to drink on the job, so the uptick in taxis wasn't because of alcohol consumption. The taxis were because I didn’t usually finish a gig until late at night or early morning and came across approximately a handful of creeps every single night. I guess one is made more aware of men who don't respect boundaries in this line of work.
I got off late one night and hopped in a cab with a fellow promotional model who was heading the same way. Our driver dropped her off as and we headed toward my neighborhood. When we got to my apartment, the card reader in the taxi wasn’t getting service. This happened every so often in 2008 in my neighborhood.
I asked the driver the same thing I’d asked other drivers when it had happened previously: “Can you drive me to my bank five blocks away? We can try my card again there or I can get cash and then I can walk home from there.”
But on this night with this driver, he didn’t believe I was telling the truth. He thought I was lying about the card reader not working — he accused me of trying to steal a ride.
Instead of driving me to my bank, he child-locked the doors and sped off in the opposite direction of where I was telling him to go.
At first I tried to stay calm. I assumed he hadn’t heard me. I leaned a little closer to him and repeated myself. He started yelling. I don’t know what he was saying since it was in a different language, but he was obviously angry with me. I realized something very bad might be about to happen.
I tried the door again.
I then started kicking at the diving glass. I looked at my phone, which stared back at me with a blinking red battery sign, warning me that it was going to die at any minute. I took my chances and called 911.
The call to 911 panicked the driver; it snapped him out of whatever weird reactive rage he was in. He stopped yelling and started listening to my conversation with the operator. Just as I was telling the operator exactly where I was, we passed a police car with a couple of officers inside. The operator asked me to wave at them and I did and amid all of this, the taxi driver pulled over and I was able to get out.
What happened next was pretty disappointing: The officers instructed me to pay the taxi driver the full amount (including the amount for the scare-ride in the opposite direction). The card reader did work where we were, so I paid. The officers told me to walk home and take the matter up with the Taxi & Limousine Commission of NYC — that I could get a refund from them and take some action against the driver.
I was pretty shocked that that was it: How can it not be a criminal matter to lock a terrified passenger in and refuse to let her out all while speeding off in the wrong direction and yelling at her? The answer to that is something I still do not understand today, but I do know that I’m not the only person something like this has happened to.
I walked home that night shaking. I couldn’t sleep. I filed a complaint with TLC the next day. I waited three months for our court date. When I arrived to the courthouse that day, the driver was there. He cried as the TLC judge reprimanded him for “frightening a passenger.” In the end, he lost some points on his license and that was that. He continued to work without suspension to my knowledge, but with any luck, the experience taught him to be more careful with the power drivers have over passengers.
As for me, the experience taught me a few things that have stuck with me these past nine years:
1. Always make sure you have a charged cell phone.
I have no idea what would have happened to me that night had I not been able to get a 911 operator on the phone. I was so close to having only a dead phone on me that the thought still chills me. Maybe nothing would have happened. Maybe something awful would have happened. Having a phone with a tiny bit of juice left gave me some power in a scary situation. I now keep my phone’s battery fuller and even have a mobile charger.
2. Be extra vigilant when alone.
I always had street smarts, but I’m even more vigilant when I’m alone now. If I am alone, I make sure someone knows where I am.
3. Have a self-defense plan.
I now usually carry pepper spray with me. I’ve never had to use it and I hope I never do, but at least I know I have an option to help protect myself in an emergency. Check your local laws and do some research to figure out what's best for you.
4. Tell someone.
Don’t stay quiet if something happens to you at home or abroad that shouldn’t have. Talk to someone — that’s the first step. And even if the only thing you do is facilitate a slap on the wrist, as I did, then do that. For all I know, the fact that I took this case to the TLC and made this driver take time out of his day to have a judge tell him how wrong he was prevented the same thing or worse from happening to another passenger. The systems we have in place are far from perfect, but use them when and where you can to be heard.
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