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Every time I come to New York City, I'm always struck by two things. First of all, I remember very quickly how skinny everyone is. I'm definitely skinny by Mississippi standards, but that's like being conservative by California standards.
Then, once I actually begin interacting with people, I remember how rude everyone is. Of course, no one in New York considers New Yorkers very rude, but I live in a place where the heat is only slightly less stifling than the standards of politeness to which all are held. Living in the Deep South for six years has made me soft, in more ways than one.
For the most part, though, I love hanging out in the city. Last week, I spent time with good friends, I ate good food, I drank (probably too many) good drinks, and I had a really great time. I also took a lot of cabs, because it was a thousand degrees and I was lugging my suitcase around a lot. Also, as someone who doesn't live in NYC and isn't totally familiar with the trains yet, I find taxis to be a much safer bet late at night. Or, at least, I used to.
Last Wednesday night, after dinner with friends in Williamsburg, I decided to take a cab back instead of waiting for the train. I hailed a cab with my friend, explaining to the driver that we would need to make two stops: one near her place in Fort Greene, and the second near where I was staying in Park Slope.
After dropping my friend off, I settled in for a short and silent ride home.
"Do you really need to go all the way to Park Slope?" the driver asked, turning around.
"Yes, that's what I said when I got in the cab. That's where I'm staying."
He sighed loudly, and started the car. Then, for about five minutes, he complained loudly about how far away Park Slope was from where he was, and how tired he was. I tried to be understanding. Having worked many a service job, I can relate to the sort of exhaustion one faces at the end of a long night.
"Do you know how far Park Slope is? It's very far," he said angrily.
Yes, dude. I know how exactly how far it is, because I am PAYING you to drive that distance, is what I thought but didn't say out loud.
Then, things got even weirder.
"You're a very pretty girl," he said. The hair on the back of my neck literally stood up, and my stomach clenched in that all-too-familiar way. Fear is an emotion women live with, but I usually don't come face to face with it in my everyday small-town life. Suddenly, alone in the backseat of this cab in Brooklyn at midnight, I was scared. I stayed silent, though.
"You're probably too pretty for Brooklyn."
At that, I actually laughed out loud. Who IS this cab driver? Too pretty for Brooklyn? Am I in an episode of Gossip Girl? His voice was still menacing and rude, but the statement was so outlandish that I temporarily let my guard down a bit.
I guess he misconstrued my laughter to mean that I was mocking him, though, because suddenly he was calling me a bitch. I still hadn't said a word to him, and the meter in the cab was still running, and he was calling me a bitch.
Earlier, while my friend was in the car, I had briefly and off-handedly mentioned my boyfriend's finance job while we were discussing the types of career opportunities that exist in New York. I guess my driver had overheard that small part of our conversation.
"All you Wall Street wives are such bitches. Your men pay for everything," he snarled at me before asking me if I knew of a different route to my location because some road was closed and it was going to take a lot longer.
"No, I don't live here. I don't know the best way," I replied, choosing not to respond to the earlier part of his statement.
"This is taking forever," he nearly shouted. At this point, I began to wonder if he was on some sort of drug. His behavior was erratic, and very scary.
"Yes, I see the meter running. I'm aware of how long it's taking," I replied.
"Your husband pays for it anyway. You have his credit card, right?"
"No, I am paying for this cab ride."
"Well, why doesn't your husband pay for the ride?""He's not my husband, and he's not in the car, and I pay for my own rides," I said, resisting the urge to follow it up with, Thank you very much.
I pulled up Google Maps on my battery-drained phone and saw that we were about seven blocks away.
"It's just seven more blocks. My place will be on the right."
"Could you just walk from here?" He started to pull the cab over. The area we were in was totally empty, and not nearly as well lit as the street where I was staying.
"Sir, I'd really rather get dropped off at my location."
We rode the rest of the blocks in silence. My hands shook with fear and anger. When we finally arrived, he said, "Which place is yours?"
"It's near here," I said. I didn't want to tell him exactly which building I was staying in. These are the instincts we all adapt as women, and that we hate ourselves for adapting.
I paid the fare out of some sort of knee-jerk sense of politeness and fear of what might happen if I refused. I got quickly out of the cab, and down the sidewalk. My cab driver quickly sped off, squealing his brakes to avoid a pedestrian at the next crosswalk before disappearing into the night.
I sprinted up the stairs to Marci's apartment, where I collapsed onto the sofa and recounted to her my horrific experience.
"Did you get his medallion number?" she asked.
UGH. Why didn't I do that? Why am I so dumb? I berated myself for all of five minutes before resigning my night to cheap beers and television before falling asleep.
A week later, I'm still thinking about that cab ride and the fear I felt. My mind can't help but play out all the different, terrifying situations that could have occurred. I surely don't need to list to you all the ways that night could have ended. As shitty as the night was, the even shittier part is knowing how lucky I was to walk away from that cab unscathed.
For many, taking a taxi (whether it's a yellow cab, green cab, Uber, Lyft, etc.) rather than walking the streets home alone can feel like a safer option but that isn'talwaysthe case. Almost every city-dwelling woman I know (including Emily) has a story about feeling unsafe or being legitimately harmed by a cab driver. I'm not here to claim, in any way, that all cab drivers are predators or criminals (#NotAllCabDrivers) or that there are no dangerous women out there, but I am here to say that I would probably feel safer in 99.99999% of taxi situations if my driver was a woman.
That's why I'm totally on board with SheTaxi, a new cab service in NYC, Westchester County and Long Island that's by women and for women (though it will be called SheRides in NYC, due to regulations on the word "taxi" within city limits). SheRides, founded by Stella Mateo (wife of Fernando Mateo, founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers) will be an app similar to taxi apps like Uber and Lyft with one exception -- all drivers will be female, and rides will only be available to women or groups featuring at least one woman.
For women who feel unsafe riding in cars with strange men late at night, or women whose personal and/or religious views mean they cannot ride with men, SheRides provides an exciting new alternative to traditional taxi services. Women can find rides via the app (which will be offered only via the iPhone for now -- sorry Android ladies!) and cab drivers will wear distinct pink pashmina scarfs. OK, I hate that part, too, but I have a feeling it won't last very long. (A la, Lyft drivers are no longer required to rock those horrific pink mustaches on their cars.)
Besides making women feel safer and more comfortable, the service hopes to help provide employment to women who have previously had a hard time finding work within the taxi industry, which is still dominated by men, if you hadn't noticed.
In a world where pressure is still being put on women themselves to not get raped or assaulted (because that totally makes sense), why not create more women-friendly spaces? While we can fully anticipate and revel in the claims of misandry, if even a small portion of cabs are reserved to be uniquely safe spaces for women, it seems like a good idea. I know, personally, I'd even be willing to shell out a few more bucks each ride if it meant I was contributing to a group dedicated to making women feel safer.
SheTaxi is facing one pretty major setback, though, and it's not the inevitable message boards full of dudes claiming, "Hey, where's MY taxi service?" (Uh, dude, it's called every taxi evehttp://www.xojane.com/_orion/compose/edit/141051r, duh). The service is technically illegal in NYC. New York cab regulations mean drivers are legally unable to refuse rides to anyone based on religion, sexuality, race or gender. SheTaxi, clearly, has obstacles to face, but my fingers are crossed that this service becomes a reality.
The app is set to debut September 16, and founder Stella Mateo hopes to eventually expand services to include other cities, like Washington DC, Miami and Chicago. I am curious to see how SheTaxis faces the legal barriers it's facing within NYC. Also, I'm curious to see how cab drivers are supposed to know if someone is a woman or not. Honor code? What will this cab service's "definition" of woman be? That could get tricky, but I predict they have a plan.
Most of my taxi experiences have been pleasant and totally fine, but my scary experience last week has me feeling more than a little nervous about taking cabs alone at night in the future. (ALSO I AM PRETTY MUCH AFRAID OF DOING EVERYTHING ALONE. THANKS, WORLD.) Any service that seeks to make women feel safer while also employing women sounds A-OK by me.
Also, any excuse to ditch a lame date seems totally worth it, right?
"Sorry, dude, I'd love to split a cab, but NO BOYS ALLOWED!!!!"
How do you lasses feel about an all-female cab service? Have you ever had a nasty, scary or otherwise unpleasant cab experience? Are we all in agreement that this might be an excellent step one in creating our Feminist Utopia, where girls truly do run the world? Discuss.