Taxi scam: Beware expecting couples seeking fare to hospital


Nice guys really do finish last sometimes ... and even $40 short. Please indulge me while I explain.

Earlier this year, I was with my wife/business partner, Lisa, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, managing a small fleet of hydrogen-powered cars for General Motors Corp. for the the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Lisa and I had rented a house as a temporary office/logistics headquarters and one day the doorbell rang. This is hardly riveting news since that's what happens with doors, however, when Lisa answered it, I noticed a taxicab parked out front and wondered what long lost relative might have come knocking looking for a place to hole up for the Games. Or perhaps the cab driver was delivering an invitation to a gala red-carpet event where we would feast on exotic foods and rub shoulders with the elite of the elite.

"Do you have some money for the cab?" Lisa called out. There was a sense of urgency in her voice.

"Money for the taxi? What's up?" I fished a $20 bill out of my pocket.

"The guy who lives next door ... his wife has gone into labor with twins and in their rush to get into the cab, they locked their wallets and keys in the house and have no way to pay for the taxi to the hospital." Lisa was getting excited.

When I asked if $20 was enough, she said the semidelirious father-to-be also needed to get back home from the hospital, so I leapt to the door, told Daddy I was a twin myself and handed him $40. He gave me a hug and assured me he would repay the money as soon as he got home. The thought of asking for collateral, like a watch or an Apple iPod, crossed my mind but I took the high road and wished him the best.

Tears welled in our eyes, imagining the tiny twins about to enter the world. It was a moment of compassion and I felt privileged to have helped a budding young family in distress. And hey, the cabbie and a pair of temporary Vancouver residents who saved the day with a $40 loan would be escalated to demigod status as the twins grew up.

As the Yellow Taxi pulled away, I considered the driver. Just another day on the job crawling the streets of Vancouver trying to make a living hoping he would not be delivering tiny twins in the parking lot of some Olympic venue.

I've always liked taking taxis, especially in places I've never been before. Taxi drivers are usually a good source of information and, although there are plenty of rip-off and scam stories, cabbies I've encountered thus far are mostly ordinary folks trying to make ends meet.

I drove taxi part time in 1979 and 1980 when Ken Langley and I were trying to pull sponsorship together for our bid to establish a new around-the-world driving record.

Before hitting the streets, Ken and I attended "Cab College" where we became versed in radio procedures, driver etiquette and "the meter." Once I was licensed, my shifts were from 4 p.m. until 4 a.m. and after a day of business meetings and researching routes through India and Bulgaria, I found the time relaxing and fun even. There were plenty of people to chat with while earning enough money to court a marketing executive over a lunch of spinach quiche at some up-town eatery while pitching the idea propelling their product onto the front pages of newspapers around the world.

As captain of my well-worn, orange-and-lime-green Dodge Coronet, the city was mine. I dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve and gave free rides, was propositioned by a few fine-looking ladies and even had the honor of throwing a pair of Chicago pseudo-business tycoons out in a downpour when they insisted I was taking the long way to their destination. Don't mess with my head, mister!

End of flashback.

Lisa and I stood silently in the doorway of our temporary Vancouver home for a few minutes after the Yellow Taxi pulled away. My wife had a motherly smile on her face and I couldn't help feel like the good Samaritan. We couldn't wait for Daddy to come back with stories of the delivery, perhaps a photo of the newborn duo.

But as hours turned into days, Lisa and I wondered if we might have been a little too loose with our emotions and cash. It all came crashing down during a meeting with Erik Dierks, vice president of development for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

We were in his office talking about his young children, so I told him the story about the taxi and the frantic father-to-be.

"Did he ask for $20 or $40?" Erik asked, pulling up a Crime Stoppers Web site on his computer.

And I couldn't help foster a sheepish loser's smile as I read the headline: "Vancouver cops warn of pregnant wife taxi scam."

Garry Sowerby, author of "Sowerby's Road: Adventures of a Driven Mind," is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Media. You can send Garry a note online at www.wheelbase.ws/media using the contact link. Wheelbase Media is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.

 

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