She may not be able to find a taxi, but Miss Manners could spot the oncoming cab drivers a mile away. As soon as there was talk of a dress code in the front seat, they would arrive protesting.
Miss Manners, who cherishes the notion of being occasionally unpredictable, is not lacking in sympathy for the cause of freedom among taxi drivers. There is a spirit of romance about the job, which is traditionally associated with independence, not only in working conditions but in attitude.
One can, after all, also aspire to make a living driving a car by seeking employment as a private driver. (The word "chauffeur," like the word "limousine" to designate a long, black car, never passes Miss Manners' lips.) Uniforms are standard in that job, along with regular wages and hours (although scheduling is often abused by employers who expect a driver's shift to cover both their own workday and their social evening hours).
Cab drivers, by contrast, are supposed to be free spirits, trading some of those advantages for the flexibility to regulate their own lives, perhaps in connection with other jobs or interests. Shouldn't they also be allowed to escape the trivial conventions that are associated with more routine jobs?
It was in this uncharacteristically wavering frame of mind that Miss Manners braced for the expected arguments from cab drivers against authorities in several cities, where prohibitions are being discussed or enacted against drivers' wearing tank tops, bathing suits, cutoff jeans, sandals or other such ultracasual attire. Customer complaints are cited, along with the idea that cab drivers should convey more of an impression of professionalism.
As she expected, the reply was a complaint about other types of transgressions on the part of passengers.
Passengers in taxis are often unpleasant, sometimes drunk, usually stingy with tips, and occasionally sneaky enough to get off without paying. Their actions can threaten everything from the upholstery to the very life of the driver. Almost any taxi driver can produce supporting anecdotes of outrageous behavior.
Miss Manners does not in the least doubt these stories. Anyone who deals with the public in large numbers will have a range of legitimate complaints, and taxi drivers, because of the solitary nature of their place of business, come in for more than their share.
But this happens to be irrelevant to the issue of dress standards. As always when people have their manners questioned, they attempt to turn the argument to the more serious one of moral behavior.
Even Miss Manners does not quarrel with the judgment that the passengers' behavioral problems are more serious. But citing them does not do anything toward resolving problems of superficial behavior.
That is because superficial matters count, too, in their own way. In spite of general acknowledgment that it is what's in the heart that matters, Miss Manners has a deskful of letters from people who claim to have been driven crazy by the gum-chewing, knuckle-cracking or humming of their relatives, friends and colleagues, with a special section devoted to mail complaining of the personal hygiene standards of others.
And for all their indignant denials, people are constantly interpreting one another's clothing, not only for financial status, but as symbols of allegiance to or defiance of prevailing conventional standards. If someone showed up at your wedding in a jogging suit, or at your informal supper dressed fit to kill, you would not be likely to count it as merely the exercise of freedom of choice, with no slight intended toward your expectations.
Cab drivers themselves are always using appearance to judge who is likely to be law-abiding, generous and/or going to the airport.
Miss Manners has not forgotten her initial tolerance in this case. She does not expect taxi drivers to wear business suits. She has no objection to the comfort and informality of open shirts and slacks.
But clothes that are, or that closely resemble, beachwear or underwear do not belong on city streets, even inside taxicabs. That's not independence; it's a blatant disregard for the surroundings and prevailing conditions. And that is not an attribute one wants in a taxi driver.
A neighbor of mine received a standard invitation to a bridal shower for the future daughter-in-law of her best friend -- but written on one side was the message: "I regret space does not permit your attendance."
Myneighbor was justifiably hurt, but said she still sent a nice gift. Myself, they would have had a long wait for a present without my presence.
MissManners, they would have had to track down at the emergency room of the hospital.
Technically, this event should not even have existed. Showers should not be given by relatives or prospective relatives of the guest of honor.
But that transgression pales beside the one of inviting someone not to attend a party. The rule against allowing anyone even to hear of a social event to which he or she is not invited is such an important one that polite people go to great lengths to avoid any allusions that might hint at such a thing.
What this person invented was a written version of the school playground taunt, "Nyah, nyah! I'm having a party, and you can't come!"