Dear Lord, will this ever stop? Samantha Caldwell's recent experience says, resoundingly: No.
She was leaving her office in downtown Washington at the end of a workday. Just as the elevator doors were closing, a young man pried them open and burst aboard.
Samantha says she uttered an exclamation that invoked "the names of several figures central to Christianity." That broke the tension, and the two worker bees had a good laugh.
Then the man, who was black, asked if Samantha would please help him hail a cab. "They will not stop for black people," he told her.
Samantha was "surprised" by his request, and said so. But the man replied:
"I could be in a tuxedo, holding hands with someone in a wedding gown, and they still would not stop for me."
As the two people reached the street, Samantha noticed "a Diamond Cab with no passengers" sitting by the curb. She suggested to the man that he get in.
The cab had just discharged a passenger and was beginning to pull away. The man "ran up to it and tapped on the rear quarter station-wagon window," Samantha says.
The cab slowed and the driver appeared to look back at the window-tapper. Once he got an eyeful, he "promptly drove off," Samantha says.
She says she was "stunned." She isn't ready to believe that it was a racially based slight. But she hasn't lived in Washington very long, and she knows that I have. So she asked if I'd care to weigh in on this.
Would I ever. First, however, a little basic information.
Any time a D.C. cab is vacant and a person tries to hire it and the person isn't drunk or disorderly or packing a .38, the cabbie must take that person wherever he wants to go.
The one exception is destinations outside the District. A cabbie can decline to go to one -- although he'd be a fool to do it, because the rates quickly rise through the roof the minute a cab leaves the city limits.
If a cabbie refuses to take a passenger where he wants to go, he is liable for a fine, loss of his hack license or both. The refused passenger can file a complaint with the city hack office. A hearing is held. A three-judge panel issues a ruling. Presumably, a cabbie who ducks a fare he doesn't like and gets punished will learn his lesson.
The fines that the judges hand down are not love taps. When I took a D.C. cabdriver through this mill several years ago for failure to transport me, he got socked for $500. No cabbie can absorb that kind of blow without feeling it.
Yet the fare-ducking and fine-risking continue -- daily, hourly. I hate to administer a printed pinch to Samantha, but I feel I'd better.
What you saw was pure racism on the half shell.
What you saw was a cabbie who didn't want to take a black man where he wanted to go, simply because the man was black.
What you saw goes on not just between black fares and white or brown drivers, but between black fares and black drivers.
What's behind it?
Fear of robbery. Fear of not getting a tip. Fear of having to take a black man way over to the other side of town, where there's little or no prospect of getting a paying ride back.
I'm not going to dismiss any of those concerns lightly. Cabbies have an exceptionally tough time making a living here under the best of circumstances.
Yet what is an honest black would-be cab passenger supposed to do? Carry a sign that reads "I AM NOT A CROOK"?
Black men who are turned aside for racial reasons should fight back via the hack office, every time. Yes, I know this takes time and energy. Most people won't do it, whether they're black, green or purple. So fare-ducking roars on, and will continue to do so.
I suspect, Samantha, that the next time a black man asks you to hail a cab for him, you won't be surprised. You shouldn't be.
The Otternesses of Arlington are back. With them, alas, is a new Beltway idiot.
Dale Otterness and his wife, Linda, e-mailed me earlier this year about a woman they had seen on "Washington's Noose." The woman was driving a car and flossing her teeth -- at the same time, somehow.
That was scary enough. But this time, the Otternesses may have seen worse.
On the stretch of the inner loop that S-curves its way through Bethesda, just east of the I-270 interchange, the Otternesses noticed a driver whose face was covered with shaving cream. He was whaling away at himself with a razor while driving at what Dale calls a "comfortable rate of speed."
Dale says he can't decide which piece of the story is most impressive: Mr. Shaver-Driver didn't bash into any fellow motorists, at least not while the Otternesses were watching. And none of the shaving cream slid off his face, either.