Cabdrivers in D.C. phone me an awful lot. The less rational ones pray that I will end my life painfully and immediately. The more rational ones insist that the stories I publish about their deeply troubled industry are exaggerated.
I wish they were. However, the D.C. Cab Biz continues to get worse, not better. Latest evidence: A letter from a reader who lives in Northeast, near Catholic University.
That's No Man's Land to many D.C. cabbies. They won't go there if they can possibly avoid it -- and they will do anything to avoid it, including (but not limited to):
Driving off in a huff.
Suddenly remembering a dentist's appointment.
Suddenly "discovering" that they're out of gas (even though the gauge reads F).
Clutching religious medallions and claiming that the Lord won't let them go there.
Claiming they don't know the way.
Claiming they don't know the fare.
Claiming the fare is twice what it really is.
And (as we saw in a column just a few days ago) literally throwing a passenger out of the cab if she insists on being taken to a No Man's Land address.
But now comes a dodge that we might call The Boss Won't Let Me.
My reader ran into this last week when she hopped a cab downtown and gave her home address. The cabbie said he couldn't take her.
My reader was ready for the gas bit, the dentist bit or another standby. Nope. New bit. This guy said the boss of his cab company allows his drivers to serve only the four zones in the center of town.
The guy was such an energetic liar that he got out of the cab, came around to the back door, opened it, leaned inside and showed my correspondent on the map which zones were in bounds and which were out.
In case you're new to town, or just visiting, let me set forth what D.C. cab veterans already know:
The guy was full of beans.
D.C. cabbies must take you anywhere within the city limits that you want to go. If a cab company boss ever declared nondowntown zones out of bounds, he'd be before the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission in a great hurry (although it probably wouldn't be such a hurry if he went by cab).
Anyway, my reader stood her ground. She told her cabbie that he was jampacked with beans and that she knew he was jampacked with beans. She demanded to be taken to her destination. Without another word, the driver complied.
Of course, this doesn't end the story. The driver will trot out The Boss Won't Let Me the next time he thinks he can get away with it.
How to assure that he won't get away with it? Report any such shenanigans to the WMATC. And be prepared to be a good reporter.
Whenever you get into a cab and are about to give an address in No Man's Land, notice the driver's name, the cab company's name and the cab's number. Then, if a cock and bull story begins, you hold the aces.
Magic will not make this industry better. Passengers who have had it up to here will. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL
Back in early November, it went something like this:
Robert Frank Levey, boy columnist, as he approached the telephone message center at the front of The Post's newsroom: "Good morning, beautiful! Good morning, gorgeous!"
Joyce Taylor, one of the two regular operators: "Which one is beautiful and which one is gorgeous?"
Margo Jackson, the other regular: "Levey, you're always trying to start trouble."
Levey: "Actually, I'm trying to start my Children's Hospital campaign. And I wanted to ask you two beautiful, gorgeous wonders of womanhood a favor. Would you . . . ."
Joyce and Margo (simultaneously): "Yes!"
That's how tough it is to get Gorgeous and Beautiful to volunteer their services for the benefit of sick kids. To what question did they say yes? The same question they answer in the same way every year. Joyce and Margo agreed to roll pennies for the benefit of my annual fund-raising drive.
If that sounds like a piddling task, you haven't been to the message center lately. As soon as I put out the call to the entire newsroom staff for pennies, the storage area behind Joyce and Margo started looking like the Federal Reserve. Undaunted, J and M started rolling.
At last count, they have rolled (and I have carted to the bank) $749 worth of pennies. It looks as if there's another $300 still to be rolled. That would be nearly twice what Joyce and Margo rolled a year ago.
Let's not mince words. Rolling pennies is a rotten job. Your hands start to ache. Your wrists start to burn. You start hoping you'll never have to look at Abe Lincoln's profile again.
But Joyce and Margo have never complained, and they have never flagged. Since Thanksgiving, they've been churning out rolls at a rate of about $100 a week. As the 1987-88 Children's campaign nears an end, and nears a record total, I'm hoping that the pennies Joyce and Margo have rolled will be the difference.
Thank you, Gorgeous. Thank you, Beautiful. No, I won't tell you which is which. A boy columnist has to have some secrets, doesn't he?
But I will tell you this: Anyone who helps sick kids as faithfully as Joyce and Margo doesn't have to choose between gorgeous and beautiful. Both ladies are both.
This is the time of year when I begin to hear sighs of weariness from Levey Loyalists. "Isn't the Children's campaign over yet?" a voice on the phone will ask. "Won't you ever stop running those columns that list group contributors?" another voice will ask.
To take them one voice at a time:
The campaign ends in two days. And the laundry-list columns of group contributors will end at the same time.
I apologize for the length of the campaign. But eight weeks has proved to be the perfect cash- cajoling compromise. It suits Early Birds and Slowpoke Bears alike.
As for the laundry lists, what you are seeing is the payoff on a promise. Each year, I pledge to publish the name of any group that gives to the Children's campaign, regardless of the amount it gives. I realize that the laundry-list columns look about as appetizing to the eye as the used car ads. But if I'm going to be a man of my word, the laundry lists are a must.
I've always wondered if anyone beside me and my editors has ever read one from start to finish. Too much to ask, right? I've also wondered if a laundry-list column has ever inspired anyone to make a donation. Impossible!
Not impossible. Front and center, please, Patty Solomon of Adelphi.
Patty is a sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. A month ago, she was assigned a current events project by her history teacher. By a remarkable slip of the fingers, Patty began her search for material on the comics pages. There, she bumped smack into a Levey Laundry List.
"I groaned," Patty writes. "Oh, no, not lists of contributors. But then I realized what the cause was and read through every last name, cheering them all.
" . . . .So I'm contributing $20 (I'm only a kid!) with sincere thanks to Children's Hospital."
Wonder no more, Mr. L. And groan not much longer, Ms. S. Thanks for responding so generously to so much laundry. And thanks to the rest of you for your patience. There isn't much more laundry to do. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.
THE CAMPAIGN ENDS ON FRIDAY.