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Life behind the wheel: Chicago cabbies open up

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Dmitry Samarov behind the wheel. (Flickr/Seth Anderson)

It’s safe to say most cab drivers don’t resemble Robert De Niro’s disturbed character in the popular 1970’s film, Taxi Driver, but the movie has a special place in at least one former cabbie’s heart.

As Dmitry Samarov explains on his blog, most people are taken back when he mentions the impact Taxi Driver has had on him. But when you understand why, it starts to make more sense.

“A cabdriver sees the ugly, the beautiful, and the just plain inexplicable, as few others can. Being a passing presence in dozens of lives a day leaves its mark. I took Bickle’s, ‘I go anywhere, anytime,’ as a modus operandi.”

Samarov, who quit driving just a couple of weeks ago, says the film provided an important frame of reference for him during his early days on the job. Some parts of the movie are eerily close to his own experiences.

“There’s a scene where a passenger (played by Scorsese) describes in detail how he’s going to murder his philandering wife. I had a drunk man tell me once that he had no money for the fare and that he was going to go into the house and kill his wife. He wanted to know what was I gonna do about it? I told him to do what he wanted but to get out of my cab, as he’d wasted enough of my time. There’s often no proper way to react when a stranger unburdens himself in this way. The movie gets the odd fragmentary relationship between driver and passenger just right.”

Cab drivers have been in the news a lot lately. The past two Mondays, many Chicago taxi drivers have participated in morning strikes protesting Chicago’s new taxi ordinance, which went into effect July 1 and includes a 12-hour limit on consecutive hours worked. Drivers are also pushing for a fare increase, and will have a chance to make their case to aldermen in a hearing later this month.  

In the meantime, we’re delving into life behind the wheel. Thursday on Afternoon Shift, we sit down with Samarov and current Chicago cab driver Mike Kraybill to get answers to the questions you may have often pondered about the job, but never asked. Call 312-923-9239 just after 3:30 p.m. to join in!

We’ll also check in with United Taxi Drivers Community Council Secretary Peter Enger and Chicago Commissioner of Business Affairs and Consumer Protectin Rosemary Krimbel  to get the latest on how the new taxi ordinance is going almost two weeks after taking effect.

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