What the Cab Driver Taught Me


We had just settled into the cab, when our driver looked over his shoulder and shouted: "Hey, you did what I did on my vacation!" I had no idea what he was talking about, so didn't answer. 

It didn't matter. As he pulled away from the casino and down the ramp toward Las Vegas Boulevard, he looked me over in the rearview mirror and said, "You took your family along with you on vacation – just like me!"

What a remarkable coincidence…well, of course, isn't that the way family vacations are done? 

But before I could respond, he said, "I see you also did another thing that I did – married an Asian!" He was still looking in the rearview. 

Excuse me, sir, but the road; it's that way, in front of you, not back here.

He noticed my anxiety and glanced toward the front, just long enough to make sure he hadn't hit anything, and then back over his shoulder toward my wife. "Are you Japanese?" he asked. She nodded. "Yeah, I thought so. My wife is Filipino. That's different, of course. She's not from Manila, you know, but from up north, in Luzon." He had both hands off the steering wheel drawing a map of the Philippines in the air. "Yeah, yeah, Luzon, up here in the north."

Most Las Vegas cabbies suffer your presence in silence. Sometimes, they are so visibly pained by any question that you have to wonder if they are hung-over, and, this being Las Vegas, the odds are good that they are. Earlier in the night, I had asked another driver if the huge crowds in front of the casinos were for the Consumer Electronics Show. "I don't know," he hissed. I was grateful that he hadn't told me to shut up, but I took his answer as a near approximation of such. We didn't speak again.

This driver, however, was excited about the CES. Traffic was so dense on The Strip that you could walk on cars from the old downtown, all the way out to McCarran Airport without ever touching the ground.

"Look at all these cars in line here for this left turn! We're not waiting! No way, I'll show you a trick!" He made a swift right turn and whipped a U-turn in the middle of the street. This was a bit more daring than I would have liked, but it was expertly executed and definitely quicker. 

We were now in light traffic heading to our hotel, well away from The Strip. "Good, right? Those guys will be waiting 20 minutes to make that turn!"

He again made eye contact in the rearview mirror: "Oh, yeah, great choice, Asian wife. They're the best, but stubborn, right? Yeah, little, but stubborn. But, that's good though. You need that. Someone to keep you in line, right?"

As we slalomed in and out of lanes on the I-435 Loop, I wondered what was with this driver – the flattery, the familiarity – then I got it: These are great ways to make someone like you, which is important for every salesman. 

He also working some of the techniques that Robert Cialdini codified in his landmark book, Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion. Though this driver may have never heard of Dr. Cialdini, he knew what he had to do: make it seem that we were a lot alike, maybe even friends by finding commonality on anything, and then complimenting me. 

This was a great technique for cutting the distance between us and making me feel as if I liked him. Then all he had to do was emphasize the value of the ride to persuade me that he had provided a top-notch experience that deserved a bigger than usual tip.

The truth was, however, I didn't like him and wished for another hostile, but silent – and safer – driver. As we were nearing our hotel, he finished the "How-I-Met-My-Wife" story, but he wasn't going to let that stop his monologue.

"So you live in Tokyo? Tell me, do you drive in that town? You're kidding! You do? I mean how can you stand it? That place must be crazy – the headaches! I mean you're lucky here, right? You got me doing the driving and this place is nuts. When I came here in 1980, there were just 200,000 people here. Now there must be two million or more -- MORE!"

This time he actually waited for an answer. "You're right," I said, "Driving can be tough in Tokyo and public transportation is so efficient --"

"Buses, subways? No way, not for me. I tell you, wherever I go – anywhere, any country -- I take a cab. Taking a taxi is the best. Just like you're doing now. You're smart. This is smart. No headaches. A headache for me, but it's my job and I love it! Love! It! Not for you, no, you're on vacation. No headaches for you. You know why? Because I got you. I'm taking care of you. You can take it easy, right? Am I right? I'm right! You know it! I'm right!"

He turned off the freeway before the main intersection. "I'm taking a little shortcut here. Don't worry."

"I wasn't worried," I said. "Thanks for not taking us around the casino parking lot."

"You noticed? Yeah, I don't run up the meter. Some guys try to drive around for a few bucks more, but what's the point? I mean that's stupid, right? When I'm taking a cab, I just tell the guy do the job right, and I will make the tip extra sweet." 

He pulled up at the hotel entrance to punctuate the sentence.

I gave him a few extra dollars…a bit more than usual. It wasn't a big difference for me as the customer, but do the math: 5% more tip on each fare multiplied over 34 years. Sell the experience and emphasize the relationship. Even if the customer knows what you're doing, you'll still get a bit more and it all adds up – right?

You know I'm right.

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