Life in the passing-out lane
Jean-Eudes Roy puts up with people who fight, urinate, vomit and pass out in his car. He earns $5 a trip.
Everyone has an ugly side. Jean-Eudes Roy’s job is to drive it home.
It’s approaching 11 on a Saturday night in Iqaluit, and Roy is one of many taxi drivers wheeling through the city’s streets, running residents to parties and bars.
Two young men climb in, bound for the Storehouse Bar. One reaches forward to shake Roy’s hand, wishing him a Happy New Year three weeks late. You can already smell beer on his breath.
“They’re very nice right now,” Roy says after dropping the men off. “When we pick them up in two hours, we need to be very careful.”
He’s alert. The 55-year-old Québecois has driven a cab in Iqaluit for eight years, almost always at night. He knows that the same woman he sees during the day, dressed for business and rushing to catch a charter flight, could stumble from the Legion soon looking for a fight.
“It’s not the same person,” he says.
The worst are the pukers, and passengers so drunk they wet themselves. Vomit and urine pretty much rule out work for the rest of the evening, until the car gets properly cleaned. “I could lose the whole night,” he says.
Other passengers pass out before telling him their destination. If he can’t wake them up, they’ll likely spend the night at the RCMP drunk tank.
And Roy can always count on some passengers stiffing him. He says he respects the ones who say upfront they don’t have any money — he usually drives them anyway. Often, they pay him when they can.
“Every night we lose money. What can I do? Nothing.”
Most passengers cause no trouble, he’s quick to point out. It’s just a few who cause him grief.
“I’m glad it’s a very small percentage. Because it’s very rough.”
Sometimes fights erupt in the car. Roy remembers the time three women got into a brawl, and he found himself in the middle, fists flying from all sides. When that happens he just pulls over, radios the police and gets out.
“I went out, because it’s dangerous for me. When they fight, they don’t look where they punch.”
Some cabbies refuse to work the night shift during weekends because of rowdy, potentially violent customers. But Roy likes his job, and enjoys working during the most lucrative time of the week.
“It’s not for everybody,” he admits. “We’re not a big percentage.”
Still, even drivers like Roy need to cool off now and then. “Some nights when it’s so rushed, we tell dispatch we’re not picking up at the bar and the Legion.”
Tonight he’ll work from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. He works 60 to 70 hours a week, eight months a year. When he needs to “recharge the battery” he returns to his home town of Rimouski, Quebec, for a few months. He says he earns a decent wage, but just because he carries around a wad of cash doesn’t mean he’s rich. It’s mostly $5 bills.
His job comes with responsibilities. Some drunks need help walking to their door, or else they’ll freeze. He’s even had parents drop off two-year-old children in his taxi, alone, to be delivered to a separated spouse.
And his cab doubles as an emergency vehicle to pick up nurses, doctors and firemen who get called out.
Grumblers would complain that cabbies get no respect. But Roy just shrugs when he’s asked about taxi drivers’ reputations around town as bootleggers and dope dealers.
“What can I do? You can only have one in 20 taxi drivers like that, and people will think they’re all the same,” he says.
He adds anyone who doesn’t like their job should look for a new one. He gave up his career as a manager for department stores across the country eight years ago when he decided it was time for something new. He hasn’t looked back.
“If you don’t like your job, it doesn’t matter if you work day shift or night shift.”
Since Roy began driving he’s noticed changes in his customer’s attitudes. Today more people expect a whole cab to themselves, rather than be willing to share the car and put up with others being picked up along the way.
There’s more traffic, more customers, more competition.
And surprises are around every corner. Some are dangers, like the large rock along an unpaved road that tore out a fellow cabbie’s transmission. Others are gifts, like the Arctic hare another co-worker ran over, tossed in his trunk and gave to the company dispatcher, who cooked it for dinner.
By 12:30 a.m. a crowd has gathered outside the Legion, and this reporter’s free ride is coming to an end. Roy needs every seat empty, otherwise groups of passengers will pick another cab over his own. When most people’s nights are ending, Roy’s shift has just begun.
By the time he quits at 7 a.m., Roy will have seen people at their very worst.
But for a mere $5, he’ll do his very best to get them safely home.