It was the second cab I hailed successfully that Tuesday afternoon, and the first to agree to accept me and my companion as passengers. There were many other empty ones passing the stretch of road we were in, but not one slowed down. By the time this cab came, I was relieved that the driver even stopped at all. My relief turned to gratitude when he opened the door right away. I thanked him profusely, gave him our destination, and we headed off.
The cab smelled strongly of Coronado Cherry, a popular scent of the air freshener brand California Scents, one that I know very well. Back when our then eleven-year-old car needed a bit of sprucing up, scent-wise, to hide its age, this was our product of choice. True enough, I spotted the familiar dark pink tin can tucked between the driver and front passenger seats. The scent of cherries filled my nostrils and made my chest feel tight. “This is too sweet and cloying,” I thought, but I was more grateful than annoyed so I simply let it pass.
I tried to engage the driver in small talk but he would only respond in monosyllables. He did, however, tell me he would need additional details on my destination. I gave up on the chitchat, pulled my phone from inside my bag, and opened my mobile phone to access Waze. I was still busy fiddling with my phone when I inadvertently looked up. I caught the driver looking at me and my companion through the rear view mirror. Ordinarily, this would not have seemed suspicious except there was something in the way he looked at us that unsettled me. When our eyes met, he hurriedly looked away.
I sent my husband a Viber message giving him the license plate number of the cab I was in. Then I took a picture of the mobile number stenciled on the inside paneling of the door to my right. I made a big fuss about sending the message; I read the license plate aloud as I typed it so that the driver knew someone else had my whereabouts at that moment.
Now and then, I snuck quick glances at him, only to find him looking at us surreptitiously and repeatedly. That was when I pulled out my pepper spray, set it to spray, and held it, just in case. My chest was tight and painful. My heart and head were pounding. I debated silently with myself, wondering if staying inside the cab was a logical decision. It was mid-afternoon, almost rush hour, and if only one of all those cabs I tried to hail even bothered to stop, what were my chances of getting another cab in this traffic? After all, all I had were my instincts telling me something was wrong; he had not done anything untoward against us at all.
Save for the queasiness I felt, we reached our destination safely, thank God. The queasiness turned into a pounding headache soon after. I was nauseated badly and my stomach hurt. I initially attributed it to the overwhelming odor of the air freshener, made worse by paranoia and nerves. I drank some hot tea to calm my tummy but the pain and tightness persisted. A few minutes later, my companion reported that she was feeling dizzy and nauseated. Something had happened during the cab ride.
In hindsight, I can point to his strange behavior as extremely suspect. He drove unusually slow, seemingly taking his time, an oddity for cab drivers out to get as many flag downs and rides as possible. He took us through side streets with little or no human traffic, even when the main thoroughfares were clear, making the trip longer. And his shifty-eyed, furtive rear view glances, well, they were enough to heighten my senses to impending danger. Was he waiting for something to happen?
At home, I asked my companion if she noticed any other thing during our ride. I had not told her any of my suspicions, aware that I was treading on flimsy ground. “Uhm, Ate, he held a small, clear spray bottle in one of his hands and he squirted its contents by his legs,” she replied reluctantly. My companion sat on the back passenger seat diagonally across him while I was directly behind the driver. The only reason she didn’t say anything was that she wasn’t sure what the bottle was or what was in it. Now that we were both feeling sick, we had a strong feeling it was something intended to make us sleep or sick, something that can be camouflaged by the strong scent of cherries.
I only have my word against the cab driver and short of evidence- the kind that would stand up to scrutiny under the law- I choose not to post his license plate or any other identifying details. I can only attest to what happened to me during and after the ride. I write this, however, to remind everyone that crime is no longer stuff we just read in the papers. It is coming nearer and nearer our homes and our persons every day.
Please be safe, everyone, and take all necessary precautions when getting rides. If you can access Uber (my husband told me to use this service but again, I was foolhardy), this is ultimately a safer, albeit more expensive, choice.
Still, we can’t all be afraid all the time. We can’t let fear rule our lives but we can try to always be safe. Here are some of the lessons on cab riding that I’ve learned from this experience:
- Try not to commute alone. Bring a companion, if possible, or go with a friend. Ask your friend to alert you if he/she notices something suspicious.
- Call for a taxi instead of hailing one. Some taxi companies have hotlines you can dial. If they are not able to provide you with one, find a taxi lane and get your cab there. Security personnel in most malls and hospitals make a list of the cabs that take passengers and they are most likely to have CCTV footage.
- Take a picture of the exterior of the cab before you board it and take pictures of the driver’s ID, license plate, and their contact numbers. Check for meter, ID, and window and door handles. Don’t go in if the cab is missing any of these. Check if the door opens from the inside and if the windows can be rolled down.
- Call a friend and text him/her your cab details so he/she will have a record of where you are and who you are with.
- Sit in the back passenger seat. It’s the safest place for lone passengers. Again, make sure the doors and windows can be opened, but once you’re inside, lock them.
- Do not bring valuables and jewelry. If you must bring them, try to keep them discreet. Leave your credit cards if you don’t need them. Hide your valuables but keep your phone near you.
- Save an emergency number you can call with one key stroke.
- I always carry a whistle and pepper spray when I commute. The latter is not for everyone but the point is to be proactive and not be a victim. Know how to use them.
- Plan your destination and know the possible routes you can take to get there. Find out how long it will take you to reach your destination. Waze is a great application for this.
- Trust your guts and instincts. They’re usually more right than wrong. (Remind me to heed this next time.) And don’t forget to pray.